An Ancient Tradition For Modern Times
head is the crown of the body, the epicenter of all thought, action
and life. Despite this, most bodywork therapies overlook the benefits
of a soothing head rub.
massage, however, has always played a pivotal role in Indian life
and was featured in early Ayurvedic texts that date back nearly
4,000 years. A concoction of warm oil and spices massaged in slow
strokes over the scalp, accounted for an Indian woman's long, lustrous
hair, a feature that brought her much admiration in social circles.
Even today, in many parts of India this ancient massage technique
is still an integral part of a woman's grooming routine - but having
progressed beyond the aesthetic and superficial, it is now
revered as the therapy of the future, one that can help clients
effectively battle the rigors of modern living.
the world have begun to offer Indian head massage - and therapists
in private practice are learning how easy, and rewarding, this technique
to the West
In 1973 Narendra Mehta, an osteopath and massage therapist, traveled
to England from India to study physiotherapy. During the intervening
years, he was dismayed to learn that most massages, even full-body
massages, did not extend farther than one's neck and shoulders.
Having grown to appreciate head massage as a way of life in India,
he realized how much he missed the soothing sessions administered
by the local barber and relatives back home. Visually impaired since
early childhood, Mehta was extraordinarily receptive to touch therapy.
In 1978 he decided to return to India to research the physiological
benefits of head massage, and spent the next couple of years documenting
the skills and traditions of this technique, giving it his own personal
flavor and expanding it to suit Western tastes. He developed a technique
that combined massage of the face and ears, chakra balancing and
scalp massage. He named his technique Indian champissage, derived
from champi, an Indian word meaning head massage. Today the technique
is known as both champissage and Indian head massage.
1995 the London
Centre of Indian Champissage International was born, with Narendra
Mehta at the helm. Today champissage is one of the United Kingdom's
most widely practiced complementary therapies for stress relief
- and it's a concept that is catching on fast in the United States
With today's lightening-paced lifestyles, stress and associated
illnesses are our greatest maladies. Muscle pulls, migraines, tension
headaches and toxic buildup in the body are all too common. Champissage,
incorporating subtle chakra-balancing procedures that anyone can
learn, is an effective way to rid our systems of the energetic debris
of everyday life.
skillful placing of the therapist's hands on the upper three chakras
- vishuddha, governing the throat region and its associated organs;
ajna, the third-eye point, located on the forehead; and sahasrara the
master chakra associated with the pineal plexus and found at the
crown of one's head, combined with visual and auditory stimuli,
allow the client's innate healing energy to rebalance and harmony
to prevail," explains Mehta. "If a client is feeling a
little sluggish mentally, I find that working with the crown
chakra and the third-eye chakra simultaneously will enable them
to feel more alert and able to release pent-up emotions."
champissage treatment begins with massage of the upper back, shoulders,
upper arms and neck to melt fatigue. This is followed by a scalp
massage, which is a series of integrated techniques.
of these, the windscreen-wiper technique, is designed to stimulate
the scalp, improving blood circulation. The therapist places his
hand over one ear, with the fingers splayed out over the forehead.
Using the ball of the other hand, a light rubbing movement is carried
out on that side of the head. It is then repeated on the opposite
next technique is whole-hand friction. When supporting the head
with one hand, the therapist applies firm pressure with the fingertips
and heel of the other hand, moving the scalp up and down. This nourishes
the hair from the roots and drains away tension.
techniques, such as ruffling, stroking, plucking and tapping the
scalp and hair, prove to be profoundly relaxing. The techniques
are performed in sequence, though a therapist may choose to spend
more time on certain moves if this is likely to benefit the
client. The massage then proceeds to the temples, which are rubbed
in a firm, circular motion to relieve eyestrain and tension headaches.
King is the director of training and development at the International
Dermal Institute, an educational center generating awareness about
skin care worldwide. When she first experienced Indian head massage,
she felt that the relaxation effect stayed with her all day.
was as though I'd had a full-body massage," she says. "I
had better mobility in my upper body, a clearer head and brighter,
less sensitive eyes."
then realized that if stress levels were reduced, natural outcomes
would be glowing skin and a radiant face.
are specific pressure points on the client's face, which are gently
stimulated during the latter stages of the massage. These are good
for boosting circulation and lymphatic draining," she explains.
introduced champissage into her school's skin-care and massage training.
students are very happy with the technique. They report that the
massage movements are deeply relaxing for their clients and have
the added benefit of being very versatile, as they can be done through
clothes and with the client seated in a chair," she says. "I
personally feel that if Indian head massage really takes off in
the United States, then the traditional chair massage will have
The nature of this therapy makes it especially popular among both
spas and private practitioners. There is no expensive equipment
required and very little by way of supplies.
