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Article about Pressel Massage

'Medizinisch-Pädagogische Konferenz' Heft 79; November 2016 and 'Der Merkurstab'; 2018: 71(6): 454-458, by Annette Robert. 

Pressel Massage - its possibilities as a helpful therapeutic treatment in this day and age.

All around us today we can find many opportunities to regain and maintain our inner balance and outer, physical well-being. The massage technique developed by Dr. Simeon Pressel not only helps us re-find our inner and outer equilibrium but it has also proved itself to be very effective in enlivening the body’s own self-healing possibilities.  It is one of the therapies offered by anthroposophical Medicine.


In ancient times massage had a spiritual aspect. Nowadays this aspect is often not addressed at all, the emphasis being more on the physical aspect as in massage for sports injuries or on the emotional in the sense of outer physical well-being and feeling good. Anthroposophical medicine gives us the possibility to address the needs of the body, soul and spirit. 


Dr. Ita Wegmann ( 1876 - 1943 ) and Dr. Margarethe Hauschka ( 1896 - 1980 ) developed the Rhythmical Massage as a physical therapy to support anthroposophical medical treatment. (1) This was taken up and further developed by Dr. Simeon Pressel (1905 - 1980 ).


There is a rhythmical element in many areas of life, for instance, breathing in and breathing out, waking and sleeping, tension and relaxation. These massage techniques help restore the rhythmical equilibrium in body, soul and spirit when one or other is out of balance.


The massage developed by Simeon Pressel can be used both in preventative healthcare treatment, the salutogenesis aspect, as well as for specific illnesses and medical conditions, the therapeutic aspect.The anthroposophical doctor Gretl Stritzel (1912 - 2003) described Simeon Pressel’s massage as ‚a gift to mankind, a gift arising out of the great needs of the present time.’ (2)


The art of massage developed by Simeon Pressel takes its starting point directly from the threefold aspect of the human organism. This aspect was developed by Rudolf Steiner and is one of the basic concepts of anthroposophical medicine. This massage can strengthen the rhythmic system, ( heart and blood circulation ),  which, in turn  works to heal and balance out the effects of the activities of the nerve-sense system and the metabolic system. 


The human need for stability in body, soul and spirit in the present time.


When we look at ourselves, our families, friends and acquaintances we see similar phenomena and symptoms resulting from the effects on body, soul and spirit of today’s life styles and challenges; such as extreme exhaustion,  less strength to cope with daily life, too much strain and stress, burn out, as well as hardening tendencies seen in the increase in heart, lung, circulation problems and in various cancers. All these go hand in hand with lack of interest in things, apathy and listlessness, depressions and the search for any form of temporary satisfaction to deaden the soul pain.


It is also now recognized that after many medical interventions, such as chemotherapy, radiation treatment, operations, there is a need for an accompanying treatment to re-awaken the body’s own self-healing mechanisms as well as soul care to re-establish inner balance. A circle of people, friends or family, can come together to help support each other in a variety of artistic and practical ways. This can have a healing and caring effect to help someone through a crisis and also, in some cases, prevent a crisis from happening. In addition, after an illness it can be helpful to look at one’s past, the time before the illness became apparent, and at the present situation in order to integrate the illness into one’s life picture and so go forward into the future.In all these situations Pressel massage can be a great help.


Pressel Massage - the early years.


Simeon Pressel ( 1905 - 1980 ) experienced his first massage, Swedish Massage, already in his youth and this must have given him the first impulse to work with massage. 


