Massage is the skillful use of the hands to manipulate soft tissue for the main purposes of relieving muscle tension and stimulating blood circulation. It is derived from the human instinct to make skin contact through touch, stroke and rub in order to offer physiological comfort to another. It was the first and is the simplest health care tributary. This is because stroking the skin triggers a release of endorphins, which are the body’s natural painkillers. By just releasing muscle tension, a massage reduces anxiety, creates a feeling of comfort and well-being, and lowers the stress hormones that weaken the immune system – namely cortisol and norepinephrine.
Massage acts directly on and has general benefits for all body systems - nervous, circulatory, lymphatic, immune, and muscular. Its benefits are far-reaching and include the treatment of sprains, anxiety, digestive disorders, stress-related insomnia, soft tissue strains or injuries, headaches, joint pain, damaged skin, and the improvement of complexion.
An aromatherapy massage is a method of massage therapy that incorporates essential oils into the system of kneading muscles and soft tissues of the body to help relieve medical conditions, injuries, or to preserve wellness. It was Marguerite Maury that introduced the idea of a massage application of essential oils in the 1960s. In this method, the practitioner (whether an aromatherapist or a massage therapist) administers essential oils to treat the patient by direct application to the skin specifically through massage oils rather than through sprays or salt baths. Using essential oils in this muscle manipulation process introduces the influence of aromas (aromatherapy) in the pampering and treatment system, thus turning an ordinary massage into an aromatherapy massage.
In aromatherapy massages, while there is a focus on relaxing strokes, the emphasis is on selecting the appropriate essential oil for its therapeutic properties with regard to the patient’s state of body and mind. The qualified practitioner is able to differentiate between different types of essential oils and know how they each influence the body. This expertise is based on knowledge of the history and safety of natural oils. They also apply their understanding of the healing properties of specific oils and their remedial applications.
In aromatherapy massages, aromatic oils are used because oil is able to penetrate the skin more readily than water, for the reason that skin is fairly permeable to fat soluble substances – oil – and is comparatively impermeable to water soluble substances. Essential oil molecules are so minuscule that when they are applied to the skin they are able to pass through the outer layer of the epidermis, to the dermis, into the capillaries and then into the bloodstream. Skin is able to absorb the oil even better when the rate of blood circulation and the temperate of the skin increase – such as at the time of a massage – because these conditions bring blood to the surface.
Due to their high potency, essential oils can have undesirable effects if applied undiluted. Carrier oils are an excellent medium for dilution and topical application because they don’t evaporate as quickly as essential oils do. This means the viscosity of a carrier oil allows an essential oil to last longer on the skin and prolongs its beneficial effects by almost keeping it locked inside it; the carrier oil prevents the essential oil from being absorbed quickly into the skin. The term “carrier oil” is most often used in the contexts of aromatherapy and massage. In the context of natural skin care, it is most often referred to as “vegetable oil” or “base oil.” When combined with a few drops of any essential oil, a carrier oil controls its concentration without altering its therapeutic properties.
When applied topically, a carrier oil transports or “carries” an essential oil and facilitates the skin’s intake of its active ingredients. Carrier oils themselves contain nutrients, minerals, and fat-soluble vitamins that are beneficial to skin health. Carrier oils all vary in their penetrability into the skin; those that penetrate quickly leave the least amount of residue on the skin’s surface.
Carrier oils are pressed from the fatty parts of a plant: the seeds, the kernels or the nuts. Compared to the strong aromas of essential oils, they usually have a sweet, nutty aroma or an airy, fruity trace. If a carrier oil smells rancid, it is most likely spoiled.
Carrier oils have a diverse range of viscosity, absorption, scent, shelf life, and therapeutic properties, so they should be selected for use based on the therapeutic benefit that the user seeks. They can be blended to change or combine their properties.
The first step of an aromatherapy massage is for the therapist to conduct a consultation with the patient to inquire after his or her desired result. Questions are asked regarding work life, home life, energy levels and health conditions. In particular, the therapist inquires after the patient’s current state of mental, physical and emotional well-being in terms of stress levels, habits, diet, medications, lifestyle, and routines. With this information, the therapist will apply his or her knowledge of the most effective essential oils and carrier oils for the specified ailments and will create a unique blend to treat the patient.
