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Modern massage is full of innovation, like the air cell massagers and heated rollers you’ll find in the CERAGEM V6. But the therapeutic practice dates back to antiquity. Recorded as early as 3000 BCE in Indian Ayurvedic medicine, massage has been practiced in ancient China, Egypt, the Greek and Roman Empires, and throughout Europe before reaching the US sometime in the 18th century. Along the way, the practice has evolved to become one of the most popular therapies for relieving stress in the mind and body. Here’s how it all began.
The first mention of massage is said to have been in the Shatapatha Brahmana, an Indian Vedic text. Though the mention may not have been written down until about 700 BCE, scholars date the oral tradition much farther back to around 3000 BCE. In this ancient record, there is a description of what many take to be a massage: “A rubbing down of the sacrificer, with all manner of sweet-smelling substances takes place before sprinkling him with fat…” Later, the practice would be used to heal injuries, relieve pain and prevent and cure illnesses.
Massage is mentioned again in another ancient text, this time in China, called the Huang Di Nei Jing, translated as The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine. Like the Shatapatha Brahmana, this text may not have been written until the first century BCE, but it is said to have originated around 2700 during the origin of the Yellow Emperor. In the Huang Di Nei Jing, massage techniques (particularly tui na) are recommended in the treatment of certain diseases.
By 2500, massage had traveled to Egypt, where it was depicted in tomb paintings. The Egyptians added their own techniques, and some experts credit them with the development of reflexology, in which pressure is applied to specific points or zones on the feet and hands.
During the 7th century BCE, Japanese monks are said to have traveled to China to study Buddhism. While there, they were exposed to Chinese massage practices, which they later developed into their own style of massage called “anma.” Anma eventually developed into Shiatsu massage, which aims to balance energy in the body.
When Alexander The Great traveled to India, he and his soldiers were reportedly exposed to Indian massage traditions, which they brought home to the kingdom of Macedon. Gradually, Indian massage traditions were incorporated into Greek and Roman practices. Roman emperor Julius Caesar later received massage treatments to support what scholars now believe to be strokes.
Popularized around 600 CE, Turkish baths, called hammams, were most likely derived from Roman and Byzantine baths. With the focus on purifying the body and soul, these social places consisted of three main areas: a hot steam room where attendants would scrub and massage visitors, a warm room for bathing, and a cool room for resting.
By the 16th century, massage had spread to Europe and was favored by the French military surgeon Ambroise Paré, the forefather of “gentle surgery.” He was known to use massage to enhance the recovery of surgery patients and classified several types of massage movements.
Massage in the US began in the 1700s with women called “rubbers.” They were experts in treating orthopedic problems with manual rubbing and friction and were hired by surgeons to assist with the rehabilitation of patients after surgery. They typically integrated joint mobility into their treatments to improve the range of motion.
During the 1800s, Swedish physiologist Per Henrik Ling popularized the idea that physical exercises were critical for healing many chronic and acute forms of pain. He is widely considered the “Father of Massage” and sometimes credited with the technique that would become the Swedish massage (though others say the true father of Swedish massage is actually the Dutch physician Johann Georg Mezger).
By the 1900s, the terms “masseuse” and “masseur” were well-known in the US. These specialists were educated in the traditions of Ling and Mezger and worked within conventional medicine as doctors’ assistants or as independent practitioners. Ohio became the first state to regulate massage as a “limited branch of medicine,” and Agnes Bridget Forbes went down in history as the first licensed masseuse in North America in 1916.
A Japanese man named Nobuo Fujimoto is credited as the inventor of the robotic massage chair. His earliest versions used spare parts from bicycles, cars, and even sporting equipment like rubber baseballs. As he refined his creation, he eventually went on to mass-produce massage chairs.
During the 1980s, California massage therapist David Palmer pioneered the first massage chair for seated chair massages. It was called the Living Earth Crafts High Touch Massage Chair. The massage chair was portable and lightweight for massages in various settings.
In 1999, the CERAGEM Master M3000 was launched as an automatic spinal column medical device. This early model moved along the spine to deliver acupressure massage and also applied thermal heat through jade massage rollers. By 2019, Ceragem had won Korea’s Most Loved Brand Award two years in a row.
Today, the Ceragem collection includes the relaxing CERAGEM D Core massage chair and three therapeutic thermal massage beds: the CERAGEM V6, V4, and V3. Every product is backed by years of research, trials, and technology development. The newest version, the CERAGEM V6, is an FDA-cleared class II medical device with such advanced features as thermal heat up to 149°F, air cell massagers to support blood circulation in your legs, and patented scanning technology to deliver a customized massage suited to your body’s unique needs.
Though the features of the latest Ceragem massage beds are highly innovative, Ceragem abides by the founding principles that massage practitioners knew thousands of years ago: Massage should be an integral part of whole-body health for its ability to reduce pain, improve flexibility, and provide more balance in body and mind. What began with bicycle parts has already changed drastically in a matter of decades. What’s next?
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Erica Garza is an author and essayist specializing in health and wellness. She has written for TIME, Health, Glamour, Parents, Women’s Health, VICE, and the Telegraph.
ProHealthSys – A Brief History of Massage Therapy
UK Register of Tui na Chinese Massage – History of Tui na Chinese Massage
Florida Academy – The History of Massage Therapy: 5000 Years of Relaxation and Pain Relief
BBC Travel – The origins of bathhouse culture around the world
National Library of Medicine – Ambroise Paré and the Birth of the Gentle Art of Surgery
American Massage Therapy Association – Brush Up on the History of the Massage Therapy Profession
European Journal of Physical Education and Sports Science – Per Henrik Ling: Pioneer of Physiotherapy and Gymnastics
Massage Magazine – The Massage Chair Celebrates 30 Years