The Holistic Snowshoer: Massage

“Think with the whole body.” –Taisen Deshimaru

Last month yoga forms provided the snowshoer extensibility. This month we touch upon the benefits of massage and acquaint you with a few prevalent methods for achieving wellness and sport performance.


The time and place that massage originated precisely is subject to interpretation. Some scholars believe that cave paintings discovered in the Pyrenean Mountain Range date its usage some 15,000 years. Others counter that massage originated in India as part of a spiritual-based form of medicine as recorded by the Ayur-Veda-the earliest known medical text [1800 BC]. Ayur-Veda means “the arts of life.”

The Ayur-Veda documents that “touch medicine” evolved with Sangha and Buddhism, and was later coded as part of the Buddhist Scriptures – giving rise to monk-healers, monastic universities and training programs. The preservation of Ayurvedic medicine is credited to the ascetic Buddhist lineage.

Touch medicine and its religious integration spread throughout Asia and was enhanced by each culture. Taoist priests documented and implemented its “QI Gong” meditative healing movement about 3,000 B.C. Traditional Chinese medicine is based on cultivating the vital life force from within to heal any imbalances.

The Japanese primarily used touch medicine to diagnose and treat illness and injury. The Japanese adopted and enhanced other styles to crate a unique form called Shiatsu. Per Henrik Ling, a Swedish gymnast and physician in the nineteenth century, developed a massage type based on physiological components (i.e., Swedish massage).

There are now hundreds of massage methods. The primary purpose of massage – no matter the method – is to promote healing, relaxation, and wellness through touch. The negative reputation linked with massage parlors and self-indulgence remains prevalent today. Eastern and Western traditions have spawned numerous philosophies and styles of touch therapy but the common thread is mobilizing the natural healing power of one’s body to attain optimal health.

Massage is the kneading and stroking of soft body tissue with pressure applied to the skin and muscles in varying degrees. It is a form of bodywork that stimulates the nervous system and triggers the release of chemicals in the brain to impart a number of healthful aspects toward wellness, sport performance and recovery.

Benefits of Massage

A regular massage program will provide far-reaching benefits for your health. Incorporating massage will magnify the reverence of your snowshoeing exploits.

Massage is increasingly utilized in a variety of medical realms from doctors, chiropractors, physical therapists, nursing homes, home health care, private clinics, and hospitals to list a few. Massage is used to treat a wide range of conditions including chronic back and neck pain, cancer, joint injuries, headaches, sciatica, arthritis, pulmonary issues, muscle spasms, sleep disorders, and the rest of it. Massage also encourages an acute awareness of your remarkable body.

Massage has been implemented to treat an array of disorders and conditions:

*Visceral dysfunction;
*Asthma and bronchitis;
*Carpal tunnel syndrome;
*Circulatory problems;
*Digestive disorders;
*Gastrointestinal disorders;
*Immune function disorders;
*Joint dysfunction;
*Sports injuries;
*And much more.

Massage recipients often report an overall sense of well-being, sleep more soundly, have more energy, fewer aches and pains, less stress, and many more healthful returns. Massage therapists generally focus on the entire body versus the site of the pain, hence, the interconnectedness of seemingly disparate elements – a theme prevalent in the Ayur-Veda and other healing text from thousands of years ago.

There are innumerable physiological and psychological benefits of massage. Snowshoeing is a strenuous sport. Lactic acid eagerly waits to infiltrate your stressed muscles so that you can experience soreness, stiffness, and muscle spasms.

Massage will flush the lactic acid, metabolites, and other toxins from your tissue by improving blood and lymphatic circulation, facilitate oxygenation to fuel to your muscles, thereby shortening recuperation from injury, disease, or too much fun on your snowshoes. Massage will rejuvenate contracted blood vessels from overworked muscles during your outing – so that you can snowshoe tomorrow with renewed vigor.

Massage will reduce your chance of injury by maintaining suppleness, improve your range of motion and flexibility, shorten your recovery time between workouts or outings, increase the supply of nutrients and oxygen through improved circulation, and eliminate toxins – the ever-present by-product of exercise.

Massage is important for the snowshoer at any level of expertise. Find some of the benefits below:

*Increases tissue permeability by opening pores in tissue membranes;
*Enhances flexibility by stretching the fascia surrounding the muscle;
*Breaks down scar tissue to lubricate tendons and ligaments;
*Dilates blood vessels to promote enhanced nutrient and blood flow;
*Enhances lymphatic blood flow for tissue repair;
*Reduces pains by releasing endorphins and other chemicals from the brain;
*Improves conditioning;
*Mitigates injury and loss of mobility;
*Enhances sport performance;
*Invigorates your body;
*And much more.

Types of Massage

There are almost as many types of massage as there are practitioners. Massage techniques are implemented to treat specific ailments, to improve muscle tone, or enhance circulation. There are a plethora of different styles from which to choose. Gentle massage affects the nervous system by lowering blood pressure, slowing the heart rate, metabolism, and respiration to mitigate the damage from stress. Strong strokes ease tense muscles, flush toxins, improve mobility and flexibility.

The Eastern styles focus on keeping the life energy of the body in balance. The vital energy flows through 12 major meridians named for the organ to which each corresponds. Blocked energy at these points along the meridians [tsubos] must be released for the body to remain in harmony. An example of an Eastern style is Shiatsu.

The Western styles favor the physiological principles associated with anatomy. The focus is on the muscles, ligaments, tendons, connective tissue, and the cardiovascular system. Swedish massage is a primary example of a Western style.