The main focus of Reflexology is the manipulation of the feet - although hands and ears can also be massaged - on which certain points have corresponding body systems or organs. For example, a certain spot on the sole of the foot corresponds to the bladder, so pressing down on it with thumbs or fingers will affect bladder functioning.
Effleurage is the main or principle stroke that gently warms up the muscles and prepares soft tissue for deeper treatment. It also aids circulation and relaxes tense muscles. The therapist does this movement with alternating flat palms gliding smoothly over skin in a slow fanning or circular motion with steady pressure.
This technique can be performed superficially or deeply on specific muscle groups where tissue is easily grasped such as the thighs. The therapist uses alternate hands to squeeze and release flesh between fingers and thumbs in a milking type of stroke. A deep petrissage promotes circulation and loosens muscle tightness.
This is a motion used on the back, chest, legs and arms to stretch and manipulate tension away from muscles. The therapist creates a three-stroke fan shape from a single point and does an outward stroking motion as though combing the flesh with the backs of the fingers using the nails.
The therapist applies deep, direct pressure to release tension in the muscles around the spine and shoulders. From one static point on the back, the therapist uses his or her thumbs to apply steady pressure on either side of the spine or in small circles.
This category of massage technique involves soft, rapid striking movements from the wrists of the therapist. The movements are applied to the fleshy parts of the body with equal strength and at equal intervals. They are not suitable for the following areas of the body or under the following particular circumstance: over bony protuberances such as knees and elbows, over surface (superficial) nerves, over paralyzed muscles, during pregnancy.
Percussion includes the following methods: Cupping, Hacking, Plucking, Pounding, Pummeling, and Tapping. The differences between the techniques come from the parts of the therapist's hands used to gently strike the patient.
For example: in Hacking, the therapist uses the outer edges of the hands (on the sides of the pinky fingers) to make contact with the patient to deliver short, rapid hacking blows to the patient’s flesh using alternating hands. Fingers should be slightly separated to avoid delivering Karate Chops. The tips of the three middle fingers of both hands strike the patient lightly and in quick succession. In order to keep the action loose, the movement comes from the wrists rather than the elbows.
This is similar to the Hacking movement in terms of the same pinky finger sides of the hands being used, except that in the case of Pounding the therapist's hands are loosely clenched into fists and the lightly clenched pinky finger of each hand makes contact with the patient. Both hands are used to strike the patient's body alternately and the movement comes once again from the wrists rather than the elbows.
First, the therapist glides his or her hands up the patient’s limb. Next, he or she brushes the tips of the fingers back down against the skin in an extremely light, feather-like touch that is barely felt by the person receiving the massage. This stroke should be slightly firm and should not tickle.
MASSAGE TECHNIQUES IN PROPER SEQUENCE
The following massage techniques are straightforward enough for the lay person to be able to do a self-massage or to give a massage to a loved one at home. The terms “therapist” and “patient” can be interchanged with you and your massage partner. The strokes are simple and can be used anywhere on the body from the back, neck, and shoulders to the legs and the feet. If you are the one giving the massage, it is a good idea to begin only after you have released your own stress, as tension can be transferred between people.
For at-home massages, a professional massage table is not necessary - any sturdy, clean, uncluttered surface will do. Have your massage subject lie down with his or her face towards the floor.
The aromatherapy massage therapist selects and applies the appropriate blend of essential oil and carrier oil for the patient.
The therapist starts the massage with an effleurage on the legs. This stroke is delivered by flat palms traveling in long, smooth motions from the ankle to the knee or all the way up to the hip. This spreads the oil and warms the tissue. This is usually followed by petrissage to work specific muscles or tight areas in the leg. Massage for the first leg comes to a close by returning to the long, slow strokes of the effleurage. The next leg is treated in the same sequence of movements.
