Where and When did massage come from?
When the subject of massage is brought up, few people really understand the impact that it has had on society and the world in general. For instance, western civilization, more specifically the United States, has for the longest time, in the name of pharmaceuticals and modern medicine, pushed massage therapy to the dark corners of mysticism and skepticism. Fortunately, the pendulum has swung back to shed a positive light on massage therapy and its many benefits for people. The medical community is starting to come around to see massage as not only a complimentary service for many hospitals, but, as a stand alone treatment as well. The drug companies, it seems, will doubtfully back something that competes with their many medications. But, I digress, back to the history of massage! So, where did it all start? To be honest, no one really knows the exact start date of massage, that is because it has been around longer than anything from modern society, longer than the Statue of Liberty, London Bridge, the Egyptian Pyramids or Stonehenge! Massage therapy has been around since the beginning of mankind, many thousands of years ago. Now, as always, don’t take my word for it, see what the experts have to say!
A Brief History of Massage
By Robert Noah Calvert
Note: The late Robert Noah Calvert authored The History of Massage: An Illustrated Survey from Around the World (Healing Arts Press, 2002). He founded Massage Magazine in 1985 and served as its president until 2005, also founding the World of Massage Museum in 2000. With more than 25 years of experience as a massage therapist, publisher, researcher and educator, his work appeared in numerous publications, including Body, Mind & Spirit Magazine, Massage & Bodywork and the Journal of Higher Education. At the time of his death in April 2006, he was working on three massage-related books.
These observations on massage were submitted to ABMP by the author just a few days before his death.
Massage…is a very ancient form of treatment, so ancient that one may consider its history to be as old as that of mankind and its beginnings prehistoric.
-Dr. Emil A.G. Kleen, Massage and Medical Gymnastics, 1921.
A Massage History Perspective
- The history of massage is much more than its association with medical practice. Its history is richly connected with many other human activities and spans the entire globe as well as all of the human historic record.
- Western massage is not new — it did not begin with Peter Ling of Sweden, as is commonly believed, and it did not replace the ancient ways. Western massage began about 480 B.C.E. when Hippocrates of Cos changed the ancient shamanic ways of rubbing down and out the body to one of rubbing up and toward the alimentary tract. Since then, both have survived, often alongside one another, in practice.
- Prior to the late 19th and early 20th century, massage was commingled with a variety of other healing methods. Only then did it finally emerge as a single stand-alone therapeutic tool.
- The history of massage is not something one can easily learn about from other texts. It has been largely obscured from the annals of medicine, sports, nursing, midwifery, barbering, shamanism, anthropology, archaeology and other specialized areas of study. Finding evidence of massage in human history has been and continues to be a challenge.
- Finally, and perhaps most important, is that the history, study and practice of massage are not all about technique. Their past, unraveling their entanglement with other human activities, clearly reveals the application of caring human touch is an inherently innate behavior for giving and receiving love, which all humankind wants and needs. The real purpose of giving massage is to foster more depth of feeling for one another in order to bring out the love that often lies buried beneath the pain of everyday suffering.
Touch Part of Human Social System
The history of massage and the evolution of human touch are intertwined with human history. Since prehistoric time, touch has been an integral part of the primate social system, initially as an element of grooming behavior. During the long transition from primate grooming behavior to human contact systems, touch took on other social characteristics. As human beings evolved to develop organized civilizations, touch was transformed into a variety of behavioral modes and touch methods. Touch became more complex, eventually becoming structured manual art therapies. But before touch was formalized it was first a part of social interactions — between friends, between mother and child — as well as simply basic healing of one’s self and others.
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