Herbal Massage

Here are some herb and essential oil recipes to try at home. Share them with your massage therapist or use them to massage yourself or a loved one at home.

Teas that Assist with Massage:

White willow bark contains a compound chemically related to aspirin and may mildly relieve pain. A strong cup of the tea will do wonders for inflammation and joint pain, according to Sari Harrar in her book, The Women’s Book of Healing Herbs (Rodale, 1999). To make the tea, steep 1 teaspoon of bark per cup of boiling water. Boil in a covered pot for 20 minutes, strain out the bark and drink.

Herbs for MassageBurdock and dandelion support the liver. According to herbal folklore, improving liver function helps with stiffness and arthritic conditions. For tea, boil 1 teaspoon each of dandelion root and dried burdock root per 3 cups of water. Boil for only 5 minutes then strain. Sip throughout the day.

Pain-Relieving infused Oils:

Black cohosh leaves were traditionally used by Native Americans to treat rheum­atism. The American colonists also used a poultice of cohosh roots to relieve back pain.

St. John’s wort can also be used externally for aches and pains.

To make 2 cups of infused oil from either herb, use 2 cups of dried herbs and 4 cups of olive oil. Fill the bottom half of a double boiler about 3/4 of the way with water. Place the herbs and the oil in the top pan, then cover with a lid. Set over very low heat until the oil simmers. Allow the oil to simmer for 3 hours, then strain and bottle. Store away from light.

The infused black cohosh or St. John’s wort oil may be added to your favorite massage lotion or oil. Use 1/2 tablespoon per 4 oz. of base cream or oil. Two tablespoons of either oil may also be added to your bath.

Quick Mineral Baths:

Salts have been used for centuries to ease pain, swelling, and discomfort. The most popular types for this purpose are Dead Sea salts from Israel and Epsom salts.

For quick relief, use 1/4 cup of either salt in a bath. Combine with the above infused oils or with 8 drops of one of the following essential oils.

Massage-Friendly Essential Oils:
(external use only)

Here are several classic essential oils for massage. To be safe, dilute all of these oils in a carrier oil (see “Making massage oil” on 61) and use them externally only.

Fresh herbs and oil. Natural medicine

Fresh herbs and oil. Natural medicine.

Clary sage is known as a cell regenerator for aged skin. It’s thought to regulate seborrhea to relieve dryness. It also reputedly stimulates hair growth, soothes inflamed skin, and imparts a feeling of euphoria.

Cypress stimulates circulation and is great for all kinds of massage.

Eucalyptus is thought to stimulate the mind and spirit when inhaled and also clears the head. It’s recognized as a decongestant and an analgesic for muscular aches.

Geranium has a fresh, sweet, slightly floral note and blends well with all citrus oils and basil. It’s an antiseptic and astringent, so it’s thought to be good for acne and aged skin. It’s also used for relieving PMS and menopausal tension and acts as a stimulant and antidepressant.

Lavender has been used for thousands of years to restore unbalanced states of mind and body. It’s also antiseptic and can help dermatitis, acne, eczema, oily skin, and possibly psoriasis. It’s very calming for insomnia and fluctuating moods.

Peppermint is stimulating and uplifting. It’s thought to be a memory enhancer and to stimulate creative thinking. Avoid it in the evenings, unless you want to stay awake. It’s excellent for foot massage.

Wintergreen is purported to be a good treatment for warts. It’s also good for sore muscles and aching joints.

Wormwood is used in perfume blends and can help relieve muscular aches and pains.

Self Massage:

Shoulders: For stiff necks, headaches, or tender shoulders, try the following. Using your right hand, stroke the muscles at the base of your skull in penetrating circular motions until you reach the edge of your shoulder. Glide back to your neck and repeat.

Spine: Your spine is a complex part of your body that needs TLC. Pamper it by offering deep circular motions around your spine’s sides, just under the base of your skull. Gently massage between each vertebra with a light tapping of the fingertips.

