Oriental Therapies

Ancient answers to modern maladies?

When it comes to East Asian massage techniques, you might want to check your skepticism at the door. Some people find it difficult not to smirk when a therapist pulls out terms like "chi" or "energy meridians." But hey, whatever floats your boat - if your massage therapist says she's great at giving massages because the ghost of Confucius is guiding her hand, that doesn't change the fact that it feels fantastic. While the ancient explanations for why these techniques work - "unblocking" your life force paths or bringing your "mind and spirit into balance" - may sound like so much voodoo, there's no denying that people around the world have benefited physically and mentally from these folk remedies. Practitioners of ancient massage forms, such as Shiatsu and Ashiatsu, have devoted thousands of years to learning what makes your body feel better.

Most of the Asian techniques, whether it's tui na or shiatsu-amma, rely upon the ancient concept of pressure points within the body. Advocates believe that these spots are key points in energy channels that flow through the body. By manipulating these points, so the thinking goes, "blocked" energy points can be cleared, improving the overall health of the body and aiding stress and muscle pain relief. Acupressure has existed for more than 5,000 years. Using the same "map" of the body as acupuncturists, acupressure practitioners use their hands, fingers and elbows to apply pressure to key locations on the body.

While most of the Eastern schools are based on acupressure ideas, they build on the concept in unique ways. Zen shiatsu adds the element of meditation. The practitioner of this massage form believes that being in a meditative state helps her understand the specific treatment needed for a particular kind of condition. Watsu adds an entirely new environment to traditional acupressure. This type of therapy is conducted in a very warm pool of water. The therapist supports the patient as the patient floats on the surface of the water. The masseuse manipulates the limbs of the recipient, by applying pressure but also stretches, while supporting the body along the spine. Zero balancing is an entirely modern method, yet based on ancient Asian principles. The practitioner tries to bring the body and the body's "energy" into balance with each other, through manipulating pressure points and applying traction.

The ultimate test of any therapy isn't the philosophy behind it but its efficacy. You can take or leave the Eastern mysticism that underlies these treatments. But in the hands of an experienced therapist, they should, at a minimum, induce a state of relaxation and ease aching joints and muscles.

Advertiser Links for Massage Therapy