A Japanese form of massage utilizing pressure to stimulate and release the energy pathways within the body. Its roots stem from Chinese philosophy incorporating health and medicine through massage, acupuncture, and herbal remedies. The Japanese developed a form of bodywork to maintain or restore the balance of energy within the body through massage and acupuncture – hence, the term acupressure.

Shiatsu and acupressure are often incorrectly used to refer to the same massage technique. Shiatsu is designed to treat the entire body by releasing blocked energy while attempting to balance yin and yang energy. Yin is the quiet, deep, feminine energy that is dark, soft, and receptive. The Chinese define it as the shady side of the mountain. Yang is the active, masculine, explosive, and creative energy that lies close to the skin’s surface. The Chinese define it as the sunny side of the mountain. Acupressure was designed to treat specific symptoms or disorders.

Shiatsu is based on balancing the Five Elements of the universe of which the human body is considered a microcosm.

Traditional Chinese medicine imparts that each of the elements – Fire, Earth, Metal, Water, and Wood – is associated with organs, meridians, and characteristics within the body. Harmony along the meridians is crucial to one’s health.

Shiatsu practitioners apply gradual and rhythmic pressure to the tsubos. No oil is used and the recipient remains full clothed. The ideal location for a shiatsu massage is in a warm airy room on the carpeted floor. The floor allows the practitioner to remain relaxed and centered while imposing optimal pressure to the tsubos.

Each session commences with treatment of the main warehouse of energy located between the rib cage and the pelvic bone. This region is called the Hara. Slow and rhythmic breaths by the recipient aid in the relaxation period requisite to treat the legs, arms, neck, head, and face. Pressure is applied only during the exhalation.

Swedish Massage

This method combines Asian techniques with the Western principles of physiology. This method relieves muscle tension, improves circulation, promotes relaxation, and decreases stress via a variety of soft, deep, and kneading strokes. Oils are often used to assist in lubrication of the tissue. There are five basic strokes:

Long gliding strokes covering the entire body. It introduces the body to further stroke types. The practitioner will use the whole hand, palms, knuckles, and fingers to massage toward the heart to assist blood and lymphatic flow.


Involves kneading and compression motions to stretch the muscle group away from the bone to enhance deeper circulation.


This is the most penetrating and localized stroke. The fingers and palms anchor the hands while the thumbs perform traverse or deep circular movements in a small area.


A series of brisk percussive movements with the hands alternately chopping or tapping the muscles for an invigorating effect.


This stroke involves the hands being placed on the muscle group and applying a fine rapid shaking motion.

Deep Tissue Massage

This style consists of slow strokes with direct pressure or friction across the grain of the thick muscle groups. Typically the thumbs, fingers, and elbows are used to target chronic muscle tension.

Sports Massage

A combination of Swedish, deep tissue, and other forms to improve performance, relieve muscle tension, and treat sports-related injuries. It commonly consists of short, deep, powerful strokes in a short duration to stimulate the large muscle groups, release tension, tightness, or pain in an isolated region. Pre-and post-event usage is commonplace. An athlete may even self-massage during the event.


A twentieth-century version of an ancient healing technique that is performed mostly on the feet to induce relaxation, unblock energy, and restore balance to specific areas. The practitioner may also touch the ears and hands. This style is considered effective for preventing and treating diseases by targeting the energy zones of the body.


A massage style utilizing Swedish massage techniques and aromatic essential plant oils.

The types of massage available are too numerous to list. Many combine Eastern and Western principles and philosophies while many are cutting-edge deviations blazing a different trail.

Massage sessions typically last 45-60 minutes and fees vary widely. Massage should not occur within two hours after a meal. Consultation with a physician should occur if the recipient has cancer, heart disease, or a back problem.

Massage should be avoided if any of the following conditions exist:

*Acute inflammation;
*Deep-vein thrombosis;
*Varicose veins;
*Arthritic joints;

Touch is one of the most evocative links between mind and body. The benefits are staggering. Check your local associations, colleges, or universities to locate a certified therapist. Visit a massage school and inquire about a discounted session. Talk to your physician or chiropractor. Utilize the number of books and videos to educate yourself – there are ‘Massage for Dummies’ versions. Request a gift certificate for the holidays – your body will thank you.

The need to touch and be touched is universal. The massage style that you choose should leave you relaxed and renewed to pursue further snowshoeing endeavors.



“Nature’s Cures’ by Michael Castleman;

“Guide to Natural Medicine”

“Asian Secrets” by Letha Hadady, D.Ac;

“National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine of the National Institute for Health”

“Nexus” Colorado’s Holistic Health and Spirituality Journal;

“Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine”


“The Winter Athlete” by Steve Ilg


“American Massage Therapy Association”



  • Jeff Kildahl, Wellness Editor

    Jeff Kildahl is a writer, author, wellness consultant and philanthropist advancing preventive health care by synthesizing primary source nutrition and fitness as the principal components of the practice of medicine. Kildahl is a sponsored vegan ultra-endurance athlete credentialed in bioenergetics, biomechanics, metabolic efficiency™ testing, sport nutrition, and natural medicine. He is a dynamic member of CUBE™ ~ a professional speakers group ~ empowering others to harmonize the "Keys to Living in the Song of Life." He is the wellness editor at Snowshoe Magazine, United States Snowshoe Association columnist, and contributor to health, fitness and wellness sites, blogs and publications. He is a US-based ultra-endurance athlete and philanthropist for the 100 FOR 100 Movement ~ Kildahl is the creator and president of The Wholistic Edge® ~ a visionary firm providing synergistic solutions to transcend health, performance, and potential in life and sport from the inside out via the principles of Performance Medicine™ ~

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