For the back massage, the first strokes delivered are effleurage strokes again but this time on both sides of the spine and covering the whole surface of the back. After warming up the tissue, he or she uses fingers, knuckles, wrists or elbows to work more deeply on the tissue. Tight muscles are relieved by working locally in the tight areas and along the whole length of the muscle with strokes such as petrissage, compression, friction, and percussion. This part of the massage ends with the effleurage stroke.
The patient's arms and hands can be worked on with the patient lying either the face down or face up. Once again, the therapist begins with the long, slow effleurage strokes. If the weight of the patient’s arm can be securely supported, petrissage, compression, and friction can be done with a wringing motion. Effleurage strokes bring this part of the massage to an end as well, and the therapist moves to the other arm.
For the remainder of the massage, the patient can lie face up or down. The therapist reaches under the patient’s neck to comb the fingers upward from the back to the base of the skull. If the patient is lying face up, the therapist should allow the weight of the neck to indicate how much pressure to apply with the fingers rather than applying too much pressure, which might lead to muscle cramping or injury due to the awkward angle of the hands. Across the tops of the shoulders, the therapist might use a moderately intense petrissage technique, as this area is prone to substantial muscle tension. He or she might then stroke across the upper chest and collarbone area, avoiding the throat area.
For a facial massage, the therapist should sit at the head of the massage table unless able to stand comfortably. The patient’s face is first relaxed by using flat palms in a gentle upward motion to stroke up over the forehead. This motion can be repeated at any stage of the face massage. Next: To release tension, gentle circular strokes can be made from the forehead going down to the chin. The therapist can use his or her knuckles in massaging the patient's jawline, which can be pressed with small, light friction circles that start from the cheeks and go outward to the joints of the jaw. The light circles can also go up to the ears and behind them. The pressure should be applied even lighter as this stroke progresses up to the patient’s temples. Using the pads of the thumbs, the therapist can smooth the forehead from between the eyebrows, stroking outward in the direction of the temples. This separating stroke with thumbs going in opposite directions can be repeated across the brow ridges, from the bridge of the nose across the cheekbones and cheeks, below the nose, and across the chin.
The feet should be massaged last in order to avoid spreading bacteria from the feet to the rest of the body and to other surfaces. Massage of the feet can start at the ankle and go across the top of the foot to the toe area with the therapist applying effleurage with moderate pressure. Each toe can be rolled between the fingers and gently tugged. Circular friction can be applied to the soles of the patient's feet and heels using the thumb pads. Hands should be washed immediately after foot massages.
HOW TO DILUTE ESSENTIAL OILS FOR MASSAGES
This link outlines the various appropriate dilution rates for different oils, as they can vary quite a bit: Dilution Guidelines
Caution: Some essential oils have different dermal maximums and recommended usage levels; thus, it is important to consult a safety manual or Certified Aromatherapist for appropriate dilution guidelines, specific to the essential oil in question.
Below is a general guide for dilution:
2.5% dilution = 15 drops of essential oil per ounce (30 ml) of carrier oil
3% dilution = 20 drops of essential oil per ounce (30 ml) of carrier oil
5% dilution = 30 drops of essential oil per ounce (30 ml) of carrier oil
10% dilution = 60 drops of essential oil per ounce (30 ml) of carrier oil
FOR INFANTS AND YOUNG CHILDREN:
0.5-1% dilution = 3-6 drops of essential oil per ounce (30 ml) of carrier oil
FOR SENSITIVE SKIN:
0.5-1 % dilution = 3 to 6 drops per ounce (30 ml) of carrier oil
ONE SHOULD AVOID GETTING A MASSAGE IF HE OR SHE HAS:
Recently consumed a large meal – doing so could contribute to muscle cramps
Recently consumed alcohol or addictive substances – massage increases their effects
Underwent surgery, unless with the permission of his/her medical doctor
Suffers from heart attacks or strokes, has cancer
Has a fever or infectious disease
Has varicose veins (avoid massage directly over the varicose), thrombosis or phlebitis
Has inflamed joints, gout, arthritis or rheumatoid pain. It is better to massage above the area and not directly on the site due to the pain.
Has circulatory problems
Has taken pain medications
Is wearing a condom, as essential oils cause condoms to deteriorate