The Eastern Approach to Touch
by Brian Bernard, M.T.
Massage is mankind's natural response for relieving pain and illness. When children are hurt their instant reaction is to have mom rub the pain away. As adults, we apply pressure to our temples to relieve headaches. Man has learned that the sense of touch can be utilized to improve health, treat injuries and sickness and provide comfort. From this came the development of massage.
The origins of massage lie in the ancient past of China. Stone carvings dating as far back as the Shang dynasty (2300 B.C.) describe massage methods for treating infants. Later massage techniques were formulated from these basic ideas.
Two fundamental principles form the foundation of all Oriental therapies and health art philosophies. These are the Yin-Yang principle and the concept of Chi or Qi. (Chi is the vital life force energy on which physical life is dependent.) The Yin-Yang principle addresses the natural balance of complementary, yet opposing forces which form the universe, as well as the human body. Oriental therapies operate on the belief that the body is made up of a network of energy lines or meridian pathways through which the chi energy flows. If the flow of chi is smooth, then a person is healthy. If the flow becomes sluggish and stagnant, pain and illness will result.
Along each of these channels are specific focal points of chi energy called acupoints. Stimulating these points affects the chi energies moving through each channel. The immediate therapeutic goal of Oriental massage is to restore the free flow of chi and blood. This in turn allows the immune system to operate at its optimum.
There are several categories of Chinese massage, including Tui Na (Push and Grab), An Mo (massage for general relaxation), Wai Qi Liao Fa (External Chi Healing), and Pediatric Tui Na.
Tui Na - One of the oldest developed massage system, Tui Na utilizes pushing and grabbing to treat soft tissue damage, joint and tendon diseases and internal disorders.
An Mo - The general relaxation massage (An Mo) was first practiced instinctively by blind men and later passed down as a family tradition. A variety of hand techniques consisting of grasping, pressing, penetrating, rubbing and rolling are used to stimulate the chi energy system, acupoints, and channels - which in turn affects the physical body.
Wai Qi Liao Fa - In China, scientists are currently conducting research on the effects of external chi healing (Wai Qi Liao Fa) on cancer patients. By projecting their external chi, Chi Gung doctors have thus far achieved remarkable results in speeding up the recovery process.
Pediatric Tui Na - Good for both overcoming and preventing sickness, Pediatric Tui Na addresses the different acupoints found in infants. With meridians which are not fully developed, infants can not be treated in the same way as adults.
As successful stories of these massage therapies spread throughout Asia, various methodologies were developed using different techniques, yet based on the same principles of Yin-Yang and Chi. Shiatsu, Jin Shin Do®, Reiki and Thai massage are a few such Oriental therapies now popularly practiced in the United States.
Shiatsu - Developed in Japan in the early twentieth century, Shiatsu translates into the word shi (finger) and atsu (pressure). Also known as acupressure, Shiatsu applies pressure through the fingers, thumb and palm to particular points of the body to ease aches, pains, fatigue and tension by stimulating the body's natural powers of recuperation.
Working the same points as acupuncture, Shiatsu helps promote general good health by strengthening the internal organs and by preventing blockage of energy in the body. Athletes, in particular, utilize Shiatsu for a faster recovery from injuries.
Jin Shin Do - Like Shiatsu, Jin Shin Do is another form of acupressure. Incorporating Japanese meditation techniques and dietary principles, Jin Shin Do is a form of connecting acupoints or “Tsubo” in a light, orderly fashion. Gentle, but firm pressure, is used in order to release and direct chi flow.
Through Jin Shin Do treatments, one can become more aware of the body-mind union and one's connection with the environment. Jin Shin Do is a modern art form that is particularly useful for our modern day problems.
Reiki - Reiki (pronounced "Ray-kay") is a Japanese word meaning “universal life energies.” Originating in Tibet thousands of years ago, Reiki is a holistic, natural healing system that touches human beings on a spiritual, mental, emotional and physical level.
Reiki is an energy balancing method designed to enhance the immune system and release and reduce negative stress.
Reiki was rediscovered by Dr. Mikao Usui, who was part of a Christian seminary in Kyoto, Japan, in the mid to late 1800s. Sparked by students' questions about healing miracles, Usui undertook a 21 year quest to learn how to perform similar healings.
Reiki treatments take place in a quiet and comfortable environment. The person remains clothed during the hands-on healing touch and there is no body manipulation.
Thai Massage - Originated in Thailand, Thai massage has been practiced and taught for about 2500 years. This type of massage is based on yoga stretches and acupressure points. Although the origins are somewhat vague, credit is given to a famous Indian doctor named Shirago Kamarpoj.
Prayer ceremonies, conducted in remembrance of him, later were incorporated into the practice of Thai massage.
Thai massage is practiced on a firm matt on the floor. Except for the feet, the client remains fully clothed. Optimizing the use of the practitioner's body weight, this form of massage incorporates elements of gentle rocking, deep stretching, and rhythmic compression. Though very active in nature, both the client and practitioner can reach a meditative state.
Thai massage also improves flexibility, and mainly acts as an external stimulant to produce specific internal therapeutic effects. This also opens up the joints and balances all the major muscle groups of the body.
Other modalities used with massage to increase its effectiveness include moxibustion, utilizing heat and herbs; aromatherapy, using essential oils through the skin or through smell; chiropractic and the use of herbs in the diet to help strengthen and balance the body. Used correctly, all these can enhance the therapeutic effects of massage.
According to Oriental theory good health depends on a balanced flow of energies in the body. These various types of Oriental massages can help remove blockages that cause injury and illnesses, as well as improve vitality and help to build a high level of fitness.
Although these various massage therapies differ in technique, the same theory of balance and internal energy are the basis for them all. In today's world full of stress and pollutants, massage is not a luxury but a necessity for staying healthy - physically, mentally and spiritually.
This is part one in our series on massage.
Brian Bernard is a licensed massage therapist trained at the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine. In his practice he incorporates the styles of Swedish, Tui Na, Shiatsu and Reiki.
Massage photo reprinted with permission from Healing Hands Institute.
Reference web sites:
Taoist Sanctuary of San Diego
4229 Park Blvd., San Diego, California 92103 619-692-1155
Golden Dragon Tao Health Association