true Swedish

When I made the decision to enter the field of massage, it was a big leap. I had been working in the field of low-income housing for about 10 years. Facing burn-out and lots of grumpiness, I realized that it would be in everyone’s best interests if I sought something new. I had been married for a year at that point and my husband and I knew that we wanted to try to have a kid or 2. So, I wanted a new career that offered flexibility and control over my schedule. I looked into lots of boring things like medical transcription…and then explored massage. Well, it’s obvious that massage won and aren’t we all glad?

I was excited to be entering this new career and wanted to share the news with a friend of mine who is Swedish. I come from a family with Swedish roots and I have always understood this side of the family to be more reserved, stoic and generally conservative. (I’ve always thought of my mom’s side as the hill-billy side, right mom!?) Anyway, I was a tiny bit hesitant to write to my Swedish friend, projecting my family’s conservatism on her and fearing she would be scandalized by the choice of my new career.

Then I remembered Swedish Massage. Well, they must like massage there if it’s named after the country! I felt like an idiot and wrote to my friend without further delay.

In my massage practice I often pair Swedish Massage with other styles of massage. I feel Swedish has so many uses and compliments other modalities so well. But, if I step back and think about what a true Swedish Massage is, I see the following elements:

  • Effluerage –  these are long, gliding strokes, great for increasing circulation and stretching  muscles. (Oddly, all the names of the strokes in Swedish Massage are French.)
  • Pettrisage – these are kneading strokes, great for warming & loosening muscle and connective tissue, making them more pliable and a lot less cranky. On the shoulders, this is where clients say “I’ll give you an hour to stop doing that!
  • Friction – this is when it gets more specific. My thumbs and fingers press into those knots and encourage them to give up.
  • Calestenics – these are stretches incorporated into the massage session. Stretches are wonderful for stimulating joint nutrition (our joints are healthier when they move), bringing awareness to places that are tight and moving your limbs through a full range of motion.
  • Vibration, jostling and shaking – these elements speak directly to the nervous system – “command central” for how much muscle tension you hold. People often say “I hold all my tension in my shoulders,” but we actually hold it in our brains. Confuse and override the nervous system with some jostling and your muscle tension just might go away.
  • Tapotement – these are percussive strokes applied to the body in a rhythmic fashion. Let “Helga” come to mind thumping  on someone’s back. I’ll have you know that I was dubbed Tapotement Queen in my massage class. It’s my one drumming outlet.

So, there you have the hallmarks of a true Swedish Massage. Feel free to ask for this wonderful treat next time you schedule a session. And, a pack of Swedish Fish to the first person to comment on this post. Go ahead, I hang on your every comment.

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4 thoughts on “true Swedish

  1. Yvette says:

    I love swedish fish! 😉

    Susan, I’m glad you chose this field. I am doing the “new mommy figuring out life” thing right now, & have all kind of thoughts about getting more into that beloved creative side of me. Creativity in job is key for parents who still need to work, & its wonderful to see how you’ve grasped this concept & pursued it & gained a new career out of it. Cheers to you!

  2. Karla says:

    Hi Susan,

    So, at the risk of sound like a complete dunderhead, what is the difference in all these massage techniques? It seems that nearly all massage has the same objective: to reduce muscle tension and relax cranky people.

    Esalen, Thai, Swedish, Shiatsu, Lomi Lomi. Do they just go through different ‘doors’ to get at reducing stress and tension. All have hands on, stroke, percussion, pressure as part of it, right?

    Additionally, do you know of a technique that includes an aural element? (And I don’t mean the sometimes treacly music that sometimes is played on a boombox in the corner). I find that when a person is in a deep state of relaxation they might be more receptive to hearing and integrating psychological messages that could breakdown old habits of the mind and rebuild new ones. You know, putting the vulcan mindlock on someone when they are their most receptive!

    But seriously, if much of tension (all?) is carried in the brain, what might be a genuine *mind* massage technique?

    One of my favorite parts of a yoga class is the opening mediation. Sometimes the teacher will intone thoughts and ideas that I seem to hear so much more clearly in the mental neutrality of meditation. Thoughts like, “let yourself feel beautiful for awhile” (er, yeah, forgot about that one) or “who are you when you are not trying to be the best” (uh, yeah pesky perfectionist). That kind of sets a nice intention for that day’s practice.

    Perhaps guided meditation is mind massage?

  3. Karla,
    Thank you for your thoughtful comments. I agree to some extent that various styles of massage often aim at the same goal – reducing muscle tension & relaxing cranky people. Additionally, some people find a style of massage that’s characterized as more “therapeutic” or troubleshooting-oriented like sports massage can also result in an overall relaxed state of being. And I like the image of different doors in. Another way to think of it is as different languages. Some people respond well to a certain bodywork language whereas they don’t to another.

    But there are also some significant differences between styles of massage. I didn’t try to tackle that issue in this post. But, for example, Thai massage is usually done with the client dressed. There is no oil or lotion used. It’s performed on the floor on a mat. Those 3 elements are different than a traditional Swedish massage where the client is usually unclothed under a sheet, oil is used, and it’s performed on a table.

    The other issues you raise about “mind” massage – this is fascinating to think about. A couple things come to mind. 1. In Lomi Lomi, the practitioner asks the client if he or she would like to share an intention for the day that the therapist can hold in mind while working. There is an appreciation for the connection between the mind, body and soul that is absent in some more Western styles of massage. 2. I tend to operate on the more anatomical end of the massage spectrum, so others would respond differently to your inquiry. 3. Cranial-sacral work can access some pretty profound experiences as the therapist works with the pulse of the cerebrospinal fluid which surrounds the brain and spinal cord. Each person will respond differently to this type of treatment but it’s pretty amazing “mind massage” to experience. 4. And finally, Yea yoga!

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