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Eastern Massage or Western Massage: Which Should You Study?

When it comes to philosophy and techniques, no two massage schools provide the same training. Some massage schools focus on Western massage, others focus on Eastern massage, and a few offer massage therapy programs that integrate both traditions. Which tradition is right for you?

Western massage
Traditional European massage is based on Western concepts of anatomy, pathology, and physiology. Western massage works on various parts of body, such as the digestive system, the nervous system, and the musculoskeletal system, for the purpose of realigning and restoring the whole system. It combines five basic strokes: effleurage (gliding), friction, percussion (tapping), petrissage (kneading), and vibration.

Most massage schools offer instruction in Swedish massage - the most popular form of traditional European massage - which is used to promote general relaxation, improve circulation and range of motion, and relieve muscle tension. More contemporary Western massage techniques include deep tissue massage, myofascial release, soft tissue massage, sports massage, and trigger point therapy. Western massage combined with bodywork and movement therapy has resulted in the Alexander technique, the Feldenkrais method, Hellerwork, Pilates, structural integration, and the Trager approach, to name a few.

Eastern massage
Eastern massage addresses energy flow and balance within the body, stimulating and soothing specific points along the energy meridians to create effects at other sites along those meridians. Instead of stroking and kneading, Eastern massage therapists use pressure, rolling, rocking, and striking, all of which can be more vigorous than Western massage.

Massage schools that operate from the Eastern perspective provide instruction in such Eastern massage modalities as Amma, Shiatsu, Thai massage, Tui Na, and others. Eastern massage combined with bodywork and movement therapy involves the systematic use of movement, breathing, and ritual to integrate the body and mind; examples of this integration include yoga, Qi Gong, and Tai Chi.

Choosing a massage therapy program
Once you've considered the differences between Eastern and Western styles of massage therapy, you may be immediately more comfortable with one tradition than the other based on your personal beliefs about health and healing. It's wise, however, to acquire experience with both paradigms before choosing a massage therapy program.

Try different types of massage and bodywork to find out which techniques will be the best fit for you as a massage therapist. Then, once you know exactly what you're looking for, you can search for massage schools that offer the techniques and traditions you seek.

Massage schools offer training in a myriad of techniques. Which ones align most closely with your own beliefs and traditions?