Lady enjoying Swedish Massage on Left and on right lady with Balinese Massage

Main Differences between Swedish & Balinese Massage

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Lady enjoying Swedish Massage on Left and on right lady with Balinese Massage

By Penny Ellis
Founder, Bali International Spa Academy[/cs_text]

Many consumers today are baffled by the over 200 different massage styles on offer in many spa and wellness centres, 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.


Portrait of a sexy young woman receiving back massage

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.


different-directionsEssentially, 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.

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.


different-swedish-balinese-massageThis 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.

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.

Comments 18

  1. Hi I am travelling to South Kuta on monday the 6th July, i am a massage therapist here in Australia and would love to learn balinese massage while on holidays, we are staying till the 18th july.
    look forward to further contact.

    1. Dear Laraine,

      Thank you for your interest in studying Balinese Massage during your Bali holiday in July. There are several options as follows;

      One Day Balinese Massage Course (no certificate is offered as more for fun than for professionals)

      Five Day Bali BISA Balinese Massage Course

      10 Day BISA Balinese Massage Course Endorsed by CIBTAC

      Once you decide on which course suits you best, please complete the Contact Us on our website.

      Looking forward to seeing you in Bali in July.

      Kind Regards,

      The Bali BISA Team

  2. I want to enroll in Diploma in Lymphatic Drainage Massage (15 days $1,645) and Balinese Massage Program (16 days $ 2,000).
    Can I get a discount if ever I will enroll this program. And it would be possible to get the course on the same time, I mean the other is TTH and other course is MWF?.
    Appreciate your prompt response.

  3. Dear Bisa

    I have an ITEC qualification in Swedish massage and other certificates in Indian Head massage, reflexology, facial massage and skin care, and Shiatsu. I already operate a small massage business in my home and am thinking of expanding my range of knowledge and massage skills.

    I am free from 1 November to mid December 2015 and wondered what courses you might suggest I could do with you during that time period. I like the idea of the Balinese massage course (4 weeks) and could add to that something like deep tissue, pregnancy, and/or hot stone.

    I would be grateful if you could let me know if that would be possible. Also, what would I do about room and board?

    Many thanks


  4. Hi there,

    We are opening a 5 star Hotel and Spa in the Midlands in South Africa. I wonder if you could assist me in any way. We are looking at flying in 2 qualified Bali therapists in and we offer a good high paid attractive package.

    Do you by any chance have ladies that would be interested?

    Kind Regards,

    1. Dear Andri,

      Most of our Indonesian students are here to expand their skill portfolio and have jobs they love to return to. We also work with spa owners such as yourself who pay for the training of students that we identify. Sometimes they are asked to eventually repay their employer, but almost all are so delighted that they don’t demand it We can tailor the training to suit your own spa menu or we provide a 3 month basic therapist training program. The investment will pay off very quickly as the Balinese are very talented therapists. If you wish for more details about our corporate sponsorship program, please contact us at

      Good luck with your new hotel and spa.

      Kind Regards,

      The Bali BISA Team

    1. Dear Salvacion,

      You are welcome to study with us anytime as we have five day Balinese massage courses starting each Monday. There is also the option of taking the 10-day Balinese Massage program endorsed by CIBTAC. The Philippines is so close to Bali, so find some time to study with us.

      Kind Regards,

      The Bali BISA Team

    1. Hello Prakash,

      Thanks for your comment. It seems like everyone has their preference, but Balinese is becoming every more popular around the world.

      Kind Regards,

      The Bali BISA Team

  5. Very interesting comparison of the two types of massage. Interested to learn more about Balinese massage as this is something I’ve been hearing more about lately as a therapy option.

    1. Dear Corrine,

      Balinese Massage is indeed becoming increasingly popular, so it is well worth studying. Our five day course with certification is US$540 and generally runs on a weekly basis.

      Once you are ready to enroll, complete the contact us form at

      Kind Regards,

      The Bali BISA Team

  6. Thank you for the sharing. I am a Singaporean. I wish to learn the Balinese Massage from you in Bali. I am planning a trip down may be in mid year.
    Please advise if you have course available during the period and the price for all courses?

    Thank you

    1. Dear Shirley,

      We would love to have you as a student As Balinese Massage is our most popular course, it generally runs every week of the year. Once your travel dates are confirmed, please send us an email and we will confirm availability. The price for the five day course is US$540.

      All of our course prices are on our website.

      Kind Regards,

      The Bali BISA Team

  7. Interested in all your programs and modalities of healing.
    What are the courses , costs , durations of courses

  8. Hello! I am also interested to learn next time i go to Bali. I would like to ask though, which one is more suitable for athletes, specifically Surfers? Balinese or will the more typical Swedish massage do? Thank you for helping me choose! 🙂

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