The Ultimate In Relaxation: Indian Head Massage
These Sanskrit texts, complete with a rich cultural history and tradition, share a theory on health that focuses on balance in body, mind and spirit. They propose that each unique individual is made up of the five elements—earth, air, fire, water and ether—with three life-giving forces, or doshas—vata, pitta and kapha.
Being healthy means to have your doshas in harmony and, according to ayurvedic teachings, massage helps achieve that goal.
Indian head massage includes working what are called marma points on the scalp, face, neck and shoulders in order to open up energy channels, balance chakras, and help relieve tension and stress. Marma points are similar to acupuncture or acupressure points, and are thought to have connections to different chakras, organs and systems in the body.
As with any theory of the body, there are a few variations and opinions, but it is generally accepted that there are least 107 marma points. They are places of muscle and tendon attachment, and can be worked in circles to either stimulate or suppress energy.
It makes sense even from a purely Western approach, when looking at how nerves travel up and down the spine to and from our brain, why working the scalp, face and neck are so important in managing stress.
The Technique -
Classic Indian head massage is performed with the client dressed, comfortably seated, and the therapist standing—although some U.S. spas have transitioned the treatment to a massage table. It can include a custom blend of essential oils or herbs for aromatherapy as part of the treatment, but does not always have to do so. The session generally begins with a consultation regarding issues and health concerns to ensure client safety and goals, then progresses into hands-on technique.
Beginning with breath, the therapist will place her hands on the client’s shoulders and ask her to take a few slow, deep breaths to get calm and centered.
Starting with the neck and shoulders, the therapist works the marma points along the trapezius, levator scapula, scalenes and other muscles using a variety of thumb-walking, palm circles, finger pressure and sweeps, petrissage and kneading techniques. Everything is done with the intention of releasing trapped energy or tension, and can have a variety of pace and pressure.
Respond to the Client -
Clients have been known to become so relaxed during the massage that their head may begin to bob and sway. Simply brace the forehead with one hand and continue working. Oftentimes the therapist will move around the chair, standing on one side and then the other, switching the hand used to brace the forehead versus the hand giving massage.
Detailed attention is given to the scalp and face, with some variations in body mechanics, including the therapist standing directly behind the seated client while the client rests his head on the therapist’s abdomen. A small pillow or neck roll can be used to increase comfort or create a barrier as desired.
The session is usually completed by returning to the starting position of hands on shoulders and deep breaths. A variation one may make on this session is the addition of a warm-oil scalp treatment or shirodhara meditation.
To learn more about marma points, Indian head massage or ayurvedic philosophy in general, register for one of our continuing education in person or online certification courses at Spa Pro Academy.
This blog was published in the November issue of Massage Magazine in 2014.