Massage Therapy: Origin of Massage

No one really knows how massage originated, or where it originated. The origins of massage are as old as humankind, for touch is the most instinctive response to soreness, pain, and debility. As species we can exist without many things but touching is not one of them. The physical contact is used by human beings to demonstrate love and affection and to comfort.

It is something humans share with animals as an instinctive way of bonding and sharing. Whether it is the mother stroking a baby to soothe it or an adult gently using massage to alleviate tiredness and stress, this therapy has been around ever since human beings began inhabiting the earth. As a stress reliever, it is probably without equal, and every culture throughout history has used massage in some form or the other.

Massage as a therapy has evolved out of one of our most instinctive desires, to touch and be touched. As a studied therapy, however, it is said to have been born in China over 5,000 years ago, coming from the same tradition as acupuncture and Taoism. Written records mentioning massage, or rubbing, as it was known in former times, were found in the most ancient Chinese medical texts advocating stroking the limbs to ‘protect against colds, keep the organs supple and prevent minor ailments’. In India, the Ayurvedic scriptures, which date back nearly 4,000 years, also recommend rubbing and shampooing the body to keep it healthy and promote healing, and there has been an unbroken tradition of using massage since that time. Most Indian mothers are taught to massage their newborn babies.

In ancient Greece, the practice of rubbing up the limbs or ‘anatripsis’ was highly recommended for treating fatigue, sports or war injury and illness. Hippocrates, the so-called ‘father’ of medicine, writing in the fifth century BC, stated that the physician must be ‘experienced in many things but assuredly rubbing’, and suggested that the way to health was to have a scented bath and an oil massage everyday.

The Romans were equally enthusiastic about the benefits of massage, incorporating it into a daily routine in their spas, alongside hot and cold baths. Their bathing rituals formed a very important facet of life and almost everyone indulged in them. One of the most famous Roman physicians, Galen, wrote several books on massage, exercise and health in the second century AD, and classified many types of strokes for use in different ailments. A good masseur, during the Roman Empire, was always in demand and had a high social status.

Massages continued to be popular and respected in Europe after the Romans had left, although their elaborate bathing and massage facilities fell into disrepair. With the rise in more puritanical aspects of Christianity, however, the needs of the body were felt to be in some way sinful and massage became a rather neglected technique.

From the time of the Renaissance, when classical medicine and philosophy were once again in favour, massage was revived and respected again. Although the revival was slow and cautious, enough interest was generated in it for the elite to experiment it in various forms.

It was not until the 16th century that a French doctor, Ambroise Pare, renewed interest in the subject with his more anatomical and physiological approach. Pare was a physician to no fewer than four French kings and he used a great deal of massage in his practice. Other cultures had always continued to value massage—Captain Cook wrote in his diaries how he was cured of sciatic pains in Tahiti by being massaged from head to foot by several women at once.

Then, early in the 19th century a Swede, Per Henrik Ling, developed a method of massage and gymnastics known as Swedish massage, which still forms the basis for the modern massage techniques. Ling, who was a Swedish gymnast turned into a therapist is known as the father of therapeutic massage. From that time, many schools of massage have sprung up, and to the present day different methods continue to develop.

After Ling, it was an American massage therapist, George Downing who published in his trend setting work—’The Massage Book’, popularised this therapy in the early 1970s. He formulated the idea of massage as a holistic therapy taking into account a person’s whole being, his physical, mental and emotional make up. Downing also incorporated into this system the beliefs and techniques of two other well-known massage therapies—Reflexology and Shiatsu.

The latest development of massage happened during the 1960s and 1970s, especially in the US, where personal growth centres-most notably the Esalen Institute-adapted massage into a holistic approach that looked at releasing trapped emotional issues and creating overall health and balance rather than simply easing tired muscles or aching limbs.

From there to the modern use, this amazing therapy has covered a long journey. The current popularity of massage can be gauged from the fact that it is extensively being used in beauty clinics, sports and hospitals. It is increasingly being used to complement conventional medical treatments to treat stress related disorders, heart surgery recuperation and a whole gamut of physical and emotional problems.

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