Studies by Tiffany Field in the area of working with Preterm Newborns has demonstrated the importance of touch for bonding and attachment. Other studies on social exclusion show the unique way touch can support formation of social bonding between adults.
Touch has an amazing power to reduce stress, effect feelings of reciprocity, trust and generosity, spread compassion and promote feelings of safety.
The history of touch and its therapeutic benefits go back centuries and crosses many cultures. I know with Oriental philosophy massage reaches back to 2700 BC. The first known Chinese text is called “The Yellow Emperor’s Classic Book of Internal Medicine”. The Yellow Emperor is credited for developing the first theory on human healing. He is said to develop the first written collaboration of works on health, disease and medicine.
Some say he is a mythical man of history while many credit his work as a powerful reference for traditional Chinese medicine. The ideas in this ancient manuscript is steeped in Taoist philosophy suggesting that ill-health is a result of an imbalance of Yin and Yang and being influenced by the five elements (Curran, 2008). Regardless of whether myth, legend or actual fact, the work of the Yellow Emperor paved the way for our modern perspective of Oriental Medicine and is the first known practice of massage.
Acupressure massage developed in Central China as an alternative to using needles and applying moxibustion. Acupressure relied on the practitioner applying thumbs and finger pressure on the body. Eventually acupressure travelled to Korea and Japan where it was adopted and evolved into indigenous forms of somatic therapy (Sandifer, 1997).
Many ancient civilizations demonstrate early use of physical touch for healing. Indian, Eypgt and Greece all have some historical references to massage, healing and the power of touch. Not only is there demonstration of massage as a physical practice, written text suggest that massage was a complete mind-body healing system. With recorded history suggesting knowledge of massage in Indian coming from China (Beck, 2010). The Ayurveda texts mention massage as being an important principle for health along with linking the physical body with the great philosophical principles of divine connection.
Evidence of massage in Egypt appears on walls of ancient tombs. One piece of art work depicts two men having their hands and feet massaged crediting the origins of modern-day reflexology to Egypt (Acupressure MLD, 2020). The Ancient Egyptian God Nefertum is known as the God of Perfume and Aromatherapy while mythology suggests the Goddess Isis used massage for healing (Hill, 2010). Other historical Egyptian manuscripts make mention of the power of healing through touch particularly for healing women’s conditions while others record ancient massage oil recipes.
Ancient Greece has many references to massage for health including the father of modern medicine Hippocrates often recording details of treatments involving the effects of ‘rubbing’ and ‘friction’ of the body. Practices in Greece seem to be the earliest form of Sports Massage, with massage being used on the Greek athletes of the time (Beck, 2010).
Modern massage is often accredited to Swedish physiologist and sports man Per Henrik Ling. Ling developed a system of physical therapy that involved movement and touch. Swedish Massage and modern massage terminology was actually coined by Dutch physician Johann Mezger in the 19th Century (Beck, 2010).
Although history does suggest that contribution to modern massage is thanks to a few proports of physical therapies developing the understanding that the power of touch truly contributed to good health of mind and body. John Grosvenor’s work in Chirurgy, a practice of healing with hands), John Kellog’s written work on the benefits of massage and hydrotherapy and countless others throughout the 19th Century lead the way for formation of societies, associations and schools that educated on massage.
Unfortunately throughout the 20th Century massage and the healing power of touch began to loose its influence in the realms of medicine and science. In Japan, the ancient forms of hands on healing like Amna, a healing therapy and massage practiced by the blind was outlawed. Other forms of massage around the globe also experienced a backlash due to abuses in education of massage therapists, ill-repute reputation with a connection of massage to prostitution and technical innovations that seem to diminish the use of a hands-on therapy (Beck, 2010).
Thankfully in places like Japan throughout the early part of the 20th Century there was a shift in thought and by the 1940’s Anma had evolved into Shiatsu. Shiatsu became known as a therapeutic form of bodywork for everybody from the very young, to the very frail and aged. As a form of hands on healing, Shiatsu developed its own complementary system combining Chinese medicine with other techniques. Official training schools opened, offering formal methods of learning this particular technique, spreading all over the world.
Whether as a direct result of the development of Shiatsu, there seemed to be a perpetuation for less allopathic way of healing and a natural way of healing. From 1960 massage has seen a resurgence with many declaring a massage renaissance (Beck, 2010). Science has started catching up once more with the benefits of touch being proven to once more being recognised as a legitimate form of healing.
While the recognition of massage in some medical fields still needs validation, massage is more widely acceptable then it was at the turn of the century. Through quality education and the development of high professional standards the power of touch as massage is becoming known as not only a form of relaxation but as a practice that heals the human body and mind, compliments western medical practices and may alleviate many symptoms of disease.
Acupressure MLD, 2020 History of Massage Therapy in Ancient Civilizations, Acupressure MLD Massage LLC, Florida
Beck, M 2010 Theory and Practice of Therapeutic Massage, Cengage Learning Canada
Curran, J 2005 The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine BMJ publishing group
Hill, J 2010 Massage in Ancient Egypt, Ancient Egypt online
Sandifer, J, 1997 Acupressure for health and vitality, Element, Dorset
Vickers, A, Zollman, C and Reinish, T 2001 Massage Therapies, Western Journal of Medicine, BMJ publishing group,