An introduction to body massage

Writings on massage have been found in many ancient civilisations, including Rome, Greece, India, China, Egypt and Mesopotamia. A biblical reference from c. 493 BC documents daily massage with olive oil and myrrh as a part of beauty regimen, in 460 BC Hippocrates wrote that


“The physician must be experienced in many things, but assuredly in rubbing”. 


An ancient Chinese book by the Yellow Emperor recommended “massage of skin and flesh”.


There are various types of massage that have evolved from many different parts of the world, for example Shiatsu (shi meaning finger and atsu meaning pressure) is a Japanese therapy that uses pressure applied with thumbs, fingers and palms to the same energy meridians as acupressure and incorporates  stretching. It also uses techniques such as rolling, nursing, vibrating and grasping. 

Reflexology is based on the principle that there are reflexes in the hands and feet that relate to every organ, gland, and system of the body so the treatment focuses on manipulating those corresponding areas on the feet and hands. 


The most popular style here in the West which forms the basis of many advanced techniques  is Swedish massage. Swedish massage uses five styles of long, flowing stokes to massage. 

The five basic stokes are

  1. Effleurage (sliding or gliding),
  2. Petrissage (kneading), 
  3. Tapotement (rhythmic tapping),
  4. Frictions (cross fibre), 
  5. Vibrations/shaking

The development of Swedish massage is credited to Per Henrick Ling (1776-1839) through the Dutch practitioner Johan Georg Mezger (1838-1909) who adapted the French names to denote the basic strokes and formulate the routine that become known as “Swedish” or “Classic” massage.


Many different types of oils can be used including fractionated coconut oil, grape seed oil, olive oil, almond oil, macadamia oil, pecan oil, and mustard oil. Aromatherapy oils such as neroli oil and pine oil can also be mixed with carrier oils. Salts can also be used in association with oils to remove dry skin. 

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