Anma massage, sometimes also referred as Amma, is a traditional Japanese massage technique. The name, which translates simply to “massage” comes from the combination of two words: “An,” meaning to press, and “Ma,” meaning to rub, which describes the basic technique of kneading the skin.
Anma is a vigorous form of massage, and it is also referred to as healing with hands. The seven traditional techniques used in this modality of traditional bodywork are: pressing/stroking, grasping/kneading, strengthening, compressing, vibrating, tapping and “hand music”. These techniques are directed at specific vital points and meridians on the body, and the strokes are directed away from the heart (centrifugal).
Anma massage uses the theoretical framework of Chinese medicine, being similar to the traditional Chinese massage Tui Na. Anma technique targets both body and mind, treating the patient physically, mentally, and spiritually, thus promoting self-awareness and the ability to cope with future emotions. It is used for relaxation and stress-relief as well as to treat many different conditions, such as chronic pain, constipation, anxiety, migraines, poor flexibility, stimulation of blood and lymph flow, low back pain, and nervous disorders.
The treatment is usually performed through the clothing, rather than directly on the skin, and no oil is used. It is traditionally given on a mat on the floor, but it can also be given on a table or in any other position better suited for the receiver.
Anma massage is of Chinese origin, being developed from Tui Na. The traditional Chinese massage techniques arrived in Japan during the Nara period (710–793 CE), along with other techniques of Traditional Chinese Medicine, and were practiced in government-sponsored hospitals. After centuries of influences from Tui Na and the local development of other techniques, Anma as a unique system was founded in 1320 by Akashi Kan Ichi in Japan.
Anma was made popular in the seventeenth century by acupuncturist Sugiyama Waichi. Around the same time, the first books on the subject appeared, such as Fujibayashi Ryohaku’s Anma Tebiki (Manual of Anma). The masseurs were often nomadic, earning their keep in mobile massage capacities, and paying commissions to their referrers.
Also noteworthy is the fact that since Sugiyama’s time, Anma has been strongly associated with the blind. Sugiyama, who himself was blind, established a number of medical schools for the blind which taught this practice. This has continued into the modern era, giving opportunities to and being the chosen profession of many blind people in Japan.
Today, Anma is still very popular in Japan, and there are many practitioners and schools around the globe. However, Shiatsu Massage – a more contemporary technique which derived from Anma – is usually more easily found in the Western world.