I often get asked by my students which Thai Massage techniques work best for a certain disease or condition. While it is certainly very important to have the right repertoire of techniques for specific conditions and to know how to implement them, there is another factor which is even more important. And that has nothing to do with techniques.
Let me use my own practice as an example. Over the years I have worked with several clients who had severe issues, ranging from Multiple Sclerosis to major postural issues to Parkinsons and others.
Some of them had gone through the medical establishment and had received no help that resulted in an improvement in their condition.
Can Thai Massage help with serious conditions?
In some cases they approached me as a last desperate attempt to find help since the medical science had given up on them or had just not worked for them.
So why would they approach a Thai Massage therapist?
The answer is that they did not approach just a Thai Massage therapist, but someone who uses Thai Massage and a number of other healing arts methods and skills to help people.
Why do people heal?
They don’t just heal because of some fancy tricked out massage techniques. While those can certainly help, they won’t do it all by themselves. Here are some other and much more important reasons:
People have to have a reason to heal. What do I mean with this? There has to be something in their life they can look forward to, something that inspires them to keep going.
This might be a project, a passion, a goal, or their family, or a contribution they want to make to the world.
When your therapy will not help the condition
If someone is seriously ill and has nothing to look forward to, they might pretend that they want to heal, but in reality their disease is their way out of a life that does not seem to have any more value for them. No matter how great your techniques are, they won’t do anything in such cases.
How do you find out if your client really wants to heal?
You have to talk to them and find out what makes them tick, what inspires them, what is their reason for living.
If they don’t have one, you can try to help them develop a reason for living.
Without that your therapy has little chance of improving the condition.
Recognizing our limitations
There are all kinds of cases ranging from miraculous recoveries to situations where your efforts do not produce any results. There can be several reasons for that:
- Some conditions just cannot be helped by massage
- Your skills might not be sufficient for a particular case
- The client might be better served by another healing modality
- The client does not resonate with you or vice versa
- Your ego or your expectations are getting in the way
- Or any number of other reasons
There is a fine balance between wanting to help and being attached to a certain outcome. The first is a function of the heart and the second is a function of the ego.
Shooting for the stars while recognizing our limitations is an important attitude to develop. We never know when we will see a miraculous result, and we need to be open to this possibility.
At the same time we need to be detached and recognize the limitations of a situation not as a negative factor, but as a simple fact.
Adjusting your treatment objective
If your approach isn’t working, you might have to re-evaluate your treatment objective and switch from “fix it mode” to “let me help you to feel better right now”.
The end result of a session doesn’t necessarily have to be the improvement of a physical condition. Sometimes the greatest service you can do is offer your caring, loving touch.
The mind and diseases
I have had clients who kept telling me that they had a certain disease. When I asked them what the symptoms were, in some cases they told me they didn’t have any.
This can happen in such cases like AIDS where antibodies may be present in the blood, but there had never been any symptoms of a disease.
Another example is fibromyalgia which is a collection of symptoms which are often not very clearly defined. In both cases, AIDS and fibromyalgia, the list of symptoms which are attributed to those conditions can change and has been changed over time.
So nobody totally agrees on what it is, what symptoms are part of it, what causes it and what heals it.
Misdiagnosis and nocebos
To top it off, misdiagnosis in both of these cases has happened frequently. A client might have been diagnosed at some point, but has no symptoms.
If such a person is convinced in their mind that they do have such a disease, symptoms or not, then they will most likely develop those symptoms to live up to their image of themselves.
It can be a self-fulfilling prophesy. It’s also called a nocebo.
This is the opposite of a placebo, i.e. you talk yourself into being more sick than you really are, or you talk yourself into being sick even if you are not.
Part of my therapy in such cases has always been to change the self-image of my clients from a dis-eased person to a person who feels healthy, or who identifies with the healing process instead of the disease.
In other words, people can talk or think themselves into being sick and they can talk or think themselves out of it – at least in some cases.
