formal modalities

many different styles of massage exist, such as swedish or deep-tissue. these are called modalities of massage

a lot of this is bullshit

some is not. a prenatal massage is very different from a thai massage

but for many of the other terms, the distinctions are subtle if they even exist

this is because your average person does not get a lot of professional massages. accordingly, if they do go into a massage parlor, they’re presented with a menu of confusing terms, and ultimately probably just want to be rubbed and feel good about it

similarly, their therapist may have training in several different formal modalities, but also probably just blend everything they’ve learned into their own personal full-body style

personally, when i’ve found myself getting a professional massage, rather than ask for a specific modality, i’ll tend to ask for a whole-body massage with maybe a focus on some part like the back of my legs or something. this tends to communicate a lot more than hoping me and the therapist both use the same definition for some exotic name

but in the sake of completeness, here follows a brief rundown on a number of modalities and what the words mean:

general full-body massage

in the realm of rub the body and feel good about it, most of these modalities blend together:

  • sports massage
  • swedish massage
  • deep tissue massage
  • myofascial release
  • trigger point massage
  • craniosacral therapy
  • shiatsu massage

sports massage is done at the gym, while swedish and deep tissue massage are done at the massage parlor, but other than that they’re about the same thing. you probably get to leave more of your clothes on with a sports massage

swedish massage is supposedly a little lighter on pressure, superficially working only top layer muscles, while deep tissue massage works layers of muscles underneath other muscles. myofascial release is almost exactly the same as deep tissue

trigger point massage has the specific purpose of relieving tension spots, rather than just a general rub-all-over. any good massage should be doing this anyway

craniosacral means there is focus on the spine, from the top (cranium) to the bottom (sacrum)

shiatsu massage means the therapist will pound on you like a drum – the technical word for this technique is tapping – but ultimately it’s still after the same goals

massage with externalities

  • chair massage
  • hot stone massage
  • salt (or sugar) scrub

a chair massage is done with the client seated in a special chair instead of laying out flat on a table. these are popular in airports and malls because the client doesn’t need to undress

a hot stone massage is a whole body massage with heated stones placed on various body parts, or even used as the instrument of massage instead of the therapist’s hands. it can be done very well, but most of the time i tend to think it’s just not worth it

a salt scrub or a sugar scrub is a massage done with handfuls of salt or sugar crystals. this can be absolutely lovely if done well. a salt scrub is the best thing in the world for exfoliating – removing layers of dry dead skin. conversely i’ve also had it done not-well where the therapist just kind of dusted me and brushed it off but didn’t bother with the “scrub” part

specialized techniques

  • reflexology
  • lymphatic drain
  • prenatal massage
  • reiki
  • thai massage
  • rolfing
  • walking

reflexology is a foot massage. there’s a theory that every part of the body maps to a specific region of the feet and you can cure problems all over with the right pressure on the feet. i tend to hold that most of that is malarky, but i do believe that since our feet connect us to the earth, they affect our entire body balance and posture. a foot massage is one of the nicest gifts one can give or receive

lymphatic drainage is a medical technique to help people who have damaged lymph systems, to help alleviate swollen limbs. it’s done as a very light touch, as the therapist is trying to push fluid around underneath the skin without actually affecting the muscles at all

prenatal massage is a massage for a pregnant person. i think it’s usually done with the recipient laying on their side, tummy propped by a pillow

reiki is purely a spiritual massage – the practitioner pushes the recipient’s energies around without actually touching their body at all. i’ve had this done, and if one is open to spiritual connections i guess it can be cool? but i tend to think one can do even more good pushing energy around through actual touch, and accordingly, reiki is a total waste of time

thai massage is a massage that involves limb bending and deep stretching, sort of like assisted yoga. i’ve never actually received one, though would like to, as it totally sounds like something i’d enjoy

rolfing is the western version of thai massage – invented by a doctor named Rolf, and focused on alignment. again, i’ve yet to try this one but really want to someday. what’s held me back is rolfing is done as a 10-session series, and that’s a lot of commitment

walking is where the massage giver literally walks on the reciever’s back. for obvious rib-breaking and liability reasons, this is not commonly done professionally, at least where i live. one of my mates loves it though, so i’ll touch on some specific details later


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