Main Differences between Swedish & Balinese Massage

Main Differences between Swedish & Balinese Massage

written by: Ms. Penny Ellis
by: Ms. Penny Ellis
Swedish-massage-300x225 Swedish-massage-300x225

By Penny Ellis

Founder, Bali International Spa Academy

Many consumers today are baffled by the over 200 different massage styles on offer in many spa and wellness centers, all of them touting numerous physical and emotional benefits. For aspiring spa therapists, the situation is little different when they have to decide which courses to study based on their personal ambitions and career goals.

At the Bali International Spa Academy, there are over 20 massage courses on offer, plus scrubs, wraps, waxing, manicures, pedicures and hair cream baths. So students continually seek our advice about which courses are ideally suited for them.

One of the most common questions is what are the core differences between Swedish and Balinese Massage. Hence, this blog will concentrate on these two popular massage modalities and how they differ.


The origins of Swedish Massage is still a topic of debate, but according to many massage experts, including Robert Calvert of Massage Magazine ( its roots were not in Sweden, but rather in Holland.

Although Swede, Peter Henry Ling (1776-1837) managed the Swedish Gymnastic Movements and founded the Royal Central Gymnastic Institute in 1813, the five essential strokes of Swedish Massage were never part of his curriculum.

Rather, Dutchman Johan Georg Mezger adopted French names for basic massage strokes and thereby systemized massage as it is widely known today. However, Ling's Swedish Movement System was later inappropriately labeled as the Swedish Massage System using Mezger's French terminology. By the late 1800's, many professionals had published text books calling the therapeutic tools of basic massage crafted by Metzger, Swedish Massage, even though they were clearly different from Ling's Swedish gymnastic movement system.

To further complicate the terminology confusion, throughout most of Europe Swedish Massage is today almost always referred to as classic massage, yet in other parts of the world Swedish Massage is the prevalent label.

The evolution of Balinese Massage also has an interesting history. Contemporary Balinese massage consists of a combination of techniques originating from various cultures that the Balinese adopted and adjusted for their own innovative bodywork creation.

From 600 to 800 AD Hinduism and Buddhism were brought to the nation now known as Indonesia by many traders travelling through the vast "Spice Islands" archipelago. From the Indian Hindu influence, Ayurvedic healing massage techniques, oils and herbs were introduced. Buddhism and its accompanying acupressure philosophy arrived from China around the same time.

During the Majapahit reign in Indonesia from 500 to 1500 AD, many beauty treatments were developed in the royal palaces of central Java for their queens and princesses. In addition to healing massages, new methods were developed for pure relaxation and beautification purposes over this period.

When Islamic conversion began taking place in Java from 1478 to 1520 AD, many Hindu courtiers, artisans, priests and members of royalty from the Majapahit Kingdom moved to Bali and they brought their deep knowledge and culture to the island.

Prior to this population shift to Bali, massage by the island's indigenous population was used only as a healing treatment, usually a rather painful process only performed by males. As the island's tourism industry began to expand, foreigners requested more relaxation –focused massages. Swedish massage techniques in particular shifted the style into today's form of Balinese massage, yet what makes it globally unique is the culturally rich, ancient Asian body work practices it has embraced over the centuries.


Essentially, Balinese Massage involves far more movement techniques than its predecessor, Swedish Massage. This is an outcome of Bali's absorption of so many cultural influences since tourists from around the globe arrived on the island in the 1900's.

Swedish Massage is still considered enormously therapeutic and helpful in reducing pain, helping joint stiffness, increasing flexibility and improving circulation. • Tapotement – rhythmic tapping • Friction – working across the muscle fibers • Vibration and Shaking • Palming • Skin Rolling • Thumb Circles • Knuckle Slides • Wringing, Thumb Slide • Forearm Slide • Kecak • Thumb Walking • Chopping This is a complex question and we take the time to ask the right questions from the start. Our Basic Spa Therapist Training Program incorporates both Swedish and Balinese Massage so is perfect for people wishing to start a career in the industry.

There are five stroke styles

  • Effleurage – sliding or gliding
  • Petrissage – kneading
  • Tapotement – rhythmic tapping
  • Friction – working across the muscle fibers
  • Vibration and Shaking

Although today Balinese Massage approaches vary around the island, after much research Bali BISA's techniques follow tradition with attention to giving customers a calming massage and many health rewards. In addition to the five above standard techniques, these are also taught in this unique modality.

  • Crabbing
  • Cat Squeeze
  • Palming
  • Skin Rolling
  • Thumb Circles
  • Knuckle Slides
  • Wringing, Thumb Slide
  • Forearm Slide
  • Kecak
  • Thumb Walking
  • Chopping

The most impactful element of the style of Balinese Massage taught at Bali BISA is dedication to upholding the rituals that the Balinese have applied throughout the centuries.


If you can only choose one massage modality, then we ask questions about your particular geographic and demographic market. Even though Balinese Massage is growing in popularity globally and Swedish is the worldwide classic, everyone has to assess what is on offer in the desired spa destination in order to generate their own market demand.

If a bit timid about starting a massage course, consider Swedish as it simpler to learn. Otherwise while in Bali delve into the wonderful art of the island's unique bodywork rituals.

written by: Ms. Penny Ellis

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