Millions of years ago when the modern day human being was still hunting and gathering food while using a more primitive mind, the way the body handled stress was much different. The “flight or fight” response is the primary reason for the modern day stress response. The body was designed to handle stress for short bouts of time, just enough to get the homo sapiens through a fight or to get him away from immediate danger. This was the way the current stress response came to be, but unfortunately, the modern day person is dealing with much higher levels of stress than the human body is meant to handle. Today, people are in a constant state of anxiety dealing with family matters, work deadlines, financial problems. We are normalizing stress as a state of being, and struggling to find any means of a relaxing escape.

This is where massage comes into play. Massage is a practice that has withstood thousands of years, dating back to some of the earliest forms of humankind. The benefits of massage continue to be researched, using patients from all walks of life and with all different kinds of conditions and types of pain. Massage is no longer for the rich and mighty; it is now being used by doctors and physicians to fight chronic forms of pain and anxiety. There is a reason massage therapy has lived on through technological advances and medical discoveries,  and we hope to shed a little more light on the ancient art.

Below is a comprehensive look at the evolution of massage through the eras, as well as an extensive list of advantages and benefits of adding this timeless therapy to your life.

Evolution of Massage

The art of massage has been discovered in ancient books and manuscripts of the people from long ago. Though it is believed to have been practiced even earlier than the publishing of these books, here is the evolution of massage practice as discovered through the writings of our ancestors.

evolution of massage

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2700 BCE China 

The earliest records of massage practice were found in China as early as 2700 BCE. They were discovered in an early copy of Chinese medical texts in the book “The Yellow Emperor’s Classic Book of Internal Medicine.” This kind of therapeutic massage text is still used in modern day massage therapy training. It covered massage as well as other holistic health practices such as acupuncture, acupressure, and herbology.  The Chinese believe that the body is full of energetic pathways and due to imbalances in the mind and body, some of these routes can become blocked, resulting in stress, discomfort, or other physical ailments. By using different kinds of touch therapy and bodywork techniques, the energetic pathways could be restored, allowing the body to find peace and harmony, and ultimately heal itself. These kinds of procedures and practices were seen scattered all over Asia and Southeast Asia.

2500 BCE Egypt

The earliest records of massage in Egypt were found painted on the tomb of Ptahhotep. These paintings depicted his legs being massaged by a servant, as well as indicating other individuals being kneaded by one another.  These pictures are found in many different royal tombs, and it is still debatable whether or not some of these displays show massage or reflexology. With that in mind, the Egyptians are credited with the development and study of reflexology as well as with the first use of aromatherapy oils in their massage practice.

India 1500- 500 BCE

The earliest texts of massage in India were found between 1500 and 500 BCE, but it is believed the practice may have developed long before they were written about. The people of India believed in the holistic practice of Ayurveda. This type of practice believed in the importance of living in harmony with one’s physical self and natural surroundings. They used the art of massage with essential oils as well as different dietary practices, aromatherapy, color and even sound therapy. This type of method is still alive and well today.

Japan 1000 BCE

Massage made its debut in Japan in 1000 BCE when Japanese monks studying in China took an interest in the medicinal practices of the Chinese doctors. They brought the healing practice of massage therapy back to Japan and soon began to incorporate the methods of Chinese massage practices, which later developed into the Japanese massage techniques we are familiar with today.

Greece 800-700 BCE

The massage was discovered in Greece somewhere between 800-700 BCE. The people of ancient Greece were a mighty people, revered for their athleticism and interest in strength. Massage techniques were used by athletes to keep their bodies and muscles in peak condition before a competition. Greek physicians employed the use of oils and herbs with their massage techniques to assist in the treatment of medical conditions. Grecian women were known for their beauty and interest in skin care. They knew massage and essential oil were good for the skin and indulged in it regularly.  Even later in the 5th century BCE, Hippocrates wrote about prescribing “friction” to treat injuries of the body.

Italy (Rome) 200-100 BCE

Massage made its way to Rome by about 200 BCE when the emperors of the city were treated by a doctor by the name of Galen. Galen was known for using many different techniques to treat his patients but began using massage to treat many of the injuries and diseases he encountered. He believed in the principals laid down by Hippocrates, thinking that exercise, rest, healthy diet and massage were all part of a routine that would keep his patients fit and capable of living a long life.

The massage was used in the homes of the wealthy, but even the more mediocre folk could use one of the many spas and baths that were famously known in Roman culture, where doctors and physicians would execute different massage techniques. They believed in massage to encourage good circulation and invigorate the joints, as well as the use of essential oils to keep the skin supple and healthy.

