I just watched a short video in which a massage therapist listed some benefits of massage. She looked nice, her work looked good, and I am sure it felt great.
She explained that massage increases circulation, eases tension, brings more blood flow to an area, eases the ischemic points (whatever that is…), brings the person into their parasympathetic nervous system (I have heard that word somewhere…).
Then she said that “often people claim to be more relaxed after the session”, and that “some people claim to have decreased blood pressure after the session”.
Why do normal people get massage?
I am sure the therapist was good at what she was doing and she meant well with her listing of benefits. But to me it shows a sorry state of affairs in the world of healing arts. I mean, come on people, who really gets a massage because of their ischemic points or their parasympathetic nervous system!
I can just see the pressure that massage therapists are exposed to by the legal and scientific community to explain what they are doing in sometimes ridiculous terms which mean next to nothing to most people.
The one thing that she never mentioned in her list of benefits was that massage feels great! For me and most people that’s one of the biggest reasons why we love massage.
I understand,”feeling great” is not a scientific benefit and doesn’t show up easily in a test tube. But neither can the feeling of love you have for your spouse or your children.
After a great massage session, what is it that most people say? “Oh, that felt wonderful”. Well, maybe there are some that state that their ischemic points responded well, but I have never met them, and I have been doing professional massage work on clients for over 16 years.
Claims, common sense and the law
When our massage therapist stated super carefully that some clients “claim” that they are “more relaxed and that their blood pressure went down”, I can just see her anxious boss and her eager lawyer standing behind her and telling her to never make any claim on her own behalf that massage really does anything useful.
If a client wants to make a claim, that’s fine. And if the scientists say that bodywork has some real benefits, that’s ok.
However we as professional massage therapists can only politely nod but never acknowledge that massage really does have some amazing health benefits.
After all we could get sued, our license could get revoked, or we might have to pay a big fine for saying that massage fixes or heals anything.
What’s the price for freedom of expression?
I find this quite sad. While I know that the massage community wants to protect itself and its clients from unqualified practitioners and outlandish claims, how much freedom of expression do we have to give up in exchange?
To how much control of the scientific and legal system do we have to be subjected in order to prevent the consequences of any potentially incorrect statement?
Even if we have seen amazing results, health benefits, and even cures with our own eyes as a result of our work, we can never say so. That seems to me like throwing the baby out with the bath water.
Why are the ones who know most about the benefits of massage therapy, the ones who are actually doing it every day, allowed to say the least about the benefits of their work unless they can back up their statement with scientific research compiled by people who have never done a real massage with their own hands?
Experience versus evidence
Doesn’t years of experience count for something? Don’t the success stories from all our clients add up to a credible evidence? Why can a physician, scientist or even a layman talk about healing, but we cannot?
Why can’t we say that our work can indeed heal and fix some things if we have seen it so many times? Why does our massage license disqualify us from even mentioning healing?
Our safety record is infinitely higher than the one of the official medical establishment. After all, how many massage sessions have ever led to the death of a client?
Nobody can claim that their work heals or fixes everything, not the massage community and not the medical establishment. But they all can heal and fix some things sometimes. Guarantees are out the window for any kind of healing system, at least on this planet.
A real healing story I witnessed here in Thailand
Let me tell you a real story. A couple of years ago I met a very sick American man here in Thailand. He had a disease that slowly paralyzed him. When I saw him, he could only shuffle along very slowly while two assistants held him by both arms. He looked like he was on the way out, and rather sooner than later.
Now two years later he is still in Thailand, and he is able to freely walk, swim and travel by himself. He is not 100 % cured yet, but the difference is like between night and day. The best doctors in the US had not been able to reverse his condition, but when he came to Thailand, he chose a different approach.
He went for regular healing and massage sessions with several well known massage therapists, and slowly his condition improved. The massage was his primary therapy, and after two years of regular treatments he has a new lease on life. I have seen this with my own eyes since he is a friend of mine.
If I were an American massage therapist, I had to say that he “claims” to have been healed. His “claim” is so darn obvious to me and everyone around him, but I guess he has to wait for his doctor to confirm to him what he already knows beyond any shadow of a doubt.
Can useful laws turn into muzzling the massage community?
I am all for some regulations that help weed out some potential bad apples. But muzzling an entire healing arts community and subjecting them to an ever increasing control of the medical and legal establishment doesn’t seem to me the right way to go about that.
There needs to be a better balance. No massage therapist should have to be afraid to state that massage has some amazing health benefits and can and does improve and heal conditions to a certain extent.
Thai Massage in Thailand is less restrictive
Luckily I live in Thailand where such restrictions hardly exist.
Here therapists don’t have to watch every word they say for legally correct content, and where nobody would ever think of suing their therapist.
Here nobody has to tell their patients that “some of our clients claim to be more relaxed after the session”, and nobody cares about the ischemic points.
Massage is very popular here in Thailand and people go because it makes them feel great and it helps their health in many ways, and they know it.
No offense is intended to my colleague who made the video. I know she did what she is supposed to say under current regulations, and I am sure her work feels better than what she portrayed in her massage video through her words. At least it looked that way to me.
To be politically correct, I will say that this is all just my opinion and you are welcome to have another one. If you do, why don’t you leave a comment below? And if you agree with me, leave a comment as well.
The author, Shama Kern, is the founder and director of Thai Healing Massage Academy. He has been practicing and teaching Thai Massage for over 16 years. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org