Erin’s “Healer’s School” Journey (Part 2)

The second entry in Erin’s blog!  She touches on some little known aspects of massage in the West and the rise of Yoga as commonly understood now.  Enjoy!

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Swedish Massage

My teacher Heather and I agreed that it would be good to write about each massage modality on this blog. Swedish massage was supposed to be an easy one to start out with because it is most widely known and used, but it was surprisingly difficult to find detailed information about it.  Most sources glossed over it and gave a few light descriptions, but not much was definitively Swedish. Perhaps this is because Swedish is the foundation of so many other modalities, it doesn’t seem necessary to define it. Heather said, “we walk on the floor all day long but don’t usually think about how it was made”.  I thought it might be sort of boring to write about being that Swedish massage is so common, but here are my interesting findings:

The late nineteenth century and early decades of the 20th century were ripe for a wave of interest in physical fitness to sweep the world. Theorheticaly, people who are physically stronger make for a better nation and would fare better in a violent struggle. Physical fitness became a great matter of importance across the world due to a common struggle for national independence.  Perhaps this era of defining and culturally necessitating exercise also came in preparation for the industrial and technological revolution which would eventually result in many people needing to consciously work to burn calories.

It began with Johann GutsMuths, the Great Grandfather of Gymnastics, developing a system of physical education and introducing it into schools.  He also developed the basic principals of artistic gymnastics.  He inspired Friedrich Jahn and Per Henric Ling, who went on to take this idea into different directions which formulated our idea of physical fitness today.  Jahn, a ferverent nationalist, developed the modern gymnasium set-up and exercises involving parallel bars, rings and high bar and used them in a militaristic training as a way to strengthen his people after the humiliation caused by Napoleon’s destruction.  Per Henric Ling, who had a strong medical background, split it into three catergories: Educational gymnastics, militaristic gymnastics and medical gymnastics.  He recognised that physical exercise should be based in individual needs or differences and that a deep scientific understanding of the effects of exercise is necessary to create a path to optimum health.

First using these movements to heal his own ailments, Per Henrik Ling developed Swedish massage through a process of experimenting with the massage he learned from others.  He created a workable system and integrated program for the treatment of disease using active and passive movements and massage. Many of the positions involved came from those used in Swedish gymnastics at the time.  After passing through 20 years of opposition from the Swedish government because of his lack of medical training and the mystical poetic way he had of explaining things, he was given a license to practice and formulated the Royal Gymnastic Central Institute where he focused on using gymnastics to treat disease. Movements were divided into active, duplicated and passive forms which are now part of a personal exercise program-a practice necessary for optimal health-and resistive or passive therapies which require the assistance of a physical therapist or massage practitioner.

These findings gave birth to a number of modern healthful movement systems and revived an interest in massage lost in the middle ages.  Pilates grew out of this and even much of modern yoga-commonly attributed to ancient India-is actually derived from this Sweedish system of movement.  As the work of Gutsmuth and his intellectual progeny gained in popularity and spread across the world it found its way to India which was struggling for nationalist independence.  Teachers, disguised as gurus to avoid the watch of the Indian government, traveled around teaching a blend of European gymnastics and ancient Indian combat techniques to potential revolutionaries.  These eventually influenced the development of modern vinyasa flow and power yoga systems.

Swedish Massage is a name only recognised in English and Dutch speaking countries, elsewhere it is called “classic massage’.  Its development is commonly attributed to Per Henrik Ling, although Johann Georg Mezger applied the French names to the basic strokes.  It is a system of active and passive movements for the muscles and joints intended to relieve muscular tension, improve blood and lymphatic circulation, increase range of motion, aid in release of toxins and induce a state of deep relaxation.  It is an especially good treatment for pain, joint stiffness and osteoarthritis, as well as stress related disorders. It incorporates five types of manipulation-generally in this order: effleurage (long strokes), petrissage (kneading), friction, vibration and tapotement (tapping).  This is finished with a series of passive and active bending and stretching.

Effleurage is a soothing stroking movement used at the beginning of a massage to apply oil and initiate touch, at end of a massage to calm the body and as a linking move between other techniques to soothe.  Massage is often taught as a technical practice with energy work as an addition, but if one is also concentrating on etheric parts of healing touch, effleurage may be used to clear away released energetic blockages and toxins. Strokes alternate between surface and deep, ethereal and feathering, moving through the top and energetic aura levels of a person or into the muscles, tissues and bones.  The palm of the hand or the finger tips are used, often in a circular motion, acting as a pump to encourage venous and lymphatic return by moving in the direction of the heart and lymph nodes. Light and gentle effleurage may be used for helping people who have cancer as it does not trigger inflammatory response or contribute to any permeability of cells or basement membrane while it contributes to the body’s healthy balance by easing stress and supporting the immune system. This type of massage also does much towards reducing blood pressure, pulse, edema and general tension.

