Massage versus therapeutic massage
Thai Massage has always been my main modality, but the observations in this article apply to massage in general.
But first…my disclaimer.
I’d rather be controversial than boring. This article is meant to be both irreverent and serious, both entertaining and educational. But be forewarned: If you don’t have a sense of humor, I advise you to stop reading right here!
So now – when does massage become therapeutic? The fact is that there is no one point where massage turns into massage therapy. It’s a matter of degrees. Actually, it is quite difficult for any massage NOT to be therapeutic at least to some degree.
How does a non-therapeutic massage feel like?
Let’s start close to the zero percentile. I can remember some massages that I would classify as having next to no therapeutic effect.
Here’s one I clearly remember. Once I went to the Gellert Spa in Budapest, Hungary.
This is a very famous spa with natural hot springs baths and lots of massage therapy.
Unfortunately I ended up with a big hulk of a therapist who treated my body like it was a slab of meat.
He pushed and pressed and squeezed all over, and I was just enduring the session, waiting for it to end.
I also had quite a few really sub-standard Thai Massage sessions here in Thailand where I felt like getting up and walking out.
The only reason why I didn’t do that is because I figured the therapist just didn’t know any better, and I didn’t want her to lose face in front of her colleagues (which is a big issue in Thailand).
These are examples of sessions that have close to zero therapeutic value, when you feel that all you did is waste your money and your time.
Getting better – somewhat therapeutic massages
Moving up the ladder, there are sessions that are technically correct, but there is no heart and soul in them, there is no connection, and no feeling.
There is nothing offensive about them, but they feel like they affect you only in a very superficial way. There might be some therapeutic value, but it is quite limited since the effect does not reach you on a deeper energetic level.
The ideal – massage heaven
Way over at the other end of the spectrum there are sessions where you go into a trance, you feel blissed out, you enter massage heaven. You feel light, clear, peaceful, content, balanced – like walking on clouds.
You just know and feel deep down that your energy has shifted in a major way, and this effect stays with you for quite some time. There is not even a question in your mind about the therapeutic value of the session.
One possible road map to better massage therapy
So how do you get there as a massage therapist? Should you spend a few thousand dollars for some fancy massage therapy training program in Costa Rica or Timbuktu, or should you learn 150 new techniques?
Or maybe you could study three new modalities, or join a few more associations that pepper you with advice on clinical, medical, scientific data on how the neutrons, protons, croutons, neuro-popsicals, or the body’s built in natural heroin lab do-hickie transmitter watchamecallthem affect your clients when you work on them?
Or you might need to brush up on who got kidnapped in the ‘abduction’ of the femur away from the median (also called mid-sagittal) plane.
Or what are the flight details of the transverse ‘plane’ (also known as an axial plane) which divides the body into cranial and caudal portions.
If that does not help enough, you could study the relationship between the intercondylar fossa between the condyles at the distal end of the femur and the intercondylar eminence on the tibial plateau, specifically where the anterior and posterior intercondylar fossa is entangled with the sites of the anterior cruciate and posterior cruciate ligament attachment. That might do the trick!
An easier and simpler way which will definitely work
If all that is not your cup of tea, then allow me to present a much simpler way – well, ten ways actually – to make massage more therapeutic.
They are all totally free. Their only cost is an open mind, and the willingness to possibly unlearn some habits that stand in the way of better therapeutic work.
- 1. Forget about your full body routine, your sequence of massage techniques, and focus on what your client really wants you to work on instead of doing what you think you should do or what you habitually do.
Many times the difference between a less therapeutic and a more therapeutic massage is simply that you stay on a particular area much longer and keep working it until there is real improvement.
- 2. Let your intuition guide your hands instead of your brain and your anatomical knowledge. Close your eyes and focus on feeling what is happening under your hands instead of focusing on what you are doing with your hands.
- 3. Use your hands as listening tools. Instead of doing something to someone, allow information from the body of your client to flow back to you through your hands while you are massaging. This is just a shift in thinking.
- 4. Shift from being a massage mechanic to becoming a massage artist. Think of yourself as moving energy instead of moving body parts.
Grow beyond the concept that massage therapy is just a way of manipulating someone’s anatomy and embrace the idea that you are working with someone’s total energy field (including but not limited to their anatomical parts).
- 5. Use your hands to consciously transmit healing, soothing, loving energy. Mentally focus on sending this energy and verbalize this energy transmission in your mind.
- 6. Learn some kind of energy work process to develop more sensitivity in your hands (lots of free material online). I personally use simple Qigong techniques.
- 7. Instead of focusing on your hands while you are massaging, put your attention on your center of energy, the hara. This is the area right behind the naval, your main energy reservoir.
Feel that your energy originates from there and not from your hands. This will engage your entire energy field in the massage instead of mostly your hands.
- 8. Be very aware of not working with muscle power more than absolutely necessary. Try to use your body weight as much as possible. Develop the feeling of leaning instead of pressing. This will result in a much better feeling for you and your client.
- 9. Mentally talk to your client’s body. If you work on someone’s shoulder, silently communicate with the shoulder and ask it to relax, to heal, to let go.
- 10. Visualize relaxation and healing occurring in your client’s body. See the intended outcome of the massage session in your mind. Picture your client as whole, healthy and radiant.
Naturally it is essential to have an extensive repertoire of good massage techniques and some understanding of anatomy and physiology. If you read this article, I am assuming that you have those already. Just don’t stop there.
If you use these 10 suggestions, the quality and therapeutic value of your massage therapy work will increase dramatically, as will your feeling of self esteem and your client’s satisfaction.
How to learn more about this
All these methods are free. However if you want to learn more about this in a more profound way, see actual examples, learn specific massage energy techniques, watch it all in action, and learn many more additional ways to improve the quality of your therapy skills, check out Thai Healing Massage Academy’s online training course.
If you are interested in learning the entire Thai Massage system, then check out our in-depth online course. This includes the ‘Magic Touch Secrets’ course.
The author, Shama Kern, is the founder and director of Thai Healing Massage Academy and the creator of 20 Thai Massage online training courses. He has been practicing and teaching Thai Massage for 20 years.