The term holistic has become so widely used, it means practically nothing these days. While it's true that holistic is often shorthand for a bit of incense or whale music, a proper holistic massage can be an extraordinary treatment.

Here's why:

  • A holistic therapist will have the sensitivity to meet your needs as a person, not just treat a problem
  • S/he will have a wide range of massage skills
  • Will listen without judgment
  • Will be able to assess what kind of touch will suit you
  • Explore the origins of stress related issues
  • Will be getting professional supervision and ongoing professional development
  • Will be working on her/his own personal development

It is a therapy that addresses the 'issues in your tissues'. Working in this way helps you to be embodied; radical stuff in a culture that often makes us feel ashamed of the way our bodies are.

What happens in a session?

The focus of a holistic treatment is to look beyond the immediate pain in your shoulder to see what might be causing it and to take steps to either manage, or stop the pain in the long term. Consequently you might be asked about surprising aspects of your lifestyle; your relationship or your birth for example. Because a holistic therapist looks at the broad picture of your life, the insights arising will go to make a treatment plan that helps you to manage your well-being between treatments.

Some forms of massage are carried out with a set routine of strokes. Knowing that our bodies need different sorts of touch from day to day, a holistic massage is devised intuitively so the rhythm, depth and speed are good for where you are. There are a whole variety of strokes to choose from too, for example;

  • Deep tissue
  • Gentle holding
  • Passive stretching to mobilise the joints
  • Cranio-sacral work to head and sacrum
  • Shiatsu points
  • Energy work
  • Swedish flowing effleurage or kneading
  • Percussive work
  • Techniques derived from healing traditions
  • Aromatherapy
  • Myofacial release

All or any of these might make an appearance depending on your objective. You could have a whole body treatment, or choose to focus on a particular area if that would suit you better.

There might also be other elements to the treatment depending on your therapist's skills. For example:

  • Breathing exercises
  • Visualisations
  • Relaxation techniques
  • Recommendations for physical exercise
  • Ideas for stress management like meditation, journaling, gratitude diary etc.
  • Stretches to practice at home

As many massage therapists are also trained in other modalities, you might be able to create a broad treatment plan that could include nutrition, yoga, counselling or whatever is appropriate in your situation. Where issues fall outside her/his expertise, your therapist should be able to refer you on to appropriate colleagues.

Who is it for?

It is becoming clear to more of us that the stress in our lives is making us ill. A holistic treatment is great if you want to make changes in your life to live and work in a way that is healthier for you. This might be because of a crisis or as a structured part of your self-maintenance.


If you take a Swedish massage, stir in a dollop of the meditative massage developed in California in the Seventies, then sprinkle a topping of Eastern medicine and healing modalities, you would have a recipe for the perfect holistic massage.