Different Types of Asian Massage Techniques
It’s hard to count just how many different branches of massage therapies exist. Each tradition comes with its own type of meditative disciplines, physical strokes, use of accessories such as oils or hot stones, and more details. Often, different branches of massage therapy that originated in Asia get grouped together and generalized as “Oriental,” “Eastern,” or even just “Asian” massage.
Many people do not realize that generalizing all Asian massages into one large category can be harmful, and they do it only for the sake of simplicity. Yet, even though the intention may not be harmful, it’s important to recognize the intricate difference between these techniques that were so painstakingly developed over decades by a variety of different cultures.
It’s true that massage has its roots in Asia, with the earliest recorded types of massage coming from about 3000 BCE in India. However, massage spread throughout the continent over the centuries, and in each country a variety of different traditions developed. Over time, nearly all of the different Asian traditional massage techniques came on their own to focus on a similar theme: energy and balance.
Many Asian massage therapies focus on releasing invisible blockages in the body and soothing energy lines throughout the body, with the intent of establishing a balance of the body and mind with the external environment. It’s easy to generalize, but let’s break down the different kinds of specific traditions that come from different countries and regions from Asia.
Tuina is a traditional type of Chinese massage and one of the most common Eastern massage therapies that are also practiced in America. After feeling a patient’s pulse to determine the status of their internal energy, a Tuina therapist finds energy blockages along the energy meridians of the body and tries to release them to establish balance and harmony within the body.
Tuina is known for its firm grasping, pushing strokes to stimulate energy flow. This acupressure is applied to different parts of the body. Tuina is quite often practices in Chinese hospitals, health clinics, rehabilitation facilities, and other establishments. Tuina is regarded as a highly-respected tradition, much more valuable than a way to simply relax. In fact, in the more traditional areas of China, Tuina therapists are as admired as the highly-trained and very respected American doctors.
Shiatsu is a type of massage commonly practiced and revered in Japan, although it did technically first develop in China before spreading to Japan as other techniques became more common in China. Shiatsu practitioners believe that that regular application of this technique will increase physical strength and resistance to disease in addition to balance and harmony of the mind. It is rumored that after intense Shiatsu sessions, a client will experience symptoms similar to a common cold, such as fatigue, sneezing, and headaches.
Many people believe that these symptoms are a sign that the energy healing has begun. Shiatsu strokes focus mainly on pressure applied with the fingertips, although many Shiatsu therapists also use their palms, elbows, and knees to apply pressure deeper into the energy lines that run throughout the body. Restoring blockages of life energy and allowing energy to flow through the body is believed to bring about total and comprehensive healing.
Champissage is a term that was coined in the late twentieth century from the Hindi and Urdu term for head, champi. This technique was adopted from a different Indian massage technique, Ayurverda. Ayurverda is a traditional Indian massage technique that focuses on applying pressure to the upper body, believing that the mind, body, and spirit are all parts of one unified truth, so anything that benefits one of those areas will bring positivity to the other. Champissage was brought to the United States as a modified, modernized version of Ayurverda that focuses only on the head, face, and neck.
Sometimes called simply “Indian head massage,” Champissage applies deep pressure to the muscles and pressure points in the neck and shoulders before moving to the head and scalp to improve blood circulation to the brain. The client is traditionally seated during the massage, and it is believed that Champissage not only increases energy flow to the brain but improves concentration, hair growth, and the client’s openness to spiritual revelation.
Called Nuat Phaen Boran or, more formally, Nuat Thai, this style of massage combines principles inspired by the Ayurverda of India and yoga poses. The client traditionally wears loose, comfortable clothing and lies, kneels, or stands on a mat on the floor. The body is not rubbed as one might think, but instead it is pulled, pressed, stretched, rocked, and guided into various yoga poses.
The massage follows energy lines, called “sen,” throughout the body, to smooth, stimulate, and encourage healthy energy flow. In traditional places in Thailand, practitioners of this technique must complete at minimum 800 hours of vigorous training, and there are nearly 1,000 traditional clinics registered in Thailand that offer this traditional healing practice.