The History of
The use of tools - other
than one’s hands, feet, or other body parts -
applied to the human body in conjunction with or to
supplement massage is an ancient practice. The
oldest massage tool yet to be discovered is
supposedly a Neolithic jade ritual blade from the
Longshan culture of China, dating back to the Shang
dynasty (circa 2000-1500 B.C.E.). The stone is
believed to have been used either hot or cold for
placing on tired and sore muscles. But the ancient
stave or strigil was used more than 1,000 years
before this time by the people of Mesopotamia and
Egypt. Later, the strigil was used extensively by
the Greeks and Romans to scrape oils from the body
and produce friction as part of the process of
massage, cold or hot baths, exercise or competitive
athletes' strigil, a device used by Roman
athletes or their alliptae ("rubbers") circa
175 B.C.E. to scrape the skin of dust, oil,
and sweat after physical exercise. Modern
rendering, from written accounts.
Along with the strigil,
the ancient Greeks and Romans used pieces of cloth
made of wool or cotton to apply friction to the
body. Sometimes the treatments were harsh and drew
blood from the recipient due to the course cloth and
extensive friction. Ferules, made of ebony, wood or
bone, were straight tools used for tapping—or what
today we call tapotement.
Utilized in association
with hot or steam baths, flagellation is a form of
tapotement delivered by beating the body with twigs
or leaved branches, usually of birch or green
nettles. Flagellation is thought to be helpful in
cases of atrophy and emaciation. One 20th-century
writer claims it is also used "for its erotogenic
[sexually exciting] effects."
The use of heated or
chilled stones is not unique to any particular part
of the world, but the Chinese seem to have used this
method extensively. In the World of Massage Museum
(WOMM) we have a 1,000-year-old jade massage knuckle
that was used to rub the body. It may have been
heated or cooled, just as river rock and other
stones were used. Jade, marble, basalt and many
kinds of exotic stones that are dense and maleable
were the most commonly used.
Chinese Jade massage knuckle, about 1,000
years old, was used to rub the body.
About the same time the
Chinese came up with tools carved from wood—or, more
often, animal bones—used to apply pressure to points
or replace the fingers for digging into trouble
spots, the English were using tools as well. The
Chinese created wooden needles or bats, while the
English carved bone tools used for treating gout.
Chinese wooden needle was used instead of
the fingers to dig into the body's pressure
Chinese bat was a portable tool for massage,
replacing the fist or hand and used to pat
on a limb or the body.
Tools used by ancient
peoples were usually made of natural products
indigenous to their particular environment. For
example, the guava tree that grows in the Pacific
islands lent itself to the shape of a device called
a Laau lomi-lomi stick, as well as rounded lava
rocks called lomi-balls. Polynesians also utilized
walking sticks to support and balance themselves so
they could do a walking massage on their subjects.
Hawaiian Laau lomi-lomi sticks are used for
self-massage of the back, and applied to
specific pressure points. Originally the
balls were lava rock used to clean or scrape
the skin after a lomi-lomi session.
(Image courtesy of San Anselmo, from
Lomi-Lomi Hawaiian Massage.)
instruments carved and used by the British
admiral Henry in 1787 for self-massage: (1)
a corked-head hammer covered in leather; (2)
a wooden paddle for beating the heels and
soles of the feet; and (3,4,5) carved bones
for rubbing various parts of the body, with
knobs to work among the tendons.
In the 19th century,
the development of massage tools increased - and so
the next installment will begin at this prolific era
for tools of the trade.
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