I am not a professional massage therapist and have started this course to help my 11 year old daughter who has been diagnosed with mild scoliosis. I met Shama in Austin, TX many years ago and the work he did on me helped me avoid neck surgery – if anyone can teach me how to help her it’s him! My daughter and I are traveling to Thailand to see Shama this June as I continue to work on my training.
The chi machine looks easy when Shama does it but is really difficult to do! I worked with my daughter this morning and I am very aware of how centered I will have to be – how at ease in my own body – to help her. The experience felt really unnatural – she said my hands were too tight around her feet, I pulled her across the mat so we had to back her up a few times (hardly therapeutic), I felt like I was muscling the move rather than gently finding it with her. Sigh. Getting her hips to move put some strain on my lower back, even, which tells me I’m not positioned right. I think making a big open space will help (we were too tightly wedged in a corner of a room) but we shall see. I’m going to go back and try it again a few times today – hopefully it will feel more natural eventually. I will have to make sure my personal physical practice is engaged while learning Thai Massage because if my body is out of sorts I’m not going to be able to help her!
Hi Samantha, welcome to the Complete Thai Massage course.
No doubt in the beginning it will take you a while to find your groove with Thai Massage, especially since you don’t have prior massage training. However there are quite a few course students who have successfully learned Thai Massage without the benefit of previous massage experience.
One good example of such a student is Matt Driskill’s forum thread. He is learning Thai Massage to help his wife who has health issues, and he has no prior massage training. By now he seems to have become quite good at it from reading his forum posts.
You have a similar strong motivation which is to help your daughter, so I have no doubt that you will gradually find your groove, and at the very latest Jang and I will make sure of that when you come to visit us.
Since you officially signed up for the certification program, I need to include my standard by-line, which is to take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with our certification check list. It looks like you have it all well figured out and I know that you are highly computer literate, but anyway, here it is for completeness’ sake:
I think I am not labeling things right as I think Module 3 is the foot massage and Module 2 is the Chi Machine and Module 1 (which I did not correctly label) is the introduction. Mea Culpa. This post is about the foot massage video – the one that came after Chi Machine – which came after the introduction to Thai Massage.
OK. So, I’ve been working on my daughter’s feet. Her favorite move is the bend out/bend in. A few things I encountered:
1. She’s ticklish on her feet. Sometimes I can get past this by gently warming my hands and softly placing them on her feet, then beginning. Other times I have to put my hands on her feet almost forcefully, with some pressure, which can make her less ticklish. But neither is a sure thing. Is there a trick for ticklish people, or am I doing something wrong?
2. The move where you have your hand under the heel and your other hand (outside hand) moving up and down the foot in 1,2,3 positions, twisting out – this is difficult for me as I can’t tell what my fingers are supposed to be doing and they don’t seem long enough to wrap around the foot entirely to get to the important spots. Sometimes I think I should be squeezing, sometimes I think I should be moving through the wrapping form. This issue of when there is supposed to be pressure, what type, and where came up a lot in most of the moves.
3. Learning a body’s resistance takes time – even though I’m working on my daughter she told me I pushed her feet out too hard – so there’s a delicacy of approach I really look forward to gaining.
4. Muscling vs. energetic movement – ugh. I muscle everything!!! Tonight I realized I need to keep my back straight and keep working to make my body weight move her body.
Even though our first practice ended with a “not too bad for the first time mama”, our second practice tonight ended with her curled up under a blanket on the massage mat. She’s asleep. Oh – and another thing too – each time we’ve done foot work she’s gotten cold. It’s 75 degrees here, so not winter, but having a blanket nearby has been helpful.
That’s my report for this module – I might need to write some more about it!!!
I really appreciate your kind and patient instruction, Shama – even though you’re not here I forgive myself much more easily because you are teaching me.
I fixed the module numbers for you.
Kids are generally much more prone to being ticklish than adults based on the feedback here in the forum. I have read about quite a few kids being ticklish, but rarely if ever about adults having this issue. There really is no trick here, you just need to work around it somehow in whatever way works best for you.
Regarding the foot twisting move in point #2, you should apply just enough pressure to keep a firm enough grip on the foot to prevent your hand from sliding and losing its grip. The only purpose of this technique is to twist the foot. There is not need to press on anything in addition.
Point #3: Clearly in the very beginning of the course this delicacy of touch will elude you initially. That’s to be expected and will develop with practice. Don’t worry if it all feels a bit clunky right now. This will change soon enough.
