Today’s massage therapists practice a multitude of methods originating from customs and techniques rooted in ancient history. From those roots, they remain inspired by a goal cultivated centuries ago – to help others heal their physical and emotional well-being and experience a higher quality of life. Long ago, civilizations in the East and West found that natural healing and massage could heal injuries, relieve pain, and prevent and cure illnesses. What’s more, it helps reduce stress and produce deep relaxation.
Massage therapy began as a sacred system of natural healing. However, cultural shifts rendered it a disreputable form of indulgence for extensive periods of history. Enduring these turns, massage has experienced resurgence in modern times. Today, massage therapy stands as a highly respected holistic healing method practiced across the world.
Here’s how massage has evolved into the relaxing and therapeutic practice it is today:
A Form of Massage Emerges in India
- Believed to be of divine origin and passed down orally through generations, Ayurveda is the traditional holistic medical system in India. Ancient seers and natural scientists developed this system based on centuries of studies, experiments, and meditations.
- Texts detailing Ayurvedic principles and practices were written some time between 1500 and 500 BCE. Based on these texts, Ayurveda was widely adopted throughout India and Southeast Asia.
- Treatments in Ayurveda include diet and herbalism, aromatherapy, color therapy, sound therapy, and touch therapy.
A Hint of the Massage Culture Appears in Egypt and China
- The earliest written records of massage therapy were discovered in Egypt and China. Tomb paintings in Egypt depict individuals being kneaded by others. Furthermore, Egyptians are credited with creating reflexology in approximately 2500 BCE.
- 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 doctors in traditional Chinese medicine, practitioners of martial arts, Buddhists and Taoists who viewed touch as essential to their spiritual yoga training, and laymen who offered massages for relaxation.
Monks Bring Massage Therapy to Japan
- Starting around 1000 BCE, Japanese monks studying Buddhism in China observed the healing methods of traditional Chinese medicine, including massage therapy. Japan soon began to import and customize Chinese massage techniques, giving rise to traditional Japanese massage or anma, which grew into Shiatsu.
Athletes and Philosophers Introduce Massage to Greece
- 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 many medical conditions.
- Greek women recognized the benefits of these aromatic oils and used them as beauty treatments on their skin.
Massage Spreads to Rome
- 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.
- 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. Massages typically included oils to benefit the skin.
Europe Recognizes Massage’s Healing Powers
- Massage therapy declined in popularity and practice in the West until approximately 1600 CE.
- Between 1600 and 1800, numerous physicians and scientists observed and documented the benefits of massage. However, 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. Techniques included stroking, pressing and squeezing, and striking to manually treat physical issues.
The United States, Massage, and the Wellness Boom
- Through the early part of the 20th century, an increasing number of new and rediscovered massage techniques were documented and practiced.
- 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 and complementary medicine and became recognized in society’s wellness boom—the focus on disease prevention through maintaining wellness.
Considering the long history of massage, its incorporation into Western medicine is relatively young. The potential for growth and research of the healing properties of therapeutic massage and body work has gained great momentum over the last fifty years, and the public demand for massage therapy is at an all-time high.
If you would like to learn about becoming a massage therapist or benefit from receiving massage therapy, contact our Las Vegas Campus or Chicago (Skokie) Campus today.