by Joseph Hood
Whether from strenuous physical activity or the physiological effects of mental stress on the body, muscle pain and unnecessary tension are familiar companions to many in the modern age. As you’re reading this you may even notice that your own body has tensions that you’re only vaguely aware of; a clenched jaw or hunched, tight shoulders to name two common culprits (this is your friendly reminder to unclench and unhunch). Fortunately, many methods to reduce pain and tension in the body do exist and this guide will focus on one of the oldest forms of tension reduction therapy: the massage.
A Short History of Massage
The word massage was adopted to English in the late 19th century, by way of France, from the Portuguese “amassar” which literally translates to “knead”. While that’s a fitting definition for the activity we’re exploring, the origin of the act is itself far older.
Massage therapy has actually existed since approximately 3000 BCE with its roots firmly planted in ancient India. In the Hindu tradition, practitioners of Ayurveda medicine held massage in high regard as a form of sacred healing. One of the original ideas surrounding Ayurveda practice was that illness and pain are caused by the body being out of balance with its surroundings and, therefore, balance had to be restored manually in order for the body to be able to heal itself properly.
Over the next few thousand years, massage practice spread from India to China and south-east Asia (where it mingled with traditional medicine and meditation, as well as Buddhist and Taoist sensibilities), to Egypt (where reflexology was pioneered), to Japan (where the introduction of massage planted the seed that would see the rise of Shiatsu practice), and to Greece and Rome (where massage was adopted by such figures as Hippocrates and Galen, giving rise to the Greek and Roman bath houses and spas).
After a decline in the western practice of massage, a Swedish doctor by the name of Pehr Henrik Ling reignited the medical practice of massage in the early 1800s as a means to manage chronic pain in the body. This revival set down the ground work for what would later become one of the most commonly used techniques in the world: Swedish massage.
Fast forward to 2022 and it’s the month of all things romantic. What better way to show your partner, significant other or really close friend that you love them, than to surprise them with a spa day complete with a relaxing massage? While trained massage therapists will offer the best results, it is perfectly possible that a massage from an amateur can yield safe, beneficial results and help towards relieving tension and discomfort that has been left to build up in the body.
First thing’s first: it’s time to set the scene and prepare the room with a space to lay down comfortably. Soft lighting and aromatherapy candles or essential oils along with light ambient music or soundscapes can make a regular massage significantly more relaxing for the recipient. Don’t forget to make sure the temperature of the room is suitable for light clothing or no clothing at all since the last thing anyone wants is a massage that feels like it’s taking place at the South Pole. Lastly, make sure to have stocked up on essentials such as towels, lotions and massage oil. Voyager’s own lavender and ylang-ylang CBD massage oil is infused with a generous supplement of cannabidiol which, when applied topically, can reduce inflammation and muscle pain to increase the relaxation factor even more.
Technique and Theory
Now that the space is set up, it’s time to go over some of the fundamentals of massage. While the basics are easy to pick up, mastering them is something that takes a long time to accomplish so don’t worry if you feel a little lost to begin with.
Swedish massage uses four different movements or “strokes” to effectively relax the body. These each have a specific name but don’t worry about remembering them; all you need to remember is the distinction between the four strokes which are as follows:
Effleurage: a gliding motion in which the hands meet little resistance as they work the soft muscle tissue in the back.
Petrissage: requiring a little more effort in rolling and squeezing the different muscle groups with your hands. This motion is extra helpful for releasing tension.
Friction: this one is all about deep tissue stimulation and improving circulation. Long, slow movements with maintained, consistent pressure. This is where the “kneading” comes in!
Tapotement: this is the light and frequent karate chop style motion you’ve likely seen in popular depictions of professional massage work. Using the sides or heels of the hands, this motion “wakes up” the targeted muscles and promotes the release of toxins from the tissue.
Above all else it is important that the massage remains safe and enjoyable so make sure you’re listening to and communicating with your partner. If you’re unsure as to whether something you’re doing feels pleasant or uncomfortable simply ask them and continue or adjust accordingly. While pressure should sometimes be firm it should never be painful so be mindful of the effort you’re putting in and always remember that your goal is to massage and stimulate the muscles in the back and not the bones that support them.
Take your time to familiarise yourself with each stroke and the muscle groups you’re going to apply them to and then slowly work your way up and down the back and into the shoulders, paying extra attention to any areas that seem particularly tense. Finally, while you give a massage it’s important not to move too quickly as each motion should be relatively slow and deliberate. Fast motion can make a massage seem rushed and half hearted so take it easy and focus on what your hands are doing and the responses your partner is giving you.
So there you have it, a basic primer and foundation for massage work! If done correctly your partner should feel physical relief and a noticeable reduction in tension throughout the back and shoulders. Who knows, they may be so happy with the experience that they offer you a relaxing massage in return and it may even become a regular activity for unwinding together. Talk about a healthy relationship!