All massage is ultimately meant to help you be more comfortable, freer, and more joyful and at home in your body. Typically the difference between “relaxation” or “Swedish” massage and “deep tissue massage” is presented as a matter of pressure, and/or a matter of heroic pain tolerance. Not true!
The idea of relaxation massage is to allow the therapist to have a conversation with your nervous system via the skin – the outermost layer of your brain*. We’re using warmth, gentle to firm pressure, friction, pace, and rhythm to help your brain slow down and focus on comfort. Your brain produces some lovely oxytocin, you feel peaceful, your muscles forget to be tense, and pain decreases. Physical and mental relaxation is achieved. Regular relaxation massage helps a body learn about comfort and learn to rest.
The idea of deep tissue massage is that over time, the muscular and connective tissues of the body develop injuries (big or small), scar tissue, adhesions, and other physical obstacles to motion, circulation and nerve function. Deep tissue massage uses specific anatomical knowledge and targeted pressure at various depths and angles to separate stuck layers of tissue and restore movement. Deep tissue massage also utilizes the body’s reflexes to trick muscles into relaxing so the massage therapist can reach deeper layers of muscle tissue. These techniques, over time, can restore flexibility and remove painful obstacles to movement.
There isn’t a bright line between “relaxation” and “deep tissue” massage. Some people like their relaxation massage applied with quite a bit of pressure, but that doesn’t make it deep tissue. Some deep tissue massages are very relaxing, and yet they still achieve their goal of reducing restriction in the tissue. Sometimes massage can be quite intense to get the desired tissue change. No matter how intense the sensation, a good massage therapist will be watching and listening for signs of distress, and work with you to find an approach that gets results that are satisfying physically, mentally and spiritually.