Effleurage is one of the most common massage techniques employed. Using a succession of light or deep stroking or gliding motions, the masseuse or masseur floats 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.
When done lightly, it provides a pleasant stimulation to the skin. Applied with more pressure, it can produce a positive effect on circulation. The joint result is a relaxing, soothing massage.
In light effleurage, there’s only a superficial touch using full hand contact, almost like a delicate cloth is being draped across the surface. There’s no rippling or tugging of skin and 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 variation involves forming a ‘V’ with both hands that 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 is increased, this becomes deep effleurage, which is equally pleasurable for the client, but in a different way. Increased pressure stimulates a layer of the skin (the ‘subcutaneous’ 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, while the therapist varies the surface or part used – sometimes the flat of the palm, other times the fingertips. Horizontal stroking follows vertical gliding, then shingling, bi-lateral tree strokes and other variations.
Tree-strokes involve starting along a central line, such as the spine, then moving outward, fingers splayed to make small branches. Shingling is achieved by using one hand following another, working along the longitude of a side or back or leg.
Full contact glides are applied across the large surface of the back. Then the motion is varied by using a reinforcing hand one on top of the other, with the underneath hand applying friction, the top hand used to increase pressure. Sometimes the technique will be altered by using forearms.
Depth and rhythm are key.
The rhythm is varied, alternately fast and slow. Long, slow strokes produce a relaxing effect while shorter, faster movements create stimulation. Both are desirable and alternating them produces a massage that is never boring or predictable.
Clients are typically disrobed, and sometimes 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.