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With the growing number of spas worldwide offering an extensive range of treatments, it is interesting to know that massage is still the most frequently requested spa therapy. Massage is primarily about touch, and touch in itself has healing qualities. Despite the many techniques and principles, the effects, psychological and physiological, remain the same. Massaging the muscles relaxes and stimulates the circulation so that blood flows freely, carrying oxygen and nutrients to where they are needed. By working on the circulation, regular massage can help normalise blood pressure, easing the pressure on overburdened arteries and veins. Massage stimulates the lymphatic system which is responsible for nourishing cells, carrying waste products out of the body and defending the body against infection. At the same time bodywork improves muscle and skin tone, stimulates the nervous system and improves overall body health. The treatment menu at a good spa will invariably include several types of massage. Many of the more popular ones including Thai Massage originated in the East. But whether Western or Eastern there are similarities in the techniques used, and often they consist of a combination of the different forms of bodywork.
Nuad pan boran is the name for traditional Thai Massage which dates back at least 2,500 years. It is recognised as a practical application of the Buddhist concept of metta, or loving kindness. Thai Massage is a known healing technique that places emphasis on the mind and body connection and, with a skilled therapist, it is also used as a tool in the treatment of emotional and spiritual disorders. Thai Massage is based on the principle that invisible lines of force run through the body. The focus is on 10 lines called “sen”. The massage seeks to release blockages that may exist along the sen to allow the free flow of energy throughout the body. The client is clothed and lies on a floor mattress. The therapist applies pressure using the thumbs, fingertips, hands, feet, arms and legs. Compression using the therapists’ body weight is also applied to large areas of the body, such as the back and hips. Pressures combined with manipulations stretch the spine and pull on joints to leave the body feeling loose and relaxed, ultimately maintaining flexibility and relieving tension. The therapist works kneeling or sitting on the floor alongside the client, working from the feet up to the shoulders and neck, over the face and onto the scalp. Thai Massage is a deep-massage technique that can be very relaxing. However, it can go beyond pampering and relaxation and the more advanced practitioners are trained to treat ailments and diseases as well.
Although its roots lie in China, Shiatsu was developed in modern-day Japan. Also known as acupressure, the term Shiatsu translates as “finger pressure” but similar to Thai Massage, in practice hands, knees, elbows or even feet are used by the practitioner to apply pressure to the body. Shiatsu is based on the principle that energy runs through the meridians which are said to govern the internal organs and our entire metabolism. The pressure is placed at precisely located points on the meridian lines of the body through which energy flows – there are 14 main meridians and there are approximately 600 Shiatsu points. Applying pressure on the points has the effect of balancing that energy to help maintain or restore the body’s natural vitality, working on the principle that depleted energy requires toning to give relief whereas excess energy needs sedating. In addition to localised pressure points, Shiatsu can also involve stretching and manipulations which also require the client’s participation in order to co-ordinate the breath with the manipulations.
Shiatsu is performed with the client dressed in loose, comfortable clothing, on the floor on a mat or futon. Treatments can help the young or old, active or sedentary and the method is claimed to help conditions as varied as allergies, anxiety and depression, asthma, digestive disorders, insomnia, headache and migraine, menstrual problems and sinusitis. Shiatsu can be used as a complete system of health maintenance, or simply for stress reduction and relaxation.
Swedish Massage is recognised as the first systematic method of modern massage in the Western world and remains one of the most popular massages for the first-time spa goer. The massage typically uses a medium of vegetable oil, cream and sometimes talc and includes long strokes or effleurage, kneading, friction, vibrations and stimulating movements also known as tapotement using the hands, palms, thumbs and fingertips. Movements are generally applied in the direction of the heart and the main purpose is to increase the oxygen flow in the blood and release toxins from the muscles. By increasing blood flow the muscles are warmed and relaxed and the recovery time from muscular strain is shortened by the flushing out from the tissues of lactic acid, uric acid and other metabolic wastes. Skin tone is improved and due to the stimulation of the lymphatic system cellulite can be reduced. In addition, by stimulating the nervous system there is a reduction in both emotional and physical stress. Swedish Massage is both relaxing and invigorating. It affects the nerves, muscles, glands and circulation, while promoting health and well-being.
