Fad or Tradition?


Historically, massage therapy is one of the oldest healthcare practices known to history. References to massage are found in Chinese medical texts more than 4000 years old. It was also widely used in Europe during the Renaissance. Massage has been advocated in Western health care practice at least since the time of Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine. In the 4th century BC Hippocrates wrote “ The physician must be acquainted with many things, and most assuredly, with rubbing.” The ancient Greek word for massage was ‘rubbing.’

It eventually came to the US during the 1850’s where it was used to promote overall health. But as medicine and the pharmaceutical industry progressed in the first half of the 1900’s massage dropped off the radar and stayed that way until the 1970’s.

Infant massage, however, is practiced in most countries of the world. In many places, including the UK, New Zealand ( the Maori) Venezuela, Russia, India, Bali, Fiji and New Guinea. infants are given a massage with oil after, or instead of a bath, before sleep time, for the first several months of their lives.

An American woman, Vimala Schnieder McClure, is credited with bringing infant massage to the Western world, and published a book in 1981 on the subject.

It was whilst travelling in India during the 70’s , studying yoga and volunteering at an orphanage, that she first saw it being being performed on a tiny infant by the mother outside a shanty house at the side of the road.

It was a type of nurturing Vimala had never witnessed in the United States, where the whole approach to mothering is different. It dawned on her that there was possibly more to life than material wealth. This mother found a way of stimulating and communicating with her baby through loving touch.

She mused about how loving, warm and playful Indian children were despite their economic poverty. Games were inclusive, children played in circular, rhythmic dances, and taking responsibility for each other without reservation.

The comparison with US children couldn’t be more stark. They play in exclusive clumps. Their play is often aggressive, and those who can’t keep up are shunned. Fighting is considered the norm. She pondered the connection between the way in which children interacted during play in India, and the massage they received as infants.

On returning to America she founded the International Association of Infant Massage (IAIM), with currently 52 chapters worldwide.


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