Swedish Massage

 This is what most newcomers to bodywork think of when they hear the term "bodywork". If they're REAL newcomers, and are possessed of a certain mindset, they may think of the "massage parlors" which can be seen in the seedier sections of most large cities. "Swedish", or "Esalen" massage typically constitutes stroking, with varying degrees of pressure, of muscle groups. It can vary from very light, which can feel wonderful and relaxing but is not very therapeutic, to quite intense ("deep muscle massage"), designed to speed up the removal of waste products from heavily-used muscles and thus hasten recovery. While not as soothing as the light touch, it's far better from a therapeutic, athletic perspective; in these situations, it's usually referred to as "Deep Tissue" or "Deep Muscle" massage. By the way, as with any well-developed science that has had many years to mature, massage therapy has its own language, slang, synonyms, and the like. A very useful guide, especially for those new to massage, is called "Glossary of Massage and Bodywork Techniques", and is available on the web at no charge.

    A massage session usually lasts from 30 to 60 minutes; an hour session can cost between $50 to over $100, depending on the location of the city, how popular massage is with the local population, what the market norms are for the city, and the qualifications and popularity of the practitioner. Currently, most states require that bodyworkers be licensed and hold a certification from a major massage institute (such as AMTA, the American Massage Therapy Association, or the ABMP, the Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals).

    Regardless of how deep the work is, the primary purpose of Swedish and Esalen massage is to aid the expulsion of waste product from muscle groups, and to stimulate the metabolic activity essential to healing injured muscles and to restore the tone to muscles, removing any soreness and enabling them to perform at their maximum potential. There are a great many styles of this school of massage, and no two massage providers have exactly the same approach to the art. In fact, it is strongly suggested that all bodyworkers not only get a lot of practice by doing many massages on various people, but that they also receive a lot of massages by different practitioners employing widely different styles.

    This way, they not only have many types of massage strokes and other manipulations to draw on while doing massages, they also know exactly what the various stokes and maneuvers feel like. In this way - both giving and receiving massages regularly - practitioners become very well-rounded, never forgetting what it's like to be the client. Additionally, a practitioner who is always telling people how important it is to receive good massages regularly, but does not get massages him/herself, will suffer much in the credibility of his clients.

    As opposed to many other types of bodywork, Swedish/Esalen massage is best received with the client as close to naked as s/he is comfortable with. Being totally naked is best, of course, as the long, smooth strokes characteristic of this bodywork loose much in effect if they must be interrupted to avoid various pieces of clothing. Professional massage therapists typically cover their clients with towels, and expose only the part of the body which is actively being treated at the time. In this way, clients with body shyness issues or those of the opposite sex are usually able to remain very comfortable during the massage.

    A common fixture in a massage room is a small table or large tray, which is used to hold incense sticks and/or cones, massage oils in various viscosities and aromas, potpourri, several small towels, smudge sticks, a remote control unit for a music system, and other items. Massage therapy is a highly individualized practice, and no two practitioners conduct a session in the same manner.

    Another feature of this massage is the use of some type of massage oil or similar lubricant. Some clients do not like even the sound of this at all, usually envisioning being slathered with some kind of thick vegetable-type oil until they look and feel like a greased pig, with the reason for such treatment being totally unfathomable. Actually, massage oil is usually formulated with a base of peanut or coconut oil, or some other quite light oil, to which is added one or more different aromatic agents like sandalwood, eucalyptus, or other excellent-smelling extracts. These oils are light enough that wiping off with a towel afterward is usually sufficient to remove it.

    A good massage therapist will always take a fairly complete medical history before anything else. The main rationale is that s/he may discover pathologies that could be damaged by massage (like, e.g., a herniated vertebral disc) or might find a structural abnormality that massage has a good reputation for helping dramatically (i.e., chronic pelvic rotation). A great article, published in three parts in Massage Today magazine a few years back. centered on this exact issue. Intake Forms and Questions, sort of a "get acquainted" session", is followed by The Client in a Physician's Care. Finally, but perhaps most importantly, is Interviewing for Medications where the client will discuss with the therapist what medications are being taken - prescription (Rx) or "over-the-counter" (OTC) drugs, vitamins, nutritional additives, mineral supplements, homeopathics, and herbal preparations.

    If you are a newcomer to massage, the Swedish/Esalen style is almost certainly the best place to start. It's the least specialized, most nurturing, least threatening type of bodywork around, and you'll thank yourself a hundred times over for giving it a try. Then, if you find that you really enjoy and derive excellent benefits from it, you'll be more likely to try a few of the more refined and specialized modalities. As with many things like this, the best way to try something new is to ask friends who are more experienced to make a recommendation. After awhile, you'll have tried enough different types of bodywork to know what works for you and what doesn't.

    Actually, the majority of massage clients choose to stay with Swedish massage for their entire massage "career"; in virtually all cases, they always return to the same practitioner, so that after awhile, a very strong bond develops between the client and practitioner characterized by a deep knowledge of the client's needs and a feeling of complete trust in the practitioner, so that the levels of relaxation become truly awesome. In any case, your life will be enriched more than you can realize now!

Relevant/Useful Links
MassageTherapy.com a great public education site maintained by ABMP
*a massage magazine for professionals seeking a massage journal that covers somatic modalities, anatomy and physiology concepts, ethical issues, business skills, and more.