by Francesca Fasano and Denise Cugini

Massaging the Inner Muscles with Chi Nei Tsang, MASSAGE MagazineMassage therapists are trained to know about the structure of the body: bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments and so forth. We massage the muscles to relieve pain, to stimulate circulation of blood and lymph fluid, and to bring about a sense of inner calm and relaxation. We work with the whole body, and yet this may not really be the case because we completely overlook the vital region of the navel, the abdomen where the majority of our organs reside.

The abdomen is a sensitive area where most people tend to be guarded. Unlike the heart and lungs, the abdomen is not encased in the rib cage for added protection, thereby possibly creating a feeling of vulnerability. Feeling guarded of the abdomen can also be due to various reasons: embarrassment of some sort, early childhood trauma, poor body image and more.

Let’s start with the navel. Since the navel is where we grew from undifferentiated embryonic tissue into a fully formed human fetus, it is considered to be the root of the fasciae in the body. So think of the navel as the hub of a great wheel and the fasciae as the spokes radiating out from the hub in a 360-degree, 3-dimensional Web-like network throughout the body. Wherever there is a distortion in the shape of the hub, we can follow it out along the corresponding spoke(s) to reveal an underlying pattern of tension. Many structural misalignments actually originate at points of tension around the navel. By finding the root of the misalignment at the navel, we can address structural imbalance.

Other things happen at this “navel plexus.” As a fetus, we took in nutrients and eliminated wastes through the umbilicus. Cellular memory causes us to continue to “eliminate wastes” in this region through the lymphatic plexus. Specific reflex points and meridians located at or around the navel serve to provide the body with chi that feeds the cells with life-giving energy. Gentle touch around the navel will help to decrease internal pressure caused by bloating and stagnation, and improve the body’s ability to detoxify and eliminate efficiently. Just by working around the navel while gently touching this area, we can address the entire body and help clients with an assortment of ailments.

But we are talking about more than just gentle touching as we know it. We are talking about massaging the navel and abdomen with chi using a modality known as Chi Nei Tsang (abdominal chi massage), which is a branch of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). In TCM, the navel center is regarded as the center of the body where it both generates and stores prenatal chi inherited from our parents and ancestors, and transforms, stores and receives external energies. The energy gathered here in the navel center helps the body to function optimally and remain balanced.

Since the navel is the center of the body, it is also our center of physical gravity. Whether we are sitting, standing or practicing tai chi, qigong or any other martial art, the body moves around the navel center. It is extremely important that the navel center remain free of congestion and tension to ensure an optimal flow of chi in and out of the body.

Chi is an extremely crucial component here, which sets Chi Nei Tsang apart from regular abdominal massage. In addition to gently massaging the tissues, we extend the chi by applying qigong to the internal organs through this gentle touch. By doing a short practice of qigong exercises at the beginning of the day before seeing clients, you, the massage therapist, are able to connect with the specific energies of nature and the universe to build and strengthen your own chi, so that you can then draw upon this energy during your massage sessions. This not only results in you feeling more energized while giving a session, but it also enables the client to relax into a deeper, more receptive state of being so that she can reap the full benefits of her therapeutic massage.

Knowing now what you do about Chi Nei Tsang and the major role the navel plays in the body, imagine the ways in which you will be better able to help your clients. By incorporating a short segment of Chi Nei Tsang into your massage therapy session, you are able to look for patterns of tension revealed by the shape of the navel. Then by working with the navel area to ease up or release these patterns of tension, you will address the structural misalignments or complaints of the client. This will be extremely beneficial to the client and enable you to provide a more effective massage.

Not only will you help clients with their structural issues, but you will also help them address their overall health and well-being. As mentioned earlier, Chi Nei Tsang also assists the body’s ability to detoxify and eliminate as well as improve the function of the digestive, respiratory, circulatory and reproductive systems. Incorporating Chi Nei Tsang into your massage practice will allow you to become a more well-rounded therapist and practitioner, and thus be able to reach a wider audience for your wellness practice.

By massaging the inner muscles with the energy of chi, you can provide your clients with a well-rounded session that will address what ails them from the inside and outside.

Francesca Fasano, R.M.T., is a certified Chi Nei Tsang instructor and reiki master teacher of the Usui Method of Reiki. She has 30 years experience as an educator, and workshop and wellness facilitator, and is the owner and director of Beacon Wellness Arts Center (NCBTMB #450919-09) in Petaluma, California, where she offers certification programs in Chi Nei Tsang and reiki both locally and internationally. Her specialties include: self-care classes for the general public, continuing education and certification programs in Chi Nei Tsang and reiki for massage therapists and bodyworkers, women’s wellness programs and Five Elements seasonal wellness programs. For more information, e-mail Fasano at or visit

Denise Cugini, L.M.T., N.C.T.M.B., is a massage instructor and licensed massage therapist in Arkansas, Arizona, New Mexico and Missouri, as well as a state certified massage therapist in California. She has been nationally certified in massage and bodywork since 2001, with 17 years experience in therapeutic massage and bodywork and 10 years of experience as a massage therapy instructor in Missouri and California. She is on staff at Beacon Wellness Arts Center in Petaluma, California, as a continuing education instructor in massage therapy whose specialties include: Swedish massage, spa therapies, mother’s massage, foot reflexology and energy work.