Clothed Bodywork Modalities

By Rebecca Jones
[Ten for Today]

1. Chair Massage
To hear Eric Brown tell it, it’s a wonder anyone opts for a traditional massage when a chair massage is available instead. “It feels safe because you keep your clothes on,” says Brown, the director of BodyworkBiz ( “It’s done in the open, not in some small room with a stranger. You know what is about to happen to you. You’re not greased up with oils. Your hair doesn’t get messy. And it’s inexpensive, relatively speaking. It overcomes every obstacle, every reason that people say they don’t want to get a massage.”

2. Bowenwork
This holistic, soft-tissue technique is a fairly new modality, but awareness of it is spreading quickly, says Sandra Gustafson, a registered nurse, naturopath, and senior instructor with American Bowen Academy ( Bowenwork uses a minimal number of light, precisely located touches over tendons, muscles, and nerve bundles. It’s so gentle that it’s appropriate for the elderly or even newborns, and is usually performed through lightweight clothing.

“The practitioner applies certain moves on the body, then waits for a couple minutes for the body to integrate the work,” Gustafson says. “In that time, you can be working on a second person, so it allows for multiple client scheduling, and because there’s not a lot of continuous contact with the client, you’re not likely to develop repetitive strain injuries.”

3. Zero Balancing
Zero Balancing was developed in the 1970s by physician and osteopath Fritz Smith, MD. “It marries Western and Eastern approaches, and is based on the premise that the body has both energy and structure, and we seek to balance the two through touch,” says Amanda King, a licensed massage therapist and Zero Balancing practitioner and instructor in Boston. The treatment usually begins with the clothed client seated and involves a good deal of stretching of the neck and legs. “It’s used primarily for injury work. I see a lot of people with orthopedic injuries or neck pain,” King says. “It’s gentle but very deep.” Learn more at

4. Myokinesthetic System
This system, developed by Kansas City chiropractor Michael Uriarte, is all about posture and balance. “Posture will never lie,” Uriarte says. “You can look at someone’s posture and say, ‘This shoulder is high, that hip is low,’ or whatever, and that tells you there is a problem here. And then you treat all the muscles on that pathway.” The soft-tissue technique is performed with the client clothed and in whatever position he or she finds most comfortable. Uriarte sees particularly good results in athletes struggling to recover from injuries and in the elderly. Visit for more information.

5. Ohashi Method
Also called Ohashiatu, the Ohashi Method is based on traditional shiatsu massage, in which the client remains clothed and lies on a mat or futon on the floor. “It differs from many forms of shiatsu in that it focuses on stimulating the meridians and stretching muscles at the same time,” says Bonnie Harrington, partner at Ohashi International and vice president of Ohashi Institute in Kinderhook, New York ( “In our modality, it is important to use cross-patterning and two hands while moving smoothly around the body, not sitting and pressing tsubos (points) as in some forms of shiatsu or acupressure.”

For the most part, the practitioner’s hands never come in contact with a client’s bare skin. Harrington says Ohashi Method is especially good for pregnant or overweight clients, assuming they are comfortable getting down onto the floor.

6. Ortho-Bionomy
For pain-averse clients, Ortho-Bionomy can be a great choice. It’s an exceptionally gentle way to release tension and help the body find comfort through gentle positioning. “If there’s pain, we do something else,” says Rhonda Gerych, president of the Society of Ortho-Bionomy ( and an advanced instructor in Reno, Nevada. “We don’t diagnose, and we don’t manipulate. We just work with clients where they are and within their comfort range.” As a result, Ortho-Bionomy may be particularly useful for clients whose conditions cause them great pain—including the elderly and those suffering from arthritis, fibromyalgia, or sports injuries.

7. Thai Massage
Hillary Hilliard, owner and director of the Denver Integrative Massage School, calls Thai massage “the lazy man’s yoga.” It involves assisted progressive stretching, as well as some reflexology and acupressure.   
“Elements of sports massage and fascia and trigger point therapy can also be noted in this well-rounded massage,” says Sukha Wong, director and owner of Lotus Palm School of Thai Yoga Massage. “Increasing range of movement, circulation, detoxing, and unblocking energy are just a few of its benefits.”

“Originally, it was done to help prepare Buddhist monks to sit all day and meditate,” Hilliard adds. “In a cultural context, it wasn’t appropriate to do that while unclothed.”

Today, Thai massage is still performed while clients are clothed. It’s particularly good for busy professionals who don’t have time to shower before returning to work and for people with sensitive skin who may not tolerate oils. And, of course, for monks and others with a full day of sitting ahead of them.

8. Bellanina Facelift Massage
Don’t confuse a “facelift massage” with a facial, warns Nina Howard, founder of the Bellanina Institute in Ann Arbor, Michigan (, and creator of the technique. “It’s fairly involved. We start on the feet, doing Thai massage, then passive joint movement along the legs. We do some stretching of the arms and wrists, helping the client to loosen up before we start to work on the face.”

The client remains clothed, with the addition of a wrap to cover the upper body and leave the shoulders bare, because the massage uses oil on the face and neck. The technique is especially popular among older women, Howard says. “This is wonderful for women who may not feel comfortable getting a full-body therapeutic massage. They’re covered. They feel comfortable. And their skin ends up glowing and they can see visible results. Plus, it’s so relaxing.”

9. CranioSacral Therapy
Craniosacral therapy (CST) is a gentle modality, developed by osteopathic physician John Upledger, that can be performed with the client fully dressed, on a massage table, or even in a wheelchair. The modality aims to release restrictions in the membranes and cerebrospinal fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord. CST clients report improvement for a wide range of complaints, including headaches, neck and back pain, temporomandibular joint disorders, central nervous system disorders, motor-coordination impairments, and orthopedic problems. Learn more at

10. Rolfing
Rolfing, the technique pioneered by Ida Rolf, is a means of “resculpting” the body’s structural and movement patterns to correct painful imbalances, says Michael Polon, a faculty member at the Rolf Institute of Structural Integration in Boulder, Colorado (

Movement-related work in this modality is performed in loose-fitting clothing, although structural work is traditionally done with the client wearing just underclothes. Rolfing can be a good option for clients who prefer a slightly greater level of privacy compared to fully unclothed bodywork.

Rebecca Jones is a tenured Massage & Bodywork freelance writer. She lives and writes in Denver, Colorado. Contact her at

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