**The use of massage therapy declined in use and did not return to scripts and texts until about 1600 CE (CE represents the “Current Era”)**

1600-1800 Europe

Between 1600 and 1800 CE physicians began to observe and document the benefit of massage as witnessed by their doctoral ancestors. In the early 1800s, a Swedish doctor by the name of Per Henrik Ling developed the Swedish Gymnastic Movement System. He believed that using massage along with technical medical practice, one could treat many physical issues. He employed techniques such as pressing, squeezing, stroking and striking to treat his patients physically. These kinds of methods are believed to have lead to the Swedish massage we are familiar with today.

1900s-Current Day

In the early 20th century, the benefits of massage therapy were excluded from many journals, believing this kind of treatment to be a luxury only the wealthy could afford. In the latter part of the 20th century until the current day, the interest in the fantastic health benefits of massage has only grown, and more doctors and physicians are beginning to prescribe massage as a form of medicinal therapy. Today, massage therapy is still increasing, with new methods and tools being developed every day.

Types of Massage

There are multiple kinds of massage available today so it can be hard to determine which will be most beneficial for you. Here are some of the massage techniques being employed today to help you find the style that most appeals to your specific situation.

types of massage infographic

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Swedish

This is the massage style that comes to mind for most people. Swedish massage uses long strokes and comfortable pressure to relax the muscles and ease tension. It is the perfect massage for first timers as it is a relaxation-focused form of massage.

Shiatsu

This form of massage originates from the original Chinese methods and aims to eliminate energy blockages in the body so energy can flow efficiently and freely, keeping the recipient mentally and physically balanced. This massage is fantastic for relaxation, improving circulation and releasing oxytocin.

Sports therapy

This massage method is designed for athletes and highly active people. It is a variation of Swedish massage that is meant to work out aches that cause constant pain or less-than-optimal muscle performance. It helps athletes to recover quickly but is not for the faint of heart as the pressure can be rather intense and sometimes painful, but incredibly beneficial.

Aroma Therapy

This style is based on the practice of Swedish massage but uses essential oils that are believed to have healing properties. The therapist can choose oils to address a specific issue, and can also mix oils to provide the most relaxing, beneficial experience.

Deep Tissue

This type of massage is designed to address tension in the deepest layers of muscle tissue and fascia. It demands a much more intense pressure and targeted kneading techniques. It is ideal for those people who might suffer from chronic pain, and can also help to increase the range of motion and daily performance.

Hot Stone

In this style of massage therapy, the masseuse uses hot stones as a tool to relieve tension and promote relaxation. The heated stones are meant to help melt tight areas, allowing them to use long strokes and relaxing pressure to alleviate paint and loosen trouble spots.

Trigger Point

This type of massage is true to its name. It is meant to alleviate pain radiating from a particular area or spot. This can benefit people who suffer from sciatica, plantar fasciitis, and other area-specific conditions. Trigger point massages are known for being slightly painful but very beneficial.

Thai

Thai massage is very involved so be prepared to participate in the massage with the therapist. It is also known as a “yoga massage” and involves a series of stretching and massage points on a fully clothed recipient. One can expect greater flexibility, the range of motion and temporary relief of pain.

Prenatal

These massages are designed uniquely for expecting mothers. Instead of lying on her stomach, she will either recline on her side or will be able to rest on a table with a hole cut in the middle. The massage therapists who perform these massages are knowledgeable of the pain brought on by pregnancy and will execute specific methods to help relieve discomfort and promote relaxation.

Reflexology

These kinds of massages are designed to be done at the feet of the patient. The therapists use precise points of pressure that are thought to correlate with other areas in the body and organs. Pressing and kneading these areas of the food is believed to provide immediate relief and better function to the rest of the body.

Tui Na

One of the original methods used by the Chinese, Tui Na massage is making a come back. This kind of massage uses other techniques such as acupuncture along with massage methods similar to chiropractic and bodywork to address specific areas or to promote total-body healing.

Craniosacral Therapy

In this kind of massage, the therapist uses subtle manipulative movements and techniques to help balance the continually draining and refilling of fluid around the brain and spinal cord. This is a very gentle technique that can help relax and restore comfort to patients that might be feeling pain.

Lymphatic Massage

This is a very gentle massage that incorporates repetitive movements and strokes to activate the lymphatic system. This kind of massage is beneficial for those patients who have a passive lymphatic system, are always ill, or are recovering from an injury or post-surgery pain.

Reiki

Reiki originates from Japan. It is a type of hands-on body work that incorporates different holding techniques designed to release from negative energies and restore mental calmness. The holding patterns are thought to correspond to organs and nerves and help the body to heal itself. The style of massage is gaining popularity and is incredibly relaxing.

Health Benefits of Massage Therapy

Massage has shown itself to be incredibly relaxing and healing, but here is a more detailed list of the ways you could benefit by taking part in the practice of massage therapy.

health benefits of massage infographic

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Skeletal Benefits

Spinal Alignment/Posture

Getting regular massages can aid in realigning the spine to help in achieving a better posture. The muscles and joints in the spine will begin to deteriorate if they are misused due to slouching or poor posture. Massage will reawaken the spine and create space in the joints, alleviating pain and allowing for a healthier and more upright position.

