Holistic Massage

What is Holistic Massage?

This is a therapy which has been used for centuries to promote relaxation and better health for the recipient – both physically and mentally.

It can be combined with various other complementary therapies and modern medicine itself. It can also be used in a number of settings such as sports and pain relief clinics, and is regarded as a preventative measure against illness.

Massage involves touching by the hands (which can be therapeutic in itself) utilising a range of movements such as stroking and kneading to manipulate the soft tissues of the body, especially the muscles. This can be performed on the outer skin in a gentle fashion, stimulating and vigorous, or a combination of both.

Instead of – or combined with – their hands, some therapists will also use their elbows, knees and forearms.

Because the skin is the largest organ in the body the whole process can have positive effects on much of the body’s functioning such as the blood circulatory system, lymphatic system and channels of elimination. It can trigger a sense of well-being through releasing endorphins – the body’s feel-good chemicals. As a result it lifts the recipient’s mood, greatly reduces stress and brings the body into balance and harmony.

The term holistic means whole or ‘all encompassing’ and therefore in a holistic massage the entire body receives attention.

What to expect

Prior to the massage the therapist will chat to you about your general health, take a medical history and explain the massage process. You will be advised that certain medical conditions such as those related to the cardiovascular system, cancer, osteoporosis or are in the first trimester of pregnancy are unsuitable for massage therapy. It is also not advisable to perform massage if you have an area of unexplained pain, an open/healing wound or areas of skin infection. Those taking blood thinners such as Warfarin should also avoid.

The therapist will leave the room, which should be warm, and you will be expected to strip down to your undergarments. There should be a bath robe available with which you can swathe yourself. (Occasionally therapists are happy to perform a massage with the recipient in loose fitting clothing but this is more the exception than the rule).

Once alerted the therapist will re-enter the room and you will be expected to climb onto the massage table and lie either face down or facing the therapist. He or she will then place towels over your body.

During the massage the therapist will stroke your body in a variety of ways including gentle stroking and invigorating rubbing. The only part of your body which will be exposed during the actual massage is the part that he or she is working on at that time. The therapist may use aromatherapy oils, cream or even talc. Often the lights are turned down and scented candles left burning in the room to aid relaxation.

A typical holistic massage can be anything from one hour to 90 minutes. During this time the therapist will use a range of techniques such as kneading, stroking, tapping and causing the soft tissues, muscles, ligaments and joints of the body to vibrate (your therapist will probably ask beforehand whether you would like a gentle or more stimulating massage).

Usually a massage begins with long, flowing strokes down large parts of the body such as the back, legs and arms. It is only when time has passed that your therapist will gradually localise on particular parts of the body using, for example, kneading and acupressure techniques. Depending on your need, you could receive a deep tissue massage or lymphatic drainage, acupressure, Swedish massage or some Shiatsu.
Following your massage you will probably feel relaxed then invigorated with a heightened sense of awareness. You may even feel relief from long-term aches and pains which have been caused by a build-up of tension or repeated movements.

Toxins will have been released by the massage so it’s a good idea to keep drinking plenty of water in order to allow the body to flush them out. Some therapists also recommend a hot bath using Epsom salts (again to rid the body of toxins).

Effects and benefits

As you would expect a holistic massage has many benefits, not least the relaxation aspect. It is not only a way of improving blood circulation and increasing both oxygen and nutrient flow to the cells, it also relieves stress and improves sleep. Other benefits include:

  • Eliminates toxins from the body by stimulating lymphatic drainage
  • Improves the condition of skin by removing dead surface skin
  • Relieves tension headaches and has a positive effect on migraines
  • Helps with pain, especially in the back, shoulders and neck
  • Relaxes muscles and leads to improved tone
  • Helps relieve conditions related to anxiety
  • Soothes carpel tunnel syndrome and sciatica
  • Helps with muscle spasm
  • Improves energy and general sense of well-being by releasing endorphins
  • Can help with concentration and focus
  • Help with breathing problems by resulting in more regular and deeper inhalation
  • Speeds up the rate at which the body digests
  • Promotes speedier recovery from injury
  • Can improve self-esteem

Other more specific conditions which can benefit from the application of massage include – asthma and allergies, IBS, teeth grinding, Seasonal Affective Disorder and depression/anxiety in general, heavy and painful periods, infertility and whiplash injuries.

Holistic massage and fascinating facts

  • Holistic body massage developed from Chinese dynasties with the first writings on massage discovered around 2000 BC
  • Egyptian tombs contain drawings of people receiving massage
  • Massage came to Britain via Swedish massage techniques
  • Per Henrick Ling (1776-1839) is the father of modern massage. The psychologist and fencing master developed a series of movements which he used on himself to improve his health and benefit his fitness. These include the terms effluerage, petrosage, tapotement, percussion etc.
  • At one time it was one of the main elements of physiotherapy treatment in the UK
  • The treatment can be used to treat both physical and emotional illness
  • The therapy is based on Swedish massage which was originally developed for gymnasts
  • The idea of massage is natural to mothers who automatically stroke and rub a baby for comfort
  • In China today massage is viewed as a vital component of medical practice
  • Massage therapy was introduced to the United States in the 1850s but fell out of favour during the 1940s. It was revived in the 1970s by a group of athletes
  • Former Basketball champion Michael Jordan had a personal massage therapist who would travel the world with him
  • Figures from a National Health Interview Survey in the States show that in 2007 around 18 million adults and 700,000 children had experienced a massage
  • The word ‘massage’ comes from French and means friction of kneading
  • In Arabic ‘massa’ means to touch, feel or handle
  • In the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta in the States, massage was offered as a core medical service. Now multi-national companies such as Reebok and Boeing offer it to their staff
  • Massage therapy is the most popular and commonly-used form of complementary health medicine in the United States
  • Bowen therapy is a form of massage which is so gentle it can be performed on new-born babies
  • Massage has been used during labour as a means of relaxing the mum-to-be and reducing pain
  • Using touch to show caring tendencies has been shown to help children with severe physical disabilities
  • A recent study found massage therapy used on premature babies resulted in weight gain and a reduction in the number of days they were forced to spend in hospital

Professional Organisations

The General Council for Massage Therapies (GCMT)

A non-profit making organisation which promotes the practice of massage therapy and soft bodyworks techniques throughout the UK. Has an established code of conduct and competence for members and the protection of the public. Encourages continued professional development of registered practitioners. Provides a curriculum for educational and training purposes.


The National Association of Manipulative and Massage Therapists

Represents the interests of professional massage and manipulative therapists throughout the UK. Offers professional guidance and advice and provides information on the subject of massage for members and the public at large. A networking facility for members


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