What Kind?

“What is the difference between Swedish and Deep Tissue? ” is  one of the most frequently asked questions.  Here is my experience as a client and a therapist.

Swedish is Relaxing

It was the first technique I was taught in school.  I went to Swedish Institute, so it was not a surprise.  It’s the very basic of massage with lotion/oil.  It’s simple, but you can still get great one or terrible one depending on the therapist of the day. I rarely do full body Swedish only massages, because it’s boring to me.  I won’t request Swedish Massage as a client because I like deep work.  However, I always use many Swedish techniques; so do most of the therapists I know.  If I get massages for relaxation in spas, I expect Swedish.   Sometime Swedish is cheaper than Deep-Tissue, because it’s less physically demanding for the therapists.  If I have to massage for 6 hours back to back, I would prefer to give Swedish massages.   If you don’t have pain and/or stiffness and just want to relax, feel pampered, go Swedish.

Deep Tissue

When I have massage, it’s because I have “knots” and pain in my neck or somewhere and want them to be removed or at least loosened, so that I can feel human again.   Swedish only massages won’t do.   IN ADDITION TO Swedish techniques, you need to get targeted, muscle specific work.  It might hurt in a  good way.  If it hurts in a bad way, you should say, “It’s too much.”  “Deep” is not about the pressure, it’s about the muscular structures to be addressed and anatomical and physiological knowledge of the therapists.

“Do I need to go commando?”

For Swedish & Deep Tissue massage, you are expected to take off your clothes.  It’s up to you what to keep on. You will be covered with a sheet or an oversized bath towel at least in New York State.  Some people keep underpants; others just don’t mind whatever.  I’m the latter.  It depends on your comfort level with the therapist of the day.  Female clients sometime wear a thong.  I think it’s a good idea.  Some techniques are supposed to be applied on direct skin; others are not.  BTW never go commando when you are getting Thai massage.

“I’m not having a baby.”

Some people just want to be pushed hard on the knots.  They say, “Lower.  No, left , little higher.  Yes, there.  Push! Push! Harder! Harder! ”  Sometime I want to say, “I’m not having a baby.”   If you know where to be pushed and want to pay somebody just to push the spot as hard as possible for 30, 60, or 90 minutes, LMT will push you.  However I wonder if you need LMT for that.  Try Theracane or Lax ball, it’s much cheaper.

Sports Massage

I sometimes volunteer at sports events, such as New York Triathron Race and provide post-event massages to help athletes to recover quickly.   You remain clothed.  It involves stretching and joint mobilization.  That’s all I can say.

Manual Lymphatic Drainage is Super Gentle.

I don’t claim to know anything about it.  I’m not trained in Manual Lymphatic Drainage. It is a very specific technique, which requires specific training and knowledges.   If my client needs one I’ll refer him/her out to specialists.   Since it requires additional trainings, it tends to be more expensive than swedish and/or deep tissue.

Shiatsu is Japanese, not Chinese.


This is how a shiatsu session might look like.

  • It is based on the Chinese concept of meridians and pressure points.
  • Hard core shiatsu practitioners work on floor mats, like Thai yoga massage but if you request shiatsu in a spa situation, you are likely to be on a table.
  • You remain clothed in a loose-fitting natural fiber long legs, long sleeves outfits.
  • It involves assisted stretching and joint mobilization.
  • It is something to do with energy flow.
  • If you get a good shiatsu therapist, it is pretty awesome.
  • And one needs to be a licensed massage therapist to practice shiatsu.

Tuina is Chinese, not Japanese.

  • Tsuina is Chinese not Japanese
  • You remain mostly clothed.
  • From my limited experience, it’s vigorous not relaxing.
  • It is something to do with energy flow.
  • And one needs to be a licensed massage therapist to practice tsuina.

Reflexology is Western, not Eastern.


  • It’s a foot massage with a specific intent.
  • It’s pretty intense and relaxing at the same time.
  • You are expected to remove your socks.
  • And one needs to be a licensed massage therapist to practice reflexology.

Myofascial Release is Awesome.


This is how fascia might look like … or not.

Myofascial Release is an awesome technique.  I love to get and give.   Since it is not what you expect to get when you pay for a “massage,” probably you will never get a full myofacial release session.  It’s mostly done without rubricant, and it is intense, and it requires patience, skill, and knowledge.  You will be asked to move your body (limbs, head, etc.)  in a specific way.  You won’t be staying asleep.

I got a full myofascial session by chance.   I requested a deep tissue session, and the therapist happened to be trained in myofascial release technique and once he knew I was a fellow massage therapist, he went bona fide myo.  If I haven’t known the technique, I would have complained.  It’s just different.  That’s why you won’t get it unless you specifically request it.  I always incorporate the technique when I do deep tissue.  It’s so effective.

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