The History of Massage
Massage has roots in every ancient culture. People everywhere from the beginning of time instinctively touched with kindness and love. To touch, to hold, to hug, to rub—these are inclinations that are universally owned. Even the earliest tribal cultures throughout the world included some form of massage when curing the sick. Tribal healers known as shamans served as priests as well as doctors, and physical healing was intertwined with spirit. Early shamanic practice involved rubbing the skin as a form of healing. The shamanic technique was to rub the skin from the center of the body out to the extremities, ridding the body of the disease and bad spirits by pushing out.
Eastern Massage Practices
The ancient Chinese developed the procedure of anma or anmo, a massage technique of pressing and rubbing particularly on specific areas to warm the extremities and heal the organs. Just as tribal cultures believed that body and spirit were not separate, so did the ancient Chinese, who believed if you heal one, you heal the other. Chinese massage was considered an important aspect of healing, and schools developed to teach the different methods.
Anmo massage from China was practiced in Japan and eventually developed into shiatsu. Built on the concept of balance within, shiatsu was and is used to improve all functions by applying finger pressure along the energy meridians (see Chapter 18 for more about shiatsu and meridians).
The improvement of Asian massage techniques continued with the advent of acupuncture, often combining it with shiatsu. Both shiatsu massage and acupuncture focus on the same points on the energy meridians of the body.
Although the first written mention of massage is found in China, travel between China, India, and Egypt suggests that each of these countries may have developed a style of massage unique to their individual cultures, although similar in some aspects. India is credited with a form of massage and bathing known as shampooing, a massage method that is still used today in Indian and Arabic cultures. The massage techniques were done in a steam-bath environment, and the strokes included kneading, tapping, friction, and joint manipulation.
Massage in Greece and Rome
The practices of massage and exercise flourished within ancient Greek society. The physician and priest Aesculapius was instrumental in the development of the famous Greek gymnasiums where the combination of massage, exercise, and water treatments was promoted to rid the body of disease and support whole health. Aesculapius was awarded the divine rank of god of medicine.
Hippocrates (c. 460–377 B.C.), known as the father of modern medicine, is also credited as a promoter of massage. Hippocrates’ work was based on the idea that the body needs to be balanced to function properly. He prescribed massage as a tool to bring the body into wellness.
Hippocrates revolutionized the practice of medicine with his new ideas and new procedures. He introduced the concept of symptoms as they relate to the environment of the patient, using the symptoms as a guideline for treatment. Hippocrates was one of the first physicians to actually listen to the heart.
Hippocrates created a type of rubbing called anatripsis. The introduction of anatripsis revolutionized the practice of rubbing. Unlike the old shamanic style of massage, where the goal was to rub the evil spirits and illness out and away from the body, stroking toward the extremities, Hippocrates believed rubbing toward the heart to be more effective. He felt that massage moved the body fluids toward the center of the body, allowing for effective release of toxins and freeing the waste to leave the body.
The Roman era continued the support of massage and water therapy, using these treatment tools for chronic pain and muscle disorder, as well as for disease. Unlike the Greeks, the Romans instituted no formal training for physicians, and most doctors were under-trained slaves, barbers, or priests. Massage was often administered by slaves working in the gymnasiums. These massage providers could be called upon to practice medicine as well.
Claudius Galen (c. A.D. 129–216) was a prolific Greek writer and physician. Galen spent most of his years in Rome where he provided massage and bath therapy to the gladiators as well as to a number of Roman emperors. Galen wrote detailed instructions for exercise, massage, and water therapy that were treatments for specific injuries and ailments.
The decline of the Roman Empire brought unfortunate changes to the world of medicine, because many of the healthful practices were suppressed and forbidden. Although physicians and medical transcribers who lived through this long period of history still endorsed the use of massage, bathing, and exercise, these significant medical findings, along with other teachings, were nearly lost.
Julius Caesar, an epileptic, suffered also from neuralgia, a painful nerve condition that caused excruciating pain over areas of his body and head. He received friction-type massage as treatment for the neuralgia and prevention of epileptic episodes.
Arab Physicians Keep Massage Alive
As Europe declined, the Arab nations endorsed and utilized the teachings of Hippocrates and Galen, as well as the ancient philosophers of Greece and Rome. A Persian named Al-Kazi (A.D. 864–930), also known as Rhazes, was a great Muslim physician and a productive writer who was greatly influenced by these early beliefs and traditions. This supreme clinician could describe the clinical signs of many illnesses. With this awareness he would often recommend the use of diet, exercise, baths, and massage.
Another Persian physician, Ibn Sina, also known as Avicenna (A.D. 980–1037) was also heavily influenced by Roman and Greek medical practice. A copious writer, he is most famous for The Canon of Medicine. The Canon is a book that classifies, describes, and presents the causes of innumerable diseases. This book references massage and the use of baths and exercise as treatment of the classified diseases.
Massage During the Nineteenth Century
The natural treatment of disease using the ancient European healing concepts celebrated a renewal in the 1800s. Modern-day massage can trace its roots from this time period when prevention of disease and the upkeep of good health became the goals of medicine. The revival of physical exercise as a form of natural healing could be seen in all aspects of healing work from this time forward. Drugs and surgery as a way of healing were in use and some practitioners began to research the gymnasium experience as an alternative.
Modern medicine is built on allopathy, the use of drugs and surgeries to deal with the effects of the disease, but not the cause. Traditional medicine is homeopathic, meaning it treats the cause of the disease. Integration of the two styles gives you the best treatment.
In the early 1800s, Peter Ling, a Swedish physiologist and fencing master, adapted a system of exercise known as medical gymnastics. Along with active exercise and active-passive movements performed with the help of a therapist, Ling's system stressed the importance of passive movements. These entailed stroking, kneading, rubbing, friction, gliding, shaking, and many more movements that are clearly massage techniques.
Ling established the Royal Swedish Central Institute of Gymnastics, where the Swedish movements were studied. Schools flourished throughout Europe and training programs were developed to teach these healing techniques. Two American brothers, George and Madison Taylor, studied the Swedish movement and brought Ling's methods home to the States where they set up an orthopedic practice in New York.
Acceptance of the Terminology of Massage
Finally in the late 1800s the word massage was actually used to describe an individual healing component. Massage was considered its own modality with its own language. The terms “effleurage,” “petrissage,” “tapotement,” and “massage” were used when speaking of the application of these techniques in conjunction with physical therapy. Books were published dealing with instruction in Swedish massage as well as other information provided by physicians who used massage as a form of healing.