Scalp: Using peppermint essential oil can provide an invigorating, luxurious treat for the scalp and hair. Begin massaging with your fingertips at your back hairline, using dime-sized circular movements. Work these strokes over the entire scalp until you reach your front hairline. Retrace your movements, this time applying deep pressure in 1/4-inch progressions until, once again, you reach your back hairline.

Hands: Being the useful tools that they are, hands are overworked and filled with tension. Whether at the keyboard, in the garden, or power shopping, your hands are sure to get a workout. Treat them to a therapeutic cool-down by squeezing the entirety of one hand with your other hand in firm, three-second grips. Tenderly wring each digit from its base to its tip. Next, use your thumb to perform static deep tissue therapy. Press the thumb into your palm in 1/2-inch segments for three seconds each. Continue this movement until you’ve covered the entire palm.

Massage Basics:

The practice of massage is as old as civilization itself. Hieroglyphs demonstrate that cave dwellers practiced a sort of kneading therapy all over the body. In fact, every corner of the world has some type of traditional massage that precedes the written word. During World War I, massage was used extensively in the treatment of nerve injury and shell shock. Today massage is used for everything from relaxation to psychotherapy; its pleasures and benefits are available to everyone.

Massage feels great, but what does it do? Classical Swedish/American neuromuscular massage affects the interaction between the control of muscles by the nervous system and the response of the muscles to these nerve systems. Muscles are stimulated via nerve cells to contract and relax. Specialized nerve receptors called proprioceptors receive and transmit information to monitor and protect the soft muscle tissue. Functions like degree of stretch, joint positioning, rate of movement, and muscle tension are all channeled through these receptor sites. Muscle and connective tissue dysfunction is almost always accompanied by proprioceptor hyperactivity that causes the muscle to tense up or become spastic. Opposing muscle groups become involved and, finally, a tight muscle results in a weakened muscle and vice versa.

Our muscles are like stubborn mules that repeat the same old movements every day for good or bad. Massage is introduced to the body to re-educate the muscles. Manipulating the muscles into new movements, increasing the muscles’ range of motion, softening the tissue, and lengthening and stretching muscles and connective tissue all change the biomechanical memory of the muscles involved. Overuse or injury to muscle and connective tissue can cause “knots” or tension clusters. These areas can be slowly released through deep tissue massage.

picture2Besides the basic muscular benefits, massage is an overhaul for the entire body. Circulation is improved, which encourages nutrients, oxygen, and arterial blood components to visit the area being manipulated. Improved filtration and elimination of carbon dioxide helps the body’s structures to better support normal functioning. Lymphatic drainage techniques can allow the body’s toxins to exit in a more rapid and thorough fashion. As a consequence, skin tone can improve in a matter of hours.

At the Beauty Kliniek in San Diego, massage is seen as an integral part of stress management. “As the body relaxes it goes from a sympathetic to a more sleepful parasympathetic state,” says Susan Norris, a certified massage therapist and holistic practitioner who utilizes Ayurvedic massage and Manual Lymph Drainage in her practice. “This takes the body from fight-or-flight mode to a more relaxed state. As this happens, neurotransmitters are releasing endorphins as a result of the manipulation of muscle ­tissue. The endorphins released allow for a feeling of well-being,” she says.

A Word of Caution:

Though massage is of enormous benefit, never receive a massage when you have the following conditions unless given your doctor’s permission.

  • An infection, high body temperature, or a contagious or systemic disease
    • Acute back pain, especially if the pain shoots down the arms or legs when you­­­ receive touch to your back
    • A skin infection, bruising, or acute inflammation
    • An inflammatory condition such as thrombosis or phlebitis

To benefit the most from a massage, Adina Moldovan, CMT at Tova’s in Houston, advises, “Don’t drink alcohol or caffeinated beverages for twenty-four hours before a massage” and “drink plenty of water after the massage to cleanse the system of toxins released from the deep tissues and muscles.”

To make the benefits of massage last, one must continue to support the balance in the body that has been created by the massage, she says. Deep breathing, a natural diet, plenty of sleep, and keeping the body clear of toxins like nicotine and food preservatives are all required to extend the positive effects of massage.

