by Nick Lakoff, CMT
As long as massage has been around it’s a good bet that a portion of it has been performed while the client was seated either on a stool or a chair of some kind. Historical carvings, cartouches, paintings and drawings from all over the world have all been found that describe someone seated upright receiving some form of body work. It’s in the later part of the 20th century that we finally see Chair Massage evolve as a separate discipline. A Body Worker by the name of David Palmer is described by Bill Thompson as the “Father of Chair Massage” in an August 1987 article of EAST/WEST MAGAZINE. This nickname for David has stuck ever since. In 1984 looking to create a portable massage chair to use for seated massage, David along with woodworker Serge Bouyssou started working on prototype massage chairs. After soliciting additional assistance from legendary massage table designer Jim Everett, all three applied and were granted a US patent for the world’s first portable massage chair. In May of 1986 the first “High Touch Massage Chair” manufactured by Living Earths Crafts out of Santa Rosa, California, rolled off the assembly line.
David, Serge and Living Earth Crafts had devised to market and sell the chair gradually over the following 18 months allowing for the creation of a market but a chance invitation to the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) annual convention in August of 1986 changed all that. The convention being held in Seattle, WA, regrouped the council of massage schools and owner/directors of many of the United States massage and bodywork schools were in attendance. At the convention David introduced his concept of chair massage to 34 school directors and they immediately sensed the potential for this new approach. This presentation was the catalyst for the immense and overwhelming response that was to follow. In the next year David taught 24 seminars across the U.S. and in Canada, Sweden and Norway. The rest is, as they say, history. Over the next quarter century chair massage has grown by leaps and bounds and can be found in nearly every corner of the globe.
During the 1998 Ice Storm that swept through Southern Quebec (Canada) destroying 90% of all the electric line pylons, Hydro-Quebec crews were working round the clock for days and weeks trying to get power back to Montreal and the surrounding areas. The workers were often exhausted, tired and frustrated at the monumental task that lay before them. Never in history had there been such catastrophic failure of equipment to an electric distribution network anywhere in the world. A group of volunteer massage therapists were offering these men and women free chair massages to help them cope with the stress of the situation. One such person was the assistant instructor in my Swedish massage course. One day she recounted the day she had Hydro Quebec’s head engineer on her massage chair. He had been up 24 hours straight trying to find a way to get electricity into the island now that all 5 major transportation lines into Montreal had collapsed. To say he was exhausted would be a major understatement. During the massage as she worked her routine she said he figured out how to get the power to the city, all he needed was to let go. Although a wonderful story, I always wondered if this was more of a tall tale than reality. Years later, I had the opportunity to give the same man, the former head engineer at Hydro-Quebec, a massage. Once I found out who he was I asked him about this and he confirmed to me that it was 100% true.
Although the original style of massage that David adapted for use on the chair was Amma, many massage practitioners over time have adapted their own styles for use with a massage chair. The clearest difference with table massage apart for the client’s body position is the fact they can keep their clothes on. The massage is normally given over the client’s clothes, which eliminates the need for massage oil, creams or gels which was seen to reduce the inconvenience and time needed for getting a massage. This however is not a hard rule and sometimes a hospital gown can be used (by a pregnant woman for example) for work directly on the skin using some kind of massage lubricant. Another feature is the length of time for the massage session. Typically 15 to 30 minutes long, chair massages allow for short but highly effective stress relieving and energy boosting sessions. The portability of the chairs allows them to be set up just about anywhere as long as there is about 25 to 30 square feet available for working. In his original concept David vision focused introducing chair massage to the workplace, a great source of society’s stress. Over the years chair massage has been used in conferences, airports, fairs, concerts, sporting events, bridal showers, weddings and so many other places. What is most surprising about getting a well executed chair massage session is the realization that although short, the effects are powerful and immediate. You also get a boost about 15 to 30 minutes following the session which helps you power through your day.
Nick Lakoff is a certified practitioner in the following disciplines: Swedish Massage, Sports Massage, Reflexology, Acupressure, Myo-Fascial Release, Massage for Pregnancy, Swedish Chair Massage, Hot Stone Massage and Reiki.