There are so many techniques to talk about... We cannot possibly address them all.

Some differences between Oriental and Western massage therapy and bodywork are explained in another free article on Yet another article on describes deep tissue massage.

Rolfing is a special case of deep tissue massage. It melts the connective "filler" in the tissues and thus remolds the body into a new shape. That's why its official name is "structural integration." It is called "rolfing" for short because Ida Rolf pioneered the work. Rolfing involves committing to a 10-session protocol that systematically remodels the entire body. Rolfing is very deep tissue and can be painful, but (should) not be too uncomfortable. It feels good to release the tight areas. A bad rolfer would make you scream. I know, I had many rolfing sessions from different rolfers. At the end of rolfing sessions, a person should look and feel different. The posture will be straighter. However, if a person is not emotionally ready to sustain this new posture, they will go back to the old habits. Therefore, properly preparing for rolfing involves some inner work and readiness.

Shiatsu works by balancing the energetic meridians, by pressure and stretching. Usually hands, thumbs, elbows are used to press in in certain spots, and the spots follow along certain lines. The client is clothed and on a futon. The practitioner wears an outfit that looks like martial arts outfit and allows for a wide range of movement. White gi is common.

There is a whole science behind the meridians, and different meridian teachings. A very common one is the five-elements theory that acupuncturists use as well. Another shiatsu style is Matsunaga zen shiatsu. A style popular in Japan is very hard, and uses mostly thumbs to press hard. Westerners can find that very painful. Ask before you go. There are shiatsu practitioners, even in Japan, who provide shiatsu with stretching. In the USA, a well known shiatsu style that involves stretching is by Wataru Ohashi and Ohashi Institute. There are other shiatsu styles that I have seen that involve rocking the body to release tension.

What is an energetic meridian? It is a channel through which invisible energy, or chi, flows through the body. There are "maps" of such channels. The points at which the channel is more easily accessed are called acupuncture points.

Thai massage works by stretching and pressing the meridians, it is "assisted yoga" and looks quite acrobatic. The client is clothed and on a futon, the therapist moves and "exercises" with the client. Thai massage meridians are based on yoga and there is a whole science about it. Thai massage is effective as nothing else for stretching and making tight tendons and ligaments and muscles become limber. It is probably the best technique for releasing tight pelvis.

Hawaiian lomilomi massage can have many forms, some use oil and some don't. Some lomi looks like chiropractic adjustments, cracking the body all over. The form that I know is oil over bare skin. It looks like flowing sweeping motions from the trunk to the extremities, with stretching. In the old Hawaii, people would come home form working the taro fields and fishing, and families would sit around and massage each other, so each family had their own massage style. Today, the most popular style are Aunty Margaret's from Big Island, because she has had a big school for many years and trained many teachers. Okazaki restorative massage is basically lomilomi as well, but without the spiritual and herbal components.

The entire lomilomi package is a comprehensive healing practice and is done only by highly trained individuals supervised by experienced teachers. It includes administering of herbs, as well as psychological and spiritual counseling and forgiveness practice. There is much more to this, it is already in the realm of shamanism. For example, the forgiveness practice is done in a wide range, from spiritual exorcism all the way to physical people sitting down in a mediation process. In other words, ho'oponopono includes what today we consider priestly endeavors of exorcising spirits all the way to what we would call personal counseling and family and marriage therapy. In any case, everything is done from the point of view "I wish only for health and happiness for me, and also for you. I am returning to my God state, and I wish you the same."

That is why the lomilomi massage part is done with prayer and is considered to come from God. That component is different from any other massage technique, because lomilomi is part of a Sacred Teaching and thus when you evoke it, you evoke the ancient healers who are in charge of the tradition. In other words, lomi is a spiritual practice.

Since lomi is comprehensive, it is expected to talk about things other than massage. Each service provides education in terms of exercise and nutrition, as well as deeper insight into areas of one's life that might be causing pain or discomfort versus joy and ease.

Shiatsu and lomilomi can be performed as a relaxation massage, with a lighter, more relaxing touch, with emphasis on gentler and slower myofascial release and cranio-sacral therapy techniques, as well as a deep tissue or sports massage, where areas with knotted muscles and tension can be worked more deeply. Relaxation massage can also include deeper work on selected areas, typically shoulders and lower back.

