For millennia—some say for 4,000 years—hygienic Indians (as in, from India) have been receiving what we are only just discovering in the rest of the world: the legit benefits of having someone rub your head for a while.
To be more specific, we’re talking about Indian head massage.
Rarely practiced outside India, the simple upper-body massage modality is quick, easy and can be done just about anywhere—no lying down or clothing-removal required. It relieves stress and increases energy, and is said to do everything from help relieve insomnia to make hair look healthier.
Luckily for Santa Feans, Indian head massage has found its way to the Southwest via massage therapist Laurie English, who practices the trademarked technique known as Champissage.
was developed by therapist Narendra Mehta after he visited India in 1978. Mehta has been blind nearly his entire life and, consequently, has a great sensitivity to touch. He was particularly struck by the intense health and emotional benefits of a good head massage, and created Champissage to bring head massage to the masses.
English, who learned the technique from Mehta himself, has traveled around the world to pick up new massage techniques, and is in the process of learning Hindi to make her studies in India go smoother. With more than 3,000 massage training hours under her belt and a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Yale University, we’re thinking that if you’re gonna have someone rub your head, English should be the one to do it. She not only administers head massages as often as possible, but she has created Champissage USA, a national training program (and anyone can take her classes—you don’t have to be a massage therapist to sign up).
SFR caught up with English between sessions to learn more about the next big thing in head rubs.
SFR: What is it about you and heads?
I used to massage my grandmother all the time when I was a kid—it was more or less for fun. But then, when I became a teenager, my grandmother lost patches of her hair. I still was giving her massage—I remember going over on the weekend and massaging her hair and putting oils in her hair. And her hair grew back. I always thought that was really special. It always stuck in my mind that, as opposed to when I would massage her feet, this really did something. I became interested in massage in 1996—that’s when I took my first course. But I had been doing massage for over 10 years before I read an article in Massage Magazine about Indian head massage. It triggered the memories I had of my grandmother, and how powerful that experience had been for me.
It seems like head massage, once it catches on, could make massage more accessible to more people.
A lot of people haven’t had a really good head massage—I know it wasn’t really a big part of my training when I went to school. We really focused on the neck down. That’s partly why [Mehta] brought it out of India—because he couldn’t get a good head massage elsewhere. I can do a great head massage in five minutes. It can be very short, sitting up. Head massage is a misnomer—it’s actually the whole upper body. So it’s the shoulders and the back and the neck, the arms as well as the scalp, face and ears.
One aspect of Champissage is a realignment of the throat, third-eye and crown chakras. How much does that play into your practice?
Some people find it’s really important, and people only want the head massage to get their chakras balanced. More what I find peoples’ interest is that they are having psychological things going on—they’re worried about something, someone has died, they’re going through something—and they really want some extra assistance above and beyond a physical touch. That’s what they’re drawn to with the chakra balancing.
Has chakra balancing always been a part of head massage?
When I was in India, none of the chakra balancing was happening during any of the head massages. Really, it’s not a part of Indian head massage, it’s more a part of the trademark Champissage routine. You’ll go to India and get your head massaged and nobody’s balancing your chakras.
So would you say the chakra balancing is a Western addition?
The chakra balancing is ayurvedic, so it’s definitely Indian. In India, barbers are doing head massages. You’re getting your hair cut; they’re not balancing your chakras. Indian men go every week or twice a week and get their grooming done—and head massage is very much a part of the barbering tradition.
What have you experienced as being one of the biggest benefits of the modality?
Some people have visions—they see colors and have very intense epiphanies. People have strong remembrances, especially when the treatment is longer. I know people can see colors in a short period of time but, in the longer treatment, they’ll have memories and feel like they’ve gone somewhere.
Have you had clients who experienced any cool psychological events?
I was at a person’s house, giving her a head massage. And I remember myself, as a practitioner, suddenly feeling like I was in a church-like atmosphere. Things started feeling kind of sacred. We finished the massage—typically there is no talking during these things—and afterwards, she asked me, ‘How was that for you?’ and I said, ‘I really had a strong sense of not being in your home anymore, but rather a church.’ And her experience was, she had gone back to a birthday 25 years prior in New Orleans, where she was from. She was very close to a priest there, and their birthdays were either the same day or the same week, and he had thrown her a party—so it was related to the church phenomenon that I had. We were on the same wavelength, even though we hadn’t talked about anything. It was kind of surreal.
Laurie English, LMT, RPP, LCICI, NCBTMB
Champissage Massage Training
Champi USA Studio
243 Double Arrow Road
See champissageusa.com for registration information