Natural Awakenings’ Bodywork Guide
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In 2010, the nonprofit Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, in Los Angeles, published the results of research done by its department of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences that confirmed centuries of anecdotal evidence: People that undergo massage experience measureable changes in the responses of their immune and endocrine systems.
For millennia, therapeutic touch has been used to heal the body and reduce tension. Today, more than 100 types of bodywork techniques are available, with modalities ranging from massage and deep tissue manipulation to movement awareness and bio-energetic therapies. All are designed to improve the body’s structure and functioning. Bodywork may be used to help reduce pain, relieve stress, improve blood and lymphatic circulation and promote deep relaxation; some therapies simultaneously focus on emotional release.
The following list includes many of the better-known bodywork systems. Finding an approach that improves one’s mental and physical health is a highly individual process; with professional guidance, several modalities may be combined for the greatest personal benefit.
Acupressure: Based on the same system as acupuncture, acupressure stimulates body pressure points using fingers and hands instead of needles, in order to restore a balanced flow of life energy (qi or chi, pronounced “chee”). This force moves through the body along 12 energy pathways, or meridians, which practitioners “unblock and strengthen.” Common styles include jin shin, which gently holds at least two points at once for a minute or more; and shiatsu, which applies firm pressure to each point for three to five seconds. (Also see Shiatsu.) Tui na and Thai massage stimulate qi through acupressure hand movements, full-body stretches and Chinese massage techniques. (Also see Tui na.) Other forms of acupressure include jin shin do, jin shin jyutsu and acu-yoga. Learn more at Acupressure.com.
Alchemical Bodywork: Synthesizes bodywork techniques and hypnosis to address emotional sources of chronic tension and pain held in the body and facilitate their release. Practitioners are typically certified in massage, often in conjunction with hypnotherapy certification. Learn more at AlchemyInstitute.com.
Alexander Technique: This awareness practice helps identify and change unconscious, negative physical habits related to posture and movement, breathing and tension. While observing the way an individual walks, stands, sits or performs other basic movements, the practitioner keeps their hands in easy contact with the body and gently guides it to encourage a release of restrictive muscular tension. The technique is frequently used to treat repetitive strain injuries or carpal tunnel syndrome, backaches, plus stiff necks and shoulders. Learn more at AlexanderTechnique.com.
Amma Therapy: A specialized form of bodywork therapy, amma (which means “pushpull” in Chinese) combines energetic, rhythmic massage techniques on specific acupressure points to facilitate blood circulation, lymphatic drainage and muscular relaxation. Suitable for individuals in varying degrees of physical condition, amma addresses challenges related to stress and anxiety; neck, shoulder and low back pain; and digestive health.
Ashiatsu Oriental Bar Therapy: Developed by American Ruthie Hardee, it combines elements of traditional Thai massage, barefoot shiatsu and Keralite foot massage (chavutti thirummal) for the treatment of chronic low-back and hip pain. Using overhead wooden bar supports, the therapist employs body weight and gliding foot strokes to apply compression massage along strategic points in the back muscles to relieve irritations on the spinal nerve caused by inflammation and swelling. Learn more at DeepFeet.com.
Aston Kinetics (or Aston Patterning): Created by bodywork visionary Judith Aston in 1977, this integrated system of movement education recognizes the influence of the body-mind relationship on well-being. It incorporates bodywork, massage, ergonomic adjustments and fitness training in order to ease acute or chronic pain. Learn more at AstonKinetics.com.
Ayurvedic Massage: It’s one part of panchakarma, a traditional East Indian detoxification and rejuvenation program, in which the entire body is vigorously massaged with large amounts of warm oil and herbs to remove toxins. With the client’s permission, oil is also poured into the ears, between the eyebrows and applied to specific chakras, or body energy centers, in techniques known respectively as karna purana, shirodhara and marma chikitsa. These treatments, modified to meet the needs of the West, powerfully affect the mind and nervous system—calming, balancing and bringing a heightened sense of awareness and deep inner peace.
Ayurvedic massage techniques are grounded in an understanding of the primordial energies of the five elements—ether, air, fire, water and earth—and of the three basic types of energies, or constitutions, that are present in everyone and everything—vata, pitta and kapha. A knowledgeable therapist selects and customizes various ayurvedic massage techniques by selecting the rate and pressure of massage strokes and the proper oils and herbs. Learn more at AyurvedicMassage.com.
Bioenergetics plus Core Energetics: A combination of physical and psychological techniques that identifies and frees areas of repressed physical and emotional trauma in the body. Deep breathing, various forms of massage and physical exercises release layers of chronic muscular tension and defensiveness, termed “body armor”. The unlocking of feelings creates the opportunity to better understand and integrate them with other aspects of oneself. Core Energetics is based on the principles of bioenergetics, but acknowledges spirituality as a key dimension of healing. Learn more at usabp.org.
