Humans’ bodies and senses are immersed in a constant stream of rich and varied information and interactions with our environment. It is for this adaptive reason, perhaps, that massage, an interactive facilitated social healing vehicle via the body’s intricate nervous system and cellular chemical communication mechanisms, is so apt in manifesting rest, repair and readjustments within the various intelligent and sophisticated biological components that facilitate and process our reality and make up the entire human being.
Human touch communicates and demonstrates helpfulness, caring, support, sympathy, love, intimacy and a whole host of other facets and dimensions of our relationships, close or more remote, with those around us. Touch conveys connectedness though space and time and for centuries has been noted by our ancient ancestors in nearly every culture around the world to produce emotional and physical healing and to be an essential and stable core of emerging civilisation, science and health practices.
Archaeological evidence of massage has been found in many of our ancient civilizations including China, India, Japan, Korea, Egypt, Rome, Greece, and Mesopotamia. Massage is found recorded in the Huangdi Neijing (around BC 722-481), the foundation of traditional Chinese medicine, which is a compilation of medical knowledge dating back some 4000 years from the time of the Yellow Emperor (approx 2700 BC). Also known as “The Yellow Emperor’s Inner Canon”, it describes the use of different massage techniques in treating specific ailments and injuries.
The ancient Greek physician Hippocrates of Cos (c. 460-c. 370 BC), widely recognised as the father of Western Medicine and credited with coining the Hippocratic Oath wrote, “The physician must be experienced in many things, but assuredly in rubbing”.
Claudius Galen, born in 131 AD, a gifted, influential Greek scholar and physician who studied at the famous medical school in Alexandria in Egypt, brought to Rome and revived Hipoocrates work and methods and there extended his knowledge of anatomy by dissecting pigs and apes and studying their bone structure and muscles. Galen also studied the working of the blood and nervous system and was a prodigious writer of books. Galen’s manuscripts were translated by the Persians in the Middle Ages and then came back to Europe via Latin translations in the 11th century and again in the 15th and 16th centuries during the Renaissance. The great Persian medic Avicenna, also known as Ibn Sina, who lived from 980 AD to 1037 AD, whose work included a comprehensive collection and systematisation of the fragmentary and disorganised Greco-Roman medical literature that had been translated Arabic by that time, took special note of the use of analgesics as well as other methods of relieving pain, including massage.
Massage therapy made further in roads into Western medicine and culture with the scientific advancements of the Renaissance (14th to 16th century) and Enlightenment (17th to 18th century), the latter period embracing the philosophy of Rationalism – that the world could be understood and that the human condition could be improved by scientific enquiry. Significant scientific developments that had an impact on massage practice were:
1. Andre Versalius’s De Humani Corpis Fabrica which established the foundations of human anatomy (1543). 2. Girolamo Mercuriale’s De Arte Gymnastica on the use of exercise for health promotion & prevention of disease (1549). 3. Cambridge Lecturer Timothy Bright’s, first medical work which discussed the benefits of exercise and massage (1584). 4. William Harvey’s discovery of the circulatory system (1618) 5. Robert Hooke’s Micrographia of “cells”. (1665)
The Renaissance period also brought the Gutenberg press, advents in sailing enabling closer economic ties between all of Europe, the East and the New World and Greek and Roman texts began to be translated from Latin into Italian, French, and English, so scholars could expand upon ancient wisdom. In 1776, French missionaries Jean Joseph Marie Amiot, and Pierre-Martial Cibot, translated summaries of Huangdi Neijing in China, including a list of medical plants, exercises and elaborate massage techniques, into the French language.Pierre-Martial Cibot’s French language summary of medical techniques used by Taoist priests, ‘Notice du Cong-fou des Bonzes Tao-see, which consisted of a system of medical gymnastics almost certainly influenced Swedish founder of the modern phase of the art, Per Hendrik Ling who developed what would become known as modern Swedish Massage, his techniques developed from fundamental elements of Kung-Fu based Tui na which had been practised in China for several thousand years prior.
Perhaps, all we as individuals simply need to recognise in this era of better access to sources of health and medical advice is that massage healing is a natural continuation of the bonds which tie us to family and to one another as a community that can have profound effects on supporting and building our personal lives with others whether at work or at home in a healthy, natural and sustainable way.