Point #4: Better kick the muscling habit like yesterday. That’s an absolute no-no for good Thai Massage.
It is quite normal that the metabolism slows down during massage and the receiver will feel cold. Unless of course you are in Thailand and it is 90-100 degrees out there and you get massage in a non airconditioned room. Definitely keep a light blanket around.
It seems that you already made a quantum leap from your first session to your second. Sleeping receivers are always a good sign!
The truth is that I am totally impressed that you took it upon yourself to learn Thai Massage without prior experience just to help your daughter, and I am grateful that you trusted me enough to choose my online material. I am sure there will be some bumps on the road, and I am equally sure that you will smooth them all out over time.
I continued to work on my daughter for foot massage, and we seem to have resolved the tickling issue by moving more slowly from one exercise to the next. She still likes the push/pull the most. I am still not sure on some of the exercises what kind of pressure my thumb should be exerting (on positions 1,2,3 for example) and/or what the rest of my hand is supposed to be doing – squeezing? supporting? But I’m trying to watch your hands, Shama, to figure this out. Interestingly, I tried to do some work on my husband’s feet after my daughter, and some new issues came up. First, it’s really apparent he needs a lot of body work – of the professional kind – as he’s tight everywhere and his body feels resistant to massage. Also, his feet are very inflexible (as he is in general) and one side moves much more easily than the other. What do you do when one foot moves all the way to the ground and the other only 1/3 of the way? Do you try to balance them by pressing to the same spot? One of his feet is so inflexible on the turn out that only a slight twist will actually bend his knee. Maybe working more on the individual moves – moving across the feet for example – should be a focus before even trying the bending in/bending out moves. Working on him was the first time I tried to work on an adult so I learned a lot about heavier limbs and longer bodies. It was easier to do the chi machine on him – maybe more weight overall helps the rhythm continuity…
Regarding the right amount of pressure – this depends on several factors. First you should make sure to not stress your own hands and thumbs a lot, especially since you are new to massage and your hands have not developed the extra strength that comes with regular massage work.
Then it depends on the kind of body you are working on. Someone with large feet might be able to handle and enjoy a lot more pressure than your daughter.
Third it depends on what kind of session you want it to be. Do you want to do a relaxing feel-good session or a more intense therapeutic-type session?
Fourth what kind of feedback are you receiving? What does your practice partner enjoy most?
As you see there is no one right answer. It all comes down to experience with various body types and adjusting the session to the needs of your partner while keeping the health of your hands in mind as a line which you don’t want to cross.
Regarding the feet of your husband – you are ahead of the course here. This will be addressed in detail in a soon to come module.
I really enjoyed understanding how the rolling movement of the hands works on the feet, the calves and the thighs. This helped me see continuity of action across the body and a way to stop worrying about whether I will remember what I’m supposed to do and when. So far I’ve been practicing by watching the videos *while* I am doing the massage work, which everyone thinks is very funny. My husband thinks you sound like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Shama, and my daughter thinks your voice is very soothing. When I was working on the thighs with the butterfly move, I had a really hard time adjusting my pressure or even understanding how much pressure I was applying. I’m lacking a body empathy (empathy through my hands for another person’s bodily experiences) that must only come with massage practice over time. My daughter could not tolerate very much pressure at all. My husband could tolerate it, but couldn’t tell me if it was good pressure or bad pressure – i.e. pressure that is good for you even if it hurts a bit, or pressure of the get-your-hands-off-me variety. When I don’t have that body empathy and my ‘client’ doesn’t have good body awareness or ability to speak about what is happening with or to their body, massage is particularly difficult. The leg work was really tricky with my daughter as almost all of it was ticklish to her and so we went from relaxing to laughing hysterically. I’m going to try to work more on legs tonight.
Many people think that I sound like Arnold Schwarzenegger. However he is not my twin brother, just to set the record straight!
The best way to learn the material is to watch one technique on the video, then stop it, practice the technique, re-watch the video section and practice it again. If you practice with the video running and you try to keep up with it, you will feel rushed and under pressure. This will result in not being able to feel much anything and it will feel very mechanical.
You can never learn what the right amount of pressure is because this is different for every person you work on. Just choose one technique at a time, practice it very slowly, get feedback, play with different amounts of pressure and try to feel the pressure instead of just doing it. Fine tune and adjust and repeat until it feels good to the receiver.
The best way to kill a Thai Massage technique is to do it hurriedly, mechanically and with muscle effort. The best way to get it to feel right is to make sure you are relaxed, focus on your breathing, work with the minimal amount of effort possible, try to use your body weight instead of muscle pressure as much as possible, and turn it into something fun, something enjoyable, something meditative. That’s the spirit you want to develop.
