Way back when I was a little girl, I used to rub my father’s head in order to help him fall asleep – an early sign of my eventual path into massage therapy, I’m sure. This task was requested of all family members, but I was the only one with the patience to do it. I would mindlessly play with his hair until his tensions were chased away by slumber. Little did I know what a therapeutic thing I was truly doing for him.
In my massage practice, one of my favorite ways to end a session is with a scalp massage. I usually put a few drops of conditioning oil in my hands and then proceed to cover the circumference of the head with rhythmic strokes until the entire scalp has been moisturized. Most clients either fall asleep or zone out to the verge of sleepiness by the time I finish. I do this both to relax them and give their hair a little TLC. I never learned a specific protocol for addressing the scalp. I just kind of did what felt natural and what related to a client’s condition, if they had one.
In India, head massage is a way of life. Practiced for thousands of years, it is not only an integral part of the Indian woman’s grooming ritual, but also an alternative medicinal treatment for many conditions, as outlined in ancient Ayurvedic texts. It was brought to the west in 1973 by osteopath and massage therapist, Narendra Mehta, who felt there was a gap in the full body massage that soothing head massage could fill. Dubbing it champissage, a blend of the indian word for “head” and massage, he opened a school in London and has now made this the top complimentary technique practiced amongst therapists in the UK. The certification course is just four days long and teaches how to properly address the shoulders, upper arms, neck, scalp, face and ears to reduce stress and flush out the buildup of energetic debris that affect one’s health and well being.
The interesting thing about champissage is its ability to be a stand alone treatment, sans the full body massage. The way the course is structured, therapists learn how to address the shoulders, upper arms, neck, scalp, face and ears with massage and energetic balancing techniques based on Chakra energy. A chakra is a channel of energy that follows a central path down the body starting from the crown of one’s head and ending at the base of the spine. Each chakra branches off in the form of “petals” that distribute their energy through the body. The zones addressed through champissage encompass 3 chakras – the crown, the brow and the throat. Each has a profound energetic representation that makes it clear to me why just performing a champissage can feel like the entire body is addressed.
The Crown chakra or Sahasrara is considered the chakra of pure consciousness. Its role is like that of the pituitary gland, which sits on its own little crown deep within the skull and regulates the body’s functions through the release of hormones via the Endocrine system and communicates with the Central Nervous System via the hypothalamus. This chakra relates to physical action with a sense of cause and affect otherwise known as karma, mental action with respect to a sense of unity and belonging to the collective universe and emotional action through a sense of experiencing another person’s experience as if you were inside them, being them.
The Brow chakra or Ajna is also known as the third eye. It’s role can be correlated to the function of the pineal gland, which is a light sensitive gland that produces a hormone, melatonin, that regulates sleep and wakefulness. Keeping with this concept of light and dark balance, this chakra balances the higher and lower selves. It also fosters trusting inner guidance through the access of intuition. Mentally, it deals with visual consciousness and emotionally, clarity on an intuitive level.
The Throat chakra or Vishuddha relates to communication and growth through expression. This chakra is paralleled to the thyroid gland, which is located in the throat and responsible for producing hormones that regulate growth and maturation. Physically, it governs communication, emotionally independence, mentally fluent thought and spiritually, it governs a sense of security. It is associated with the upper extremities; therefore addressing this chakra affects the neck, arms and hands.
Western therapists who have learned and received champissage describe a sense of mental and physical clarity post-massage, along with an increase in mobility and reduction in tension. It makes sense when these above 3 chakras are so integral to one’s sense of self and relationship to things outside of one’s body on spiritual, emotional and mental levels. I recall when learning the neck muscles in school, our instructor cautioned that for many people the throat and face could access all kinds of emotional triggers from past traumas and experiences. That is why it became so important to foster a sense of safety and trust with the client, so that they would know it would be okay to let go, no matter what feelings bubbled up to the surface during the work. A slow buildup is the recommended protocol for energetic balancing with respect to champissage. In this way, the client can trust in the touch and be prepared for the deeper strokes that come toward the end of the massage.
Although many spas in the U.S. are starting to offer this form of massage under various marketing monikers, its therapeutic value should not be dismissed. Whether you are receiving champissage at the day spa or in the offices of a licensed practitioner, the affects are still profoundly therapeutic.