Introduction to Bodywork - Tuina, Shiatsu, Massage

If you are interested in general information about bodywork, styles of treatment and reasons for seeing a bodyworker, the following information may be helpful.

Why should I see a Bodyworker?

Bodywork is one of the oldest forms of medicine. It is based on the idea that muscle tension and improper alignment may cause a/or contribute to physical, mental and internal imbalances. The techniques are focused on reducing tension within the body and improving the structure to facilitate the free flow of blood and energy.

When this flow of blood and energy has improved, the major systems of the body (immune, circulatory, nervous, etc.) will be better able to naturally heal disease and to promote health and well-being.

What styles of Bodywork are practiced?

There are many styles of bodywork practiced today. Below we have highlighted some of the more popular forms that are practiced widely around the world.

  • Massage Therapy
    Massage Therapy is a generic term used to indicate a broad range of "western" massage techniques and styles. In general, the aim of massage therapy is to ease stress and muscular tension and improve the functioning of the body. Within massage therapy there are a range of styles and techniques which either focus on particular areas of the body a/or influence various levels of the body (such as deep tissue massage, tendo-muscular massage, scalp massage, etc.). While there are therapists who specialize in certain styles, most massage therapists are trained in a variety of techniques and will use what is appropriate for your specific set of symptoms.
  • Shiatsu
    Shiatsu is one of many forms of massage that come from the "east" and are based in varying degrees on the theories of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Shiatsu falls under the general category of "acupressure" which simply means to stimulate the acupuncture points of the body by using your hands, thumbs a/or other parts of your body. Shiatsu is unique, however, in a couple ways. First, it has a refined system of abdominal diagnosis which, along with other information, is used to find and correct imbalances in the body (the abdominal techniques are somewhat similar to those used in Japanese acupuncture). Second, as opposed to simple acupressure, Shiatsu utilizes a variety of stretches and more general massage techniques which work in conjunction with the stimulation of the acupuncture points.
  • Tuina
    Tuina is essentially the Chinese version of Western Massage Therapy. It utilizes the theories of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and has been practiced, researched and improved upon over many years in China. Many acupuncturists in both the west and the east utilize Tuina (with or without acupuncture) to facilitate the removal of physical blockages caused by tension a/or alignment problems.
  • Craniosacral Therapy
    Craniosacral therapy (CST) is focused on the craniosacral system, which includes the membranes and cerebrospinal fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord. Practitioners follow and adjust the natural biorhythms of the body and by applying extremely gentle pressure to specific craniosacral areas are able to adjust this biorhythm to improve the functioning of the body. While CST may be used to treat a variety of conditions, migraine headaches, TMJ, neck/back pain and brain/spinal cord injuries are commonly treated.
  • Rolfing
    Rolfing is a manipulative therapy which works to correct postural and structural misalignments in the body. It is felt that by improving the structure of the body you will improve a persons health and wellbeing on both the physical and mental levels. As opposed to massage therapy, the work of a rolfer is focused primarily on the network of fascia (or connective tissue) in the body. Generally, practitioners of rolfing follow a multi-session protocol regardless of your current condition. Within each session certain areas of the body are focused on until the entire body has been realigned. After the intial set of treatments you may return for further adjustments as they are necessary.
  • Reflexology
    Reflexology is a microsystem (or representation) therapy similar in theory to that of auricular acupuncture. The theory behind reflexology states that the entire body is represented in the hands and feet and that you may treat a condition anywhere in the body by treating its corresponding area on the hand or foot. In other words, you may treat a stomach condition by treating the "stomach" area on the hand or foot. Reflexology may be used as a primary mode of treatment but it is often added as an adjunctive therapy to bodywork or acupuncture treatments.

What conditions can Bodywork treat?

As with many Complementary and Alternative Medicine techniques, bodywork may be used to treat a very broad range of conditions. Generally, it excels at those which involve physical pain and/or structural misalignments. The nervous and circulatory systems of the body, however, are crucial in promoting health and wellbeing as well as healing disease and bodywork has the potential to greatly improve the functioning of these systems.

What will my first Bodywork treatment be like?

Your first bodywork treatment generally involves a discussion with your practitioner regarding your health history and current health issues. Depending on the modality, then, you will be treated either lying down or seated, with or without clothing. Most treatments last approximately an hour and usually include work on your area of concern as well as your body in general. Most people find bodywork extremely relaxing, however, some of the deeper techniques such as those occasionally employed in some western massage therapies, rolfing and tuina may be mildly uncomfortable. Discomfort is often felt in the areas with the highest degrees of tension and the value of work in those areas cannot be overemphasized. Over time you should notice the discomfort in those areas abating as well as improvement in your overall health and wellbeing.

Where can I find a Bodyworker?

Our site has a bodyworkers directory which contains contact information and practice details for many bodyworkers around the world. If there are no bodyworkers listed in your area, your local phone book is often helpful.

Related Resources:

There are many resources which discuss bodywork at varying levels. Our research section includes a comprehensive list of the main texts and websites related to bodywork and other forms of eastern medicine. The following introductory books are suitable for people interested in learning more about some of the bodywork styles mentioned above: