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What Is Oriental Massage?

By R. Petrossian
Updated Dec 14, 2021
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An oriental massage, sometimes also called an Asian massage, is a type of massage therapy intended to relieve pain and tension through strategic pressure. The biggest difference between an Asian massage and a more standard muscle massage is the ideology underwriting the process.

What is an Oriental Massage?

To some extent, all massages are designed to relieve muscle tension and promote healing. Those under the “oriental” banner usually focus on Eastern philosophies or theories about human energy, and may also rely on aspects of Eastern medicine, including the use of certain oils, plants, and earth elements for healing. Oriental massages also focus on a holistic approach to health, attempting to heal the entirety of the body.

Different practitioners necessarily have different individual philosophies and techniques, and there isn’t usually any uniform definition or set of rules for what this sort of massage is or should contain. People who have something specific in mind often look for discreet subsets of Asian massage, in particular practitioners who embrace the philosophy of chi, Thai therapy, Shiatsu, and Indonesian or Javanese massage. Each has its own unique characteristics that make it more than just an “oriental” experience.

What Makes a Massage “Oriental”

The term “oriental” is typically used to encompass anything that is from or sometimes even simply reminiscent of Asia. When applied to massages, the categories opened up can be quite broad. In most cases, though, these sorts of procedures and treatments are steeped in ancient Eastern ways of thinking about health, wholeness, and wellness. It is usually this philosophical focus that sets these sorts of massages apart.

Ancient ways of thinking about muscle energy can inform the way a masseuse treats stiffness, for instance, and can dictate ways of rubbing and circulating energy through the hands. Even if the actual strokes and movement sequences are similar to massages from other parts of the world, this philosophical guidance is what usually sets oriental treatments apart.

Types of Oriental Massages

Oriental massages encapsulate many different movements, styles of healing, and ways to relieve pain and tension in a person’s joints and muscles. While some forms of oriental massage focus on movements on the body, some massages focus on what the body contains within itself, like chi.

Understanding Chi

One way to think about oriental massage is as an ancient form of therapy designed to relieve pain and tension in joints and muscles, reduce stress, enhance circulation of blood, and preserve an overall healthy body and peaceful mind.

This type of massage is widely believed to have originated in the Far East and is based on the theories of Chinese medicine using the concept of a core energy, known as chi, that flows throughout the body. This form of therapy treats tender parts of the body by massaging them with the fingers, thumbs and palms, typically with the use of massage oils. Therapists are often seeking to “unlock” or “unblock” a person’s chi, and in so doing restore balance and wellness.

Thai Therapy

Thousands of years ago, Thai therapy was designed in Thailand by Buddhist monks. This form of massage incorporates breathing and stretching techniques. Thai therapy is also sometimes colloquially called "lazy yoga," because instead of a person attempting to stretch his or her own body parts a therapist or a skilled masseur performs the act of stretching while the recipient remains passive.

This type of massage specifically affects the nervous system and balances the flow of energy in the body, which is thought to lead to a more harmonized body and mind. It can also enhance flexibility if performed regularly.


Shiatsu is a massage technique from Japan. This method is similar to Chinese acupuncture except that instead of using needles, practitioners exert pressure only with their fingertips. Deep breathing is an important factor in this method.

Shiatsu can boost the immune system and, if it is practiced regularly, the patient can develop better digestion and reproductive functions. A further benefit to the body through consistent Shiatsu is a better posture. Shiatsu done frequently is said to lead to a more peaceful mind.

Indonesian and Javanese Massage

Indonesian-Javanese massage is done by a therapist using the hands and knuckles. This method of massage is a popular therapy to help relieve backaches and muscle tensions. The hands and knuckles are used to massage the body which can make the process somewhat painful for people who aren’t used to it, but the benefits are usually about the same as those associated with Thai and Shiatsu practices.

Therapeutic and Healing Properties of Oriental Massages

Different methods of Chinese and Japanese massage are used in drug rehab centers and in hospitals, often as a complement to more traditional treatments for such things as cancer and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). These methods are used as a form of relaxation to help the patients control and reduce stress and maintain a balance between the body and the soul, and often put the patient in a frame of mind to accept their diagnosis and accept the challenge of fighting their ailment.

Are Oriental Massages Good for You

Whether a person experiences chi, Thai therapy, or Shiatsu, each method is said to give each person some sort of healing. Those that partake in Thai therapy are known to gain improved flexibility and a harmonized body and mind. Shiatsu helps with many functions of the body, including a person’s immune system, reproductive system, and digestion. Indonesian and Javanese massages ease a body’s aches and pains with the use of hands and knuckles.

While each massage is known to give specific benefits, it’s important to note here that massage isn’t typically used on its own to diagnose or treat any condition, and results can vary significantly from person to person. The healing benefits of massage have been speculated on, but haven’t been widely established in the medical or scientific communities. Most people who receive regular treatments do so out of personal conviction that the therapy will achieve whatever ends are desired, whether or not there is any guarantee of the same.

Where to Get an Oriental Massage

Typically, if you’re interested in getting a massage, you will likely have to visit an established, reputable business that hires knowledgeable massage therapists. Some spas offer massages as part of their services, and some all-inclusive resorts offer massages as well. You can find websites with reviews of massage therapists and establishments that can help you narrow down your search for a reputable business.

If you feel more comfortable in your own home, you can also research massage establishments that will schedule someone to travel to your home to give you an oriental massage. Whether you get an oriental massage at home or in a spa, you’re sure to feel the healing effects of any type of oriental massage you may enjoy, whether it's chi, Thai therapy, or Shiatsu.

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Discussion Comments

By Andras — On Jun 05, 2011

For my cousin’s bridal shower, a bunch of us girls decided to go to an oriental spa rather than something more traditional. It was a wonderful experience! The spa focuses on the mind, body, and spirit rather than just the body.

Every element was chosen for its spiritual and healing properties. There were no phones ringing, no employees talking amongst themselves. Very Zen. I don’t think I have ever been so relaxed. And talk about a great way to ease any pre-wedding nerves.

The hot stone massage was amazing. We drank tea, took hot spring baths, and got soothing skin treatments. If you have ever wanted to go to a day spa, do it! Our experience with the oriental spa was wonderful.

By OhDeDoh — On Jun 03, 2011

I am a big advocate for the benefits of Thai massage. I have been getting Thai massages for about two years now. I can personally attest to the increased flexibility. I don’t know about balancing energy, but I do know getting these massages helps me feel great.

A full session lasts upwards of two hours. It can even include the masseur walking on your back. I was very skeptical of that at first, but have had it done. It is worth giving a try.

There are no oils used, so you are fully clothed. This is appealing for those who don’t want to be in the buff for a massage. I am not a big fan of oils on my skin, anyway. The best way to describe this kind of massage is energizing but relaxing.

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