Massage, Asian Style

Chinese Tui Na Massage

Tui Na Massage. Image via City College of Acupuncture.

There are not a lot of bliss-inducing activities that would equal a good massage. The cares and worries fade away and the world is reduced to the another human’s touch.

We all need to be touched — and it isn’t just a psychological need, but a deep-seated biological need. Babies need it to flourish, and grown-ups are no different. Asian cultures accept this and have embraced massage not as a relaxation technique, but as a healing tool.  It was considered part of health care in China as far back as 3,000 BC. Massage is said to unclog or unknot the body’s life force, or Qi (chi), thus restoring health and well-being.

Massage, the way Asians do it, is a product of centuries, even millennia, of learning and developing. No wonder it feels so good. And there’s a certain simplicity and unfussiness about it — no special beds or tools, no oils are applied to the skin, and you stay fully clothed.

Chinese painting depicting Tui Na massage. Image via Lands of Wisdom.

Tui na (“push”, “grasp”), is part of the arsenal of traditional Chinese medicine, and involves touching and kneading key points in the body, using a similar anatomical road map as acupuncture.

Japanese doctor giving anma massage. Image via Yotsume Dojo.

Shiatsu massage. Image via Zen Shiatsu.

These Chinese techniques eventually found their way to Japan, which is geographically a stone’s throw away. Japanese an ma (“press”, “rub”) which later gave birth to shiatsu (which translates to “finger pressing”) massage, is largely derived from the Chinese way.

Thai Massage. Image via Worldwide Health.

Illustration of Thai massage points. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Thai massage is locally referred to as nuat phaen boran, which means “ancient-manner massage”. This one’s my favorite — mostly because it feels like doing yoga, only somebody else is doing it for you. It is sometimes called “yoga massage”. Thai massage draws on different massage traditions from different parts of Asia, but its Chinese and Indian origins are the ones most clearly felt.

The interior of a Thai massage spa. Image via Trip Advisor.

Giving a Massage

If you want to try giving a massage, there’s no reason why you can’t be good at it. Touch is a universal language, and you only need practice in order to speak it well.

I am by no means a professional masseuse, but in my family, I am the go-to girl for massages. So here are a few pointers I’d like to offer for a successful first try:

  • Set the atmosphere. Get help where you can. The recipient of your massage will more likely not notice your inexperience if their other senses are involved. Create a spa-like ambiance. Dim the lights, light up a scented candle or incense stick, play some soft music.
  • Get a few massages yourself. They’ll familiarize you with what feels good.
  • Massage muscles, not bone — this is wisdom from my Dad. Muscles appreciate a massage more. Concentrate on fleshy parts — butt, calves, shoulders. Don’t press on the shoulder blades, but rather the muscles around it; not on the spine, but on the parts on either side of it.
  • Remember that pressure is distributed equally in the area of contact. So use more when using your palms or the length of your forearm. Ease up when using smaller points, such as thumbs, fingertips or knuckles.
  • Look out for reactions. They’ll give you hints on whether what you’re doing feels good or not.
  • Read up and watch videos. Whatever massage style you’d like to try doing, there are tons of how-to vids and articles out there.

So that’s my two cents’ worth on this. Good luck and enjoy your massage! I had a blast “researching” for this post!

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One Response to Massage, Asian Style

  1. Melanie L Bowen says:

    Hi there!

    I have a quick question about your blog! Please email me when you get a chance.


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