BodyTalk: Developed by chiropractor and acupuncturist Dr. John Veltheim, BodyTalk is based upon bioenergetic psychology, dynamic systems theory, Chinese medicine and applied kinesiology. By integrating tapping, breathing and focusing techniques, BodyTalk helps the body synchronize and balance its systems and strengthens its capability of selfrepair. BodyTalk is used to address a range of health challenges, ranging from chronic fatigue and allergies to addictions and cellular damage. Practitioners are usually licensed massage therapists (LMT) or bodyworkers. Learn more at BodyTalkSystem.com.
Bowen Technique (also called Bowtech and Bowenwork): This muscle and connective tissue therapy employs gentle, purposeful moves, through light clothing, to help rebalance the autonomic nervous system (ANS). The practitioner’s subtle inputs deliver signals to the ANS at specific locations—muscles, tendons, ligaments or nerves—and the body responds in its own time, within its vital capacity. The technique is named after its originator, Australian Tom Bowen, who also introduced the concept of inserting periods of rest between a series of movements within a treatment session. Sometimes called the homeopathy of bodywork, Bowtech addresses imbalances and both acute and chronic pain. Learn more at Bowtech.com.
Breema Bodywork: Often described as a cross between partner yoga and Thai massage, Breema is a movement technique designed to restore vitality at an energetic level. It employs standardized sets of movements, based upon more than 300 sequences, none of which require strong exertions or muscular contortions. Breema techniques, which identify and emphasize nine principles of harmony, can be administered by a practitioner or by the individual as Self-Breema. The therapy originated in the Kurdish village of Breemava, in Western Asia. Learn more at Breema.com.
Chi Nei Tsang (CNT): Principles of kung fu and Tai chi chuan, known as chi-kung (or qigong), support this holistic approach to massage therapy. CNT literally means, “energy transformation of the internal organs,” and practitioners focus mainly on the abdomen, with deep, soft and gentle touches, to train the organs to work more efficiently. It addresses the acupuncture meridian system (chi) and all other bodily systems—digestive, respiratory, cardiovascular, lymphatic, nervous, endocrine, urinary, reproductive and musculoskeletal—along with unprocessed emotional charges. Learn more at ChiNeiTsang.com.
Craniosacral Therapy (CST): The practitioner applies manual therapeutic procedures to remedy distortions in the structure and function of the craniosacral mechanism—the brain and spinal cord, the bones of the skull, the sacrum and interconnected membranes. Craniosacral work is based upon two major premises: the bones of the skull can be manipulated because they never completely fuse; and the pulse of the cerebrospinal fluid can be balanced by a practitioner trained to detect pulse variations. CST, also referred to as cranial osteopathy, is used to treat learning difficulties, dyslexia, hyperactivity, migraine headaches, temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders, chronic pain and ear, eye and balance problems.
Deep Tissue Bodywork: In this method, stretching and moving the connective tissue that envelops the muscles (fascia) works to lengthen and balance the body along its natural, vertical axis. Distortions of the connective tissue may be caused by internal reactions and complications due to accidents, emotional tensions or past unreleased traumas. The practitioner uses slow strokes, direct pressure or friction across the muscles via fingers, thumbs or elbows. Deep tissue massage works to detoxify tissue by helping to remove accumulated lactic acid and other waste products from the muscles. The therapy is used to ease or eliminate chronic muscular pain or inflammatory pain from arthritis, tendonitis and other ailments, and help with injury rehabilitation. Learn more at DeepBodywork.com.
Feldenkrais Method: This distinctive approach combines movement training, gentle touch and verbal dialogue to help students straighten out what founder Moshé Pinhas Feldenkrais calls, “kinks in the brain.” Kinks are learned movement patterns that no longer serve a constructive purpose. They may have been adopted to compensate for a physical injury or to accommodate individuality in the social world. Students of the Feldenkrais Method unlearn unworkable movements and discover better, personalized ways to move, using mind-body principles of slowed action, conscious breathing, body awareness and thinking about their feelings.
Feldenkrais takes two forms: In individual hands-on sessions (Functional Integration), the practitioner’s touch is used to address the student’s breathing and body alignment. In a series of classes of slow, non-aerobic motion (Awareness Through Movement), students “relearn” better ways for their bodies to move. Feldenkrais therapy is useful in the treatment of muscle injuries, back pain, arthritis, stress and tension. Learn more at Feldenkrais.com.
Hakomi: A Hopi Indian word that translates as, “Who are you?” Hakomi is a bodycentered psychotherapy that relies upon touch, massage, movement and structural and energy work to help enable individuals change their “core” material—memories, images, beliefs, neural patterns and deeply held emotional dispositions. Originally created by Ron Kurtz in the mid-1970s and later refined, the technique views the body as an interactive source of information about the unconscious mind. Learn more at HakomiInstitute.com.
Hellerwork: Expanding upon the principals of Rolfing, Hellerwork combines deep tissue bodywork with movement education and the dialogue of the mind-body connection. Joseph Heller, the first president of the Rolf Institute, believed that specific movement exercises could help individuals move more efficiently, maintain alignment and mobility and enjoy fuller and easier breathing, as well as increased energy. Although primarily a preventive therapy, Hellerwork also helps alleviate stress-related disorders and musculoskeletal aches and pains. Learn more at Hellerwork.com.