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Beginner’s Guide to Massage: How it works, what’s out there and how to find the right massage therapist

Are you considering giving massage a try? Then read on…

Massage has been around for 5000 years.

Although, science feels the need to question and prove something works before it is credible, I find it hard to believe that ancient civilisations such as Egypt, India, China, Japan, Greece and Rome would have wasted their time practising massage, if it did absolutely nothing for them!!! Give them some credit please.

The healing power of touch and massage has, for centuries, been known to benefit in the healing of injuries, pain relief and in the cure and prevention of diseases. Furthermore, and very prevalent in our times, massage helps reduce stress, depression and anxiety by inducing deep relaxation and promoting a greater sense of wellbeing.

How does massage do this?

By releasing endorphins known as the ‘feel good’ chemicals that promote relaxation.

Also, massage brings huge health benefits to the ‘Systems’ of the body. These are the Skeletal, Lymphatic, Respiratory, Digestive, Nervous, Circulatory and Urinary. As well as improving skin care and so much more.

Why have a massage?

It is through regular massage treatments that you can increase your understanding of the importance of self-care. By taking care of you, you become more able to cope with life’s stresses and strains.

Regular massage treatments can give you a greater sense of self-awareness as well as make you feel good.

How does massage make you feel good?

As massage brings about a more relaxed, chilled state both physically and mentally, you grow in the understanding of what it is to experience this beneficial state. This state can be enhanced by exercise and stretching. However, due to everyday life, the body will begin to feel tense again and you will come to realise that it is time to seek further treatment to help prevent stress and pain building up once more.

Therefore, by staying on top of your self-care, you will begin to experience the benefits massage can bring in the promotion of good health and wellbeing.

 A Brief Explanation of Six Types of Massage.

Swedish Massage is probably the most common found in the West.                                                                                                                              Oil or lotion is used on the body and the massage therapist initially starts with broad swiping strokes, before applying more specific strokes to the areas were attention is needed.

Swedish Massage consists of:

Effleurage – long smooth strokes

Petrissage – kneading, lifting and rolling of the muscle.

Friction – circular movements with knuckles/ fingers. Wringing of the muscles

Tapotement – Cupping or Hacking is general used on the body at the end of a treatment to bring the client out of their deep relaxed state.

Swedish Massage full body massage brings relaxation and is good in the healing of injuries. 

Deep Tissue Massage is mainly for deeper issues found in the muscles and tissues of the body. Areas of tightness, pain, injury and adhesions (knots) are treated by using more focused, pressurised strokes or friction that work into and across the muscle area helping to release deep rooted tension and, in some cases, pain. This form of massage is firm and can be painful when initially treating a tense area, but this should subside as the muscles relax. However, please inform the therapist if the pain is too much so that they can ease off the pressure of the strokes. You should never be in constant pain with a Deep Tissue Massage!

DTM is good for sports injuries, chronic pain and repetitive stress injuries and any injury that causes limited movement. 

No Hands Massage is becoming more popular in the U.K. It involves the massage therapist using a combination of the soft surface of the forearms and body weight to deliver a treatment tailored to the client’s needs. Hands are used, but less so than in other forms of massage. No Hands Massage is not a painful treatment. The therapist can carry out a calm and nurturing treatment and/or a deep structural treatment working into the muscles of the body.

No Hands Massage brings about a calming effect to the mind, deep relaxation and a lasting uplifting feeling.  It can help those with anxiety disorders and depression.

Asian Based Massage 

Ayurvedic Massage 

Based in the ancient Indian lifestyle of Ayurveda (meaning ‘science or knowledge of life’) that believes that everything in the universe is composed of Panchamahabhutas: the five basic elements of fire, water, earth, air and space.

Combined with each other, these five elements create three biophysical energies known as Doshas: Pitta (fire and water), Vata (air and space) and Kapha (water and earth). They are known as Tridosha and govern all mind, body and spiritual ‘functions’ of a human being as well as effecting how we interact with the world around us.

We all possess the 3 Doshas, but the balance of each element varies in each of us therefore, making up our own unique constitution known as Prakriti. However, our Dosha shifts due to age, season and life experience and can become imbalanced, leading to illness and diseases.

Within the ayurvedic lifestyle (which includes many elements such as diet, yoga, herbal remedies and body detox), massage is used to help balance mind, body and spirit.  Tailor-made essential oils are applied that suit an individual’s Dosha needs at that particular time, helping to address imbalances and bring about a greater sense of wellbeing. The consultation process before a massage treatment will determine which essential oils will be beneficial to the client.

