Massage: Swedish, Deep Tissue, Holistic, oh my!?
So I bet you have wondered when you have read about massage, had to decide what type of massage you wanted, or read a massage therapist’s menu of services – what is the difference between a Swedish, deep tissue or holistic massage? Of course massage sessions differ from therapist to therapist depending on their education, innate skill, goals, personality and intuition, but there are some general guidelines when referring to these types of massage.
Swedish massage was developed by Pehr Henrik Ling (1776-1839), Swedish physician and fencing teacher who combined Chinese gymnastic and medical techniques with sports medicine to create technique for decreasing muscle soreness, increasing flexibility and promoting general health. Swedish massage focuses on gentle to moderate pressure strokes moving toward the heart and is performed massage oil to reduce friction. Strokes used in Swedish massage include long and gliding movements, kneading, vibration, tapping, and friction. Therapists may also use bending and stretching movements to relax joints. Swedish massage can be both relaxing and energizing and helps to provide a feeling of overall well-being.
Deep tissue massage generally focuses on a deeper layer of musculature and fascia. Fascia is connective tissue that runs throughout the body and wraps muscle fibers, individual muscles and groups of muscles among other things. Fascia is the membrane we sometimes see surrounding a chicken breast when uncooked. Fascia can become knotted and stuck in different places causing us pain and limited range of motion. A therapist can work in a deeper manner by relaxing the surface musculature and then sinking in to access the deeper muscles. We can also affect the fascia at the many different levels where it resides by working without lubrication. Deep tissue massage tends to use heavier pressure but can still range from moderate to deep. The important thing is for the therapist and client to have good communication to achieve the desired result while still having a comfortable and pleasant experience.
Holistic massage is a massage that looks to address and balance the person as a whole. This can include benefits to the body, mind and spirit, depending on the goals of the person being treated. In my practice, a holistic massage combines many of the different techniques I have learned over the years, is guided by both knowledge and intuition and is tailored to each client. It can be a combination of Swedish, deep tissue, Ayurveda, fascial work, heat therapy, range of motion and many other modalities, depending on what the client likes and requests, and what I feel will be most effective for that client as an individual body and person. This is an ideal session for someone looking to relax and feel more grounded and at the same time reduce pain and discomfort while improving overall health and well-being. Hooray for all of those!
In past years I offered both Swedish and deep tissue treatments, but I found that almost all people needed some combination of both of these to be most effective. I felt a better way to describe the resultant ideal massage was “holistic”, which can range from very little pressure to very deep pressure and will address each person as a whole. I hope this clarifies the subject of massage for you a little bit. Of course, there are multitudes of other types of blissful massage out there including prenatal, Maya Abdominal Therapy, Kinesis Myofascial Integration, Thai, Lomi-Lomi, lymphatic…and the list goes on and on. How lucky are we?