Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Historical, Cultural & Philosophical approaches to Massage

Historical, Cultural and Philosophical approaches to Massage

Today we will look at the Historical, Cultural and Philosophical approaches to massage. I will discuss different influences on the development of massage, Cultural massage like Miri Miri and Romi Romi, scandals of the 1800, the development of professional massage in NZ and how philosophical approaches of body, body-mind, and body-mind-spirit relate historically and culturally.

It’s hard to know exactly when massage was developed, but many say it is a natural instinct we all have. “It is a natural response to rub our aches and pains, whether or not we are familiar with the medical knowledge behind these actions” (Salvo, 2007). There is archaeological evidence that supports the idea that healing touch was used in prehistoric times. This was shown in extensive pictorial records. The Chinese have records that date back to 3000 BC that reveal the practice of massage, and records from the second century BC discuss massage as a treatment for illness.

Historical Developments
One of the most influential people, whose work it still present today is Hippocrates of Cos -460-375 BC. Hippocrates became known as The Farther of Medicine. He based his medical practice on observations and the study of the human body. He believed that the body must be treated as a whole, not just a series of parts. He held the belief that illness had not only a physical but a rational explanation and was not caused by possession of evil spirits or superstitions as believed by his elders. He was quoted as saying “The physician must be experienced in many things but assuredly in rubbing ... For rubbing can bind a joint that is too loose and loosen a joint that is too rigid” (McQuillian D, 2009). Hippocrates also noted that massage in a proximal direction was preferable to massage distally e.g. the way the blood flows, and that after the reduction of a dislocated shoulder, the friction should be done with soft, gentle hands. He believed that we must have a humble relationship with all our patients, and take care as avoid causing additional harm, which is a strong part of our roles today as massage therapists.

During the transition period of Greek and Roman dominance massage gained such acceptance that Julius Caesar -C. 100-44 BC, used it to help his epilepsy. Later followed Galen of Pergamon -C. AD 130-200, he was a follower of Hippocratic medicine and contributed to much of the early writings on massage. Galen is considered the most important contributor to medicine following Hippocrates and many of his influences are still present today. Galen is still respected for his contributions to anatomy, physiology and pharmacology and for his incorporation of philosophy, logic and experiment with medicine. Galen advanced Hippocrates descriptions of massage and came up with the pre-event and post-event theory. Galen was the first to demonstrate the functions of nerves. His demonstrating of severing nerves at different locations along the spinal cord producing varying levels of paralysis, led to the identification of many spinal nerves and the discovery of seven out of ten cranial nerves.

In the early nineteenth century the era of modern massage began. An important writer at this time was Pehr Henrik Ling -1776-1839, a Swedish physiologist and gymnastics instructor. Ling developed the Swedish Movement Cure where gymnastics was applied to the treatment of disease and injury. He believed that “Swedish gymnastics was a therapeutic system by which we try – by means of influencing movement – to overcome discomfort that has arisen through abnormal conditions” (Salvo, 2007). Ling’s system consisted of Active, Passive and Duplicated movements and Massage. Ling blended his knowledge of physiology and massage to produce Swedish massage. Swedish massage and Swedish Gymnastics where noted to improve range of movement, circulation, relieve muscle tension and promote relaxation. This system eventually led to the development of Physiotherapy.

Other notable individual whom shaped the history of massage include Johann Mezger -1817-1893, a Physician who was able to get the medical community to accept Massage as medical treatment for disease and illness, which meant massage became an integrated part of physical therapy. Mezger is also credited with the use of French names for terminology still used today for example effleurage, petrissage and tapotement. John Harvey Kellogg -1852-1943, opened the Battle of Creek Sanitarium -health spa- in the 1890’s. He also wrote articles and books on massage which helped popularize massage in the United States and gave birth to the Spa industry as we know it today. Emil Vodder -1896-1986, along with his wife while working with patients with chronic colds found that most of them had swollen lymph nodes. Even though it was taboo to tamper with the lymphatic system – due to the unknown nature of the system – the Vodder’s began more intense studies and research and in 1936 they released their series of hand movements to the world in Paris. They spent the rest of their lives demonstrating and teaching these moves. The hand movements that twist and stretch the skin to move the lymph is still taught today in its unaltered form.

Dr. James Cyriax was a British physician said to be the Father of Orthopedic Medicine. Cyriax developed a system of assessing to diagnose lesions of the musculoskeletal system and the soft tissues of the body using passive and resisted movements to test different inert and contractile structures.

Dr Janet Travell - 1901-1997, was said to be the leading pioneer in diagnosis and treatment of myofasical pain using trigger point therapy. Travell treated President Kennedy in 1955 for myofasical pain and other ailments that were said to be threatening to end his political career. This lead to Travell becoming the White House Physician. Trigger Point Therapy has become one of the most effective modalities used by therapists for relief of pain.

Cultural Massage
Not only was their medical influence in the shaping of massage but also culture influence as well. Maori traditional massage has been passed down through whanau or family for year and is still a part of their culture today. Although there is not a lot of traditional Maori massage documented we do know that Maori health acknowledges the link between the mind, body, spirit, human connection with family and the physical world in a seamless way. They incorporate physical massage, manipulation, energetic work, herbal medicine & counselling. Their treatments known as Miri Miri focus on the emotional/spiritual root of the problem. They use Koo Miri or the Process of Talking to find the “core” emotional bindings that dis-able, dis-empower and keep dis-cord rife (McQuillian, D, 2009). They believe that by using the “3rd Eye” they are able to identify, change and heal issues. Taa Miri is used to find trapped trauma by reading and listening to the body. Romi Romi is the use of elbows, hands, knees, feet, sticks or wood, stones and seawater to do deep tissue body work (McQuillian, D, 2009). A lot of the traditions that the Maori use is similar to those of other Polynesian cultures throughout the world and it has been said that Maori massage techniques are similar to that of Lomi Lomi or Hawaiian Massage. The traditional cultural massages are similar to Eastern styles with their focus on the inner flow of energy and how this affects the spirit, but have used more modern western traditions of deeper work on the muscles and tissues.

