Students, practitioners and clients alike are very interested in what’s current. We make a priority of learning new techniques, following emerging competitive practices, and keeping up with scientific news relating to massage therapy research. But what about the past? Massage is a practice that can be traced in one form or another back through several historical civilizations.
So for interest’s sake, let’s consider massage’s many global origins and remind ourselves of its rich history. How might historical influences from around the world have come to shape your healing philosophy and beliefs?
In India, Ayurveda was historically used as a system of medicine and healing. As modern-day practitioners know, Ayurvedic practice involves more than the physical aspect of touch therapy- there’s a significant spiritual component to it as well. Ancient Indian philosophy teaches us that the body becomes painful and ill when it’s out of sync with its environment. The design of Ayurvedic practice, which is thought to date back as far as 3 000 BCE, was (and still is) to restore harmony between the patient, nature and the universe.
Egypt is thought to be the origin of reflexology, and also a site for some of the earliest recorded evidence of massage therapy in the form of cave drawings.
Following shortly on its heels in the historical timeline came early Chinese texts about massage as a therapeutic practice, dating back to 2700 BCE. This branch of massage also includes a heavy spiritual component. Similar to Ayurveda, Chinese massage believed that successful treatment required a realigning of the body’s physical energies. Ancient massage was thought to open the body’s passageways to better allow for the free-flowing movement of this energy.
So when did massage therapy begin to appear in the West? With its introduction to Greece around 800 BC. Those interested in Sports Massage Therapy may know that Greek athletes used massage techniques to recover and heal their bodies around this time. Over the next several centuries, other parts of Europe began to see massage as an exotic and exciting relaxation technique and treatment.
Although massage therapy was practiced throughout Europe as early as the 17th century, we know that North Americans caught onto the trend much later. It wasn’t until the 20th century that massage was used to treat muscle pain and injury, and grew to become a luxury treatment. Over the last several decades we’ve seen massage shift to the mainstream, and grow much more accessible and accepted in our society.
Today, massage is a much relied-on and respected physical treatment for managing pain, improving circulation, lowering stress, and treating muscle injuries. But as we know, the journey of massage therapy isn’t over. It continues to chart new territory, and have a major impact on health and wellness. When we grow impatient with the work of changing attitudes toward massage, it’s pretty neat (and helpful) to consider its advances against a backdrop of its entire history.
So as we advocate massage therapy and continue to champion its progression into hospitals and health coverage, let’s acknowledge the global and very gradual journey it’s taken from its origins.