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The many worlds of massage therapy The many worlds of massage therapy
In the 15 years that I have been a massage therapist, I have seen many changes in the profession. When I began, there... The many worlds of massage therapy

by Nick Lakoff, Certified Massage Therapist

In the 15 years that I have been a massage therapist, I have seen many changes in the profession.  When I began, there were a handful of different styles of massage. Today there are well over 200 different styles and approaches involving massage.  This can be very confusing to the average massage consumer.  Having practiced many styles, and tried many more, I will describe the seven most popular and their particular strength or appeal.


Swedish massage is one of the most common massages offered in North America.  Practiced on a table using massage gels, oils, or cream, it can be for relaxation, therapeutic purposes, or a mix of the two.  This massage is perfect for de-stressing, aches and pains, and deep muscular work.


Shiatsu massage originated in Japan in the beginning of the 20th century, but has roots in acupuncture and Tuina and Amma. Performed on the floor on top of a Tatami mat, or padded floor mat designed for floor massage, this massage is excellent for those who want an energy boost or to work on specific health issues affected by energy blockages.

Sports massage can keep athletes muscles from cramping and pain.


Sports massage has roots in Swedish massage and amateur and professional sports.  This type of massage is usually done on a table with the athlete fully or partially clothed.  Generally no gels, oils or creams are used.  Massages are usually short 15 to 30 minutes and are use in pre and post competition and in between events.  Massages are rapid and vigorous, but deep techniques are avoided in order to avoid robbing the athlete of potential performance.  Sports massage is excellent for professional and amateur athletes to complement their training regimen. Many massage therapists adapt techniques they learn in Sports massage to their regular massage.


Reflexology is a massage practiced on the feet, hands, ears, and head.  Specific finger pressure is applied to zones on these areas to stimulate the different organs and body parts to which they correspond.  No gels, oils, or creams are used and the client is normally fully clothed, but barefoot.  Clients may remove some clothing for comfort and lay between two sheets much like in a Swedish massage.  This style of massage is good for those suffering from a variety of ailments especially related to internal organs.  It is a wonderful technique if you love getting your feet massaged!


The purpose of an Essalen massage is to reconnect mind and body and heal the Psyche through touch.  Since there are few rules, Essalen uses gentle, superficial, broad strokes and lends itself to the practitioner’s intuition.  This massage is practiced on a table using gels, oils or creams.  Practice in the nude (either just the client or both client and therapist) is common, but you can wear clothing or sheets depending on your comfort level.  This is an excellent massage for those seeking complementary or alternative therapy to deal with issues such as body image, trauma, abuse, addiction, etc…


Californian massage fits between Swedish and Essalen massage and was developed in the 1970s.  It’s practiced on a table using gels, oils or creams.  As with Essalen, receiving this massage in the nude is common, since it can add to the experience; however, the degree of undress is based on the client’s comfort.  Sometimes having both practitioner and client nude brings both to an equal level and helps delve into deeper levels of consciousness, but being dressed doesn’t alter the effectiveness of the massage. Californian massage works deeper than Essalen and focuses on the muscular connective tissue aspect while keeping the psycho-somatic aspect of an Essalen massage.


Yoga-Thai massage originates from Thailand and is a mixture of Yoga movements and Accupressure.  Massages are giving on the floor on a Tatami or padded comforter.  The recipient is fully clothed, but, like Shiatsu, loose, stretchable clothing is required.  No gels, oils, or creams are used and the practitioner uses fingers, hands, forearms, elbows, knees, and feet.  The practitioner places the client in different positions stretching them and applying acupressure along the way.  First, the anterior part of the body is worked on and then the posterior following a “Kata” or structured sequence.  This is a very relaxing and re-energizing technique for those who love to stretch.

There are many styles of massage out there. Do yourself a favor—try as many styles as you can and enjoy the great variety of skilled touch available.

Nicolas 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.