08 Nov History of Massage

Have you ever wondered about the history of massage?  It’s important for the students at our Massage School to understand the origins of massage both nationally and internationally. Our students tend to gravitate towards this knowledge because our massage school focuses on teaching Thai Yoga Massage and integrating many Eastern healing arts and Asian Energy Bodywork with Western sciences and Western notions of bodywork.

By the nature of our Eastern-focused massage program, it’s necessary to understand the rich culture, heritage, and history of massage and bodywork from South East Asia (Thailand) as well as China, India, and Japan, but then also to understand the global history of touch-based healing as well as the massage history of the Native Americans.

Let’s begin closest to home.

Curanderas are Hispanic healers that practice the healing, folk traditions from a combination of traditions:  Spanish, Mexican, and Native American remedies.  Curanderas are female healers, and this term encompasses various healing practices: herbs, midwifery, massage, and ritual. There is a strong, spiritual aspect to this healing art–a combination of ritualism, symbolism, and technique. Sobardoras is the name for the female healer that focuses on massage therapy, combined with herbalism.

Let’s now go Way Back to 2100 BCE to Sumer, Southern Mesopotamia, or modern-day Iraq. A clay tablet from this time and place, describes a remedy that uses an herbal mixture and “rubbing” and “frictions”, “Pass through the sieve and then knead together turtle shells, naga-si plant, salt, and mustard. Then wash the diseased part with beer of good quality and hot water, and rub with the mixture.  Then friction and rub again with oil, and put on a poultice of pounded pine.” (Time-Life Books, 1987, p. 41).

Onward to China and Japan, The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine, written around 200 BCE is considered the first book on traditional Chinese Medicine, which delves into the concepts of yin and yang, life energy called qi or chi that moves in patterns called energy channels, and the five elements theory (fire, wood, water, metal, and earth).  Ancient Chinese therapies include acupuncture with needles, acupressure using finger pressure on acupuncture points, a form of massage called tuina, and forms of exercise called qi gong and tai chi. And in Japan, there’s a modern form of Japanese bodywork, developed in the 1940s, called Shiatsu, which is a modern-version of the ancient Japanese massage form called, amma.

Onward to India, Ayurvedic medicine, and Thai Massage:  Ayurveda means “knowledge of long life” and is the traditional medicine of India.  The Ayurvedic system dates back to at least the 5th century BCE and is based on the Vedas, the ancient philosophical and spiritual writings of India.  Ayurvedic health practices include: guidelines for vegetarian eating, forms of cleansing, movements and postures (hatha yoga), breathing exercises (pranayama), meditation, and massage.

These Ayurvedic health practices in India were spread to Thailand and South East Asia around the 3rd century BCE when Buddhism began to spread to Thailand. During these times, spirituality and medicine were connected, so as the religion spread from India to Thailand, the medical practices were also shared.  Jivaka was one of the main doctors of the Buddha, and he’s considered to be the founder and creator of the foundations of Traditional Thai Medicine and Thai Yoga Massage. Jivaka never traveled to Thailand, but his medical practices were shared in Thailand via the spread of Buddhism.

The original institutions for Thai Yoga Massage were in the temples–Wat Pho in Bangkok and the Old Medicine Hospital in Chiang Mai are the two most well-known temples and current massage schools in Thailand today.  Thai medicine was taught in the temple setting. If we look at the purposes of Thai massage and Yoga, we can better treat an individual. Yoga and Thai Massage were created to prepare a person to meditate comfortably.  Traditionally, yogis end in a seated position after their asana practice so as to meditate comfortably, once their body has been prepped for stillness.  And the same is true for Thai Yoga Massage; traditionally, the receiver ends in a seated position to meditate because the body is opened, alive, and can comfortably be still.

When the body is uncomfortable, it’s more difficult to calm the mind–to observe the monkey mind–and thus to enter higher awareness.

I think it’s important for my Denver Massage School students to understand WHY they are massaging–is it JUST physical?  Normally, nothing is merely physical.  I massage others via Thai Yoga Massage to help free their body of pains and constraints so they can enter a higher place of awareness.  Why do you massage?