East Bay Massage: (A Brief and Incomplete) History of Massage

I just think this kind of stuff is really interesting. The practice of therapeutic touch is probably as old as humankind.

Hippocrates, the Greek physician of around 400/300 BCE, truly changed the way therapeutic touch was administered. In ancient times, shaman would use massage to rid the body of evil spirits by sweeping from the core outwards, down the limbs. Those trained in ‘traditional’ Swedish massage (I should say quite modern!) are taught to massage towards the heart, not away, in order for the body to process waste products. This was the influence of Hippocrates who believed that illness had a physical root, not a spiritual one. Still, many energetic modalities move outward, or even from the head downwards, following the footprint left long ago by Hippocrates’ forefathers and foremothers.

Below we have a very early depiction of reflexology in action– dating back to the fifth dynasty of the Old Kingdom (around 2686 BCE). Isis is reported to have used massage as a treatment for a number of ailments, and there are records of soldiers of Ramses II being massaged after long marches.

Ancient Chinese use of massage dates back to the second century BCE, when it was considered an effective medical treatment for illness. The use of herbs for medicinal purposes reportedly goes back 60,000 years (holy cow!!). Below, see a picture of the accupressure meridians (a network of channels through which the Breath of Life, or chi, courses) from an ancient Thai temple. Acupressure practitioners access the same points today as they did thousands of years ago and are generally the same meridians used in acupuncture.

Ancient India’s ayurvedic medicine tradition also incorporated massage. Emerging at around 600 BCE, ayurvedic medicine conceived of massage as part of a holistic approach to health as opposed to a separate treatment.

Even though ancient history shows us that massage has been an indispensable part of not only  health and wellness but of treatment of illness and disease, the profession still struggles for cultural legitimacy in certain respects. There is nothing new under the sun– even though our understanding of the mechanisms of the physical body are better understood today in some respects, the ancient art of touch has extended its reach well into the realm of health and wellness for thousands of years. The unfortunate overlap of therapeutic massage with prostitution diminishes the legitimacy of massage’s therapeutic effects. Fortunately, more and more scientific research is emerging supporting the long-held claims (ancient claims!) that therapeutic massage promotes well-being and supports the healing process in numerous ways.

The art of touch must be ancient, indeed. It is the pre-verbal method of communication, the first connection between a mother and her infant, and the first response to pain. Physical sensation tells us where we are in space and time (proprioception), and our personalities in many ways are formed in relationship to others. Indeed, touch seems to me to be an important manifestation of homo sapiens social nature, and of our connection to each other.

For more information on the history of massage, check this book out, The History of Massage, aptly named and super-interesting!

Thank you for visiting East Bay Massage!

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