When Chair Massage Goes Off the Rails

chair massageCW asks: “Is chair massage okay?”

Chair massage is problematic because it blends both deep tissue manipulation (which is not New Age) with reliance on acupressure points to stimulate the flow of energy in a client (very New Age).

For those who never heard of it, chair massage is a style of seated massage which focuses on the back, shoulders, neck and arms. It is typically done over clothes and without any kind of massage oil.

The client sits in a special chair with the face resting in a cradle and facing downward, with supports for the arms. Swedish or deep-tissue massage techniques can be used, in which case this kind of massage would be acceptable.

The founder of chair massage is a man named David Palmer who began his career in 1980. He was taught the traditional Japanese massage technique known as Amma (means push-pull in Chinese) which is aimed at balancing the flow of energy in a client’s body. It relies on acupressure points which are related to alleged energy centers known as meridians, a type of energy that is not founded in science.

When Palmer’s teacher, Takashi Nakamura, returned to Japan in 1982, Palmer took over the The Amma Institute and it was here that he began to develop a technique of working on seated clients with an adaptation of Amma and acupressure-based massage routines.

While there is certainly nothing wrong with a chair massage which utilizes acceptable deep tissue massage techniques, any practice that relies upon the manipulation of a scientifically unfounded life force energy would not be acceptable for obvious reasons.


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