The Best Technique for Chair Massage

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?

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7 Responses to The Best Technique for Chair Massage

  1. rika rich says:

    I have been a TouchPro practitioner for 21 years. It continues to teach me everyday.

  2. Mary Cheers says:

    I think TouchPro is the best technique for chair massage because it gives great results for the client and is so “user-friendly” for the practitioner’s body.

  3. David, I’ve worked over 16 years with the Mochizuki style Anma and have absolutely loved the versatility of this art form. I call it an Anytime/Anywhere style. Considering Anma (or Amma) originated, some say, over 5000 years ago, it’s obvious practitioners had to perform the art anywhere they could. I’ve never needed to turn anyone down in need of immediate relief no matter the location.

    Of course there must be a huge article within me waiting to get out about it’s versatility. In the meantime, I’ll offer this short summary of my preferences:

    Table: Mochizuki Anma with 10-20% Touchpro techniques
    Professional Massage Chair: About 50-50. What can I say….the ease of the Touchpro Amma pressure techniques are some of the easiest I’ve learned.
    Folding Chair: 70-30
    Standing: Mochizuki Anma
    On a rock: 70-30

    In situations where there is no forward support for the client, elbow and thumb pressure is limited. I prefer to use kneading and rotation techniques. Although on the shoulders and the top 3-4 points intra-scapular I can use elbow pressure, bracing the customer with my other hand.

    All in all, I am extremely grateful to you and Mochizuki sensei for all the talents I have learned and can pass on to my clients and students.

    Kindest regards

    • David says:

      I look forward to that article, Eric. At some point I will shoot a video demonstrating how we did acupressure in the early days with customers seated on a stool (your rock…). Next year, if there is enough interest, I will also schedule a “Roots of TouchPro” intensive to offer the table version of Amma that I learned in 1980.

  4. dahlia says:

    David, If I remember well you had a video about that, the table version of Aama but last I looked it was not available. I’d still like it if you have any videos of it lying around.

  5. Tom D. says:

    When I first graduated from massage school 26 years ago, I was very enthusiastic and bought a Living Earth Crafts Massage Chair. For the first year I applied Swedish techniques and found myself sweating like pig and very exhausted in a very short amount of time. Then a colleague of mine, Cindy Anderson, who had just learned chair massage from Iris Lee (of On-site Enterprises fame), practiced David’s kata on me. I knew immediately that she was not working very hard, and yet, she was affecting me quite thoroughly in the 15 minutes that she worked. I decided right then and there that I would take Iris Lee’s workshop the next time she came to Austin (sponsored by the Lauterstein-Conway Massage School). Coming from a performance background, I practiced the kata like I practiced my favorite songs on guitar; note for note. Over the years I’ve changed the “song” somewhat; but very little. To this day, I play the kata for anyone who will “listen.” It blows people’s minds (thru their bodies); just like “Free Bird” and “Stairway to Heaven” still rock the crowds that want to hear those tunes again and again. I tell those whom I teach and who will work for my company, “We who do this brand of chair massage know that we are on stage. And if you want to be in the show, you must learn both your lines and the choreography. And once you learn it, you will blow minds!” There are those (5% – 10% of my chair massage customers) who come to me with aches and pains and who want to be fixed. For them I respond cross-fiber techniques I learned from Ben Benjamin’s Advanced Training and tell them to ice it. But most of the time I perform the kata. And I love to tell my audience, “My intent is to help you feel relaxed, yet alert and revitalized.” With their minds open to receive, I deliver again and again. And, like every performer, I thrive from all the unsolicited praise that is heaped upon me. Oh, and I can play this song all day long, just like it was intended. Thank you, David, for handing down your song!

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