It’s easy to be bamboozled by choice but massage is basically divided into two therapeutic groups: hard-core and soft-core. Descriptions of styles can sound so same-same, with therapists offering a fusion of techniques. Search for a soft-core practitioner who seems caring, and a hard-core one who presents professionally.
It helps to know a little musculoskeletal lingo: fascia means the connective tissue that holds the muscles together; tendons attach muscles to bone; ligaments connect bones to bones and/or cartilage. Soft tissue refers to everything anything that’s not bone (muscles, fat, skin, tendons, ligaments, nerves, blood vessels).
Hard Core Massage
Myotherapy: These folks dig deep into specific points, but they may also use muscle stretching, dry needling (inserting a needle into a muscular trigger point to release a muscle contraction/spasm), deep tissue massage and even cupping (placing a suction cup on your back which draws your skin up into the vacuum). They’re working on muscles, tendons, ligaments, fascia. Myotherapy is good for deep aches, tightness, loss of mobility, numbness/tingling issues, and too much more to mention.
Trigger point therapy: This falls under the myotherapy canopy, but specifically targets knots, lumps and super tight bands of muscles. Expect therapists to apply direct pressure to specific points using elbows, knuckles, even knees!
Myofascial release: A gentler hard-core technique, therapists apply a constant pressure or force to slowly stretch the muscles and connective tissue. Ah, that’s better.
Remedial vs Deep Tissue: There is a lot of grey-speak around these two terms, which are not interchangeable. The primary aim of either is not pleasure. Typically, these massages involve more discomfort, but in the case of deep tissue, not necessarily.
Remedial massage targets specific injury sites and can use a great variety of techniques to normalise the area, such as all those above-mentioned. You need to speak up to negotiate your discomfort threshold, as tortured muscles are more likely to contract further than to release. Go remedial if you have specific injuries, but deep tissue can be good for general ‘office syndrome’ and tension-related back/neck/head aches and body knots.
Traditional Chinese: My experience of this was like being thrown in an industrial tumble drier, with rocks: you sit or lie, fully or partially clothed, while being pummelled. It’s certainly ‘stimulating’ and toxin-releasing. It can involve hard rubbing, pinching, grasping, joint movement, percussion and vibration.
Soft Core Massage
Thai: While lying, the therapist moves your limbs and body into a whole range of positions that get your joints lubed and muscles stretched. Try to be as limp as a puppet. The more you surrender, the more enjoyable it can be. Hands, knees, legs and feet are used to move you around. It’s not idea however, if you have an injury. This YouTube gives a good demo. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RAWB8ms4XYU
Lomi Lomi (Hawaiian): Forearms, elbows and hands are used a lot in this wide, sweeping, stretchy technique. It’s like being massaged with a fleshy paddle. It means to “rub and roll”. Expect long, continuous strokes and some cross-fibre friction rubs. The idea is to restore balance, harmony and energy flow. It’s very sensual, check it out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WTgo2t16UTo
Shiatsu: Means “finger pressure”, so acupressure points are pressed and stretched along each limb and the torso. It feels quite remedial because of its localised acupoint focus, but people find it very relaxing and balancing. Shiatsu works to balance the organs and neuroendocrine systems as well as the musculoskeletal and aims to restore Qi or life energy flow. Therapists use their body weight (behind fingerpads, thumbs, palms, forearms, elbows, knees, feet) to create pressure; you’ll need to speak up about how much pressure is ok for you.
Hot Stone: A heated stone is rubbed along your body gently, or allowed to rest on certain parts of the body to aid release. Flat, round basalt stones are generally used because they’re rich in iron and retain heat. Ideal for sensitives and sensualists, it’s very relaxing. The soft texture of river-smoothed stone is soothing and the heat is great for cold bods in cooler seasons. Cool marble stones may be used for inflamed areas.