According to Adalbert Graf von Keyserlingk, a medical colleague who wrote a biography of Simeon Pressel, ‚he noticed the healing ability in his hands whilst massaging his father’. (3). From 1933 onwards Dr. Simeon Pressel used massage in his medical practice in Bayreuth. During this time he found his way to homeopathy and natural medicine and then to anthroposophical medicine and anthroposophy.Whilst he was in a prison camp in White Russia during WW2 he developed his specific massage techniques based on his study of anthroposophy, especially Rudolf Steiner’s Lectures to the Doctors. (4)  He also trained some of his prison comrades to do the back massage. During this time in the prison camp he helped many prisoners come through a variety of illnesses without any other medical support. In 1948 he was back in Germany and set up a medical practice in Stuttgart and became the school doctor at the Uhlandshöhe Waldorf school. This brought him into contact with many war-damaged children and through this he developed the specific massage therapy of alternating back massage with leg massage. Adalbert Keyserlingk tells that Dr. Pressel soon noticed that he could use his massage technique as a diagnostic tool. From the contact of his hands with the patient’s muscular system he became aware not only of illnesses in the movement apparatus but also of imbalances in the inner organs. Because of this ability and the two-way trust and openness that evolved between him and his patients he realized the healing potential of the warmth and acceptance that flows between therapist and patient. In 1958 he married Elisabeth van Schouwen. She had been trained in the massage technique developed by Ita Wegmann and Margarethe Hauschka and thus a new impulse came into his work. From 1975 onwards he began training students in his method of massage. After his death in 1980 the training was carried by Elisabeth Pressel and Dr. Gretl Stritzel.


The uniqueness of Dr. Simeon Pressel’s way of massage


The massage is divided into two parts. First the feet, calves, thighs and lower back are treated, then in the second session the upper back, arms and neck are massaged. In this rhythmical alternating between the lower limbs and the upper limbs lies the uniqueness of Dr. Pressel’s method.

When talking to patients after a session one will often hear such comments as  ‚I feel re-invigorated.’  ‚My hands and feet are finally warm again.’  ‚My head feels clear and free.’  ‚Ì feel more grounded in myself.’  ‚My legs feel lighter.’

What has happened?  Dr. Pressel writes about this in his book ‚Bewegung ist  Heilung’. (‚Movement is healing’. No English translation.)(5)

There are many streams of energy within the human body, flowing between head and feet. Often these energy streams are hindered in their flow or blocked. The energy flow can become sluggish or dammed up. The aim of the massage treatment is to set the energy once more into its natural flow, to loosen the blockages,  lighten the sluggishness. Whether a patient feels enlivened, fresh, clear and re-energised after a treatment or relaxed, warm and sleepy depends on their individual needs and situation. Ideally the patients play an active part in their healing process with the therapist accompanying them on their way to a balanced and harmonious state of inner and outer well-being.


As mentioned earlier, this method of massage is based on  Rudolf Steiner’s concept of the threefoldness of  the human organism. This means that a massage of the calves will have an effect mainly on the nerve-sense system, the upper pole, with its centre in the head and when we massage the arms and upper back there will be an effect mainly on the metabolic and limb system, the lower pole.  A regular treatment rhythm alternating between working on the lower and upper will enliven the rhythmic system where the rhythmical movements of the heart and lungs keep the balance between the upper system and lower system. (6) When the nerve-sense system works too strongly hardening tendencies appear and substances will be deposited where they don’t belong. If the metabolic-limb system is too active there will be a tendency towards inflammatory processes. The rhythmic system works tirelessly to counterbalance these tendencies by activating the body’s own self-healing mechanism.

The Effects of the massage

Regular weekly treatments over two to three months will have an effect on the whole person, body, soul and spirit. An increased vitality can sometimes be noticed directly after a massage and/or during the following days. The aim of the massage is to bring back to the muscle system the archetypal image of good health and this will be reflected  further onto the inner organs.


A difficult life situation in the past or present will work negatively on the muscular system. The loosening and freeing up effects created by the massage will bring a positive influence and thus create a space for something new to come in. Working on the lower limbs makes possible a way to understand the past and working on the upper limbs makes possible a way to go forwards into the future.


In the preventative health care area, salutogenesis, the Pressel massage is especially valuable and effective. It can have a positive influence on dysfunctions of the vegetive nervous system, imbalances in the warmth organism, digestive problems, insomnia and other sleep disturbances, chronic tiredness, stress and exhaustion, lack of drive ( listlessness ) and RSI ( Repetitive Strain Injuries, problems caused by the tensions and blockages resulting from one-sided work related activities).