Shiatsu and lomilomi can be performed in a traditional way, on a futon, or on a massage table. All traditional Asian bodywork modalities are performed on a futon, and can be modified to fit on a table. The futon provides the practitioner with better leveraging of the pressure, the client gets better grounding to the magnetic field of the Earth and thus more healing energy, and it is more plasant and cooler closer to the ground in the tropical climate of Hawai'i. For cold days and for clients for some reason cannot lower themselves and/or do not prefer to be closer to the ground, a massage table is available.

All Oriental massages start from, or at least address, the abdomen. Shiatsu calls it "ampuku", lomi calls it "opu huli". Another article describes abdominal massage.

Swedish massage is oil over bare skin, and consists in kneading, pulling, rubbing, towards the heart. I have not seen Swedish massage with any stretching, and/or abdominal work. I suspect there must be some; that most therapists just took Swedish 101 and never learned any advanced techniques.

Osteopathy is a Western practice that can be amazingly effective. Osteopathy SHOULD be a form of bodywork practiced by medical doctors. So, it is much more than just massage therapy and bodywork, one needs to be an MD, and I am mentioning it here just for completeness. European osteopaths are amazing bodyworkers and can work with anything - muscles, connective tissue, organs, spine, ... American osteopaths often have no special hands-on skills and are just like regular MDs, or maybe can adjust the spine like chiropractors. Too bad!

Craniosacral therapy is a very gentle method of working with the spine, head, and sacrum. It can promote a deep sense of relaxation and well being, and leave the receiver feeling rejuvenated and clear headed. It is excellent for working with head injuries or problems (e.g. tight jaw, sinus problems, etc.) autism, headaches, allergies, etc. The idea is that the brain and the spine are in a tough waterproof sack, full of cranial fluid. This fluid pulsates and nourishes the brain, which contain some of the major glands that regulate the entire hormonal system, and the spine, which feeds the nerves to all major organs. Craniosacral therapy restores proper movement of the cranial fluid and releases tight areas that restrict proper movement. It is extremely gentle and uses 5 grams of pressure, which is the weight of a nickel! So, in a massage session it is often done as the last technique, when all tissues are released by using some other modality. Sometimes the entire session in craniosacral therapy is appropriate. If there is muscular tension, then regular massage is required first.

Orthopedic massage is a mix of various techniques, specially formulated to be very effective for injuries. Consists of combination of myofascial release, neuromascular therapy, and stretching. It is very specific for healing certain problems, for example frozen shoulder, etc.

Reflexology treatment focuses on massaging only hands and feet, where internal parts of the body can be accessed through their corresponding reflex areas. There is also reflexology of ears.

Pregnancy massage: a gentle whole body (except abdomen) relaxing shiatsu or lomilomi massage for pregnant women, focusing on reducing the stress on the lower back, sacrum and legs, induced by the extra weight of the baby. There are certain points to avoid, like the little toe or the middle area between the neck and the shoulder, because they cause uterine contractions. Also, pregnant women should not be getting too deep of massage, because we don't want the baby to be overwhelmed with the released toxins. All detoxing should be done before pregnancy, if possible.

Hot stones massage is an ancient practice. During this massage, comfortably warm stones are placed on the body to release tension and improve circulation. A light massage is then performed with warm stones. This massage is ideal for people with very tense muscles, arthritis, or anyone in need of deep regeneration and warmth. People suffering from fibromalgia benefit a lot from it.

Raindrop Therapy is an aromatherapy treatment using high-quality essential oils, where the highly anti-microbial oils are applied around the spine to eliminate any potential dormant microorganisms. This treatment is ideal for people with scoliosis, and those experiencing or recovering from infections. It has to be done with high grade therapeutic oils, e.g. Young Living oils.

Any massage can be enhanced by aromatherapy. Essential oils are deeply relaxing and have other healing properties, like helping sore muscles and injured tissues recover, or being anti-bacterial and anti-microbial and good for healing infections.

In short:

No matter which technique you pick, at the end you should feel like new!

Telling it as it is, from a lot of experience :)

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Author's Bio: 

Milica Barjaktarovic, L.M.T. is well known as a very effective, intuitive and gifted healer. She has helped many to feel better, esp. in areas of pain and discomfort, using holistic bodywork and self awareness. Milica practices on the beautiful North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii, in the greater Haleiwa and Waialua area. She is available for phone consultations over the phone, and teaches classes as well.