From some of the earliest civilizations of human history, touch has been considered a natural method of healing injuries, relieving pain, and curing illnesses. Early human history shows that the use of massage as therapy began as a scared system of natural healing, but as history has progressed, the ways that massage has been practiced and viewed have changed dramatically. Enduring through these cultural shifts, massage therapy has experienced a comeback in modern times, and today it stands a highly respectable holistic healing method throughout the world.
The Birth of Massage-Approximately 3000 BCE
In its earliest days, the use of the healing touch of massage began in the traditional holistic medical system of India, which is called Ayurveda. The Ayurvedic practice of massage was believed to be of divine origin and it was passed down from generation to generation through oral tradition.
Massage Culture Appears in Egypt and China- Between 3000 and 2500 BCE :
The earliest written records of massage therapy were discovered in Egypt and China. Tomb paintings in Egypt depict individuals being treated with massage therapy.
In China, texts documenting the medical benefits of massage therapy date back to approximately 2700 BCE. The Chinese tradition of massage therapy was developed from the combined expertise and methods of traditional Chinese medicine, martial arts, as well as spiritual yoga training. Chinese massage methods originated from the principle that diseases and illnesses arise due to a deficiency or imbalance in the energy in specific pathways or meridians that represent physiological systems. Through massage and other specific bodywork techniques, energy was made to flow more harmoniously through these pathways, allowing the body to heal itself naturally.
Monks Bring Massage Therapy to Japan-Approximately 1000 BCE
Starting around 1000 BCE, Japanese monks studying Buddhism in China observed the healing methods of massage therapy and Japan soon began to adopt and customize Chinese massage techniques, giving rise to the traditional Japanese massage called Shiatsu. The primary goal of Shiatsu is to raise the energy level in the patient. This increased energy level regulates and fortifies the functioning of the organs and stimulates the body’s natural resistance to illnesses.
Athletes and Philosophers Introduce Massage to Greece-Between 800 and 700 BCE:
Derived from the Eastern philosophies and practices, massage progressed into Western civilization in approximately the eighth century BCE. Athletes in Ancient Greece employed massage to keep their bodies in peak condition prior to competitions. Physicians of the time used herbs and oils in combination with massage techniques to treat medical conditions. In the fifth century BCE, Hippocrates prescribed “friction” to treat physical injuries and instructed Greek physicians on the benefits of massage to help the body heal itself. Hippocrates believed that a combination of massage, proper diet, exercise, rest, fresh air and music was the best way to restore the body to a healthy state.
Massage Spreads to Rome-Between 200 and 100 BCE:
In Rome, during the first century BCE, Galen, a physician to many emperors, began using massage therapy to treat different types of physical injuries and diseases. Following Hippocrates’ principles, Galen believed in exercise, healthy diet, rest and massage as integral pieces in restoring and maintaining a healthy body.
While the wealthy received massages in their homes by personal physicians, many Romans were treated in public baths where trainers and doctors delivered massages. The recipients would first bathe themselves and then receive a full body massage to stimulate circulation and loosen their joints.
Europe Recognizes Massage’s Healing Powers-17th-19th centuries CE:
Massage therapy declined in popularity and practice in the West until approximately 1600 CE. As scientific breakthroughs in medical technology and pharmacology began the era of modern medicine, more traditional manual methods of healing faded from view. Between 1600 and 1800, numerous physicians and scientists observed and documented the benefits of massage; yet Western techniques made few advances until the 19th century. In the early 1800s, the Swedish physician, Per Henrik Ling, developed the Swedish Gymnastic Movement System. This system incorporated massage with medical gymnastics and physiology.
The United States and the Wellness Boom-20th century to today:
Through the early part of the 20th century, an increasing number of new and rediscovered massage techniques were documented and practiced. In particular, massage was used to treat World War I patients who suffered from nerve injury or shell shock. However, massage remained out of the mainstream as a form of treatment for many years. It was perceived as a luxury reserved for the wealthy. Furthermore, its reputation endured another unsavory period with the advent of massage parlors where the practice became associated with the sex trade. In the latter half of the 20th century, rising interest in natural healing methods revitalized massage. More and more states started to regulate the practice, and industry standards in licensing and education emerged. As a result, massage earned a place as a legitimate and respectable form of alternative medicine and became a popular facet in the United States’ wellness boom.
So remember next time that you go in for a massage that you are joining in a long history of holistic healing and wellness techniques. Many of the techniques used by these ancient cultures are incorporated into today’s massage therapies. Remember that all massage therapists have different specialties and areas of focus, making for a wide array of different therapy options to chose from.