Pressel massage is also part of general medical health care practice. Here the massage therapist works together with the patient’s doctor to create an appropriate treatment plan. It is helpful for illnesses of the metabolic system, for heart, lung and circulation illnesses, in oncology, with immune deficiencies, allergies, eating disorders ( anorexia and bulimia ), addictions and with disturbances of the movement apparatus. 


In the area of soul care the massage can help counteract depressive tendencies and can support the process of working through traumatic life experiences. It also has a supportive role in the treatment of many psychosomatic and psychiatric problems. It can also be part of the supportive lifestyle of many children and adults with special needs and for those in the last stage of their life.


With children the massage will give  a warming and protective sheath which can engender a healthy process of development. Teenagers and young people go through many developmental changes in body and soul which can be challenging for them as well as for those who live and work with them. Here, too, the Pressel massage can have a strengthening, clarifying and form-giving influence which may help them come to terms with all these changes.

The importance of the various hand movements and of warmth in the massage.


The specific hand movements and the intensity used in the Pressel massage can help it become part of the art of healing. The experienced practitioner soon becomes aware of what type of hand movement and pressure is needed for each individual patient. The influence of such awareness and sensitivity may reach as far as the breathing and blood circulation. 

Two archetypal forms are used in the Pressel massage, the lemniscate, which enables a balancing out possibility to develop and the out-winding spiral, which has an enlivening quality. Theses warming and enveloping massage movements help bring the etheric streams back into flow and the astral body back into balance when these have become sluggish and/or stuck in the muscle system and the inner organs. 


The different qualities of the various hand movements are related to the qualities of the main planets and when preparing a treatment the massage therapist will weave together a sequence of movements, similar to a musical composition, based on the needs of the patient.

Dr. Florencio Herrero has written an article about the muscular system as the instrument of the astral body. (7)

In the Pressel massage warmth is especially important. Outer warmth is provided in various ways; hot water bottles, woollen socks, woollen blankets, the use of brushes to enliven the skin, oils with warming qualities are used and the different rhythms of the hand movements also create warmth.

The inner warmth of the massage therapist plus their enthusiasm and joy for their work bring a special quality of warmth to the patient and this has the possibility to facilitate the awakening and strengthening of courage and initiative in the patient. 


Finally, Simeon Pressel hoped that his particular art of massage would not only be used in specific medical therapeutic situations but that it will be used in non-medical situations, that it has a place in daily life as a preventative health care measure, the salutogenesis aspect. It can be something for family and friends to help with the challenges of everyday life.(8) 

This is a big thought which opens up many possibilities for the future.



(1) Rhythmical Massage as indicated by Ita Wegmann MD. Rudolf Steiner Press, London 1979.

(English version)

(2) Stritzel, Gretl: Die Strömungsmassage nach Dr. Simeon Pressel; in: Der Merkurstab, Heft 6, 2007, S.   560-565

(3) Keyserlingk, Graf Adalbert von: Simeon Pressel; in: Selg, Peter: Anthroposophische Ärzte. Lebens- und Arbeitswege im 20. Jahrhundert, Verlag am Goetheanum, 2000
(4) Pressel, Elisabeth: Massage nach Dr. Simeon Pressel; in: Der Merkurstab, Heft 1, 2007, S. 45- 49 

(5) Pressel, Simeon: Bewegung ist Heilung. Verlag Freies Geistesleben, 2007
(6) Herrero, Florencio: Indikation, Durchführung und Wirkung der Massage nach Dr. Simeon Pressel; in: Der Merkurstab, Heft 2, 2013 

(7) see (6)
(8) Stritzel, Gretl: Brevier zur Heilmassage nach Dr. Simeon Pressel. Unveröffentlichtes Manuskript, Wackersberg, 2000 



Annette Robert, PhD, is an experienced Pressel massage therapist with her own practice in Offenburg and  part-time work at a therapy centre in Karlsruhe. She teaches at the Odilien School for Pressel Massage in Offenburg, Germany.

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