Thailand is famous for its unique style of bodywork, Thai Massage, which is really a combination of massage and applied or passive yoga stretches.
There is plenty of information available about the benefits of massage in general. And there is no shortage of scientific evidence that massage is good for your body.
Massage is also good for your mind. It relaxes, de-stresses, and temporarily shuts off incessant mental chatter. The Thais have been well aware of both of these benefits for over a thousand years.
So here is the question: Is Thai Massage ‘just’ relaxing, or is it therapeutic, i.e. does it actually help with something? Does it really improve certain conditions?
My personal experience with Thai Massage
My personal measure for good Thai Massage is being able to fall asleep during the session. What does this have to do with therapeutic benefits?
I’ll get into the details in a moment. But first a quick overview of my background.
When I first came to Thailand over 20 years ago, I found that Thai Massage was readily available everywhere, and it quickly became one of my favorite leisure activities. Luckily this is very easy and affordable in Thailand.
This was also great for my health and for my peace of mind. My love of Thai Massage turned into a full-time career and the foundation of Thai Healing Massage Academy.
What is special about sleeping during a Thai Massage?
In my two decades as a Thai Massage therapist, I have seen plenty of people fall asleep during my sessions. It became very obvious to me that this was not normal sleep, but a different, much deeper state.
Imagine this: You are sleeping in your bed at home and someone starts to rub you, stretch you, move you around, and squeeze your muscles. You would instantly wake up, right?
So then, how is it that during a Thai Massage with all this physical activity going on, people ‘fall asleep’? Normal sleep can be restless with difficulty falling asleep, tossing, turning, and dreaming.
The ‘massage sleep’ state comes closer to a meditation or trance state where brain wave activity slows down so much that there are no dreams and little or no external awareness.
Often when massage clients wake up, this blissful state stays with them for quite a while. It can temporarily change someone’s outlook from negative to positive, from depressed to happy, and from stressed-out to peaceful.
Is therapeutic Thai Massage different from relaxing massage?
How are therapeutic sessions different from ‘just’ relaxing ones? There really is no such difference. How come?
Relaxation is a therapeutic benefit!
Here are some examples of why relaxation is good for you:
- The body can best heal itself when it is in the most relaxed state when mental chatter and stress do not interfere, and when muscles do not tense up in response to mental or external activity.
- Why do babies, toddlers, and drunks not get hurt easily when they fall down? Babies are naturally relaxed, and drunks temporarily lose their stress, tension, inhibition, and habitual muscle tension.
Obviously, in the case of the drunk, the negative effects of the alcohol outweigh the benefit of relaxed muscles.
- It is a well-documented fact that stress causes disease and that relaxation prevents disease and helps to maintain good health.
The therapeutic and healing nature of relaxation
The deeper the relaxation of body and mind, the easier it is for the body to heal itself.
Therefore ANY massage that relaxes you is therapeutic AND healing.
A therapeutic massage that is done without the ‘magic touch’ of a skilled and gifted therapist could be neither relaxing nor therapeutic, and a simple head rub that puts you into a trance state can be supremely healing.
How much training does it take to put someone into such a trance state?
Professional Thai Massage training can certainly improve your touching skills greatly. However healing touch is not just a skill reserved for professionals.
Some of the best massages I have received were loving touches or stroking by a friend or lover who was not trained as a massage therapist at all but had great energy, pure loving intentions, and a natural healing touch.
Loving touch is a natural ability that we all have.
Suggestions for developing a relaxing, healing touch
- Try resisting the temptation to make it feel ‘professional‘. Just focus on making it feel wonderful, relaxing, and heavenly. Focus on projecting healing energy and well-being.
- For the time being, let go of the idea that massage must be strong in order to be effective. Remember that relaxation and sleep are two of the best healers.
- Focus less on the technique than on the quality of your touch. Think of how you would touch a baby or a kitten.
- Instead of going deep with pressure, focus on going deep with loving and healing energy.
How to deal with sleeping clients during Thai Massage
I have often had clients who drifted off into this blissful, trance-like ‘sleep’ state. Often, when they wake up after the session is over, they can’t remember much of what I had been doing during a good part of the session.
In some cases, they even told me that I had not been working on a certain area of their body. Then they were surprised when I told them that I had been working on this area for 15 minutes.
Some of them express disappointment, thinking that they had ‘missed out’ on the session. Here are some suggestions on how to deal with this.
- Tell them that most healing occurs during deep relaxation and sleep.
- Explain to them that this is not ordinary sleep with tossing and turning and dreaming, but a slowing down of brain waves that results in a deeply relaxed state.
- Make them aware that this is the best result that can be achieved and that it is proof that their body and mind are reacting positively to the session.
- Tell them that on a subconscious level, they are aware of the benefits even if they do not consciously remember.
- You can use the analogy that during an operation, the patient is not awake, but the operation still results in success even if the patient never saw or felt anything.
You don’t have to use all these examples, but the idea is to make the client feel good about their ‘sleep’ instead of feeling bad for having ‘missed out’.
Conclusion and Thai Massage training options
Thai Massage can be done in a mostly relaxing mode or in a more vigorous mode, but it will always be both therapeutic and beneficial, provided it is done by a qualified, sensitive therapist.
There is no such thing as a Thai Massage that is only relaxing without therapeutic benefits. These two cannot be separated.
Sleeping clients are a testimony for successfully achieving deep relaxation with all its therapeutic health benefits.
The author, Shama Kern, has been practicing and teaching Thai Massage for over two decades. He is the founder of Thai Healing Massage Academy and the creator of 20 Thai Massage online training courses.