Korean massage
history, techniques, and influence on modern spas today

Korean Massage uses many different Japanese massage techniques including fingertip, thumb and elbow pressure, along with shiatsu and reflexology movements to release muscle tension, relax the nervous system and create positive energy flow throughout the body. 

These techniques have been used in Korea, along with acupuncture and herbal remedies, for thousands of years.

Originally developed by Buddhist monks from China, the therapies were used in conjunction with Korean medicine to heal or treat illness and maintain good health.

Good health is seen in Korea as the proper balance of Um-Yang (like Chinese Yin-Yang), good energy flow through the body.

Bodywork in this country views the mind and body as interdependent of one another, therefore, emotions can greatly affect physical health.

Because of this holistic view, body treatments are popular and highly regarded in Korea.

Rather than a massage parlor, Korea is more famous for kiln saunas or han jeung mak. They are dark cave-like structures with a small low opening at the entrance.

Traditionally known as a perspiration room, this cleansing therapy dates back as far as the 15 century. Burning pine wood heats the sauna to it's sweltering temperatures.

Within seconds of entering the cave, it feels as if you are baking your body in an oven broiler. But afterwards, because it increases metabolism and relieves backhead and neck pain, you feel amazing.

Another tradition in the Korean massage saunas is cooking fruits in plastic bags inside the caves. Fruits usually are pears or apples with ginger, lemon, and herbs.

The fruits brew in the han jeung mak for 4 days and the juice that is extracted is sold as a hot or cold drink. They say this drink is very good for sore throat and other body ailments.

The jjimjilbang (or steam room), as it is called, is a place to hear all the latest gossip as you sweat and purify. As you enter the male or female locker room, you will notice very few inhibitions, everyone is really relaxed with their own body. In the sauna room, folks are casually de-stressing in whirlpools with temperatures from frigid to scalding.

The bath house may also include an area for facial services and bodywork treatments such as the traditional glass cupping therapy or hot stone massage therapy.

Basalt massage stones are sometimes used to provide a hot stone massage either for full body treatments or on parts of the body, usually the back.

Body massage in the Korean han jeung mak are not for squeamish people or those who have sensitive skin. You are typically instructed to be totally nude and lying down on plastic on the table. Ajumas or Korean massage therapists, wearing black bras and underwear only, will scrub vigorously with a special exfoliating glove.

Korean massage (or Ji-ap) incorporates techniques of Swedish, Shiatsu and Thai massage. It is usually a deep massage. The ajumas typically massage all body parts including your stomach and breasts.


Prices for the sauna are anywhere from 5000-20000 won or $4-$17 US dollars. The price for a body scrub ranges from 12,000 won to 28,000 won or $10-$24 US dollars. Massages go for 30,000- 120,000 won or $25-$100 US dollars.

This book, Amma Therapy: A Complete Textbook of Oriental Bodywork and Medical Principles teaches about different types of Oriental massage and bodywork techniques. This book has tons of pictures, as well as detailed descriptions of twenty different Oriental techniques.

Ancient Korean massage therapies are the foundation of what we all now know as massage therapy, teaching traditional, simple tips for treating common medical conditions.

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