BOOK REVIEW: The Book of Massage by Lucinda Lidell

The Book of Massage: The Complete Step-By-Step Guide to Eastern and Western TechniquesThe Book of Massage: The Complete Step-By-Step Guide to Eastern and Western Techniques by Lucy Lidell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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I picked up this book because I recently began studying Thai Yoga Bodywork (TYB.) While The Book of Massage doesn’t specifically deal with Thai massage, as a neophyte, I figured some general reading was in order, and there aren’t a lot of widely available books that deal with Thai massage specifically (at least not where I currently reside.)My first testimonial of this book is that I looked through over a dozen books on massage at my local bookstore, and this is the one with which I walked home.

I found Lidell’s book to be a valuable resource. The book covers three approaches to massage: oil massage, shiatsu, and reflexology. As the subtitle suggests, this book addresses both Eastern and Western approaches to massage. The section labeled simply “Massage” is one that deals largely in the Western approach, as it’s suggestive of the Swedish style of massage. This involves oil, no / few clothes on the recipient, and a variety of strokes that are delivered over relatively broad areas (as opposed to the deeper acupressure approach of the latter methods.) The oil massage chapter begins with an overview including what type of oil to use and the basic strokes, and then provides a sequence before delving into specific techniques for various body parts or groups of body parts.

Shiatsu is a Japanese form of massage that is based on the concepts of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM.) I found this style to be much closer to what I’ve learned in TYB. Like TYB, both patient and recipient are clothed, there is no oil, acupressure is the norm, it requires no table, and there is a match up between what are called “energy lines” in TYB and “meridians” in Shiatsu. Shiatsu even employs similar stretching techniques to those that are the hallmark of TYB. I can imagine these systems having a common ancestral art.

The order of the shiatsu chapter is basically the same as the chapter on Massage. First, there’s necessary background information. This consists of a couple of pages on the basic Taoist concepts on which TCM is based (e.g. Chi, Yin & Yang, and the five elements) and related vocabulary like “tsubo” (pressure points) and meridians. The section then goes on to address basics of posture and bodily tools (palms, thumbs, elbows, knees, etc.), the sequence of the massage, and then the specifics of various body parts.

Reflexology massages only the feet and hands in the belief that points on these appendages map to other parts of the body. In other words, practitioners believe one can increase wellness throughout the body by working points on only the feet or hands. It’s said that the roots of reflexology may be ancient and that it may have been practiced in Egypt in 2300BC, but the modern school was developed by an American physician in the early 20th century. TYB does borrow from reflexology (though not necessarily the modern form of it), so some of this was also similar to what I learned in TYB. Again, the order of this section went from the generic information one needs toward the specifics of how to apply a given technique on a particular part of the foot or hand.

In addition to the three core sections, there were chapters before and after that provide the reader with useful information. Some of this was banal but obligatory (e.g. a brief history of massage and a discussion of the importance of touch among the human species), but some of it was essential practical information such as how to create the proper environment and how to center oneself before delivering a massage. There was also information that will be useful for some about massages involving babies, expectant mothers, the elderly, athletes, and oneself.

Perhaps the most beneficial of the “supplementary” chapters was one that dealt with the subject of how to read bodies. This may seem like an odd topic. However, it’s useful to be able to recognize where an individual holds his tension or where her posture is off–a problem that can create many muscular difficulties. There’s a short overview of anatomy, which I found useful, and a shorter overview of “chakras and auras,” which I personally didn’t find useful but can see where others might.

There are several strengths and relatively few weaknesses to this book. I found the organization to be logical. The graphics are a combination of photos and line drawings, and they work well together. I thought it was great that the author explained that Shiatsu is to be done in comfortable, loose-fitting clothing and that the only reason the graphics display the masseuse in a skin-tight body suit was so that the baggy clothing wouldn’t inhibit the reader’s view. Also, I found the written descriptions worked well with the graphics. One often needs a written cue as to where to find a certain point or line, and just showing it in a picture can be misleading given the wide variety of body types as well as the granularity of the graphic in contrast to the specificity of a point one may need to hit.

I suppose I should warn the easily mortified and / or very religious that there are full and partial frontal nude photographs in the section on oil massage. [I doubt such people are a major demographic for giving or receiving massage, but one never knows.]

I don’t have a lot of complaints. As it’s set up like a workbook, a spiral binding might have been nice, but I recognize the huge challenges of that. Plus, I’m not certain that one can or should learn massage from a book. Rather one should look at it as information to support study with a skilled teacher–or to experiment with once one has already developed some skill. The sections early and late in the book that talk about the importance of human touch didn’t add much, but they were also brief.

If you’re looking for a book on massage that covers a broad set of bases, but yet gives adequate detail for learning, I think this book is a good choice. I’d say it piqued my interest in learning Shiatsu.

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