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Massage, Human Nature, Sainthood, And Laughter

In my function as Thai Massage teacher I often hear serious questions and comments along the lines of:

  • “How pure is a particular healing arts, massage, or yoga system?”
  • “How close is it to it’s origins?”
  • “How much does it adhere to its tradition?”
  • “Is it scientifically proven?”

There is a time for serious discussions. This is not one of them. Instead it is a light hearted, irreverent and humorous look at massage. 

Enter “Human Nature” and its quirks

Let’s apply a broader perspective to those serious questions. It’s called human nature, and it’s full of variety and differences, and there is no one right way enshrined in it.

We alI have our opinions about what’s right and what’s wrong, what should be, and what’s the correct way of doing something. But before we get into a discussion about what is right or wrong, let’s step back and look at all this from a more neutral perspective.

Definitely politically incorrect

the saintLet’s take religion as an example. Some people become saints, some become fanatics, some just pay lip service to it, and some exploit it for personal power and gain.

What about martial arts? Some people become the “saints” of martial arts like the Chinese Shaolin monks who practice their Kung Fu as a spiritual discipline.

Some people become show wrestlers, some learn martial arts so that they can beat up others, and others practice it just to get some exercise.

What about yoga and massage? Some people become the “saints” of healing arts. They defend traditions, purity, teacher lineage and holistic principles.

Some teachers become “gurus”, accumulate adoring followers, and in their eyes they can do no wrong.

Others practice yoga to lose weight,  learn massage because you can make 70 bucks an hour or because massage is an easy job to get, like here in Thailand where I live.

Sainthood and self righteousness

healing arts guruThere is a fine line between being the “saint” of a particular system and self righteousness or judgmental attitudes towards those who are below the sainthood status.

One of the most difficult tasks about being a “saint” is to keep one’s ego in check.

Once you get good at something, be it yoga, massage, philosophy or martial arts, one of the hardest things is to not equate your skills with moral superiority or a “better than them” attitude.

What’s wrong with that? (if anything)

Yoga – while it may not be the highest purpose of yoga, there is really nothing wrong about practicing it just to lose some weight. The practice of yoga is not restricted to those who want to attain self realization and get on the fast track to nirvana.

Massage business – while it may not be an expression of selfless healing, there is nothing essentially wrong with opening a chain of massage stores.

Prayer – while it may not be on the highest spiritual level, praying for a raise in your job sure beats robbing a bank by a long shot. 

Sainthood – not everyone is cut out to be a saint. We all have to start somewhere, and few of us start at the sainthood level.

Those who think that traditions in religions, yoga, healing arts, massage, or martial arts always need to be maintained at their highest level, will inevitably conflict with human nature. (Or they need to move to another planet.)

Human nature allows for expression on a scale from 1 to infinity. Somehow all those expressions are there for a reason. They create the variety in life that makes it interesting and challenging.

There is a saying: “If we would all be the same, it would only take one of us”. Moral: Don’t expect people to be and think like you.

Cut ’em some slack

So next time you see someone who is practicing yoga or massage for a less traditional, pure, or holistic reason, remember human nature.

If you see a glossy photo on a magazine cover with an impossibly perfect yogini twisted into an exotic pretzel position of yoga or Thai Massage, don’t worry. You will get there in one of your next incarnations.

Which massage teacher is better or the best?

Loi Kroh massage in Chiang Mai, ThailandI live in Chiang Mai, Thailand, which is kind of the center of the universe for Thai Massage. The city is always buzzing with lively conversations and arguments which teacher and which style is better.

Some people are heavily opinionated about those things. I removed myself from those discussions a long time ago. I have learned that right and wrong are mostly just opinions. They are all relative.

The ideal massage teacher for you might not do anything for me. The massage style that I love might not be suited for your needs.

Isn’t human nature great? There is room for saints and sinners, yoga gurus, massage fanatics, your opinion and my opinion, the ‘right’ way and the ‘wrong’ way.

My way or the highway

My official disclaimer: Just to make things clear, naturally my way is the right way, and my opinion is the only right one. So don’t you argue with me and leave some opinionated comments below. (Just kidding!)

How serious do we have to be?

the serious type personI know there are problems in the world, and there are serious issues to be dealt with.

People can get hurt in yoga or Thai Massage; there are bad teachers and ego driven types out there; you might get run over by a Mack truck.

The world will come to an end in 2018 (or whatever prophesy you subscribe to). And if that doesn’t happen, the aliens might invade our planet.

You can focus on all that, but sometimes it feels a lot better to look at the light side of life and not take everything so seriously. Why do angels fly? Because they take themselves lightly!