Petrissage involves soft tissues being drawn away from underlying structures.   Palms, fingers, thumbs, arms, elbows, fists and knuckles are used to pick up and squeeze, wring, roll and knead the skin and muscles.  Movements are slow and rhythmic and hands move simultaneously or in opposition with one another.  Petrissage is used to asses superficial muscle and connective tissue layers, to increase circulation, to release adhesions and muscle contraction and minimize atrophy.  It also helps with movement in the stomach and intestines.  One must be careful with using petrissage on newly formed scar tissue, nerve disfunction, bruises, broken or inflamed skin or restricted circulation.  Petrissage is utilized in over half of a massage session and deeply wrings out the muscles, helping them to release tension, lactic acid and toxins.

Through palpitation, effleurage and petrissage a therapist has been able to drain the tissue of toxins, release any surface adhesions and knots and single out tissue in need of deeper therapeutic friction.  Friction is defined as “accurately delivered penetrating pressure through fingertips” (Wikipedia) and involves deep pointed and intense oscillating pressure with heated hands or perhaps hot stones.  The heal of the hand, side of the hand or the fingertips are rubbed over the skin to shake up the muscles and deeply loosen them.  Cross-fibre friction can be used in a general way to broaden and stretch muscle groups.  Transverse friction applied in the direction of tissue fibers is very helpful for breaking up thickened scar tissue, adhesions and to help the body remain flexible and strong as it repairs and heals.

Vibration involves fast repeated shaking movement and is applied manually with great effort in short bursts or mechanically by use of a vibrator.  It is used to prevent, or promote recovery in many ailments including multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, arthritus, fibromayalgia and bone density loss.  Some claim it reduces cellulite, regulates reproductive function, boosts the lymphatic system and metabolism and aids in wound healing.  When vibration is applied for at least 30 seconds, the antagonist muscle pattern relaxes through neurologic reciprocal inhibition. It also stimulates nerve activity and may be used around a joint to innervate the joint and relieve joint pain that may be interpreted as muscle pain.

Tapotement involves the fists, sides of hands or cupped hands rhythmically tapping, slapping, hacking, pounding or patting the muscles to loosen and enhance muscle tone. It can also involve quickly and lightly pinching the skin.  It is used to stimulate cellular activity and wake up the nervous system by causing muscles to contract and relax.  It revitalizes sore and tired muscles and works very well for athletes to stimulate repair and recouperation.  Tapotement also boosts the immune system, releases lymphatic build up and loosens mucus in the airways in cases of congestion.  One must avoid administering tapotement over bony areas, the kidneys, paralyzed muscles and inflamed tissues.

Now that the muscles have been loosened, freed from knots and adhesions, cells awakened and everything is warm and healing, effleurage may be utilized to calm the muscles, clear away that which lingers and ascertain areas that didn’t quite let go. The therapist may end the massage by stretching the passive limbs and applying compression to parts of the body that want a little more attention (although compression isn’t technically part of a Swedish Massage, it goes well with stretching).  The person receiving the massage has given trust to the therapist and opened up a bit as they relaxed, so stretching is a way to give them back responsibility for movement and gently break contact.  The receiver is then left alone for a few minutes to gather themselves and prepare to merge again with daily life.

So this is the system that gave way to many different types of body work and in fact was developed as part of a worldwide curiosity about the physical needs of the body and the effectiveness of hands on healing.  This also involved reawakening ancient massage and physical healing methods which had been lost over time or under persecution of one form or another.  Knowledge about strengthening and healing thus perhaps arises cyclically in relation to a need for humans to be collectively fit in preparation to move towards higher levels of personal freedom and deeper understanding of our reasons for living.

I find it interesting that this has kept pace with the medical and industrial growth we have experienced over the last two hundred years. It seems our collective interest in our ability to heal ourselves and one another with touch, movement and energy gains momentum as our development of more invasive medical procedures and drugs. This is happening at a time when medical practices can superceed the definitions of health and when one who does not seek alternatives could easilly become needlessly dependent on pills and surgeries.  Now you’ll find people doing yoga in commercials and on billboards; mystical practices like Reiki, which once took years to learn, can now be absorbed and attuned over a few hours.  It’s becoming expected that one should have a personal exercise or healing practice and common knowledge that one should turn to holistic, natural or hands-on healing before or in conjunction with the offerings of chemical medicine.    As we seem to be moving so far away from the rhythms and ways of our natural world, there is a huge movement back towards it as though it will not let us drift away completely. The more I learn about my own abilities, the more I have to offer those around me.  It is heartening to know I am not alone in this effort and I look forward to experience more of the elevation in freedom and lifestyle that we collectively prepare for.