Hippocrates and Massage
Hippocrates had a high regard for massage, and considered it to be one of the arts with which a well-rounded physician should be familiar. However, he cautioned that a real proficiency in this art doesn’t come quickly, but rather, with lots of hands-on experience.
According to the way in which it was applied, massage could either firm up muscles or organs that were too lax, or relax muscles, joints or other organs that were too stiff, rigid or tense. Since this was also seen as one of the basic aims of exercise, massage and exercise went hand in hand as therapeutic modalities for optimizing body suppleness and tone.
Hippocrates also freed magic from the realm of magic and superstition and established it on a rational scientific and physiological basis. Primitive shamans, in their efforts to banish the negative spirits and energies that were causing illness, tended to stroke the limbs of the supplicant from the center out towards the extremity. Hippocrates reversed this basic direction by maintaining that, in massage, the strokes should be predominantly towards the heart, thus assisting the heart and circulatory system in its work, and in transporting and finally eliminating pathogenic wastes and toxins from the organism.
In matters of massage, Hippocrates outlined four principal guidelines:
Vigorous massage constricts and firms up the body.
Gentle massage relaxes the body.
Much massage thins and lightens the body.
Moderate massage thickens the body, and increases the flesh.
The body and its muscles react similarly in kind to vigorous massage by firming up and increasing their tone. Laxness and atony are low energy states; vigorous massage stimulates, putting a lot of heat and energy back into the organism. Vigorous friction and massage are also great ways to warm up a body that is too cold.
The body and its muscles also react similarly in kind to gentle massage by loosening up and letting go of pent up stress and tension. This dispersal of energy leads to a cooling or sedating effect.
The qualitative vector of vigorous / gentle is the primary one to consider when it comes to massage, and corresponds to the primary polarity of the Four Basic Qualities: Hot / Cold. Vigorous massage puts a lot of activity and energy into the body, and is heating. Gentle massage allows pent-up energy to disperse, and is cooling.
Much massage thins the body by continuously kneading, stroking and pressing out accumulations of superfluous or morbid humors. This continuous dispersion not only increaes circulation and relieves congestion, but it also stimulates the eliminative functions of the organism.
Moderate massage thickens the body and increases flesh by enhancing the permeability
of the muscles and tissues to the subsequent influx of nutritive substances from the blood, plasma and lymph. Thus, moderate massage’s ultimate effect is to enhance the nutritive status of the organism.
The quantitative vector of much / moderate corresponds to the secondary polarity of the Four Basic Qualities: Dry / Wet. By removing superfluous or morbid humors from the tissues, and ultimately from the body, much massage is drying. By enhancing the permeability of the tissues to inflowing humors and nutritive fluids, moderate massage is moistening in temperament.
With the correspondences between the basic types of massage and the Four Basic Qualities thus established, we have our basic parameters of massage treatment set out. This enables us to adjust the quality and quantity of our massage to the temperament of the individual receiving it, the situation, condition and circumstances, and the effects desired.
BENEFITS OF MASSAGE( DALAK)
- Nourishes the entire body—decreases the effects of aging
- Imparts muscle tone and vigor to the dhatus (tissues) of the body
- Imparts a firmness to the limbs
- Lubricates the joints
- Increases circulation
- Stimulates the internal organs of the body
- Assists in elimination of impurities from the body
- Moves the lymph, aiding in detoxification
- Increases stamina
- Calms the nerves
- Benefits sleep—better, deeper sleep
- Enhances vision
- Makes hair (scalp) grow luxuriantly, thick, soft and glossy
- Softens and smoothens skin; wrinkles are reduced and disappear
Galen’s Guide to a Great Massage Oil
One of the things Galen discusses in his treatise on Hygiene is how to make a great massage oil. To make a massage oil, a base oil or oils are mixed or impregnated with various resins, essential oils and aromatic medicinal principles.
Today, making a good but basic massage oil is a relatively simple affair. A base oil is mixed with essential oils in certain proportions, and that’s it. But how was it done back in Galen’s time?
