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What is Tibetan Massage?

Health & Wellness
Last Updated Apr 17, 2023

What is Tibetan Massage?

Along with Indian Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Tibetan medicine is one of the world's oldest systematised healing systems. Part of the Silk Road trading network that connected India, China and the Persian Empire, Tibetan medicine drew on the wisdom of those cultures and combined it with its own ancient traditions to create a unique approach to healing that included massage as an important part of its system. What is Tibetan massage and how can it help you?

What is Tibetan Massage?

"Gyud-Zhi" (the "4 Tantras")  is a classic Tibetan medical text that describes 6 "external" therapies. One of these is called "Kunyi" (or "Ku Nye"), which literally means "ointment rub" or, as we say, "massage," but the techniques used in Tibetan massage are more sophisticated than its simple name implies.

Tibetan medicine begins with the premise that we are made up of five basic elements: earth, water, fire, wind and space. Tibetan massage, otherwise known as Kunye massage, is an ancient form of massage technique taught in traditional Tibetan medicine. It is primarily concerned with bringing the wind element into balance. A Tibetan massage practitioner achieves this using techniques that are remarkably similar to many other Eastern and Western modalities, including:

This holistic approach to massage reflects the Tibetan medical system, which views the body as not just physical, but energetic and spiritual as well.

The manipulative techniques used in this type of massage therapy are familiar to any massage therapist, which include rubbing, kneading and stroking. In addition, deep circular motions are applied to acupressure points. The oil used in the massage treatment is natural and unadulterated, such as olive oil, as it acts not only as a lubricant, but it also holds the wind element in place and assists in smoothing it out. Medicinal mixtures, too, are used in traditional Tibetan massage.

How is a Tibetan Massage Performed?

Kunye massage can be done on the client while lying on a mat or futon spread out on the floor, or they may opt to lie down on a massage table. Before the massage session begins, the massage therapist will assess the energy levels and state of health of the client to determine the kind of oil to use. After this, both therapist and client will perform short breathing exercises to clean their minds, bodies and energies. Then, the therapist will tie red threads around the ring fingers and fourth toes of the client to protect the energy of the five elements from negative energies. While in the process of doing this, they will recite a mantra to invoke the guidance of the healing energies.

Next, the therapist applies oil on the client's head and face evenly and then starts massaging these areas using gentle pressure, especially on the neck. Once the head is done, they work their way down to the shoulders, arms, wrists, hands, back, hips and feet. After the massage, the therapist wipes off the oil using a warm towel to eliminate the toxins released by the body during the massage session.  

Kunye massage therapy not only provides pain relief but alleviates mental exhaustion as well. It is suitable for everyone, including children, pregnant women and elderly people.   

Benefits of Tibetan Massage

Traditionally, Tibetan massage was used to treat a number of "wind" disturbances. This form of massage is widely used in the treatment of the following:

  1. Tension headaches: Tibetan massage helps release muscle tension in the neck, shoulders, and head, which can alleviate the discomfort associated with tension headaches. The relaxation techniques used in this massage can also help calm the mind and reduce stress, which is often a contributing factor to headaches.

  2. Heart palpitations: The relaxation and breathing exercises in Tibetan massage can help lower stress levels and promote a sense of calm, potentially reducing the occurrence of heart palpitations associated with anxiety or stress.

  3. Injury Recovery: The overall relaxation and improved circulation it promotes could contribute to better overall health and faster recovery from injuries. 

  4. Menstrual disorders: Tibetan massage can help with menstrual disorders by promoting relaxation, reducing stress, and improving circulation in the pelvic area. These factors can help alleviate symptoms like cramps, bloating, and mood swings.

  5. Constipation: The massage techniques used in Tibetan massage can stimulate the digestive system and help relax the muscles in the abdomen, potentially easing constipation. Additionally, the practice of deep breathing and relaxation can contribute to improved gut motility.

  6. Sciatica: Tibetan massage may help alleviate sciatic pain by releasing muscle tension and promoting circulation in the lower back, buttocks, and legs. The stretches and exercises incorporated in the massage can also help improve flexibility and range of motion.
  7. Lumbar pain: The gentle massage techniques, stretches, and deep relaxation practices used in Tibetan massage can help release tension in the lower back muscles and improve circulation in the area, which may alleviate lumbar pain.

Those who have experienced Tibetan massage for general therapeutic purposes or relaxation reported several of its beneficial effects on general health and well being, including:

  • Improved metabolism
  • Better sleep
  • Higher energy levels
  • Improved appetite
  • An elevated mood
  • Better circulation 

Tibetan Medicine

It is important to understand how Tibetan medicine works to better understand Tibetan massage.

