Effleurage - What Is It?
I'll forgive you if you don't recognize the word "effleurage". Not many people do...unless they are familiar with body work.
Originally from the French, it literally means "to stroke lightly".
Effleurage is one of the most common massage techniques employed in Swedish massage and other bodywork.
Using a succession of light or deep stroking or gliding motions, the massage therapist (masseuse or masseur) lets his or her hands float across the contours of the body. The therapist uses a flat surface, such as the hand or forearm. He or she moves with low-friction over large expanses of skin, applying moderate pressure all the while.
When done lightly, effleurage can provide a pleasant stimulation to the skin. With a little bit more pressure, it can produce a positive and stimulating effect on the circulation.
The result of the proper use of this bodywork technique is a relaxing, invigorating yet soothing massage.
In light effleurage, there's only a very superficial touch using full hand contact. You could compare it to a delicate cloth being draped across the surface of the skin. There is no rippling or tugging of skin and yet the effect is below the level of tickling. When carried out in continuous strokes, one hand follows the other with the ulnar side leading. The edge on the side of the little finger is called the "ulnar", since it lies on the same side of the arm as the ulnar bone.
A common variation of this involves forming a "V" with both hands which then rests lightly in the contours of the legs, the small of the back and other depressions. The hands then move together over the surface, along long stretches of muscle.
When the pressure of the therapist's motion is increased, this becomes deep effleurage, which, when used properly, is equally pleasurable for the client, but in a different way. Increased pressure stimulates the subcutaneous layer of the skin (the layer just under the surface) to stimulate the fascia. A slight ripple is produced, with the tugging creating a pleasant sensation. Increasing the pressure, to the point that muscle tissue is moved, produces a friction stroke.
The hands should remain pliable during the movement, while the therapist varies the surface or part used - using sometimes the flat of the palm and at other times the fingertips. Horizontal stroking follows vertical gliding, then shingling, bi-lateral tree strokes and other variations.
Tree-Strokes and Shingling
Tree-strokes involve starting along a central line, such as the spine, then moving outward, fingers splayed as if to make small branches of a tree. Shingling is achieved by using one hand following another, working along the longitude of a side or back or leg.
Full Contact Glides
Full contact glides are strokes applied across the large muscles of the back. The motion is then varied by using a reinforcing hand one on top of the other, with the underneath hand applying friction, the top hand being used to increase pressure. Sometimes the technique will be altered by using forearms.
Depth And Rhythm Are Key To This Massage Technique
The rhythm is usually varied, alternately being fast and slow. Long, slow strokes produce a relaxing effect while shorter, faster movements create stimulation. Both types of strokes are desirable and alternating them produces a massage that is never boring or predictable.
Clients are typically disrobed, and usually a light oil is applied, especially during the part of a session involving deep effleurage. The technique is an excellent prelude to petrissage, encouraging good circulation and stimulating lymph fluid flow.