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Seated Massage ~ Part One:
Seated Massage ~ Part One:

by Mary Kathleen Rose

A Time to Sit Up Straight and Relax

Wow! Linda said as she stood up from the chair and slowly walked across the dining room floor. My headache is gone. Thank you!

Had I given a complicated headache treatment or finished a full-body massage session for Linda? No. I had just given her a five-minute, impromptu seated massage while she sat on a kitchen chair. She is the caregiver for one of my elder, homebound massage clients and had been complaining of a headache, so I offered to give her a quick seated massage session.

Over the years of my massage practice, I have often been impressed with the effects of a few minutes of well-placed touch with the client in a seated position. When I was in massage school in 1984, we learned a seated massage routine in shiatsu class that was often used as a quick warm-up. The recipient sat on a cushion on the floor, and the practitioner stood, knelt, and/or sat behind the person to massage their shoulders, neck, and back with a combination of presses, squeezing movements, and percussion. Even then, I was pleasantly surprised with the change that could happen in a short amount of time, as the recipient relaxed and let go of tension.

A short, seated massage session can be likened to a full, deep breath, in which the receiver of touch is allowed to exhale spent energy from the body, and is rejuvenated by the expansiveness of fresh inspiration. Practiced without lotion or oil on a client who is fully clothed, seated massage provides a break in the day's routine that can help reset the perception of one’s life with all its myriad physical, mental, and emotional challenges.

Massage Chair is Not for Everyone

With my training in shiatsu and tui na, I could appreciate the value of short treatments in the seated position and was attracted to the possibilities presented by the first forward-inclining massage chairs developed in the mid-1980s. I bought a chair in 1986 and used it at health-related conferences and other promotional events over the years. While that chair and subsequent designs have become the standard for seated massage, I also noticed the limitations of the professional massage chair. While they are comfortable for many people, they pose problems for others, especially the elderly. Here are some considerations:

• Circulation in the legs: The elderly, and those with compromised circulation in the legs, do not benefit by having their lower limbs compressed against the incline of the leg rests on the commercial massage chair.

• Breathing: Those with compromised breathing, due to age, asthma, emphysema, or other respiratory disorders can be uncomfortable leaning into a face cradle, as it can impair breathing and put undue pressure against delicate tissues of the face. The chest support also inhibits breathing for some people because of pressure on the ribcage.

• Neck and head injuries: Those with neck or head injuries often find the face cradle uncomfortable as it provides no real support for the neck. In this position, pressure against the upper back, neck, and head can aggravate neck pain or contribute to headaches or dizziness.

• Accessibility: For some people, the massage chair is simply inaccessible. Clothing may make it difficult to get into the required position. Or issues of balance or flexibility can make it awkward to sit in the chair. For a very short person or child, it can be difficult to adjust the chair to the right body proportions.


Seated and Upright

So while I still own my massage chair, it lives most of the time in my shed, and I have returned to the use of a regular chair for seated massage. For many years now, I have taught seated massage in my classes of Comfort Touch, a nurturing style of acupressure. In this work, massage therapists learn to work with people who are elderly or ill, so it is useful to learn how to work with a client who may be seated in a wheelchair or recliner. But the upright, seated position has benefits, not only for this population, but for the general population as well.


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1. Foster, Mary Ann. Your Birthright: A Case for the Human Stance. Massage & Bodywork 2005 April/May; 20(2): 72.

2. Rose, Mary Kathleen. Comfort Touch: Massage for the Elderly and the Ill , Video and Guide. Wild Rose, Boulder: 2004.


Thompson, Gerry. Shiatsu: A Complete Step-by-Step Guide . Sterling Publishing Co., Inc. New York: 1994.

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