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Modalities Explained - Western Massage Styles

Do you have to ‘wing it’ when your clients start talking about their massage preferences?

Fear not – we’re here to help!

We’ve created a series of articles explaining spa and fitness treatments, to help you understand your charter clients’ wellbeing needs. We’ll start by demystifying our number-one requested treatment – massage! Today we’ll explain Western massage modalities, and in our next blog we’ll explore Eastern massage types.

Wait a minute… what’s the difference between Western and Eastern massage styles?

Good question! Western techniques are based on the Western anatomical perspective, and treat malfunction in specific muscles or joints. Eastern techniques (which is a very broad term) are generally much older, view the body more holistically, using their own anatomical models based on energy systems.

Here are the main Western massage types:

Swedish Massage

The classic! A relaxation-focused massage with gentle light pressure using mainly finger and open hand strokes. Swedish massage is the foundation of all Western massage styles. It includes basic techniques such

as effleurage (smooth gliding strokes) and Petrissage (deeper kneading or squeezing of the tissues).

Interesting fact: It wasn’t actually invented in Sweden, but by a Dutch man named Johan Georg Mezger in the 19th century.

Who is it good for? Those looking for relaxation, and those new to massage.

Thing to note: A well-trained and experienced therapist will customise the techniques for the client, making the treatment deeply relaxing and effective. However, a poorly trained or inexperienced therapist may just perform a massage ‘routine’, and this can lead to a mediocre ‘bleh’ massage experience.

Deep Tissue Massage

Swedish massage with more pressure. The therapist will typically use more body weight through the hands, forearms and elbows to target muscles at a deeper level. Therapist offering this usually have more training, and will offer a more remedial approach to the treatment.

Interesting fact: A massage actually doesn’t need to be ‘deep’ to affect deep muscle change (you can buy me a coffee if you want me to explain this one!)

Who is it good for? Those who enjoy a firm pressure, are experiencing muscle pain or tension and those who would like to improve their range of movement by releasing tight muscles.

Thing to note: In my experience, clients sometimes specify they want deep tissue massage as they know that it can be a way of requesting a more trained, experienced therapist.

Sports Massage

A sports massage involves an assessment of range of movement and pain and will be targeted at injury, injury prone areas or aches caused by repetitive motion. This is an active form of massage and may involve techniques such as soft tissue release, joint manipulation, Trigger point therapy, myofascial release, and neuromuscular techniques such as PNF.

Interesting fact: It can both boost performance pre-event as well as aid recovery post-event.

Who is it good for? Those with injuries or pain caused by movement, and clients sceptical about more holistic approaches.

Thing to note: We find this term is commonly used incorrectly – often clients use this term when they are after a deep tissue massage pre or post sports/activity.

Myofascial release (MFR)

Uses direct or indirect techniques to release ‘adhesions’ in the myofascial (connective) tissue that surrounds and links all of our muscles, bones and organs. Specific types of MFR include ‘Rolfing’, and the very gentle CranioSacral Therapy.

Interesting fact: When the body ‘unwinds’ and there is a fascial release, the body often moves involuntarily whilst on the table.

Who is it good for? Those with chronic pain or injury, and trauma-related pain.

Thing to note: This is the vanguard of massage – if your client is requesting this, it’s likely they are very discerning about their massage and the therapist should be carefully selected.

Aromatherapy Massage

Uses essential oils (from aromatic plants) with Swedish massage techniques to aid both physical and emotional healing. The therapist selects and blends oils depending on the client’s needs.

Interesting fact: Aromatic plants have been used for thousands of years in ritual and indigenous healing. The term ‘aromatherapy’ was coined in 1910 when Rene Gattefosse discovered the healing properties of lavender after severely burning his hands in a laboratory explosion

Who is it good for? Anyone who wants to boost their mood, reduce stress and anxiety.

Thing to note: In my experience, no yacht client has ever requested this specifically, and fully trained aromatherapists are quite rare. Having a choice of 2 or 3 pre-blended massage oils or waxes is usually more than enough.

Hot Stone Massage

Uses warmed basalt stones to combine heat and pressure as a way of effecting change in the muscles. The heat assists in breaking down stubborn and painful knots. When done well, it’s the most delicious treatment ever.

Interesting fact: Alternating hot and cold stones on

tense areas can be even more affective than hands alone.

Who is it good for? Those after the reduction of muscle pain and deep relaxation.

Thing to note: On yachts, this can only be offered if the yacht already has the kit on board - the stones are just too heavy to travel with. And airport security doesn’t like the stones in hand luggage – believe me, I’ve tried!

PHEW! That’s a lot of massage!

We know… congrats if you’re still reading!

If you get a request for massage on a charter, PLEASE lean in and ask us for help. We are the experts in this field, and we have a great team of angels to suit the most discerning of clients.



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