Don’t strain with it. Remember when your daughter was a baby. You naturally knew how to touch her, how to stroke her, how to make her feel good. You also knew how to do that with your dog or cat. Nobody had to teach you how to touch your baby or your pet animals. It is really not so different with massage, just that you add some more structure, some organization and some more finesse to it with all the techniques.
You never had to figure out how much pressure was too much when you stroked your dog. The rule is to start gentle and gradually increase the pressure as long as it feels good to the receiver. When you reach the point where it doesn’t feel good anymore, back off a bit. Don’t worry about the good vs bad pressure too much now. This will first of all develop with practice, and second there are specific videos in the course which deal with this topic.
Don’t put yourself under pressure that it has to be right and correct from the beginning. This simply will not happen. It doesn’t happen when you attend a live massage school either. The beginners will often feel klutzy, mechanical and clumsy initially. That’s just part of the process and this is quite normal in the beginning.
In a couple of months from now you will think back and wonder how you ever thought that it was so difficult in the beginning. And yes – the beginning is the most difficult time in the training. Just don’t let this get to you. Accept it as part of the natural progression of your new venture.
Oh the legs are so tricky with an 11 year old!!! Working on the thighs turns into laughing sessions every time. Funny, but kind of frustrating! I did get a good sense of the sinking feeling you mentioned and showed – and the rhythm that can accompany it (Shama I love when you show what *not* to do because it always makes me understand immediately how things can go wrong.) Working on the space between the muscles, towards the inner thigh, was easier than working on the inside or outside of the quadriceps. No matter what move though, the higher towards the groin area I go, the more laughing ensues. Interestingly I had a thai massage myself today – since I had my first and last thai massage with you, Shama, no one else can do the practice justice (so far!) It’s my first massage of any kind since all of my surgeries, and a lot of energy got moved around – it was good to get worked on in order to be a better student and learner. I was very aware of transitions between moves during my massage today – especially when there were none so when I was practicing on my daughter’s legs I thought a lot about transitions between the moves. You are right that watching the videos *while* doing massage makes doing massage well impossible – focusing on my daughter’s body was a much better way to see into the practice, though I did hesitate a lot more in terms of where I was supposed to put my body each time I changed approach. This is hard!!!
There is no doubt that learning Thai Massage by practicing on an 11 year old is a challenging thing to do. I hope that you get to practice on your husband as well since practicing on a mix of different bodies is a good thing. Practicing only on an 11 year old is a limiting experience since some things just won’t work well on her. The giggle thing is something that rarely happens with adults but is common with children.
Of course I realize that you are learning Thai Massage primarily to help your daughter which will help you cope with this challenging learning experience. The good thing is that you are coming to Thailand where it will all become much more real and alive in an environment where Thai Massage is everywhere.
Despite all that you definitely made the right choice by immersing yourself in the study of Thai Massage before coming here. That will put you way ahead of the game!
So tonight I worked on my husband doing leg warm up and leg stretches. It was really helpful to read his body through his foot position – his hips are really locked – I’m not sure he’s ever had body work to open them up. Even with the pillow underneath his knees he was uncomfortable. So we did a lot of hip rocking to relax his hips – but even doing this didn’t get us to a point where we could do a stretch with the pillow. As we moved into the leg stretches that involve my feet on his thigh at 90 degrees – he really enjoyed the pull of that stretch and I really enjoyed using my feet rather than my hands. My hand – the one holding his foot – slipped a bit, he has very thin feet so there’s not much to stop my hand from slipping below his arch. I’m not sure what advice you have for that slippage; it’s probably just that I don’t have the grip right or that I’m awkward and pressing too much and not enough all at once. When you get the pressure right in *any* Thai Massage move, it feels really amazing for the person doing the massage – like magic. I’ve started doing yoga to help be more present and flexible while working on my daughter and husband. In the next few days I’m going to work on a friend who is a marathon runner – it will be interesting to see what it’s like to work on a super athletic woman. Really enjoying all of this Shama!
If you watch the supplemental video which arrives one day after module 7, you will find the answer about the slipping issue in there.
It looks like your husband is in dire need of your new skills. Doesn’t it feel great to be able to actively contribute to the health and well-being of the people you love and live with?
