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What is Jamu Massage?

A scalp massage is part of a Jamu massage session.
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  • Written By: Karyn Maier
  • Edited By: Jay Garcia
  • Last Modified Date: 20 September 2014
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Jamu massage is a form of bodywork that combines the benefits of massage and botanical therapies. In fact, the word Jamu translates from Indonesian to mean herbal remedies used internally and externally. While jamu massage is considered rooted in Balinese traditions, its techniques are inspired by several Asian influences encountered along Indonesian trade routes of the 1500s. From the perspective of the western world, jamu massage is a relative newcomer to the family of massage therapies.

Jamu massage, as it is known today, originally emerged from central Java. However, it was reserved only for those deemed worthy of royal treatment. In fact, it was only available to the common person if one were lucky enough to be a guest of the palace. Gradually, jamu massage became accessible to the general populace, and is offered by Indonesian village healers today. Then, as now, jamu massage is not a service to be traded or bartered for but is considered an offering of love and is expected to be received in the same spirit.

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Jamu massage integrates many different techniques designed to invoke deep relaxation in the recipient. Muscles and connective tissue are stimulated by a variety of movements, including percussion, vibration, and a series of long strokes. Finer movements are also used along acupressure points, such as thumb walking, skin rolling, knuckling, and wringing. Since jamu massage is steeped in herbal healing traditions, a scented botanical oil of the client’s choice will accompany some of these movements. However, not at first; jamu massage always starts with dry compression massage to increase circulation and promote cellular detoxification.

It doesn’t take much imagination to believe that these massage techniques induce a profound sense of inner peace and relaxation. However, these movements are not without deliberate significance. For instance, a jamu massage session always begins and ends on the person’s right side, a reminder that one always returns to the place of beginning. Likewise, long massage strokes are symbolic of the never-ending cycle of life. Wringing and skin rolling motions force environmental toxins out of hiding, while knuckling down represents firmly sticking to one’s destiny and spiritual course.

A jamu massage is as much a visual experience as it is physical and is, again, presented with purpose. The room is filled with a floral scent and vibrantly colored fabrics. The former is due to an abundance of flower petals, usually red or pink. Each element is intended to stimulate all of the senses, and serve as a bridge to connect mind, body and the natural world.

A jamu massage session wraps up with gentle percussion massage movements on each medial limb. This is followed by a soothing neck and scalp massage, as well as acupressure to the face. Finally, the jamu massage therapist tucks a single flower petal behind the client’s ear while imparting the words, Om suasti astu, or "peace in your heart and in the world."

The health-giving benefits of jamu massage may vary from person to person. Certainly, the relaxation it brings can significantly reduce stress. Improved circulation is another primary advantage. For some people, jamu massage may invoke spiritual awareness and an elevated sense of wholeness and well being. However, while a visit to Java may reap a love offering in the form of jamu massage from the village healer, a session in the U.S. and other parts of the world likely involves a fee.

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