Eastern V's Western Massage

Eastern massage dates back centries and was used by the Chinese, Japanese and Indians. They focused mainly on the the flow of energy or "chi" and believed that any sickness was caused from the energy flow being disrupted. The Thai believe that you need to apply pressure on the "life power lines" of the body to create an even flow through the body. Yoga, Shiatsu and accupressure are just some of the many styles are all based on energy flow. Most of the eastern forms of massage require no oil and can be performed while fully clothed and on the floor. It is about guiding the mind, body and spirit into harmony and balance. These forms of massage are still widely practiced today, with some of the styles being adapted to include western trends. Western traditions seem to base themselves on the physical body using pressure, tension, and motion to manipulate the tissues and muscles. The most common western sytle is Swedish Massage which uses soft and deep tissue treatments. In recent times the western styles have started to adopt a more mind, body, spirit approach to massage as we become more aware of what affects our bodies in terms of enviornment, diet, stress levels to name a few and how what we think and do and how that can affect how we feel.

Scandal in the 1800's
In the 1800’s massage took a huge downturn. Doctors were inundated with clients who wanted the popular treatment of massage that they had to start training nurses and non-medically trained women to perform it. These women became the first Massage Therapists. Unfortunately some unethical people decided to take advantage of the non-medically trained side of the industry and lured poor women to schools they set up, offering them free training in exchange for work in their “Massage Parlours”. These parlours then became a front for houses of prostitution. This led to the problematic and persistent association of massage and prostitution. Massage Parlours still exist today and even now people still joke about Massage Therapists as being associated with these parlours. In 1943 the American Association of Masseurs & Masseuses and the Society of trained Masseuses were formed. They made sure that training was practiced in schools that were regularly checked, the teachers had to be qualified and there were written and clinical examinations.

Development of Professional Massage in New Zeland
In 1985 Bill Wareham called all massage therapists in Auckland to a meeting and from this the Massage Institute of New Zealand (MINZI) was born. Their main focus included Education of Therapists, The standard of massage teachers and conferences for skill development. In 1989 Jim Sanford thought that the Therapeutic Massage Practitioners needed a professional association similar to that of the physiotherapy board. As a result the New Zealand Association of Therapeutic Massage Practice (NZATMP) was formed. Their main focus was on Educational standards, Promotion of massages Professional image within the industry, dissemination of information and increasing public recognition. In 2007 TMA & MINZI merged to become Massage New Zealand (MNZ). Even though it was a somewhat historical event MNZ has struggled due to interfractional politics as old members of the two associations have disagreed over some issues. The merger has definite benefits to help us move towards greater government recognition as a united front is always best.

Philosophical Approaches to Massage
The Body approach to massage is that where the treatment focuses on the body and what effects massage has within the body. Most all forms of modern medicine have this focus. “Mind is not a factor, but is a result of the brain mechanism” (McQuillian, D, 2009). Treatments include drugs, surgery, medicines and so on. The Body-Mind approach looks how we think and how it affects our body. Treatments take this into consideration and include things like counselling, relaxation therapies like Reiki and relaxation massage, hypnosis & Yoga just to name a few. The health and wellness of a person are based on the whole person being in balance. The Body-Mind-Spirit approach often incorporates a spiritual dimension into people’s health. It is where your actions, feelings and intentions can affect other people. Your actions act within a spiritual context for example Karma, and may have physical consequences. Distance healing, prayer, traditional healing, energetic healing are all aspects of this approach.

All in all there have been so many influences on Massage as we know it today. Some fell by the wayside and some a still very much a part of the industry today. From Kellogg opening the first ‘Spa” resort to the way Lymph is drained and moved in our systems. We give thanks to Mezger for getting massage the credit it deserved in the medical realm and to all our cultural ancestors for the knowledge and training they passed down through the ages and that is still being passed down. We know that Massage will always have its up’s and down’s as all things do, but let’s hope it is nothing as scandaless as that of prostitution!! I am excited about what the future holds for Massage Therapist such as me as the industry is become more and more popular again. I believe that more than ever Massage Therapy is become the treatment of choice over surgery and drugs. We just have to make sure we support the industry we are training in and help promote the positive influence we can have on other people’s lives.


Class Notes
Personal Experiences

McQuillian, D. (2009) Historical Development of Massage, Dunedin, New Zealand: Otago Polythecnic

McQuillian, D. (2009) Fundamentals of Massage, Dunedin, New Zealand: Otago Polytechnic

Hippocrates - The Father of Medicine, retreived 8 June 2009 from,

Galen of Pergamum, Retreived 8 June 2009 from

Muru. A,(2008) Retrieved 8 June 2009 from

History of Massage in New Zealand, Retreived 8 June 2009 from

History of Massage, East v's West, Rereived 10 June 2009 from

Salvo, S.(2007), Massage Therapy. Principles and Practice (3rd ed). Missouri, Saunders

Traditional Thai Massage, Retreived 22 June 2009, from

The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook, Travell.J, Retreived 22 June 2009 from,

James Cyrix MD, Retreived 22 June 2009 from,

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