What is Traditional Bodywork?

Published | Updated April 16, 2020
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What is Traditional Bodywork?
In this article we’ll explain what is generally understood by bodywork – and, of course, applicable to our website – what we see as traditional bodywork.


In the realm of complementary and alternative medicine, the label bodywork is applied to any therapeutic or personal development technique that is about working with the human body involving manipulative therapy (such as massage), spiritual work, breath work, or energy work. Techniques of bodywork also involve improving posture, promoting awareness of the body-mind connection, or manipulating the electromagnetic field that is thought to surround the body.

Non-touch bodywork modalities include for instance Reiki, Yoga, Shamanistic work, Qigong, Tai Chi, Herbal Medicine, and Breathwork techniques. Touch or manipulative bodywork includes techniques like Deep Tissue Massage, Chiropractics, Sports Massage, Acupuncture, Reflexology, Postural Integration, Alexander technique, Swedish Massage, Feldenkrais, Tuina, Shiatsu, Thai Massage, Javanese Massage, and Cranio-Sacral therapy, to name a few.

Note that the labels massage and bodywork are often used interchangeably. Remember here that bodywork includes all forms of massage, but massage is just one type/form of bodywork.

Traditional Bodywork

Traditional Bodywork basically follows the same definition as mentioned above, with the difference that it addresses ancient Traditional Medicine systems. Nevertheless, there’s no consensus about what exactly is considered ‘ancient.’ Are we talking about healing modalities of a hundred years old, a thousand years, or older?

Generally, we consider – for instance – Traditional Chinese Medicine, Indian Ayurveda, and the Thai Healing Arts “traditional and ancient.” Then again, we find many new modalities added to those quite recently, like Thai Amatarot (about a hundred years old) or Thai Jap Sen Nerve Touch Massage (perhaps about fifty years ago). Or, Japanese Shiatsu, the label coined about a hundred years ago… yet developed over a longer period of time, and Japanese Reiki, also about one hundred years old. Are they “traditional” also?

And what to think about Swedish Massage (also named Classic Massage) which was invented in the 19th century? Is that “traditional”?

Another aspect of traditional healing systems is that much of it is considered “energy work,” that is, working with the flow of Life Energy, Prana, Lom or Qi, but… often doing this by manipulating the body. That’s perhaps somewhat ambiguous, and that’s why these kinds of traditional energy systems are often also labeled bodywork. True bodywork – in ancient healing systems – is usually attributed to herbal and food medicines, directly manipulating the more physical earth-water-fire qualities.

In any case, we hope to have shed some light on the subject – traditional and non-traditional bodywork cover a vast spectrum of touch and non-touch alternative healing arts might it be massage, spiritual or breath work, or so-called energy work.

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