Tibetan medicine, also known as Sowa Rigpa, is an ancient medical system that has been practiced in Tibet for over 2,500 years. It is a holistic approach to health and well-being, rooted in the principles of Tibetan Buddhism, and influenced by Indian Ayurveda, Chinese medicine, and the indigenous medical practices of the Himalayan region.

The key differences between Tibetan medicine and Western medicine can be summarized as follows:

  1. Holistic approach: Tibetan medicine takes a holistic approach to health, considering the physical, mental, and spiritual aspects of an individual's well-being. It aims to balance the body's energies and seeks to prevent illness by maintaining harmony between the body, mind, and environment. Western medicine, on the other hand, typically focuses on treating specific symptoms or diseases rather than addressing the underlying imbalances that may contribute to illness.

  2. Fundamental principles: Tibetan medicine is based on the theory of three principal energies or "nyepas" (Lung, Tripa, and Beken) that govern the body's functions. These energies correspond to the Ayurvedic concept of the three doshas (Vata, Pitta, and Kapha). Imbalances in these energies are believed to cause illness. Western medicine is based on the principles of anatomy, physiology, and biochemistry, using scientific methods to diagnose and treat diseases.

  3. Diagnosis: In Tibetan medicine, diagnosis involves a combination of observation, palpation, questioning, and analysis of the patient's pulse and urine. Practitioners also take into account the patient's lifestyle, diet, and emotional state. In Western medicine, diagnosis typically relies on laboratory tests, imaging studies, and other objective diagnostic methods.

  4. Treatment: Tibetan medicine employs a wide range of treatments, including herbal remedies, dietary modifications, lifestyle recommendations, massage, meditation, and spiritual practices to restore balance and promote health. Western medicine primarily uses pharmaceuticals, surgery, and other medical interventions to treat diseases and alleviate symptoms.

  5. Preventive approach: Tibetan medicine places a strong emphasis on prevention and maintaining a healthy lifestyle, including a balanced diet, regular exercise, and meditation to maintain harmony between the body, mind, and environment. Western medicine also recognizes the importance of prevention, but its primary focus is often on treating diseases rather than promoting overall well-being.

Despite their differences, both Tibetan and Western medicine have their strengths and can complement each other in the pursuit of health and well-being. Integrative approaches that combine the best of both systems are becoming increasingly popular, offering patients a more comprehensive and holistic approach to their health care needs.

History of Tibetan Massage

Tibetan massage, also known as Kum Nye, has a rich history rooted in the ancient Tibetan medical and spiritual traditions. Although the exact origins of this holistic healing system are not well documented, it is believed to have been developed and practiced by Tibetan monks and healers for centuries.

Tibetan massage is influenced by several cultural and spiritual sources:

  1. Traditional Tibetan Medicine: Tibetan massage is based on the principles of Traditional Tibetan Medicine, also known as Sowa Rigpa. This system of medicine is an integral part of Tibetan culture and has been practiced for over 2,500 years. It is a holistic approach that seeks to balance the body, mind, and spirit to promote well-being and prevent illness. The massage techniques are designed to stimulate the flow of energy and restore balance to the body.

  2. Indian Ayurveda: Tibetan medicine and massage were also influenced by the ancient Indian system of medicine called Ayurveda. Similar to Tibetan medicine, Ayurveda seeks to balance the body's energies and focuses on the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle, proper diet, and regular exercise.

  3. Yoga and Meditation: Tibetan massage incorporates elements of yoga and meditation, with a focus on deep breathing, stretching, and relaxation techniques. These practices are believed to help release tension, promote flexibility, and cultivate a sense of inner peace and balance.

  4. Buddhist Philosophy: The underlying principles of Tibetan massage are deeply rooted in Tibetan Buddhism, which emphasizes the interconnectedness of all living beings and the importance of compassion, mindfulness, and self-awareness. These principles are reflected in the holistic approach of Tibetan massage, which seeks to promote overall well-being by addressing the physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects of health.

Over time, Tibetan massage has evolved and spread beyond the borders of Tibet, with practitioners adapting and incorporating elements from other healing traditions. Today, Tibetan massage is practiced around the world as a form of complementary therapy to promote relaxation, relieve stress, and support overall health and well-being.

Tibetan Fire Massage

Tibetan fire massage and Tibetan massage are different healing techniques, although they both have their roots in traditional Tibetan medicine and share some similarities in terms of their overall goals.

Tibetan massage, also known as Kum Nye, is a gentle, holistic healing system that combines massage techniques, stretches, deep breathing, and relaxation exercises. It focuses on balancing the body's energy, releasing muscle tension, and promoting overall well-being. The massage techniques used in Kum Nye are gentle and non-invasive, making it suitable for people of all ages and health conditions.

