Oils and lotions were out. That seemed obvious back in 1982 when I first began exploring the idea of massaging people in a seated position.
Fortunately, because I had been trained in traditional Japanese massage (Amma), that was not a problem. Amma practitioners typically work acupressure points on customers through clothing, towels or a sheet so lubrication is not necessary.
In addition, during Amma table massage there is often a point when the customer was worked on in a seated position. So, for me, making the shift from massaging on a table to massaging on a chair was not a huge conceptual leap.
In contrast, at that time Swedish-style practitioners rarely worked with upright customers and skin-to-skin contact with lubrication was always required. That’s because Swedish massage is primarily composed of kneading and gliding strokes. While the kneading strokes can be done through the clothing the practitioner’s hands get tired very quickly. That’s why they are alternated with the gliding or resting strokes of effleurage.
Since Japanese massage relies on weight transfer, not hand strength, and doesn’t require lubrication, it is well suited for doing five to six hours of chair massage day after day. But are there optional approaches?
It turns out, although there are plenty of other styles, some are more adaptable to a chair than others. Certain ones may be fine for an occasional day or a few hours of chair massage, but not all are suited for ongoing, full-time work.
One of the more unusual, but ultimately ill-conceived attempts was that of an entrepreneur who claimed he had invented a way to transfer Swedish massage to the chair. He had developed thin, white gloves made out of a special aerospace fabric that were supposed to allow the hands to slide over clothing obviating the need for any lubrication. I think that idea lasted for about two years.
More realistically, any technique based on acupressure adapts well to a chair: Chinese, Korean, Polarity. Likewise, bodywork approaches such as Rolfing, Trager, and Feldenkrais work are commonly done through the clothing and sometimes on seated clients.
Oddly enough, over the past three decades there has been an increasing cross fertilization of modalities so that “Swedish” massage has broadened to include many techniques (cross fiber friction, for example) that make it more amenable to execution on a chair. Even the lotion/oil prohibition is not absolute. There are plenty of chair specialists I have seen include some lubrication on the hands, arms, face and neck.
Ultimately, I have learned, the best technique for chair massage, as with table massage, is the one that works best for the intention of the practitioner and expectation of the customer. Share which approach to chair massage works best for you and why. What do you think are its strengths and limitations? Is your technique appropriate for full-time (five or more hours of chair massage a day, five days a week) or part-time chair massage?