Massage is an art form which is thousands of years old, and it has been practiced extensively in a wide variety of cultures to heal the body and soul. The increasingly global nature of human interactions has led to a widespread dissemination of massage techniques, and most therapists offer techniques from places like Thailand, Sweden, Indonesia, and Africa in their practices. For clients, the wide range of available styles can be somewhat confusing, especially since many massage therapists will integrate several techniques into one session. The following overview of common techniques is by no means exhaustive, but it should help you distinguish between myofascial release and craniosacral therapy at your next dinner party.
The type that comes to mind when most people hear the word is Swedish or Esalen style massage. Both forms incorporate a great deal of touch with the body, long, flowing strokes, and specialized strokes designed to penetrate areas of deeper tension and pain. For general relaxation, this type of massage is an excellent choice, and will leave your body with an all over good feeling; if you have worked with a good therapist, you may also feel more emotionally balanced as well.
For deeper massage, there are styles like Rolfing, myofascial release, lymphatic drainage, and deep tissue. All of these types incorporate much deeper muscle work, and require more training on the part of the therapist. In most cases, these therapists prefer to work with clients several times, identifying problem areas, releasing tension, and teaching the body to hold strong, healthy postures. Deep work can be intense, as the therapist manipulates muscles and tendons, but is also highly beneficial when performed well.
Other types of massage and bodywork focus more on spirituality. These include craniosacral therapy, Reiki, reflexology, and other types of energy work. The guiding principles behind these styles of bodywork are often rooted in Asian tradition. Energy workers look at the energy of the body and the ways in which it is distributed, searching for areas of blockage, tension, and weakness. Often an energy work session will involve minimal skin to skin contact, but may be accompanied by feelings of intense emotional release.
Some spas are also offer Asian style massages such as Thai, Shiatsu, and acupressure. Thai massage, also called “lazy man's yoga,” is a style in which the client remains fully clothed on a floor mat while the therapist manipulates his or her body into deeply relaxing poses. Shiatsu and acupressure both focus on pressure points related to the energy fields of the body, and seek to release blocked energy to leave the client feeling renewed and healthier. Some spas also incorporate certain rituals, like Lulur, a traditional Javanese body care session with takes place before a wedding.
More exotic options include chai qiao, a Chinese style in which the therapist walks on the client's back with the assistance of a stabilizing frame, and warm stone massage, which uses strategically placed heated stones to deeply relax the body. Many practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine offer tui na, a Chinese tradition which is thousands of years old, and includes rolling motions, deep kneading, pushing, grasping, and drumming on various parts of the body. Another type of exotic massage is Lomi Lomi, a Hawaiian holistic technique.