Joint Health

Joint health can often be forgotten, but you can keep them healthy because massages increase the range of motion in joints. Joints are nourished by your body’s joint fluid which can be moved and circulated by receiving a massage. Regular massage will keep your joints nourished and lubricated.

Helps Heal Fractures/Breaks

If you have suffered a fracture or a break, having a massage can encourage blood flow and fluids to that area without causing moment in the bone fragments. Added fluids will help the injured area to heal.

Prevents Adhesions

After suffering injury or overuse, the body can repair with tissue that is immobile and inflexible, causing stiff adhesions. Massage can prevent these adhesions from forming to allow you a full range of motion and flexibility.

Muscular Benefits

Promotes Healing

If you have a strain or a tear in the muscular tissues of a particular area, massage can improve blood flow to that area allowing for faster healing.

Myofascial Release

Myofascial fibers can thicken over time with use or injury. These fibers are inflexible and can cut off blood flow and mobility. It is possible to perform a self-myofascial release, but massage therapy is more relaxing and can help the process along more quickly.

Decrease Tension

Muscle memory can cause chronic tension and eventually pain. Massage of those muscles will allow them to release, creating less tension in the body.

Faster Athletic Recovery Time

Athletes who participate in strenuous daily exercise have been shown to recover faster and perform better after a massage. Massage breaks up lactic acid in the muscles and encourages blood and oxygen to the area, allowing the tissue to repair itself faster.

Range Of Motion

Tightness and sore muscles that are not stretched or massaged can cause a loss in the range of motion. Massaging muscles keep them functioning in peak condition and allow for a full range of motion later on.

Organ Benefits

Heart Function

Massage causes the muscles in the body to begin to warm up. How does this happen? An increase in circulation. For the body to circulate blood into all the muscles and tendons that are being squeezed and stroked, the heart must pump blood more efficiently for it to reach all areas of the body.

Veins/Artery Function

Massage promotes better blood flow which in turn reduces blood pressure over time. Studies show that the benefits of a massage on hypertensive women (women whose stress puts a strain on heart and blood vessels) can last up to 72 hours after a massage.

Lung Function

Internal organs (involuntary muscles) can also form adhesions. In certain situations, the organs can form adhesions between each other, such as the liver forming an adhesion to the respiratory wall. By using massage to release these adhesions, it results in more in-depth breathing.

Stomach and Intestine Function

Peristalsis is the contracting and releasing function performed by the intestines to digest food and move it through the digestive tract. If this function is slowed or stalled for reasons such as IBS, stress, or food intolerances, it can cause bloating, constipation and abdominal pain. By massaging the abdomen or the torso area, your body can be stimulated to produce the enzymes that help your body digest. Massage can also help to move gas out of the intestines to reduce in bloating and further blockages.

Skin Benefits

Skin is an organ too! Increased circulation throughout the body will result in more oxygen being delivered. This helps the skin to turn over old cells faster, creating supple, nourished, and wrinkle-free dermal layer. All the added mental and physical benefits (less stress, more sleep, better blood flow, hormone production) will show on your skin to produce an anti-aging effect.

Physiological Benefits

Relaxation and Stress Relief

Physical touch and stimulation of the muscles and joints can help you release stress and tension accumulated throughout the day. Massage promotes physical relaxation, which then allows your body to manage cortisol (the major stress hormone) better. By reducing the amount of cortisol production or by being able to manage it better, you’ll feel less stressed overall.

Feel-good Hormone secretion

Relaxing human touch causes the body to release serotonin which is a vital chemical for human function. It is responsible for balancing the mood and preventing depression. Too little serotonin can result in depression, but can also affect the appetite.

Endorphins are released during massage. They are another neurotransmitter associated with feelings of happiness and excitement.

The release of dopamine causes you to feel good, have increased motivation and to battle self-doubt.

Massage therapy causes the body to release all three of these essential feel-good hormones, which will keep your mood balanced and positive.

Improved Sleep

The increase in serotonin also improves sleep quality because of its ability to help the body’s production of melatonin. Melatonin helps you to fall asleep faster and stay asleep.  Sleep quality is essential for all physical and mental function.

Improved Memory

The hormones released by receiving regular massage play a key role in maintaining a good memory. The addition of better sleep will also help to improve memory.

Increased Libido (and better function)

Serotonin production is directly related to sexual libido and function. Too little will reduce in lack of desire and sometimes impotence. Regular massage can help to battle these issues.

Increased Energy

Increased circulation because of massage results in more oxygen being delivered to the muscles. This is essential for the human body to feel energized. Regular massage, in addition to improved sleep, will create better circulation and therefore more energy.

What do you think? Try out some of the massage techniques listed here and see how your body and mind feel. With all the research being conducted on this ancient form of medicine, there are so many ways that you too can add massage therapy to your everyday health routine.