The Healing Benefits of Oriental Massage

By Maria Mercati listed in massage.

On center stage in this article are Tui Na – Chinese Massage, Shiatsu, Traditional Thai Massage and Indonesian Massage. To a casual observer they seem to have little in common. Tui Na, which means ‘push and grasp’ presents an endless range of soft tissue and manipulation techniques that are applied with lots of movement and vigor to the clothed body, using a chair and couch. Shiatsu is also done through the clothing but on a mat on the floor and by comparison seems rather still and static. It offers many techniques which focus sustained pressure on the soft tissues. Thai massage resembles Shiatsu in its soft tissue techniques which are also slow, often sustained presses applied to the clothed body. Thai manipulations come in a bewildering variety and look rather like applied yoga.

Indonesian massage seems to be the odd one in this company. It is an extremely vigorous form of bodywork performed directly on the skin using oil as a lubricant. Soft tissue techniques are backed up by a whole arsenal of manipulative ones.

What clearly defines each of these systems in its own right is the way the masseur’s hands move and press as they track the meridians and specific energy points. For an understanding of the similarities and differences between them, it is useful to look into their origins.

Two great systems of medicine are the progenitors of our chosen therapies – Chinese Traditional Medicine (TCM) and Indian Ayurvedic Medicine. They are the oldest forms of medicine for which extensive documentation still exists and both date back over 4000 years. As you can see from the diagram, Tui Na is the modern hands-on branch of TCM and owes nothing to Ayurveda. Some 1200 years ago Tui Na was taken by the Japanese and modified to suit their culture and temperament to become Shiatsu. In recent times it has found its way to the West, undergoing further change in the process. The roots of Thai Traditional Massage also go back over one thousand years. Not surprisingly in view of its geographical location, Thailand has experienced many influences from both India and China. Those familiar with Thai massage can immediately recognize a strong Indian Yogic character in its impressive range of manipulations. Energy channels called ‘Sen’ that are effectively massaged as if they were classical meridians of TCM betray the Chinese influence. Indonesian massage has a history dating back 4000 years linking it firmly with Ayurveda massage. Only the precise manner in which the massage follows the Chinese meridians suggests any relationship with Tui Na or Shiatsu.

Oriental Holistic Approach

Western medicine seeks to identify the organic cause of any health problem and to treat those parts of the body that are affected.

Chinese medicine pays little regard to the physiological causes of ill-health. Instead, it focuses on the need to identify patterns of disharmony relating to the body’s intrinsic energies called Qi – pronounced ‘Chi’. Treatments aim at restoring balance and harmony. The Chinese view is that any imbalance of Qi within and between the main organs spells pain and sickness. It affects not only the physical body but also the mind and emotions. Correcting Qi flow so that balance and harmony are restored, provides the right conditions for the body to heal itself. For the Western doctor the body is the sum of its individual parts but for the TCM doctor it is a single functioning whole. The four types of bodywork in this article are all truly holistic in their application and the benefits they bestow.

Tui Na and Shiatsu achieve this by following the guide-lines provided by the complex underlying theory. A practitioner of Thai or Indonesian massage lacks this type of theoretical background but nevertheless seems to possess an almost intuitive awareness of it.

Oriental massage maintains good health and can also treat a wide spectrum of health conditions. The four systems that are under discussion here differ widely in their techniques and methods of application and each one excels in the treatment of particular types of condition.

Here are some of them:

Headaches, neck and shoulder pain, sciatica and back pain, dysfunctional joints, arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), pre-menstrual tension, tension, stress, insomnia, emotional problems and sports injuries.

Thai Massage


This type of massage provides the recipient with an advanced yoga work-out that requires no self discipline, practice or effort on his/her part. It is much more than this, however, because before using any yoga type stretches the practitioner presses along all the energy channels called “Sen” and all the muscles through which they pass, from every conceivable angle. The pressing is done with thumbs, palms and soles of the feet. Hardly a single muscle manages to escape this treatment. The pace of the massage is slow and rhythmical. One technique blends into the next almost imperceptibly and there is never the slightest suggestion of haste.


The Corkscrew. This treatment is for dysfunctional thigh, pelvic and lower back muscles.Deep, sustained pressure makes the myofascia, which is the muscle’s connective tissue skeleton, soften and relax so that Sen energies can flow through it easily, preparing it for the large scale stretches that will follow.

On receiving a Thai massage for the first time some people find the pressing techniques a little too penetrating but most adapt to it very quickly. A skilled practitioner will be able to adjust all the soft tissue and manipulation work to suit those who are frail or stiff.

Effortless and spectacular though it appears, Thai massage places far greater physical demands on the practitioner than any other kind of body work. Correct positioning of the body and control of posture are of vital importance if injury – particularly to the back – is to be avoided. The scale of leverage involved in some of the large scale manipulations requires great skill and sensitivity if over-stretching the patient is to be avoided.

When performed correctly Thai massage is both relaxing and spiritually uplifting. It gives the muscles a comprehensive work-out that is unique and rehabilitates stiff and painful joints at the same time. No written description can convey the ‘floating on air’ feeling that 1½ hours at the hands (and feet) of a Thai master can bestow on you. Even young adults who feel fit and strong should try it to discover what real flexibility means. Sports injuries that affect joints and muscles can also be treated effectively with this type of bodywork.


Leave a Reply