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Self-Care For Thai Massage Therapists

Thai Massage self care

How do you learn Thai Massage in such a way that it helps you to preserve your health, prolong your career, and be inspired in your profession?

Thai Massage is a helping profession. Its purpose is that the Thai Massage therapist helps clients to improve their health.

It’s also a very rewarding and inspiring profession. Besides helping clients, it can also help the therapist in several ways. But this does not happen automatically.

body mind spirit diagram

If the therapists are not in good shape both physically and mentally, they won’t be able to help their clients for very long.

They won’t get the results that they are looking for, and they won’t be at their best as healing artists.

They might burn out in their profession by jeopardizing their own health and well-being.

The evidence is that the massage therapy profession has a high drop-out rate.

How can you prevent that and instead build a long-lasting, inspiring, and rewarding Thai Massage career?

  • You need to recognize the symptoms of potential problems
  • You need to know how to deal with them by using alternatives

Potential issues in a Thai Massage career

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When learning and practicing Thai Massage, there are some things that you need to be aware of since they can potentially cause you problems. Here are some examples:

Protecting your health in Thai Massage therapy

Let’s look at these scenarios more in detail. We will look at their causes and then analyze their solutions.

Issue #1. Overuse of hands, wrists, and thumbs

Potential problem: overuse of thumbs

thumb

In traditional Thai Massage there tends to be an emphasis on doing lots of thumb pressure techniques. This is mostly done to work on the energy (sen) lines.

Depending on the style or school, there are about 16 primary energy lines in the Thai Massage system, and many additional ones which are not taught as much.

The ones that are primarily taught and used are 6 energy lines on the legs, 6 energy lines on the arms, and 4 energy lines on the back.

If all those energy lines are worked by using thumb pressure, as taught in the traditional Thai Massage schools, there is a high risk of overworking, stressing, or even injuring the thumbs of the practitioner.

The solution for overusing the thumbs

There are several ways of minimizing the use of thumbs:

  • One is to change the body mechanics of thumb work by using rolling movements instead of linear direct pressure.
  • Another one is to replace a lot of the thumb work with other body parts like elbows or forearms.
  • A third solution is to replace the direct linear pressure techniques with rocking moves.

Potential problem: overuse of wrists

wrist

In traditional Thai Massage there is a technique called the ‘butterfly’ press.

This involves using both hands together with the wrists angled at about a 90 degrees, and then leaning into the body.

Especially if this is done on a large back, this can be very hard on the wrists and lead to problems like carpal tunnel syndrome or arthritic issues.

The solution for overusing your wrists

Again there are several options that allow you to reduce your wrist use.

  • One is to change body mechanics by reducing the angle of the wrists from about 90 degrees to a lesser angle of about 45 degree. With the proper training, this can easily be done.
  • A second option is to replace the static linear butterfly presses with more dynamic and fluid rocking movements.
  • A third option is to replace the butterfly hand technique with techniques that use other body parts like forearms, knees or feet. This can easily be done on the back, where the butterfly tends to be used a lot.

Potential problem: overuse of hands

hand

There are different styles of traditional Thai Massage. Most teach a high percentage of techniques which are done with your hands.

Especially the ‘Royal’ Style relies exclusively on the use of hands and thumbs.

Using your hands that much carries the risk of tiring, stressing and even injuring them over time.

Sure, if someone has big strong hands, this will effect him less. But if someone has small hands while working on much larger and heavier clients, this will impact her much more.

The solution for overusing your hands

Considering these potential problems, Thai Massage therapists in Thailand have been forced to come up with alternatives to preserve their health. This has resulted in a style which is sometimes referred to as the ‘commoner’ style.

This style has been primarily developed in the northern part of Thailand. This ‘commoner’ style gets its name from the fact that it is being used on ‘common’ people.

Thai Massage with forearm

This style uses many body parts like forearms, elbows, knees and feet.

Practitioners get to use their body weight effectively by getting on top of clients and by working with lots of body contact to get better leverage.

In contrast, the ‘royal’ style was developed for working on the members of the royal family.

Here the practitioners are not allowed to use any other body parts besides their hands.

They are not allowed to use body contact besides touching with their hands, and they are not allowed to get on top of the client.

This is obviously much harder on the therapists. It does not allow them to use their body weight as leverage and prevents them from relieving their hands by using other body parts.

While the ‘royal style’ might sound fancy and impressive, it is actually the worst way for the therapists to do Thai Massage.

This ‘commoner’ style is an organic development to prevent the overuse of hands. Therefore it is by far the better style to practice for the health of the therapist.

It allows you to reduce the use of hands by replacing them with other body parts. It is quite possible to do a Thai Massage session where you don’t use your hands for half of the session.

