Massage therapy is not just about technique. It is also very much about your health, your energy and your attitude.
As a massage therapist we have to protect our bodies and our energy. Our most precious tool is our body. If it malfunctions, our career can stop dead in its tracks. Sometimes we have to know when to say NO.
My first exposure to potential problems in my new career
When I first started learning Thai Massage, we were taught many, actually way too many techniques that required strong pressure with the thumbs on legs, arms and back.
It only took me a few months of daily Thai Massage work to develop problems in my thumb joints. I soon realized that I had to use different techniques if I wanted to survive as a massage therapist.
How I turned a problem into an opportunity
As a result I developed several massage styles that are related to Thai Massage but are much easier on the thumbs and wrists.
So the original problem resulted in many new and innovative techniques which have contributed a lot to my success as a massage therapist and teacher. It happened because I said NO to all the thumb and wrist stressing methods.
Are you sure you can handle this client?
Occasionally someone requests a session from me who is very large, heavy and stiff. Over time I have come to terms with what I can do and what I need to stay away from.
As long as you are in private practice as a massage therapist, there is no obligation to work on anyone and everyone. However if you work in a hotel or spa, you generally don’t have as much choice who you work on.
In the early days of my career I thought I had to work on anyone who asked for a session. Today I am much more discriminating.
I make sure that my massage clients and myself are a reasonably good match, that my style of massage therapy is right for them, and that I feel I can be effective on a particular person.
I believe that this is an important reason why I am still going strong after two decades as a massage therapist.
What is a good massage session?
The result of a good session is that the client feels better. But if the therapist feels exhausted and drained with hurting wrists, then it was not a good session.
Both parties have to come out ahead. As a massage therapist you need to have your priorities straight, namely your health, your energy and your longevity as a practitioner.
The risk of burn out for a massage therapist
I have met quite a few massage therapists who burned out physically and energetically because they did not set their boundaries, did not manage their health and their energy, and they could not say NO.
If you work in a way that depletes your physical and mental energy, you live on borrowed time as a therapist.
What can you do about it?
There are quite a few things you can do to stay healthy and feeling good. They include exercise, meditation, Qigong, nature walks, enough sleep, yoga, healthy food and a myriad of other options.
All of them will help your longevity in this profession. Last but not least, you have to know when to say NO to too many sessions, too heavy clients, negative people and clients whom you do not resonate with.
A few reminders of good habits for a massage therapist
- Work with your entire body, not just with your arms
- Use body weight instead of muscle power as much as possible
- Learn how to improve your ergonomics
- Get massage yourself regularly
- Keep learning to remain inspired in your profession
- If possible avoid working on clients who stress your body too much
What about the money?
You might think that this will result in less income. While this might be true in the short term, in the long run you will extend your career, you will preserve your health and you will keep your energy and enthusiasm high.
You will feel much better if you learn how to say NO sometimes. You will end up with a better and more dedicated circle of clients, more self confidence, a better quality of your massage work, and a happier career as a massage therapist.
The author, Shama Kern, has been practicing and teaching Thai Massage for 20 years. He is the founder and director of Thai Healing Massage Academy and the creator of 20 Thai Massage online training courses.