Most of us are familiar with the image of a traditional massage table and oils. However, massage doesn’t fit into just one category. There are dozens upon dozens of variations, sometimes even within one subset of massage.
These different types of massages and methods are called modalities. Modalities have been developed to target specific problems or areas of concerns to get tailored results. We won’t list all the modalities here because there are so many, but below you’ll find 11 popular modalities that you can commonly find.
Not every modality is made for every person, but that’s why it’s so great — you can find a type of massage tailored to both your personal needs and philosophy.
1. Aromatherapy Massage
Aromatherapy massage integrates essential oils into the massage experience. The use of essential oils dates back thousands of years to ancient Egypt, where they often gave scented massages and aromatic baths.
Blending these two elements together promotes relaxation and may invigorate or energize you, depending on the types of scents your massage therapist chooses. Many therapists will consult with you first to learn which kinds of essential oils you prefer. For example, cypress is believed to relieve muscle pain, whereas tea tree is used to support the immune system.
2. Craniosacral Therapy
For those looking for a gentle and non-invasive experience, craniosacral therapy may be the right fit. If you’re shy about taking off your clothes in front of a stranger, all the better. Practitioners of craniosacral therapy will often massage you fully clothed, with light and still movements.
Specialists in this area believe that light touch helps restore the central nervous system and improve irregular sleep patterns. And unlike many traditional massages which either use a chair or a massage table, craniosacral sessions often start in a massage chair first and then move to a massage table. The therapist will also check in with you during the massage to make sure they’re giving you the right level of touch.
3. Deep Tissue Massage
Deep tissue massage focuses on relieving severe muscle tension. It’s especially effective if you have musculoskeletal disorders, postural problems, or chronic muscle pain and tension. Massage therapists often use their knuckles, hands, and elbows to really dig in.
Avoid deep tissue massage if you have inflamed joints or ailments like lupus, because the vigorous nature of the massage could worsen a flare-up. Another important note: deep tissue massage shouldn’t be confused with deep pressure massage. While deep tissue focuses on layers of muscles and fascia, deep pressure massage focuses on the entire body.
4. Hot Stone Massage
Hoping for some novelty in your massage experience? Hot stone massage stands out from the rest. The massage therapist places hot stones on the your body and often uses them to give the massage. The effect allows the therapist to go deeper while still using lighter pressure.
And of course, the correct level of heat is a great way to loosen muscle tension and increase your levels of relaxation. Hot stone massage sessions often complement a regular massage experience and don’t exclusively use stones throughout the duration.
5. Myofascial Massage
Despite its potentially misleading name, myofascial massage isn’t actually related to your face. It’s related to fascia, a tissue that holds all your organs, arteries, bones, and muscles together. Myofascial massage is designed to manipulate that connecting tissue. During a session, a therapist will locate areas on you that feel stiff and apply manual pressure. This well help improve restricted movement. Myofascial massage may also target trigger points and use stretching to help relieve pain.
6. Pregnancy Massage
Pregnancy is no walk in the park, and massage can help ease those aches and pains. Getting a massage during your pregnancy has all kinds of benefits including hormone regulation, improvement of nerve pain, reduced swelling, reduced back and joint pain, and even better sleep.
Of course, you likely won’t be able to use a typical massage table and lay on your stomach, especially after the first trimester. Pregnancy massage uses different positions to accommodate your shape. Although the practice is considered safe, it’s also best to find a therapist who is certified in prenatal massage.
Reflexology complements holistic health practices and became popular in the United States around the 1930s. The practice that involves acupressure applied to the hands and feet.
According to the Reflexology Association of America, these techniques stimulate neural pathways and support optimal functioning of the body. Reflexologists use techniques such as thumb and finger walking to stimulate reflex points on your feet, often corresponding to a related organ. This type of massage could be a good fit for you if you enjoy foot massages.
Reiki has its origins in 1800s Japan, where Dr. Usui popularized the practice and taught it to his students. Unlike most of the massage types listed here, using reiki doesn’t actually involve working tissue. Instead, practitioners gently place their hands above or on your body to transmit warmth and energy.
Many people who attend reiki sessions report feeling slight tingling or heat coming from the practitioner’s hands, which culminates in a sense of relaxation and wellbeing. It’s a gentle and non-invasive practice that won’t leave you feeling sore the next day.
Shiatsu is a form of physical therapy that integrates emotional, physiological, and spiritual wellbeing. For centuries, Chinese practitioners paired shiatsu with herbalism and acupuncture to help relieve the pain of their clients. Since then, shiatsu has become more of a practice of its own, with about half a dozen variations.
You can find therapists who specialize in barefoot shiatsu, healing shiatsu, or movement shiatsu — just to name a few. For example, barefoot shiatsu involves powerful yoga-like stretches to unwind tightness, while healing shiatsu integrates mindfulness and meditation.
10. Sport Massage
Athletes work their bodies hard, which is why there’s an entire industry around specifically-tailored sports massage. You may take advantage of a sport massage before, during, or after athletic events. This helps relieve performance-related pains, promote flexibility, and even ward off potential injuries. Massage therapists often combine massage techniques, such as deep tissue massage or acupuncture, to tailor to the athletes’ and sports’ particular needs.
11. Swedish Massage
It may be near the bottom of the list, but that doesn’t mean it’s unpopular. The Swedish massage is actually known as the “traditional” massage. If you’ve gotten a massage before, chances are high you experienced something similar.
A traditional massage therapist usually applies kneading, stroking, and friction to loosen muscular tension and increase blood circulation. The therapist uses massage oil to ease the hand strokes and movements. Before you start, you should expect a consultation to ask about your health and lifestyle and if you have any particular tough spots or areas to avoid. This massage will take place on a massage table and usually lasts between 35-60 minutes.
The practices listed above are the highlights, but by no means do they cover all forms of massage therapy. From lymph drainage to rolfing, you’ll find many types of massage therapy under the sun to address your needs.
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