The Simeon Pressel, MD, Method of Massage Therapy

The physician Dr. med. Simeon Pressel (1) began developing an approach to massage based on Rudolf Steiner’s view of the human being (2) in 1930. He deepened this approach during his work as a camp doctor in Russian captivity by massaging his fellow prisoners.

Later he further developed his approach in his work as a school doctor at the Waldorf School in Stuttgart. His method was additionally enhanced in collaboration with his wife Elisabeth Pressel, a practitioner of rhythmical massage therapy (3). In the last years of his life, initial courses in Pressel massage were offered in cooperation with the physician Gretl Stritzel.

Pressel massage is used both therapeutically and hygienically as a measure to promote health (4). Today it is recognized as a method of anthroposophic body therapy by the Medical Section at the Goetheanum in Dornach, Switzerland.

Diagnostics

The therapist perceives with his or her hands and senses—sharpened by training and practice—how, where and when to meet the person to be treated. This also yields perceptions that are relevant to the diagnosis, which can be deepened in discussion with a doctor. The massage itself can be compared to an artistic, musical composition, which is built on the seven basic qualities of the planetary forces and adapted to the current situation of the person receiving the massage in terms of intensity, speed and duration of the treatment. The attentive presence and accompaniment of the therapist is a prerequisite.

Therapeutic approach

The aims of this method are to support the healing process, to alleviate symptoms of illness, to provide care, to encourage self-help and to accompany special phases of development in the person’s biography. All four subtle members constituting the human being are addressed via rhythmic-artistic treatment of the body, supporting balanced interaction between them.

Contraindications are: acute fever, infections, wounds, fractures, eczema, pregnancy before the fourth month, menstruation, thrombosis and embolism.

Children before puberty must be massaged in a modified way; weakened patients may only tolerate some elements of this massage.

Working principle

In general, Pressel massage has an effect on the patient’s fluid organism. The treatment loosens tense, congested and hardened tissue, making it permeable again, so that cosmic forces regain access and can exert their influence. For this reason, the Pressel approach to massage is occasionally referred to as “flow massage” (5).

The thinking behind this therapy is that the human being originated from cosmic forces and increasingly loses access to them when falling ill. Massage enables the person to increasingly reconnect with these forces and experience invigoration and reorganization.

Pressel massage alternates between the “lower” human being (calves, thighs and the area of the pelvis up to the waist) and the “upper” human being (shoulders, arms and neck), which corresponds to the polarity principle of functional threefolding as identified by Rudolf Steiner. Alternating stimulation of the patient’s motor-metabolic system (below) and their neurosensory system (above) finds its balance in the middle rhythmic system, the actual healer.

Calf massage has a predominantly degenerating, i.e., detoxifying effect. Back massage has an upbuilding quality.

Special emphasis is placed on warmth, which is stimulated externally before the actual hands-on treatment—with brushes, hot-water bottles, wool socks and blankets. This warmth stimulation encourages the presence of the “I”-forces, which then increase in intensity during the treatment that follows.

The massage alternates between archetypal figure-eights and successive spirals. The person’s internal organs are also reached through work on the muscle organism and the associated areas—skin, nervous system, fascia, lymph, blood circulation, etc. The specific sequence that is used can be compared to a musical composition, in that it can be easily modified as needed, depending on the person’s individual requirements (6, 7).

Evaluation

Pressel massage therapists assess and document each individual unit of treatment, which combined give a general overview of the course of therapy and, if necessary, can be communicated to the doctor.

Patients often come because of acute or chronic suffering, exhaustion and weakness, or when experiencing a biographical crisis. The main purpose of Pressel massage is to grasp the person in his entirety, and to help stimulate and support him, so that he can courageously and energetically step out on his further path of development.