While we most commonly think of massage as involving a massage table with lotions or oils, and draped sheets for privacy, did you know there are many kinds of massage you can receive while still keeping your clothes on? The style of clothed massage you are most likely to be familiar with is chair massage. Available at airports, health fairs, and even in grocery stores, chair massage is easy to give and receive in public places. But the options for clothed massage don't end with this traditional favorite.
TYPES OF CLOTHED MASSAGE Many of the techniques used in chair massage are adapted from shiatsu, a type of massage that originated in Japan and literally translates into "finger pressure." Like acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine, shiatsu uses a system of energy meridians. Techniques used include brushing, compression, kneading, rocking, shaking, stretching, and, of course, thumb pressure, to stimulate the meridians. You do not have to be interested in, or knowledgeable about, meridian theory to feel the effects of a shiatsu massage--simply lie back and enjoy it as you would any other bodywork. Traditionally given on a mat on the floor, shiatsu has also been adapted to the table. While appropriate for relaxation and wellness, it also utilizes passive stretching. Tui na and Thai massage are two other types of Asian massage. Both use many of the same techniques as shiatsu to ease the recipient into a state of relaxation. The more gentle tui na is generally given on a table, while the more vigorous Thai massage is traditionally given on a floor mat, though it may be adapted to tables as well. Acupressure uses the same meridian system as acupuncture, but uses the practitioner's hands and fingers instead of needles to stimulate each point. Of all the kinds of massage mentioned here, acupressure is the subtlest. Reflexology, a style of massage that aims to affect the whole body by touching only the hands and feet, is another widely available type of massage that can be received fully clothed. It is great for people who do not wish, or are unable, to receive touch on the rest of their body (for instance, due to burns, a rash, or modesty). Sports and deep-tissue massage may be given partially clothed--for instance, in a sleeveless shirt and shorts--if the session is focused on one area of the body, such as the calf or forearm. Oftentimes, you'll see massage tents set up at various sporting events, like bike races. Weary athletes will find their way to the massage tables after a day's ride, looking to have their aching muscles attended to through their clothing.
A GREAT WAY TO START If you have ever felt timid about undressing for a session, or have a friend, family member, or colleague who is hesitant to try massage for that reason, clothed massage can be a great way to feel safe and secure while receiving the healing gift of touch. You may also enjoy it simply because the sensation of being touched through clothing is different from the sensation of skin-to-skin contact. Ultimately, if remaining clothed gives someone the courage to try massage for the first time, then it's a worthwhile option. In shiatsu, there is a saying: "It takes almost as long to learn how to receive shiatsu, as it does to give it." This is a great reminder that touch therapy is a very wide world, with many different flavors, tastes, and colors to try and explore. Good luck on your bodywork adventure!
Faith Cornwall is a massage therapist, yoga teacher, and student of Healing Touch in Oakland, California.