A short history of Massage

If It’s sore rub it!

Animals instinctively lick their wounds cleansing and massaging at the same time.

Touch has always been part of human life; we touch to console, to encourage, to celebrate, to meet, to love and to relieve pain. Massage is the human contact therapy.

It’s natural to rub a sore part, or for instance to press “points” around the area of a headache. Simple massage was probably the first self help therapy as well as one of the oldest methods used to help others; massage goes hand in hand with child birth and therefore midwifery which is likely the oldest medical organisation.

From the East

The origins of massage are so basic that they have arisen independently around the world. Massage was documented as an organised therapy in China five thousand years ago. Ayurvedic (Indian) and Vietnamese styles are even older, conceivably forerunners of the Chinese style. Burmese, Balinese, Japanese, Thai, and Hawaiian massage have been used consistently down the centuries. In Greece Homer mentioned massage in 1200BC and in 460 BC, Hippocrates wrote,” the way to health is to have a scented bath and an oiled massage each day”.

To the West in the 19th Century

Although always used as a folk medicine in Europe (in Scotland massage was traditionally practised by blacksmiths), it wasn’t until last century that it was developed to a high degree by the likes of the Swedish gymnast Per Henrik Ling (Swedish massage) and Dr. Mezger of Holland. Later advocates were Mitchell and Kellogg in America and Cyriax in England.

The New Age

Since the second world war we’ve come to a stage where refined forms of massage are ancient and current at the same time and represent an evolution of the knowledge of the body and what we’ll term the body-mind. Modern “pioneers” of massage would include Elizabeth Dick and Ida Rolf (the original body oriented psychotherapist).

Therapeutic massage, particularly what we call structural bodywork, is often more painful than pleasurable, though the distinction between these two fluctuates; often profound change is initially painful and later more deeply pleasurable. In some cases the client cooperates with the therapist, breathing in prescribed ways to relieve congestions and moving muscles by will against pressure. Often the aim is to release tension holding patterns within the body so allowing the physical structure to move into a more economical upright pattern within the gravitational field. Stimulation is intended to generate feeling, or feeling like waves in the nervous system. Even where there is a physiological goal, as there is in many forms of massage and manipulation, the feeling of the treatment is essential because the patient is responding to his or her system’s sensitivity as much as to any gross physical changes.

The Now Age

Today we use the term “Bodywork” to cover a myriad of therapeutic modalities such as Polarity Therapy, Bowen Technique, Therapeutic Touch, Reiki and Esoteric Healing, as well as massage, where techniques may use very light touch or may have no physical contact with the recipient at all.

It is a mistake to think of massage as a muscle treatment: it is a treatment of the internal organs of the body by neuromuscular stimulation. Medicines such as Shiatsu and Chiropractic, which claim great range of cure from seaming surface manipulations have a long history of forerunners. Man has always believed in a subtle relationship between muscles, nerves, skeleton, and critical organs.

We now realise that even the gentlest stimulation has a structural effect on the body. For this to be true there must be some sort of electrical or neural field physically related to the organism and unknown to science and that the field is so sensitive that a skillful physician can alter the internal relationship of the organs in profound ways without even touching the body.

Scott Sharpe
17 Collingwood Street
Nelson, New Zealand

tel. +64 3 546 9655

© 2021 Scott Sharpe, New Zealand.