There is plenty of documented proof – like placebo studies – for such cases available.
Thai Massage and serious diseases
But what about diseases with real and often severe symptoms like MS or Parkinsons or extreme postural issues? I have personally worked with clients who had all these issues and I have seen those issues improve greatly or even disappear.
Now if you ask me if my Thai Massage techniques fixed the disease, I have to say no – or at least not all by themselves.
So why did they heal? In all of those seemingly miraculous improvements there were other factors present which were more important than massage techniques. Here is a list of some of them:
- The clients trusted me completely
- They were convinced that I would be able to help them
- The clients had a reason to heal, something to look forward to after the healing process
- They were ready and willing to do whatever it took to activate the healing
- They were not just passive clients, but they worked with me by implementing my suggestions regarding their diet, their attitude, their thought patterns, their exercise, and their lifestyle habits
- They worked with me consistently on a regular basis
Above and beyond standard Thai Massage
These clients did not just receive Thai Massage, they went through visualization exercises with me, they followed my instructions on how to use their mind, their breath, and their intentions to stimulate the healing.
For my part, I used my energy, my breathing, my intentions, my communication skills and all my massage skills to activate and stimulate the healing process in those clients.
There is more than one way to define massage
Doesn’t all this go beyond standard massage therapy? This depends on how you define massage.
If you define it as a sequence of physical techniques, then yes, my approach went way beyond that.
However, I define Thai Massage or any massage differently. For me, the physical techniques are just one aspect of the therapy.
If the other elements which I mentioned above are not present, then even the best massage techniques will not help much in such cases of serious diseases.
Why? Because you are not just dealing with someone’s malfunctioning anatomy like a broken machine, but with a dis-eased mind, a malfunctioning thought pattern, bad lifestyle habits, bad diet, negative thinking, misinformation, and self-defeating mental programs.
Different kinds of massage therapists
If you just want to help people relax, improve their range of motion, or loosen up tight muscles, then you won’t have to worry much about all those additional elements.
But if you have an interest in working with seriously ill people, then you will need more skills than just massage techniques.
How much can you influence healing?
And finally, you will need an understanding that you are never in control when it comes to healing. Every one of us will die sooner or later, and you cannot change that.
You don’t know what someone’s path or destiny or karma is, you don’t know when someone’s time has come, and that’s why you cannot be attached to the results of your work.
You are never the cause of the healing process, but you can be the activator, the facilitator, the accelerator of it.
And in some cases, you cannot do more than make it easier for your client to tolerate the disease. That’s a perfectly valid treatment objective, by the way.
How to measure your results as a therapist
Not every massage therapist is able or willing or even interested in working with seriously ill people.
But some are, and I have done so quite a few times myself – and sometimes with excellent success.
How do you measure success in such cases? Success is if you can improve someone’s quality of life.
This does not necessarily mean that the disease disappears.
It can mean that the disease process is slowed down, made more tolerable, improves or even reverses.
It can also mean that you help someone prepare for their inevitable transition by making it less painful and less frightful for them.
You won’t know which one of those it is, and you will need to accept all those scenarios as valid treatment results.
My perspective on Thai Massage and healing
I am writing this from the perspective of someone who lives in Asia where various healing therapies have been used for many centuries to deal with people’s problems long before there was modern medical science.
If you live in a country where there are strict rules and regulations regarding what you can say or do or suggest to a client as a massage therapist, then you will have to work within the framework of the laws in your country.
The purpose of this article is to help you see what is possible, not to offer specific treatment methods. It is based on my personal experience only, and not on any scientific research.
What I have done will not work for everyone else, and not everybody will be interested in it either.
It is my hope that it will be an inspiration for some therapists who want to expand the concept of their work.
This is meant for therapists who see Thai Massage not just as a collection of fancy exotic stretches, but as a body-mind-spirit healing system which has a truly amazing potential, and as a way to make a substantial difference in the lives of some people who really need it.
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The author, Shama Kern, is the founder and director 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.