For therapeutic massage purposes, Galen’s preferred base oil was Olive Oil, which he considered to be completely balanced in temperament, or the Four Basic Qualities. Moreover, the best kind of olive oil was what he called Sweet Oil, or Sabine Oil – olive oil from the Sabine region of Italy. He considered this oil to be superior for oleation and massage because it had no trace of harshness, bitterness or astringency. If real Sabine Oil should be unavailable, a high quality Pomace Oil will do.
Because olive oil is so balanced in all its qualities, it’s most suited as a base oil for those of a fairly balanced temperament. However, there are many other fine base oils out there that, due to their special virtues, are more suited to those of different temperaments, and for different conditions:
Castor: A very thick, unctuous, heavy oil, slightly heating. Great at dispersing obstructions, congestion, plethora, and at drawing out pus and purulent toxins. Excessive use can aggravate heat and choler. Very penetrating.
Coconut: A rich, thick, heavy, cooling oil that nourishes the Phlegmatic humor and cherishes the inherent moisture of the organism. An excellent moisturizer indicated for all dry conditions. Contraindicated for Phlegmatics.
Grapeseed: A very light, subtle, penetrating oil. Great for Phlegmatic and Sanguine types, and conditions of phlegm and dampness. Not favorable for Melancholics, who need a heavier, more grounding oil.
Sesame: The base oil of preference for Melancholics. Rich, heavy, soothing, warming and unctuous.
Sunflower: The most cooling oil. Best for Cholerics. Contraindicated for Phlegmatics, or those suffering from conditions of coldness and phlegm.
Massaging with pure base oils is only recommended for those with no marked toxicity or humoral aggravations that are compromising their health. To check for toxicity and humoral aggravations, look at the tongue: if there is a marked, thick or turbid tongue coating, pure base oils are contraindicated and medicated oils, as appropriate, must be used.
There are several ways of medicating oils. In Galen’s time, the fresh cones of the Fir tree (Abies picea) were mashed up and soaked for 40 days in olive oil in a dark, warm place in a stoppered jar. Alternatively, the fresh buds of the Poplar tree (Populus nigra) were mashed and extracted in oil for their medicinal oleoresins.
To enhance the extraction process, the oil and the aromatic cones or buds were put into a pot and heated slowly, over a very low flame. To avoid burning or smoking the oil, a double boiling process was also used, in which the pot with the buds and oil was put inside a larger pot of boiling water. Nowadays, an electric crockpot is excellent for this purpose.
Instead of Fir cones, those of other evergreens, like Pine, Spruce or Larch, may also be used. And a good substitute for Poplar buds in the United States is Balm of Gilead buds (Populus candicans), which is actually another species of Poplar.
The aromatic essence of the Fir cones, when dissolved in the oil, Galen said to be good for those whose flesh was congested by excess Phlegmatic fluids, lymph and dampness. These essences also have a diaphoretic effect that opens the pores and promotes sweating. The essence of the Poplar bud is also stimulating, and no less of a diaphoretic than the Fir.
When soaking the Fir or Poplar in oil, cover it with enough oil to leave an inch or two of oil above the crushed cones or buds. Strain or press out the oil after soaking for 40 days, or after simmering it slowly for several hours.
Galen then instructs us to melt some Fir resin into the oil, and then to thicken the oil with Beeswax in a ratio of five parts oil to one part wax. Another valuable therapeutic ingredient that was often added was Terebinth, or natural turpentine (Don’t use the turpentine from your local hardware store!) Terebinth, in a massage oil, is one of the best muscle relaxants and antirheumatics known.
The essential oil of Fir is balsamic and pectoral in that it opens up the lungs, chest and respiratory passageways. It’s also antirheumatic in that it relieves rheumatism and muscular aches and pains. It’s also antiseptic and antimicrobial in fighting infections and putrefactions. It’s also anticatarrhal in respiratory colds and congestion, and a stimulant to the circulation and metabolism in general.
When using Fir essence, Terebinth, or other essential oils in a massage oil, put them in in the ratio of one tablespoon of the essential oil or essential oil blend to a cup of the base oil. Other essential oils that work well in a massage oil and mix very well with Fir essence are the essential oils of Cinnamon, Laurel, Juniper and Lavender.