Issue #2: Putting out more energy than you can regenerate

What are the reasons for overworking in the massage profession and/or depleting your physical and mental capacity?

  • It is quite natural that therapists are enthusiastic about their profession. They often feel an urge to book as many clients as possible and to take on as much work as comes their way. Some feel guilty for saying ‘no’ to a booking request.
  • For those in private practice, there is an incentive to work as many hours as possible. Unlike in a salaried job, every Thai Massage session means more money for the therapist.
  • For those employed in a spa or hotel, you have little control over the bookings and might get scheduled more than you can handle or more than is good for you.
  • If the work is too mechanical and repetitive, boredom can become an issue. Lack of inspiration can deplete your energy quickly.

We need to be aware that good Thai Massage therapy work by a caring therapist is not only a physical effort, but it also uses up the energy of the therapist.

We all have a certain amount or level of energy available, physically and mentally. How much that is depends on the individual.

If we use up more energy than we can replenish, then our reservoir levels get lower. If they get too low, the result is a crash and burn-out, either temporarily or permanently.

Image of scale - balance in massage therapy

The fact is that massage therapy has quite a high turnover and burn-out rate. To prevent that from happening, therapists have to learn how to manage their physical and mental energy household.

They have to learn how much they can give without hurting or depleting themselves. They have to learn what helps them to maintain and regenerate their energy levels.

There are many ways of achieving that. Here are some ideas. They might not all work for you, but you will need some kind of program in your life that is all about self care.

  • Listening to music
  • Exercise/sports
  • Good diet
  • Nature
  • Reading
  • Learning new healing arts
  • Social interactions
  • yoga practice
  • massage exchanges
  • getting enough sleep
  • taking a vacation
  • reducing work hours

Issue #3: Putting all your energy into your client’s well-being while neglecting your own

There is a fundamental principle which is mentioned in the bible and is attributed to Jesus: “Physician heal thyself”. There are similar statements in other classical literature and cultures.

This applies to Thai Massage or any other healing art as well.

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Did you help yourself first?

Therapists are typically focused on helping their clients. That’s great, and that’s how it should be.

However what happens if the therapists neglect their own well-being?

They won’t be able to help their clients as effectively, and they don’t set a good example to their clients either.

Put yourself in your client’s shoes for a moment. Whom would you be more inclined to entrust your health care to?

We teach and heal and inspire not just by what we do, but by who we are. Often our energy speaks louder than our words and our actions.

Issue #4: Not maintaining your own health

Especially in Thai Massage, there is an important principle. This is that the health benefits are not just a one-way street, meaning that the client is the only one who benefits.

Thai Massage is not just a system of techniques which are applied to someone. It is a holistic system where both clients and therapists benefit.

The client’s benefits are quite obvious, but how do the therapists benefit?

In Thai Massage the therapists use excellent body mechanics and lots of physical manipulations. These require some degree of flexibility and fitness on their part.

This is much more important than in table massage where the therapists just need to be able to stand next to the table.

Tai Chi movement

Good Thai Massage is like a dance between therapist and client.

The therapist moves gracefully like a Tai Chi practitioner and is using breath and energy to make the techniques more effective.

At the end of a good session, both client and therapist feel better, more energized, and both experience health and energetic benefits.

In contrast, if therapists work only mechanically without paying much attention to ergonomics, breath, graceful movements, and energy, their work will exhaust and hurt them in the long run.

Good Thai Massage therapists help clients while helping themselves as well. This is an art which is more present in Thai Massage than in many other massage styles.

The reason is that Thai Massage is more physically and also more energetically involved than other styles.

The physical aspect comes from the many stretches and body manipulations.
The energetic aspect comes from the sen line work.

For Thai Massage therapists it is not enough to do some exercises on the side, but their physical and energetic health and well-being are actually a part of the correct application of Thai Massage.

This is often not taught in Thai Massage schools and courses. Many just teach basic sequences in a mechanical way.

Thai Massage training course options

So where can you learn Thai Massage in such a refined way that it helps you to preserve your health, prolong your career, and inspire you in your profession?

Thai Healing Massage Academy provides many convenient and cost-effective online training courses which focus on learning Thai Massage as a healing art – not just a sequence of techniques.

Our Thai Massage courses are designed to be therapist-friendly and easy to follow with practical therapeutic applications that will make your sessions more effective.

You will learn much more than techniques – you will learn the heart and soul, the essence and the beauty of Thai Massage. Check out our training courses here:


Image of the author, Shama Kern


The author, Shama Kern, is the founder of Thai Healing Massage Academy. He has been practicing and teaching Thai Massage for 20 years, and he is the creator of 20 Thai Massage online training courses.

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