This guide to Balinese massage techniques will run through the sorts of massages and wellness treatments you can expect on the famous Island of the Gods. It’s essential reading for those who are determined to relax and unwind in Indonesia’s most famous getaway, offering some insights into what you can look forward to when you book into the spas of the island.
From the benefits of muscle-pressing to the art of acupressure and the intricate workings of how essential oils can help relieve stresses and worries, we’ll show how Bali’s version of the ancient art of massage can really help you rest during your vacation.
We’ll also take a look at some of the other forms of massage you can get on the island, including massages for surfers and hot stone massages that bring all sorts of other benefits. In addition, our guide comes with some recommendations on individual spas where you can go to sample these Balinese massage techniques firsthand.
Technique 1: Acupressure
One of the common techniques used in Balinese massages is acupressure, which was derived from traditional Chinese medicine. According to the theory, there are different trigger points around the body that should be pressed in order to clear blockages in the meridians, pathways in the body for the energy to flow. Massage therapists use hands, feet, and elbows to apply the pressure. This technique is similar to popular acupuncture, but don’t worry, there are no needles involved!
It is believed that there are many great benefits to acupressure, but there is no scientific evidence to confirm that. However, people have reported that it helps with nausea, back pain, and headaches. It is also said that applying pressure releases endorphins and helps fight inflammation within the body. Some studies suggest that it may be helpful with depression and anxiety, too.
The best places to get acupressure massages in Bali include:
- Karsa Spa (Ubud) – A relaxing spa on the outskirts of Ubud.
- Umah Shakti Yoga (Denpasar) – A yoga retreat and school surrounded by lush gardens that offers body treatments.
- Bali Yoga Retreat (Tegallalang) – A resort located around 8 km from Ubud in the middle of the rainforests and rice paddies.
Technique 2: Skin rolling, kneading, and stroking
One of the main techniques in traditional Balinese massage involves skin rolling, kneading, and stroking, a series of special hand movements that were designed to release muscle tension.
Balinese massages usually start and end with stroking movements, with hands sliding over the skin. And for skin rolling, massage therapists use thumbs and fingers to pull the skin away from the tissue and roll it forward. That is performed on dry skin, unlike stroking, which is often done with oils. Kneading, finally, is performed with the whole palm, by compressing, rolling, and squeezing the soft tissue underneath.
Skin rolling, kneading, and stroking are techniques not only popular in Balinese massage. These are often used in physiotherapy because of the range of health benefits they’re thought to provide. These techniques help release muscle tension, increase body flexibility, and reduce pain. Don’t be surprised if you feel more relaxed and flexible afterward.
Technique 3: Gentle stretches
Balinese massage is a full-body experience that involves many hand techniques as well as some gentle stretches. The massage therapists will subtly push different parts of your body to stretch out the muscles there. They will bend your feet and legs, pull your arms, and twist your head. All these are gentle and soft, not as intense as those in the famous Thai massage.
Stretching the muscles during the massage increases the flow of oxygen to the body and leaves you more relaxed and flexible. It should help with lower back pains and improve your range of motion. Other benefits are said to include injury prevention, improved posture, and reduced stress and anxiety.
Technique 4: Percussion
Another common technique in Balinese massage is percussion, and we don’t mean the musical type! Here, it’s a hand movement that is similar to that of hitting a drum.
In the massage dictionary, percussion relates to the method of beating and pounding the surface of the skin with alternate hands. As bad as it sounds it is not painful and doesn’t cause any injuries. In fact, the percussion technique in Bali is very subtle and light. It is usually performed on the back, legs, and feet without the need of using oils.
As with other Balinese massage techniques, there is a range of benefits to percussion, from the relaxation of the tense muscles to easing up injuries and increasing blood circulation. This method is best for people who suffer from regular muscle tightness and pain.
Balinese massage techniques & benefits: essential oils
Essential oils, known as the key ingredients to aromatherapy, play an important role in traditional Balinese massage. The scented oils have soothing qualities and make the massage more pleasant and relaxing. Many techniques, such as stroking (see above) make use of essential oils to ease the hand movements, rendering them more fluid and more comfortable for the customer.
There are many types of oils used for massages in Bali. Some of them include:
- Jojoba – An oil derived from the jojoba plant that grows in North America. It’s moisturizing and naturally antibacterial.
- Coconut oil – Stimulates blood flow and calms the nervous system. It leaves the skin soft and moisturized.
- Ylang-ylang – Relaxing oil derived from the ylang-ylang plant that grows in Asia.
- Rose oil – This is known to reduce stress and anxiety and relieve pain.
- Frangipani oil – This is a very popular oil amongst locals for its mood-boosting properties.
Balinese massage history
A traditional Balinese massage is a form of therapy that originated from the island of Bali in Indonesia. But the modern Balinese massage rituals are actually derived from a mix of Ayurveda, the alternative medicine from India, traditional Chinese medicine, and ancient Indonesian techniques. It is thought that they were introduced to the island by traders traveling along the old spice routes.
The essential oils used in Balinese massage therapies resemble the rituals performed in Ayurvedic massages in India. The acupressure method, however, has been used in ancient China for millennia.
The combination of these techniques has led some to say that Balinese massage offers a fusion of different benefits for the body and mind. It is relaxing and soothing, and it’s a must-do experience when visiting this lush green island.
These days, there are lots of places around the island offering great massages. Some of our favorite massage parlors in Bali include:
- Bhava Spa, Kuta
- Tejas Spa at Adiwana Resort Jembawan, Ubud
- Sundari Day Spa, Seminyak
- Zahra Spa, Kuta
- Lembah Spa, Ubud
Other massages and treatments you can get in Bali
Of course, you’re not limited to the Balinese massage techniques that are listed above. You don’t have to get a 90-minute hit of essential oils and skin rolling. The wellness industry on this island now caters to all sorts of massage-hungry travelers, by offering a whole range of other sorts of treatments and experiences, many of them originating in other Southeast Asian countries.
Just some of the other options when it comes to massages in Bali include:
- Deep-tissue massage – A combination of slow stroking with high pressure, deep-tissue massages are excellent for relieving deep stresses in very active people and sportspeople.
- Thai massage – Regional type of massage that has its origins in Thailand. Thai massage techniques are famously firm, focused on relieving the body of stress by stretching in line with ancient energy veins known as sen. The technique has its own roots in the Ayurvedic principles of ancient India.
- Swedish massage – A calming form of massage that aims to relieve knots in key muscle groups using lubrication oils.
- Chair massage – If you see a chair massage advertised in Bali, it’s usually a quick massage that takes place on, just as the name says, a chair. It’s a good option if you don’t have much time.
- Surfer’s massage – With Bali offering some of the best waves in the world, it’s hardly a surprise that the local spas have developed bespoke surfer’s massages. These treatments are designed to relieve tension in muscles used mainly for wave riding.
- Hot stone massage – This is a popular form of massage in Bali that sees warmed-up rocks laid on key energy centers of the body after the main massage is complete.
Balinese massages – a conclusion
Balinese massage employs a mix of ancient Chinese, subcontinental Indian, and old Indonesian methods. With a range of traditional techniques that are designed for relaxation and stress relief, the skill makes use of aromatic oils that will soothe your mind and body, acupressure, deep-tissue therapies, and gentle stretches.
Today, it’s offered all over the island and is widely considered to be one of the must-do things on the Island of the Gods. If you’re truly interested in getting some of the best massages on Bali, be sure to try some of the top-rated spas listed above, or book into a wellness hotel in Ubud, which is generally considered to be the epicenter of Balinese massage practice.