Tui Na is an Oriental bodywork therapy that has been used in China for 2,000 years. It uses the traditional Chinese medical theory of the flow of qi through the meridians as its basic therapeutic orientation. Tui Na is a varied technique that uses many different strokes such as rolling, pressing, kneading, plucking and vibrations that are applied to acupoints, channels and muscle groups. When done correctly there is an exchange of qi energy between the practitioner and the patient, resulting in ultimate
Through the application of massage and manipulation techniques Tui Na focuses on the flow of qi through the system of channels, allowing the body to naturally heal itself. Tui Na methods include the use of hand techniques to massage the soft tissue of the body, acupressure techniques to directly affect the flow of qi and manipulation techniques. As with Shiatsu and Thai Massage, the client wears loose clothing and lies on a table or floor mat. Sessions last from 30 minutes to one hour. Tui Na is recommended for the treatment of specific musculo-skeletal disorders and chronic stress-related disorders of the digestive, respiratory and reproductive systems.
Aromatherapy is not just a massage using aromatic oils, but is in fact far more complex. A consultation by an aroma therapist is conducted prior to treatment to assess the client’s general health, diet and exercise regimes before a personalised oil blend is created. Whilst the blend that is created can vary from energising to relaxing, the massage technique consists mainly of long, gentle, stroking movements to calm and soothe the nerves, focusing on lymphatic drainage. The rate of absorption of the oil is increased during massage. Essential oils are extracted from an array of plant sources such as petals, leaves, roots and stalks and are composed of tiny molecules which are easily dissolved in alcohol, emulsifiers and fats. During Aromatherapy Massage, the oils penetrate through the skin tissue into the bloodstream. It is used in pain relief management, treatment of emotional stress and generally helps to enhance the quality of life.
Ayurveda, the 5,000-year-old holistic healing tradition from India encompassing mind, body and spirit, is based on the Sanskrit word ayar meaning “life” and veda meaning “knowledge”. Three doshas are central to the Ayurvedic philosophies – vata, pitta and kapha – each one representing specific physical and emotional trends. Abhyanga (Ayurvedic oil massage) is an integral part of the daily routine traditionally performed in the morning and is recommended by this healing system for overall health and well-being.
Ayurveda is nourishing, relieves fatigue, provides stamina and is beneficial in treating rheumatism, induces sound sleep and gives a sense of well-being. Traditionally Abhyanga is a synchronised massage performed by two therapists. It is a procedure in which medicated oil, prepared using herbs that pacify the unbalanced vata, pitta and kapha energies, is applied to the whole body and massaged in a specific manner by two therapists.
Indian head massage
Indian Head Massage, otherwise known as Champissage (Champi), has been practiced for over a thousand years as a tradition of family grooming and is part of the Ayurvedic form of healing and relaxation. Originally, it was developed by women who used different oils according to the season to keep their hair strong, lustrous and in beautiful condition.
Indian Champissage incorporates deep thumb and finger pressure and friction as well as soothing stroking focusing on the neck and shoulders where stress affects major muscle groups.
Indian Head Massage can also work through the upper arms, scalp and face. Muscular tension is relieved, blood and lymphatic circulation is increased, toxins are dispersed from tense muscles and flexibility and fluidity of movement is restored. It helps to relieve headaches, eye strain and sinusitis, focuses concentration and improves sleeping patterns. Close to the end of each treatment, a deeper sense of relaxation is induced and the client’s energy level is improved. Champissage can also release locked emotions and negative energy, making room for positive feelings.
The growth in the number of people taking regular exercise has also led to a higher incidence of minor injuries caused by over exercising or undertaking a too strenuous workout. To redress the balance, there is a growing interest in Sports Massage which has been developed to both help prevent injury in the first place but also promote quick recovery from minor sporting injuries. Sports Massage can play a part in pre-sport, post-sport and in-between exercise or sports activities. This massage shortly before or after an activity will decrease the likelihood of strained or sore muscles and the long-term risks of strain and potential injury are reduced. The specialist technique tends to be strong and deep to really work on the muscle tissue. However, the depth of pressure applied will vary according to the purpose of the treatment. Massage movements are similar to those used in Swedish Massage and include stroking, kneading, compression, friction and tapotement. The effect is relaxing and regenerating to help keep the body in peak condition. The massage can be applied with oil or cream and some practitioners may even use talc.