Oil plays a huge part in the massage treatment and is applied generously to the whole body. Traditional massages strokes techniques are used along with kneading, squeezing and tapping. In traditional Ayurvedic Massage, two massage therapists work together on either side of the body, mirroring each other’s strokes (however, this is not the case with all treatments in the U.K.) The strokes and flow of the treatment will be tailored to suit an individual’s needs.

This form of massage brings many benefits especially if a ayurvedic lifestyle is being practised. Some of these are: deep relaxation, improve circulation, stress relief, detox and cleansing, increased self-awareness and promotes repairing and energising the body, healthy skin and general health.  

Acupressure Massage is based in Chinese medicine and acupuncture. The massage therapist uses firm strokes along the acupressure points that lie long the energy channels (meridians) of the body. It is believed in Asian medicine that if a meridian becomes blocked and energy cannot flow freely, an imbalance is caused and can lead to illness. Acupressure Massage releases the block, freeing up the energy to bring back balance and harmony to the body. The therapist uses their palms, thumbs, knuckles, fingertips and elbows to help release the blocks. Also, stretching out the muscles may also be involved. Acupressure massage can be carried out on a massage table or specialised massage chair.

Clothed-Acupressure Chair Massage works on releasing tension and pain from the back, neck and shoulders and helps energises the client through the release of blocked energy. This form of massage is ideal for the workplace environment.  

Shiatsu Massage originated in Japan but is based in Chinese medicine and acupuncture.

Through touching the ‘hara’ or energy centre held in the abdominal area of the body, some Shiatsu practitioners will determine a client’s energy levels and where treatment is needed. The whole of the body is then treated with finger pressure, gentle stretches and rotations. It is believed that should the client be experiencing ‘referred’ pain (pain felt in the body other than its actual source), by treating the whole of the body e.g. hips, shoulders, neck etc. the source of the pain will be treated and in so doing, bring relief to the referred painful areas.

Shiatsu massage is fully clothed massage (loose clothing is recommended) and is usually carried out on a futon mattress (thin mattress) on the floor but can be adapted to a bed, massage table or specialise massage chair.

Shiatsu Massage brings about a relaxed state. It can help with a variety of ailments including limited mobility, energy imbalance, anxiety and depression, arthritis, back, neck and shoulder pain, arthritis, insomnia, sciatica, headaches and migraine, fibromyalgia, asthma and so much more.

Others types of massage included: Thai Massage, Aromatherapy Massage, Hot Stones, Trigger Point Massage, Sports Massage, Reflexology (foot massage), Pregnancy Massage and Baby Massage.

There is a wealth of information on the internet should you wish to know more.

Advice for the Client

It is important to remember to drink plenty water after massage treatments and to respect your body by allowing it time to recover and heal for 24- 48 hours after your treatment. Having a bath and relaxing are always a great way of enhancing the effects of most massage treatments. Also, ask your massage therapist what they would advise to prolong the benefits of massage after your treatment.

Looking for a Massage Therapist

A recommendation from a trusted person is always a sensible start in your search for a fab massage therapist.

The massage industry is not regulated by the U.K. government which means anyone can set themselves up as a massage therapist. Therefore, therapists join their own governing bodies. To join such a body, a massage therapist must provide their necessary certified qualifications and follow strict codes of practice. These governing bodies hold directories of their members to help the public find a certified therapist in their area of the country.

Here are the names of two of  the U.K. leading governing bodies. More are available online.  (Other countries will have their own equivalent organisations)

The Federation of Holistic Therapists:   

Complementary Therapists Association:

A massage therapist should asks you to fill in a medical disclaimer form before lying their hands on you. In some few cases, massage is not advisable for certain medical conditions or further medical advice may need to be sought.

Please note that the above is a guideline for those looking to start exploring massage therapy. There may be many great massage therapists out there who are not members of a governing body. However, being a member does ensure a therapist has the correct qualifications needed to practise and is insured. Also, a therapist may display the logo of the association they are a member of, on their website, advertising etc. so you can check their membership out before making an appointment.

I hope this blog helps give those of you considering trying massage, a little insight into this fantastic holistic therapy. Now the best way to experience the benefits of massage is to get out there and give it a try!

My advice is to have a go at two or three types of massage to find out which one ‘fits’ you the best.

Happy hunting!

K x

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