Throughout thousands of years and a myriad of cultures, people have used massage for communication, relieving pain or discomfort, healing, protecting, or improving one’s overall health. Most people have experienced the instinctive or intuitive use of massage when stopping to rub or hold an injury, bruise or area of discomfort on the body.
Historical references to massage have been found in cultures around the world. To better comprehend that massage is found in many cultures, you can examine the different terms used to describe the same or similar activity. Even cultures without written language have passed down the tradition of massage and techniques, shown by the notes of early explorers who discovered these native peoples.
In the most primitive civilizations, medicine was ritualistic and oftentimes combined with magical or from demons, spirits, or sins. Shamans and priests used massage, among other practices, to help rid people of these evil entities. The spiritual and medical traditions were passed on from generation to generation, perpetuating the practice of massage. Evidence of this is found everywhere from Australia to Africa, including ancient Egypt, to the Pacific Island, Russia and the Ukraine, and North and South America.
Ancient civilizations used massage in conjunction with many variations of water therapy to cleanse and purify the body of disease-causing spirits, bathing, steam rooms, hot springs, and sweat lodges. These rituals that combined massage with water therapies persisted throughout history and still exist today.
Massage in Ancient Greece
The Greek health regimen included exercise, massage, fresh air, rest, diet, and cleanliness. Exercise and competitive athletics were so much a part of the culture that the Olympic Games were held every four years as part of a religious festival. These games were very important to the Greeks, who even stopped wars to compete in them. Physical training was critical to good performance, giving rise to gymnasiums all over their academic, art, and physical training at the gymnasiums. In time, the baths and gymnasiums served the general public as social, spiritual, mental, and physical gathering places.
Massage was one of the primary treatments provided at the Greek gymnasiums and baths throughout their existence. Athletes received special massage treatments to minimize exhaustion and tone the muscles. The elliptical were servants who provided this ritual before and after competition and became very knowledgeable about the muscles, the condition of muscles, and muscular activity during exercise. In a way, the elliptical were the predecessors to physical or athletic trainers. Although the ancient Greek records do not contain an abundance of specific information about massage, it was used so commonly in the gymnasiums that the term gymnastics referred to a combination of exercise, massage, and baths that were provided by the gymnasiums. There were, however, some detailed references to massage made by the famous Hippocrates, who made important scientific and medical advancements around 400 BCE.