When it comes to holistic therapies, do you know your Swedish from your sports, deep tissue or aromatherapy massage, or what happens in a Craniosacral therapy or Shiatsu session?
Understanding the differences between these modalities will help you to choose the most effective technique to support your health and wellbeing needs. We've compiled an overview of some established and emerging holistic therapies, including what happens during a session and the potential benefits.
If you're curious about trying out some new therapies, research taster sessions happening at local spas, gyms or community centres - or head to one of the annual wellbeing festivals such as the four-day London Wellbeing Festival (25-28 May 2018). Festivals provide an excellent opportunity to try out a range of therapies, and be inspired through talks and workshops by experts and thought-leaders on natural health, eco-living, complementary medicine, spirituality and personal growth. Find out more about what's on at this year's London Wellbeing Festival, including the Wellbeing Spa which will be run by Soul Stretch, offering a wide range of massage treatments.
Types of massage and potential benefits
The most widely practiced approach is Swedish massage, which incorporates five basic strokes – effleurage (gliding strokes), petrissage (kneading strokes), friction (steady pressure), tapotement (tapping), and vibration. Benefits can include releasing tension from muscle tissue, increased joint mobility by reducing any thickening of the connective tissue and releasing restrictions in the fascia, reduction of scar tissue and increased blood circulation bringing more nutrients to the skin and muscle. Massage also stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, helping to promote relaxation and reduce stress.
This involves the use of concentrated aromatic plant extracts, known as essential oils, for therapeutic purposes. Aromatherapy massage incorporates flowing, gentle yet powerful techniques that deliver the oils into the bloodstream, tissues and organs. Each essential oil contains unique chemical constituents and healing properties. For example, some are stimulants or have sedative effects; others act as digestive tonics, immune boosters or have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body's systems.
Deep Tissue Massage
This type of massage is aimed at the deeper tissue structures of the muscle and fascia, also called connective tissue. Deep tissue massage uses many of the same movements and techniques as Swedish massage, but the pressure will generally be more intense. It is also a more focused type of massage, as the therapist works to release chronic muscle tension.
This type of massage is designed for those who regularly participate in sports, whether recreationally or professionally. The techniques are similar to those used in deep tissue massage, however the therapist is usually highly knowledgeable about sport injuries and therefore able to target pain and problematic areas specific to your sport, as well as support you to prevent injuries.
This practice originated in Japan and is based on traditional Chinese medicine with elements of Western therapies. Shiatsu massage therapy relies on the use the fingers, thumbs and palms to apply pressure to various areas of the body’s surface to help heal common ailments and conditions, and correct imbalances in the body. In addition to being a deeply relaxing experience, Shiatsu can help to relieve stress and treat pain. The client is fully clothed during a session, in a loose fitting top and trousers.
Hot Stone Massage
This deeply relaxing approach involves the use of smooth heated basalt stones to release deep muscle tension without the need for using deep tissue techniques. The stones are used as an extension of the therapists hands to massage the muscles in order to ease away stress and muscle tension, and relieve pain. The therapist will also use ‘placement stones’ on various areas of the body to gently warm the muscles whilst working on other areas.
This is an ancient method of natural healing based on the concept that every part of the body correlates with specific points on the feet and hands. By applying precise and steady pressure to these reflex areas, the body’s ability to heal itself is strengthened. During a session, different thumb, finger and massage techniques are used on the feet or the hands. Experiences vary from a general sense of relaxation to sensations in the corresponding area of the body that the therapist is working on. Effects can include relief from pain, increased energy, improved circulation, enhanced sleep and emotional release.
This is a non invasive treatment performed upon the head, neck, spine and lower back (sacral region). Through stimulating localised pressure points and making gentle pressure manipulations to these areas this therapy works to release tension not only with the muscles, but also emotionally and mentally.
Thai Yoga Massage
This form of massage uses an energy line system called the Ten Sen, through which the body's natural life force flows. During this treatment, your therapist uses hands, feet and elbows to apply pressure to key points along the energy lines, together with gentle stretching and applied Hatha Yoga poses. This can help to release blocked energy and activate the body's healing potential, restoring balance and harmony. Thai Yoga Massage is always practised in a meditative mood. It is said to be "the physical application of loving kindness". Treatments are given through loose clothing that enables comfort throughout your treatment, with complete freedom of movement.
This is method of hands-on healing which activates natural healing processes within the body, helping to restore health, wellbeing and balance. Reiki originated in Japan, and means ‘Universal life force’, the vital energy that flows through all living things. Treatments are usually carried out with the client lying on a couch, fully clothed and the therapist’s hands are placed gently in a sequence of positions all over the body. Most people experience a sense of deep relaxation, peace and gentle tingling.
Whichever types of holistic therapies you try, don't be afraid to let your therapist know what is and isn't working for you during a treatment, including the pressure, techniques, your comfort on the massage table or floor mat, and even the temperature in the room. This will help ensure the session is as effective and relaxing as possible.