Making massage oil
It’s fun, it’s easy

To make a massage oil, simply combine one of the carrier oils below with your favorite essential oil. The mixture ratio is 3 drops of essential oil to each ounce of carrier oil. Bottle your creation, label it, and voilà!

Sweet Almond Oil: A pale yellow oil obtained from the kernel of almonds. ­Almond oil contains glucosides, minerals, vitamins, and is rich in protein. It may be used on all skin types. When used regularly, this oil helps to relieve itching, soreness, dryness, and inflammation. It may also be utilized as a carrier oil for any fragrance or essential oil blend.

Jojoba Oil: A beautiful golden oil that is taken from the bean. Great for inflamed skin, psoriasis, eczema, acne, or hair care. Containing protein and minerals, this oil includes components that mimic collagen. Highly penetrative, jojoba can be used on all skin types.

Apricot Kernel Oil: A very light yellow oil from the kernel of the apricot fruit. Rich in minerals and vitamins, this oil is wonderful for all skin types. Prematurely aged, sensitive, inflamed, and dry skin receive the most benefit from this oil. Apricot kernel oil also makes a perfect carrier for fragrance or aromatherapy blends.

Avocado Oil: A dark green oil from the ­avocado fruit. Loaded with vitamins, minerals, lecithin, and fatty acids. Especially good for dry and dehydrated skin and for eczema. It can, however, be used on all skin types. May be blended with a more stable carrier oil when used as a base for fragrance or ­essential oils.

Grapeseed Oil: This green oil is light and delicate, making it a favorite for massage and body applications. It may be used on any type of skin. Grapeseed oil contains vitamins, minerals, and proteins.

Olive Oil: Deep green in color and packed with protein, minerals, and vitamins, olive oil is good for rheumatic conditions, hair care, and cosmetics. This is very good for soothing irritated skin.

Different Types of Massage:

CRANIOSACRAL THERAPY A type of bodywork that uses gentle touch to the head, neck, and back to relieve a variety of chronic pain disorders. The craniosacral system surrounds the brain and spinal cord, which comprise the central nervous system. The goal of this treatment is to affect the rhythm and flow of the cerebrospinal fluid so that it can nourish and balance the central nervous system. Craniosacral therapy is used to treat everything from jaw stiffness to depression.

INFANT/CHILD MASSAGE Massaging children improves circulation, promotes muscle tone, and, some say, may increase the ability to learn. It also helps some cases of hyperactivity and obsessive/compulsive behavior.

MANUAL LYMPH DRAINAGE A European technique of draining the lymphatic system in the face and neck areas. It is very effective in improving the appearance of the face by eliminating toxins. Lymph drainage may also boost the immune system.

MYOFASCIAL RELEASE When muscles stress, lesions can occur in the fascia (connective tissue), causing the muscles to stay contracted. Myofascial release is a form of deep-tissue therapy in which the adhesions are broken and the muscles return to their relaxed state. This work is usually done in the neck, shoulder, and back regions.

REFLEXOLOGY An ancient Asian practice based on the belief that points in the bottom of the foot and palms of the hands are linked to specific organs in the body. Pressure points are used to access distant parts of the body to promote health in the related organs.

REIKI Reiki is Japanese and means “universal life energy.” Reiki therapy involves working with this energy to produce harmony and balance. A gentle, hands-on practice, reiki is concerned with eliminating energy blockages; this is known as “attunement.”

SHIATSU This Japanese word for “bodywork” is literally “finger pressure.” The practitioner applies this touch at strategic points along the body’s surface. Finger pressure is used to stimulate the flow of energy along natural pathways in the body. The goal is homeostasis within the mind-body system.

SPORTS MASSAGE As pre-event preparation, this form of massage helps the athlete to perform at peak ability and reduces the chance of injury. After the sport event, strokes are used to remove lactic acid (thereby reducing any pain present). Normal muscle function is also regained much sooner.

SWEDISH/AMERICAN The most popular massage modality in the United States and Europe. People experiencing massage for the first time usually choose a Swedish massage. It involves the stroking and kneading of muscle tissue to promote stress relief, relaxation, and improved circulation while relieving muscle tension.