Massage for the masses

Once considered a practice of the rich, eccentric or libertine, the availability and many health benefits of massage have led to wide acceptance by the general public.

by Catherine Honora Kineavy

an Diego is well known for its beautiful year-round weather. But we have another valuable resource that is a secret to many: access to professionals who give and teach many different types of massage.

Technically, massage is the systematic or rhythmic manipulation of the body. This manipulation is usually done with the hands, but many different techniques are employed to obtain particular results. This manipulation benefits the different systems of the body including, but not limited to, the musculoskeletal system, the nervous system, the circulatory system and the immune system.

East and West

There are two basic schools or philosophies of massage: Western and Eastern. These different schools have distinct focuses, but more often techniques from both schools are combined by the masseuse/masseur depending on the needs of the client.

Both Western and Eastern massage methods originated thousands of years ago. For the most part, massage was practiced within families and extended communities; it was an everyday experience to some. Today, we have the perception that massage is a special experience, but I contend that it should be an essential part of our lives. Just like eating well and exercising, massage can be a vital ingredient to maintaining a healthy body, mind and spirit. Massage is more than just a form of relaxation; it is a facilitator and maintainer of heath. The Western School is concerned mainly with the structure of the musculoskeletal system. An example of Western massage would be the Swedish massage. This is the kind of massage that is portrayed in many movies. It is a somewhat rigorous form of massage; its manipulations go deep into the tissue.

The Eastern School, rather than being "structure" based, is "energy based." This energy has many names: "chi," "qi," "ki," or "vital force." Basically, the Eastern School's premise is that we each have an energy that continually flows in the body. This energy flows along certain lines or "meridians." These meridians represent organs and organ systems. When there is a block in this energy flow, illness results. The block could be emotional, physical or spiritual. The Eastern School considers the body as a whole energy source. If a block arises, the body will manifest dis-ease of some sort.

How massage facilitates health

Massage exerts its beneficial effects primarily through stress reduction and the repair of damaged tissues.

Stress is a primary health problem experienced by many in this fast-paced society. Massage alleviates stress in a number of ways. First, massage physiologically induces relaxation. It soothes the nervous system, which allows the body to relax. Further massage decreases blood pressure and pulse, which also reduces stress. Massage does this by increasing the flow of blood to the lymphatic system.

In addition to mitigating the stress in our bodies, massage actually can relieve pain and swelling in our muscles and joints. The increase in the lymphatic flow (which carries protein and other substances from muscles and bones to the blood) aids in preventing fluid accumulation that leads to swollen joints and tissues. Bone and tissue repair are stimulated by massage directly around the injured bone. Massage increases the retention of nitrogen, phosphorus and sulfur which are key in repairing injured tissue. Further, massage eliminates metabolic by-products, such as lactic acid, that are lodged in muscles. This increases the recuperation rate of injured and tired muscles. Finally, through massage stretches, the body experiences an increase in flexibility and range of motion. Many physical therapists are utilizing massage techniques in their treatment protocol.

The touch

An important aspect of massage that should be mentioned is touch. Touch is a "touchy" topic. We often do not receive enough touch, and it is a very healing action. Studies have shown that massage increases the survival rate of infants in isolation (e.g., in hospital incubators). Touch is a method of bonding and connecting with others. Other studies assert that touch, through massage, has helped those who have experienced sexual abuse.

Often, people do not receive massage because they are shy, modest or fearful about being touched. These are all valid feelings. However, it is important to remember that in any situation, especially in a massage, if you feel uncomfortable, it is your right to remove yourself. It is important that you communicate your feelings to your practitioner. A massage should be a healing experience. Do not ignore your feelings, but move through them, and you may be able to heal some past emotional trauma related to intimacy and touch.

Types of massage

There are many different types of massage techniques that have originated in different parts of the world. Here in San Diego, there are masseuses/masseurs who practice many of these different ancient and modern systems of massage. Each application has a certain emphasis and technique. Additionally, San Diego schools offer a myriad of classes in these various modalities.


Literally translated, Shiatsu means "finger pressure." This is a Japanese form of massage that stimulates the energy or "chi" through the body along the organ system meridians through the use of pressure. Shiatsu practitioners incorporate stretching using the hands, feet, forearms and whole body. It is a very nurturing massage that nourishes the organs and facilitates metabolic processes. There are different types of Shiatsu including, to name a few, barefoot and Zen-Touch. Zen-Touch is practiced at the School of Healing Arts in Pacific Beach.

Tui Na

This Chinese form of massage is known mainly by its diverse hand movements. Like Shiatsu, it seeks to restore balance within the energy or "qi" flow within the body. Tui Na focuses on specific problems, usually dealing with soft tissue areas including tendons and muscles. Herbal treatment sometimes is combined with Tui Na to obtain a more therapeutic effect.

Deep Tissue

The title of this form of massage seems self-explanatory: this massage penetrates deeper into the tissues. However, this does not necessarily mean that the massage is physically harder on the body. Through deep work, toxins are removed from tissue. Additionally, this form of massage breaks up soft tissue adhesions, removes stagnation in the body, and liberates long-held emotional trauma that has been lodged deep within the tissues.


This is a deeply relaxing massage that brings the client into the "alpha state." At the same time, it relaxes the body and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system. This reduces muscle tension and alleviates pain. Further, it stimulates lymph drainage that is vital to a healthy immune system.


This is an ancient Hawaiian massage that is closely aligned with Hawaiian religion. You may have heard the name "Kahuna." The Kahuna Lomilomi is an expert in healing the body through touch. There are many different styles of lomilomi, but they all are founded on the belief that all creation is connected and divine. Lomilomi literally means "to break up into small little pieces with the finger tips." Lomilomi massage utilizes rhythmic, relaxing techniques that soothe, and vigorous techniques that revive the body. As a result, circulation is increased in the blood and lymphatic systems that assist in the elimination of toxins from the body. Hawaiians believe the intent of the practitioner is an essential element in the healing power of the massage. Lomilomi practitioners use oils in their healing.


Watsu is a nurturing, pleasurable and therapeutic bodywork done in warm water. Harold Dull is the original practitioner of this unique form of water Shiatsu. Watsu brings warmth into the muscles and removes joint pressure. Like Shiatsu, the stretches increase peoples' flexibility and range of motion. Watsu is a dance within the water. Through floating, rocking and continual movement, a sense of freedom arises within the client and practitioner. The client is unable to predict the next movement, and therefore surrenders resistance and relinquishes fear. As Harold Dull maintains, "Watsu is an exploration in freedom."

This is just a sampling of the types of massage available. Please note that depending on whose literature you read, the names may be spelled differently.

Local resources

San Diego is the home of many local schools of massage, including The School of Healing Arts, Mueller College of Holistic Studies, Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, Body-Mind College and International Professional School of Bodywork (IPSB), that teach different massage techniques. Additionally, these schools provide access to student massage at a discounted rate. In fact, some schools have open house evenings where massage students practice on the public - free of charge. I encourage you to take advantage of this local resource as a massage will only enhance your health.

Massage is not only for special times; it is a valuable constituent in maintaining your health. This is the holiday season; give yourself or a friend the gift of massage.

Catherine Honora Kineavy is a graduate student, free-lance writer/editor, poet and practicing macrobiotic vegetarian. She has studied Shiatsu and is currently taking courses in nutrition counseling. Her broader interests are in holistic healing, spirituality, politics and ecofeminism.