Eastern approaches to massage and bodywork are based on traditional medical systems that view the body differently than in Western medicine (Box 17-1). While many Eastern techniques share similar treatment methods with Western-based approaches, they are applied with different intent. This chapter first presents core concepts in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) that underlie Asian bodywork therapies. Selected techniques from three Asian bodywork systems are described. Ayurvedic bodywork is covered in Topic 17-2, which teaches an abhyanga (Indian massage) and Indian head massage routine. This broad overview of Eastern approaches provides a basis for students to begin exploring areas of interest within Asian and Indian bodywork systems. Understanding Eastern approaches broadens your perspective on massage and may inspire specialization in your practice.
Box 17-1: West Versus East
The Western view of the body is radically different from the Eastern view. To apply Eastern approaches properly, it is important to understand the differences in these two views.
- The Western view of the body: The Western view of the body is based on the Western medicine model and can be described by the words “reductionist” and “mechanistic.” Reductionism is the tendency to explain a complex set of facts, phenomena, or structures by another, simpler set. This tendency comes from the Greeks, who separated medicine from magic and explored the anatomy of the body through dissection. As they developed their ideas, they split the human away from the environment, the brain and thinking away from the body and feeling, and even the body’s organs and systems away from other organs and systems. They broke down the human body into its simplest parts to better understand each individual part. In the process, many would argue that an understanding of the whole and how it fits into the greater whole of the universe was lost along the way.
- Western medicine also tends to be mechanistic in its approach (where the body is viewed as a machine that can be “fixed” just as a car is fixed at an auto shop) and body systems are studied independently. Early Western medicine wanted to explain illness, build a body of scientific knowledge, and develop precise, repeatable methods for eliminating disease or malfunctions of body structures.2 With the invention of the microscope and evidence that pathogenic microbes caused disease, Western medicine became very focused on destroying disease-causing agents, alleviating the body’s symptoms with prescription medications, or repairing structural dysfunction or damage through surgery. When symptoms are gone, the body is perceived as “healthy,” even if drugs are used continuously to mask symptoms or improve physiological function.
- The Eastern view of the body: In Eastern medical models like traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and ayurveda, the view of the body could be described with the words “unified,” “holistic,” and “balanced.” Each human has an intimate relationship with his or her environment on every level. Changes in the natural world including the cycles of the seasons and variations in geographical regions influence the body physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. The body is viewed as a miniature version of the universe, and the same energies that make up the universe make up the human body.
- The Eastern medical models are also holistic in their approach to health care. They emphasize the need to look at the whole person, including an analysis of the physical, nutritional, environmental, emotional, social, mental, spiritual, and lifestyle values of the patient. Everything has energetic value in the Eastern worldview. Food can increase strength and energy flow or cause blockages. Activity levels can increase energy flow, block it, or deplete it. The quality of relationships can promote the balanced flow of energy or disrupt it. When energy flow is blocked or disrupted, disease can take root.
- Balance is another concept prevalent in the Eastern medical models. For example, in TCM, the integrity of the body and its relationship to its environment is based on an understanding of Yin and Yang. Yin represents water, quiet, substance, and night, while Yang represents fire, noise, function, and day. These two parts of a unified whole are polar opposites and must be carefully balanced to maintain health. In ayurvedic medicine, balance is achieved when people make an effort to live mindfully and make choices that promote harmony for their particular body–mind–spirit constitution.
Asian bodywork therapy
Chinese four pillars of examination
Indian head massage
yin and yang
Having read the chapter and used the related student learning tools, the student will be able to:
- Define terms related to Chinese medicine concepts, including yin and yang, essential substances, five elements, the zang-fu system, and the meridian system.
- Discuss the functions and relationship of yin and yang in nature and the human body.
- Compare and contrast the five elements in the traditional Chinese medicine model and in the ayurveda medicine model.
- Describe the pathway of one of the twelve primary channels.
- Identify two assessment methods unique to the traditional Chinese medicine model.
- Explain the application of three different techniques used in Asian bodywork therapies.
- Define key terms associated with core concepts of ayurveda, including doshas, prana, marma points, and abhyanga.
- List two characteristics of each dosha.
- Compare the application of massage techniques for a kapha as opposed to a vata.
- Explain the application of three different techniques used in ayurvedic bodywork.