An oriental massage, sometimes also called an Asian massage, is a type of massage therapy intended to relieve pain and tension through strategic pressure. The biggest difference between an Asian massage and a more standard muscle massage is the ideology underwriting the process. To some extent, all massages are designed to relieve muscle tension and promote healing. Those under the “oriental” banner usually focus on Eastern philosophies or theories about human energy, and may also rely on aspects of Eastern medicine, including the use of certain oils, plants, and earth elements for healing. Different practitioners necessarily have different individual philosophies and techniques, and there isn’t usually any uniform definition or set of rules for what this sort of massage is or should contain. People who have something specific in mind often look for discreet subsets of Asian massage, in particular practitioners who embrace the philosophy of chi, Thai therapy, Shiatsu, and Indonesian or Javanese massage. Each has its own unique characteristics that make it more than just an “oriental” experience.
What Makes a Massage “Oriental”
The term “oriental” is typically used to encompass anything that is from or sometimes even simply reminiscent of Asia. When applied to massages, the categories opened up can be quite broad. In most cases, though, these sorts of procedures and treatments are steeped in ancient Eastern ways of thinking about health, wholeness, and wellness. It is usually this philosophical focus that sets these sorts of massages apart. Ancient ways of thinking about muscle energy can inform the way a masseuse treats stiffness, for instance, and can dictate ways of rubbing and circulating energy through the hands. Even if the actual strokes and movement sequences are similar to massages from other parts of the world, this philosophical guidance is what usually sets oriental treatments apart.
One way to think about oriental massage is as an ancient form of therapy designed to relieve pain and tension in joints and muscles, reduce stress, enhance circulation of blood, and preserve an overall healthy body and peaceful mind. This type of massage is widely believed to have originated in the Far East and is based on the theories of Chinese medicine using the concept of a core energy, known as chi, that flows throughout the body. This form of therapy treats tender parts of the body by massaging them with the fingers, thumbs and palms, typically with the use of massage oils. Therapists are often seeking to “unlock” or “unblock” a person’s chi, and in so doing restore balance and wellness.
Thousands of years ago, Thai therapy was designed in Thailand by Buddhist monks. This form of massage incorporates breathing and stretching techniques. Thai therapy is also sometimes colloquially called "lazy yoga," because instead of a person attempting to stretch his or her own body parts a therapist or a skilled masseur performs the act of stretching while the recipient remains passive. This type of massage specifically affects the nervous system and balances the flow of energy in the body, which is thought to lead to a more harmonized body and mind. It can also enhance flexibility if performed regularly.
Shiatsu is a massage technique from Japan. This method is similar to Chinese acupuncture except that instead of using needles, practitioners exert pressure only with their fingertips. Deep breathing is an important factor in this method. Shiatsu can boost the immune system and, if it is practiced regularly, the patient can develop better digestion and reproductive functions. A further benefit to the body through consistent Shiatsu is a better posture. Shiatsu done frequently is said to lead to a more peaceful mind.
Indonesian and Javanese Massage
Indonesian-Javanese massage is done by a therapist using the hands and knuckles. This method of massage is a popular therapy to help relieve backaches and muscle tensions. The hands and knuckles are used to massage the body which can make the process somewhat painful for people who aren’t used to it, but the benefits are usually about the same as those associated with Thai and Shiatsu practices.
Therapeutic and Healing Properties
Different methods of Chinese and Japanese massage are used in drug rehab centers and in hospitals, often as a complement to more traditional treatments for such things as cancer and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). These methods are used as a form of relaxation to help the patients control and reduce stress and maintain a balance between the body and the soul, and often put the patient in a frame of mind to accept their diagnosis and accept the challenge of fighting their ailment.
It’s important to note here that massage isn’t typically used on its own to diagnose or treat any condition, and results can vary significantly from person to person. The healing benefits of massage have been speculated on, but haven’t been widely established in the medical or scientific communities. Most people who receive regular treatments do so out of personal conviction that the therapy will achieve whatever ends are desired, whether or not there is any guarantee of the same.