I have gotten behind in my study and practice while finishing up the semester at the University of Cincinnati, and trying to get ready for our trip to Thailand, which is also demanding and full of details! I have been practicing on my daughter and on my friend who is a runner – the runner is a much easier client as she tells me exactly what is and isn’t working. In a previous post, I had indicated that I was watching the video modules while doing massage – while I agree that this is not the way to ‘feel’ the massage, for someone who is not a massage therapist it’s proving to be a good second step for learning each module. I’m a very visual learner, and so watching and doing the first time is what is helping to create a kinesthetic memory moving forward. So I’ve gone back to watching first, then watching and doing, and then just doing – it’s working well for me and reminds me that everyone has different learning styles.
But moving on to the 8th module, I am trying to figure out how to keep my lower back relaxed when I am sitting on the floor. I have very tight hips (working on them!) and so it has never been easy for me to relax into a lotus position. The kneeling work is much easier for my body, as it allows me to move more, but the sitting work is less so. It’s ironic to work on leg stretches for someone else when I am very aware I need my body stretched the same way. The more I do Thai massage the more I realize that unless my body is in a good place I can’t really help someone else. I’m trying to figure out ways to personalize the seated position so it works better for me. Watching the person Shama is working on in the video, I am amazed by how flexible her hips are – my hips and those of everyone I’ve worked on so far are much tighter than hers. While later modules address hip stretches, these leg stretches seem to really be about the hips especially for people with tight hips!
People in Thailand are generally more flexible than western people. It would be difficult to find a model here who is really stiff!
It is true, if you yourself are so stiff that you feel uncomfortable in your own body when doing Thai Massage, it will be kind of difficult to be good at Thai Massage. Or in other words, you yourself have to grow along with your Thai Massage skills. Your body has to be in sync, not fighting you. That of course comes automatically with practice, to some degree, and can be helped along with some exercises which I demonstrate in my supplemental videos.
I really enjoyed this module, reminding of the possibility of verbally communicating with a client to point out where they are holding or stiff. I worked on a friend last night whose adductors were super tight, and the rocking helped, but what helped more was to let her know she was holding and to encourage her to relax. I’m really interested in the 3 position work that is shown as a technique on multiple parts of the body (the triad is everywhere in art!) and noticed that the third position only gets one moment of pressure as opposed to the first and second. Is there a physical reason for this, attending to the first two positions more than the third? The circling motion you showed for less flexible people is really difficult for me – it requires a rhythm and approach that feels really foreign. I’ll need to practice that a lot. I continue to be amused by the difference in flexibility in the people I’m practicing on and your model – nobody I’ve worked on yet can tolerate the extremes of position your model can tolerate. And as I mentioned in my last module writing, my own hip flexors can’t stretch as far as yours, so in order to use my body weight correctly I really have to get them to flex more so my massage technique is more fluid. I think I need to tell fewer people I want to learn Thai massage because now more people want me to use them as guinea pigs. Someone approached me yesterday who has EDS (Ehlers Danlos Syndrome), which means her joints are hyper mobile and sometimes easily dislocate. I have no idea how I would work on someone like her, especially with stretches that involve strong joint manipulation. I’m comfortable working with her on some of the easier stretches, but not at all with crossing her legs or pushing her hips, etc. She’s also a very heavy person so that will be a new experience, too. I guess I’m getting to a place where I’m understanding the need for personalizing massage for each person, but without the experience to know how to do that. So, with the spinal twist you show, I’m really nervous about engaging that with my daughter, since she has asymmetrical posture due to her scoliosis. Should I do this stretch with her to whatever limit her body allows, or avoid it? Since she has a curve in her spine, would that stretch have an alternate approach?
The talking can be very important. We have to remember that we are not just dealing with tight bodies, we are dealing with tight minds as well. They often go hand-in-hand. Making someone aware of their restrictions can result in that person cooperating with the treatment instead of unconsciously resisting it.
Here’s one suggestion: Could you please separate your text into shorter paragraphs? Looking at your post puts me into overwhelm mode with this solid mega column of text.
Regarding the EDS – you need to be very careful with this. I don’t look at this condition as something that can be fixed or improved with Thai Massage stretches. Actually in such cases I eliminate many stretches that could potentially cause harm. You don’t want to pull the arm out of the joint socket, for example, which is something that can easily happen with such people.
Regarding the spinal twist on your daughter – yes, this can be done, but it should not be done in isolation, but as part of a comprehensive spinal workout system which you have not learned yet.
Regarding the “three position work”, you can add additional pressure applications on the third point if you feel that this would be beneficial. There are no hard and fast rules here.
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