I decided to open my own bodywork studio, I wanted to offer modalities
that have phenomenal health benefits that the local clientele normally
wouldn't find in southern New Jersey," says Jennifer Jennings
Gini, owner of Absolute Haven Massage & Bodywork. "Since
I have a background in massage therapy and am a believer in
Ayurveda, I felt comfortable offering champissage at Absolute Haven.
realized back in anatomy class that the cervical/thoracic
area was enormously influenced by the musculature in the subcutaneous
scalp," she continues. "However, until I experienced champissage
personally, I didn't have a modality that would alleviate those
physical complaints originating from those areas, yet be such an
enjoyable experience as well. Champissage fit the bill perfectly,
and we've offered it from the first day we opened."
biggest challenge private therapists face is getting a client past
the foreignness of the modality. For this reason, sessions
are often offered at about half the time and price of a traditional
champissage, which usually lasts between 45-60 minutes. At Absolute
Haven, the treatment costs $25 for 20 minutes and focuses primarily
on the head.
those clients that are hooked, we just double the treatment time
and include the full neck and shoulder/upper-arm areas as well,"
Galone is a professional opera singer. She experienced Indian head
massage from Mehta in New York City many years ago.
career leaves one with great physical tension in the back and neck
area from holding the chest up and expanding neck muscles for long
periods of time," she says. "This therapy was the
first to give me relief of the muscular tension in those areas.
our session, Narendra Mehta asked me whether I would like to have
a stimulating or relaxing massage,” Galone continues. “Since
it was late in the night I opted for a relaxing massage. When it
was over, I could barely make it to a taxi! I slept very deeply
that night. The next day I couldn't wait to have a stimulating [Indian
head] massage to see the difference. I discovered an alertness and
energy that I had never before experienced. Again, I slept a deep,
experience compelled Galone to study the techniques of Indian head
massage in-depth and embark on her journey of healing. She also
found that although she didn't have the strength required for the
massage profession, that hardly mattered when it came to this therapy.
she holds certification in head massage from the London Centre of
Indian Champissage International. "I have given relief
for simple tensions, major headaches and injuries, and even extreme
emotional trauma," says Galone. "As a result, several
of my clients have completely stopped or dramatically reduced their
depression medication, with the consult of their doctors. There
is compassion in the head work that doesn't exist in regular body
massage, so it releases deep-seated physical and emotional stress
more effectively," she says.
Buteau, director of Massage Dynamics, in Cheyenne, Wyoming, traveled
to India to learn the technique from its land of origin. Seated
with a local barber in Varanasi, India's pilgrimage town, Buteau
realized how subtle this touch therapy is.
difficulty lies in determining the lightness of the touch,"
he says. "The therapist must exert caution, because the concentration
of sensitive points in the head region of the body can vary dramatically
between two people. Too much pressure can make your client flee
from the touch completely and too [little] will not open up”
the marma points, or energy portals along the body.
a slow buildup is recommended for balancing the chakra energy. This
can be done by inserting movements that require greater pressure
at the end of the session, when the client is better able to take
it in stride.
massage as a spa therapy
Champissage in the West is a dry treatment, which makes it ideal
not only for private sessions, but for airports, spas - virtually
anyplace. However, most spas that offer this treatment will give
clients the option of using Ayurvedic medicated oil. Warmed coconut,
sesame, olive and vegetable oils are used in accordance with client
Embrace is a spa based in Brighton, Ontario, Canada. Indian head
massage is featured as Shirobhyanga therapy and was introduced on
the spa's opening day, in late 2004. The treatment lasts 30 minutes
and costs $45 Canadian (about $37 American).
is a favorite therapy among our clientele and is often the first
experienced by our guests during their stay, especially if they
have traveled great distances to reach our spa," says Jazir
Teja, the spa's director. "Once they arrive, it is common for
guests to want to increase the number of therapies they experience
here. Indian head massage is relatively shorter than most and we
can often fit it in during busier periods."
Yoga, Canada's only solely Ayurvedic destination spa, in Codrington,
Ontario, has offered Indian head massage since 1999. It is performed
in a very authentic way here, using Ayurvedic medicinal oils like
bringaraja, bramhi and amla, which are rubbed onto the scalp. It
lasts for a duration of 45 minutes and costs guests $100 Canadian
(about $82 American). "I believe it is popular because it is
a unique stress reliever, focusing on all the marma points of the
head; this with the warm oils puts the client in a state of complete
relaxation," says Jacinda Thomson, the spa's general manager.
the United States Indian head massage is becoming more popular at
spas. The spa at the Mandarin Hotel in Miami offers this therapy
as Oriental scalp massage.
was introduced [at] the opening in 2001 and is very popular both
as stand-alone treatment and addition to other treatments,"
says Pilar Spitale, the spa's communications coordinator.
20 minutes, the treatment costs $65 and is often combined with the
application of pink hair-and-scalp mud, which is said to be cooling
and soothing. Some guests prefer to combine the head massage with
a facial, and end with a neck-and-shoulder rub to enhance relaxation.
spas are getting into the act. Enhance Face & Body Spa in Hartsdale,
New York, introduced a scalp, neck and face body treatment last
fall. Their marketing involved mailing brochures to their best clients,
incorporating the history and healing effects of Indian head
massage. The 30-minute session costs $45.
awareness grows in leaps and bounds, many more spas and therapists
in private practice are sure to realize the restorative potential
of Indian head massage.
Thiagarajan is a freelance journalist in Madurai, South India. She
writes about health and fitness, alternative therapy and esoteric
healing, and has been published in six countries.