Swedish Massage”Movement Cure” Yoga? Gymnastics? Shiatsu? Ayurveda? Maybe All Of The Above

As I write this blog on Pehr Ling’s “movement cure” the original name for Swedish Massage a system of massage techniques that help relax the muscles and increase circulation –  I can hear my yoga instructors’ voice: “yoga is just western gymnastics” the comment resonates with me as I study the lineages of movement and healing techniques.

This comment has me thinking because in part, he is correct.  But there is more.

As an ashtanga yogi, and LMT (licensed massage therapist), I am very interested in ways to move energy through the body. While studying for my national massage therapy boards, I came across some interesting articles on the history of Swedish Massage. According to Susan Salvo who wrote one of the most widely used texts on massage therapy, the modern era of therapeutic massage stems from Pehr Henrick Ling, (1776-1839). In Salvo’s brief history of massage therapy she outlines the various influences of the modern day massage therapy scope and practice.

See the full article at http://www.elephantjournal.com

(Enter Ramona Bessinger)


Susan Salvo goes on to say that Pehr Ling developed a system of movement exercises to accompany the practice of therapeutic touch. Looking back at Salvo’s history and then researching everything I could on Pehr Ling, I came across articles that suggested Pehr Ling developed the “movement as medicine” system after traveling for seven years outside of Sweden.

While traveling, did Ling study Shiatsu yoga or Ayurveda?

Where Ling went during this seven year time period is not documented anywhere, but we know he came back to Sweden in the 1800s and developed the system of “movement cures” that resemble primary yoga postures as well as Shiatsu and Thai Massage.

In Pehr Ling’s assisted and passive movements he called “medical movement” or more commonly known as Swedish massage, he developed a complete system to stretch muscles, circulate blood and oxygen throughout the body and restore homeostasis to the body and mind. Not so different from yoga or other healing therapies.


Could Pehr Henrick Ling have brought Shiatsu and yoga to Swedish Massage?

The techniques Ling referred to as medical gymnastics incorporates a series of assisted movements and passive actions that an individual would receive in order to improve blood circulation, and to help heal muscle injury. Interestingly, Ling’s system of assisted curative movements mimics many of the basic strategies for Shiatsu as well as the primary postures in yoga. Specifically, Ling focuses on eccentric concentric contractions with a primary focus on the muscles of the back. Yoga, Shiatsu, Thai Massage and Ayurveda do the same.


Gymnastics? Yes and no.

Shapes in gymnastics rely on being able to move the body. In order to move the body, you need the correct alignment to maximize energy flow and safety. Shiatsu is done in on a mat with the client passively lying in a supine or prone position and while the therapist moves the body or interactively moves with the client to assist in soft tissue manipulation. The same patterns of movement can be seen in the primary series of Ashtanga yoga postures, and in Ayurveda massage then subsequently in Pehr Lings system of curative movement known as Swedish Massage.

A bit of interesting history suggests that gymnastics, yoga, shiatsu converge at various points in history.

Massage therapy and various assisted and passive forms of massage date back to 3000 BC when Chinese records and paintings reveal the practice of touch as therapy, then as early as 1800 BC it is documented that massage becomes a part of the Hindu tradition known as Ayur-Veda. The same patterns of active and passive movements for healing can be traced further to 100 BC when Julius Caesar used massage to treat epilepsy. (Michael Tarver The History Of Massage Therapy)

Strangely enough therapeutic touch and movement seems to go undocumented and enters a bit of a dark period, then resurfaces in 1316 in the first modern treatise on anatomy written by Mondino dei Luzzi. From there, the lineage of therapeutic touch surfaces throughout the western world in various manuscripts and images. What I found fascinating were the common patterns of healing that traversed all healing practices and movement.


The patterns of movement and specific touch techniques across all cultures incorporate the same principles of moving energy through the body, increasing blood flow and oxygen to the muscles using touch, pressure, and movement as a way to increase chi, prana or balance to the body.  So, when my yoga teacher preaches that yoga is simply “western gymnastics” I am inclined to add that yoga, Swedish Massage, Shiatsu, Ayurveda Massage, (Abhyanga)  Thai Massage and yes western gymnastics are systems of movement that that all share the same roots dating back to the first documented practices of healing touch over 3000 years ago.  Did the father of Swedish Massage know this?  I bet he did.


Ramona Bessinger






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