On the other hand, Tibetan fire massage, also known as fire cupping or Mebum, is a more specialized technique that involves the use of heated cups to create suction on the skin. The heat and suction are believed to stimulate blood circulation, reduce inflammation, and promote healing. Fire cupping can be more intense than the gentle techniques used in Kum Nye and may not be suitable for everyone, particularly those with certain medical conditions or skin sensitivities.

While both Tibetan massage and Tibetan fire massage aim to promote relaxation, relieve stress, and support overall health and well-being, they use different methods and techniques to achieve these goals. It is essential to consult a healthcare professional before undergoing any new therapy or treatment to ensure it is appropriate for your individual needs and circumstances.

Tibetan fire massage, also known as fire cupping or Mebum, is a traditional healing technique that has been practiced in Tibet for centuries. It is a form of therapy that involves the use of heat and suction to stimulate blood circulation, release muscle tension, and promote overall health and well-being.

Overview of the Tibetan fire massage process:

  1. Preparation: The practitioner prepares the skin by applying oil or lotion to the area being treated. This helps create a smooth surface for the cups to glide on and ensures that the suction is effective.

  2. Heating the cups: Glass or ceramic cups are typically used for fire cupping. The practitioner heats the inside of the cups by briefly holding a flame (usually from a cotton ball soaked in alcohol) inside the cup. The flame consumes the oxygen inside the cup, creating a vacuum.

  3. Placing the cups: The practitioner quickly places the heated cups on the skin, usually on the back, shoulders, or other areas with large muscle groups. The vacuum created by the heat causes the skin to rise and redden as blood vessels expand.

  4. Moving the cups: The practitioner may move the cups around the treatment area in a gliding motion, which creates a massage-like effect. This is known as "running cupping" or "gliding cupping."

  5. Removing the cups: After a few minutes, the practitioner removes the cups by releasing the vacuum. The skin may be temporarily reddened or bruised, but this usually fades within a few days.

Tibetan fire massage is believed to offer various benefits, such as:

  • Relieving muscle tension and pain
  • Improving blood circulation and promoting healing
  • Boosting the immune system by stimulating lymphatic flow
  • Reducing inflammation and promoting detoxification
  • Alleviating stress and promoting relaxation

It is important to note that fire cupping should be performed by a qualified and experienced practitioner to ensure safety and effectiveness. While Tibetan fire massage can be an effective complementary therapy for some people, it may not be suitable for everyone, especially those with certain medical conditions or skin sensitivities. Always consult a healthcare professional before undergoing any new therapy or treatment.

A relatively new modality in Australia, many natural therapists listed here on the Natural Therapy Pages are learning the technique as an adjunct to their current practices, while others specialise in Tibetan medicine, meditation and other Tibetan therapeutic and spiritual disciplines. Fortunately, these practitioners are learning Tibetan massage and bringing it to Australia, so you needn't travel to the "roof of the world" to experience it yourself.

Looking to find a tibetan massage therapist? Find a qualified tibetan massage therapist in Australia on Natural Therapy Pages. 

Originally published on Dec 04, 2012

FAQs About Tibetan Medicine & Tibetan Massage

How effective is Tibetan medicine?

There are many positive findings about Tibetan medicine, particularly in people with cancer and blood disorders. Several studies have revealed that it improves sleep patterns, reduces tumours and improves the quality of life of patients.

What can Tibetan massage do for the blood flow?

Tibetan massage can help improve blood flow in the body. During a massage, the blood vessels in different parts of the body expand, hence improving blood circulation.

What are the three basic methods of diagnosis in traditional Tibetan medicine?

When examining a patient, a practitioner of Tibetan medicine uses observation, palpation and questioning. This will help them determine the energy constitution of the patient and decide which oil and treatment approach to use.

How much does a Tibetan massage cost?

The cost of a Tibetan massage in Australia can vary depending on factors such as the practitioner's experience, the location of the practice, and the duration of the session. On average, you can expect to pay anywhere between AUD 70 and AUD 150 for a one-hour Tibetan massage session. Keep in mind that prices can be higher or lower depending on the specific circumstances.rnrnIt's essential to research and compare different massage therapists and wellness centers in your area to find the best fit for your needs and budget. Additionally, some practitioners may offer package deals or discounts for booking multiple sessions, so it's worth inquiring about any special offers or promotions when scheduling your appointment.rnrnAlways ensure that the practitioner you choose is qualified and experienced in providing Tibetan massage to ensure a safe and effective treatment experience.

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