How about some massage humor or yoga jokes? Some good laughter might be just as healing as a yoga or massage session. Yes, really!

The Thai Massage purists

thai massage signThere are those types who insist that Thai Massage has to be practised on the highest level.

You are supposed to know every single energy line by it’s impossible to pronounce Pali (similar to Sanskrit) name, and what exactly its esoteric function is.

Then you are supposed to know the entire traditional medical system of Thailand with boat loads of theory and lofty concepts.

And of course you have to belong to a bunch of “authorized” associations, have studied in the right “lineage”, be an outright saint and dutifully polish your halo every day.

Holier than though

From such a lofty and glorious position of “purity” it is often so easy to look down on the vast majority of therapists who don’t have all those accomplishments.

Here in Thailand your typical Thai Massage therapist is a simple person who has little to no theoretical education. They have learned from experience and many can do a great job.

They are not tangled up in mental obstacle courses like many of their western counterparts.

What exactly are you pressing on

proper goat anatomy

God forbid, if you don’t know what the “intercondylar eminence on the tibial plateau” is. Your entire massage is useless! 

What – you are saying that you can feel things and you have good intuition where to place your hands? You must be one of those new age freaks! How do you know if your intuition is right, anyway?

Talking about scientific verification

You mean you don’t know the precise percentage of the increase of serotonin and dopamine during and after your sessions? And the relationship between the two? Your massage could not be any good! 

You need to get in the habit of letting those white coated scientists who have never done a massage in their life decide what exactly massage is good for.

Do your clients “claim” to be relaxed after your massage?

Be careful here! Recent scientific double blind test tube studies have determined that relaxation is a medical condition which only real physicians can induce via certain medications.

So if your clients “claim” to be relaxed, you can politely nod, but you should not agree. Otherwise you could get sued for wrongfully practicing medicine.

The dead serious types and laughter medicine

laughter is good therapy

Some therapists think that massage is a very serious subject matter. To joke about it or poke fun at it is heresy. Let me tell you, my wife and I are both veteran massage practitioners and teachers.

Sometimes we laugh so hard when we are playing around with massage that we cannot help but feel fantastic! (We don’t do that with clients, mind you!)

One of my all time favorite physicians is Dr. Bernie Siegel who is one of the funniest guys I have ever met. He gets his patients to laugh and cry and feel. For some great reading, check out his books.

Then there is Norman Cousins who cured himself from cancer with laughter. He documented it in his book Anatomy Of An Illness.

Scientific conclusion

If you take yourself lightly and laugh about yourself, you might just be healthier, live longer, be happier, and you might be a lot more fun to be around.

I verified this conclusion via some special test tube scientific double dotted placebo experiments. No really, I just made it up. But I do believe it.

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image of Shama KernThe author, Shama Kern, has been practicing and teaching Thai Massage for 16 years. He is the founder and director of Thai Healing Massage Academy and the creator of 20 online Thai Massage video training courses.


9 thoughts on “Massage, Human Nature, Sainthood, And Laughter”

  1. i totally agree, you know I am also teaching martial arts shaolin by the way and you can’t imagine what I have seen….one info you may be aware that some of the main indian associations and comissions to preserve cultural arts will post some mention in the us gvt for stopping the use of name yoga for all these new styles and so…
    I was still disturbed when I found in this thai arts us association (no name ) i wanted to be member for …infos ..promotion whatever, to find that massage was thai yoga and was told that thai yoga (ruesi dat ton ) was hatha yoga SIC!!!!!
    but you right take some distance from that and focus onthe practice and helping other no judgement ,(well hard sometimes no?)

  2. I quite agree with you, if one takes something too serious, he might take himself, who practices it, too serious and start looking down at people. That happens to many yoga teachers. There is a good recommendation from wise guru that from time to time a yoga lesson should be attended by some other respected yoga teacher who would afterwards share a meal with his colleague and laugh at his mistakes made during the lesson.

  3. Shama, I agree with you to laugh about oneself and to maintain humoristic capacity all the time when we practice Yoga & Tai Masage.Take a good time!Funny to do Easy to do!Philippe

  4. Great article! Wow! I laughed several times reading it! I enjoy your sense of humor! I love the realistic attitudes!
    It reminds of a comment a “friend” made when I told her that I often ride my bicycle on the sidewalks of Burbank & Los Angeles. Her reply was: “I know someone who was walking on the sidewalk & got hit by a cyclist. The cyclist did not even stop to see if she was o.k. Bicycles should not be allowed on sidewalks! It should be illegal!”


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