Massage is likely the oldest form of healing in existence. The use of touch to relieve aching muscles, to give comfort or to express love predates humankind. As a stress-reliever it is without equal, and every culture has used massage in some form or other.
Written records mentioning massage, or “rubbing” as it was previously known, date back over 5,000 years, with the most ancient Chinese medical texts advocating stroking the limbs to “protect against colds, keep the organs supple and prevent minor ailments”. In India, Ayurvedic scriptures dating back nearly 4,000 years recommend rubbing and shampooing the body to keep it healthy and promote healing. India has an unbroken tradition of using massage since that time; most Indian mothers are taught to massage their newborn babies, and later the children are taught to massage their parents.
In ancient Greece, the practice of rubbing up the limbs, or anatripsis, was recommended for treating fatigue, sports or war injury(let me massage away the pain from that arrow sticking our of your back) and illness. Hippocrates, the so-called “father” of medicine, writing in the fifth century BC, stated that the physician must be “experienced in many things but assuredly rubbing”. He suggested that the way to health was to have a scented bath and an oiled massage each day.
The Romans were equally enthusiastic about the benefits of massage, incorporating it into a daily routine in their spas, alongside hot and cold baths. One of the most famous Roman physicians, Galen, wrote several books on massage, exercise and health in the second century AD, and classified many types of strokes for use in different ailments. A good masseur was highly regarded.
Massage continued to be popular and respected in Europe after the Romans had left, although their elaborate bathing and massage facilities fell into disrepair. With the rise in more puritanical aspects of Christianity, however, the needs of the body were felt to be in some way sinful and massage became rather neglected.
From the time of the Renaissance, when classical medicine and philosophy were once again in favor, massage was revived and respected again; the French doctor “Ambroise Pare”, who was physician to four French kings, used massage a great deal in his practice. Other cultures had always continued to value massage. Captain Cook wrote in his diaries how he was cured of sciatic pains in Tahiti by being massaged from head to foot by several women at once.
The most influential figure in renewing interest in massage during the nineteenth century was the Swedish gymnast, Per Henrik Ling (1776-1839) . Ling studied the human body in activity and rest, and laid the foundations for modern gymnastics. He developed a system of medical gymnastics, exercises for the joints, and massage, based upon ancient techniques, which led to a Crown appointment and the formation of an institute of massage. His classification of strokes and their effects forms the basis of most Western massage today, and brisker styles of massage are often called Swedish massage.
The latest development of massage happened during the 1960s and 1970s, especially in the US, where personal growth centers -most notably the Esalen Institute – adapted massage into a holistic approach that looked at releasing trapped emotional issues and creating overall health and balance rather than simply easing tired muscles or aching limbs. American massage therapist George Downing wrote on this holistic view of massage, and many schools now teach the subject within this framework.