Last updated: Sep 23, 2010
massage-techniques
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Last week, I wrote about the secret to a great massage: to focus in and fight the temptation to drift off into nothingness. This week, I'm shifting gears slightly, to discuss two slightly-under-the-radar techniques that I think are light years more evolved than the traditional Swedish massage. What's surprising about these therapies is how gentle they are; the therapist's hands work your body so lightly that it's hard to believe you'll get much benefit. But trust me, you do.


These forms of energy healing rely as much on the therapist's touch as on a slightly mysterious transmission of energy from practitioner to subject. I know it sounds pretty out there in cuckoo territory, but even if it's just the power of a placebo effect, there's something totally relaxing about this stuff. Try these the next time you're in need of some focused, hands-on attention.

The Trager approach: Inner peace in 90 minutes
Trager practitioners teach your body to move in a way that's natural and comfortable, and show you how to avoid holding yourself in positions that can hurt you—think of the way you hold your shoulders when you're tense, for example. During a session, you lie clothed (it's best if you go dressed in comfy workout wear or sweats) on a massage table. Sessions last 60 to 90 minutes, during which the therapist urges you to let go of tension as she very gently rocks, cradles, and stretches various parts of you, starting with your neck, until she feels that your muscles have stopped resisting her ministrations.

Trager practitioners believe that your body can remember what it feels like to lose the restrictions that cause pain, and that training through Trager sessions and dance-like exercises called Mentastics can help you keep your muscles tension free. Your therapist will probably send you home with an exercise or two to keep you on the Trager track.

Find Trager–certified practitioners and learn more at Trager.com.

Craniosacral therapy: Sounds weird, feels great
These therapists use very light touch to, as they say, evaluate and enhance the craniosacral system, or the membranes and fluids surrounding the brain and spinal cord. Currently, researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Medical School are studying CST's ability to ease migraines.

I don't know about migraines, but CST sessions have obliterated pain when I've had an occasional stiff neck. During sessions, you lie on the massage table; clothes are optional, depending on your own and your masseuse's preference. To start, the healer's hands softly cup the base of your skull. I've experienced sensations of warmth that spread from the healer's hands into my neck and the base of my skull—a profoundly relaxing, soothing feeling.

The practice involves gentle pressure—about the weight of a nickel—on various points of your body to stimulate flow of cerebrospinal fluid. Though the descriptions of the practice on the organization's website are practically incomprehensible, my experience with CST is that it feels wonderful. Often, therapists use it as one of several techniques they'll employ during "eclectic" or "integrative" sessions that combine several different massage practices.

Find trained practitioners and more information at CraniosacralTherapy.org.

Of course, there are more traditional types of massage that feel great too—especially when you've got kinks and knots that really need to be worked out. (View a slideshow of four popular options.) But I'd highly recommend one of these New Agey rubdowns if you're itching for something a little different. The approximate cost for either Trager or craniosacral therapy is about $60 to $100 a session. But the experience you'll likely take from it? Priceless.