Thai Massage school helps villagers
When I first began to study Thai Massage in the late 1990s, I had a magical experience which is still as clear in my mind as if it had been yesterday.
I was a student at Chiang Mai’s Old Medicine Hospital, the original and first Thai Massage school in the north of Thailand. At that time I had been studying and practicing for a few weeks, but I had never done any real massage work on clients.
One day the school announced an excursion to a village near Chiang Mai. All teachers, teaching assistants and students were encouraged to come along.
The purpose of the trip was to provide free treatments to anyone in the village for an entire day.
Old Medicine Hospital consists of three sections: A Thai Massage school, an herbal medicine school, and a massage shop with many therapists on staff.
It is quite a large operation with several teachers and assistants, and throughout the year there are always dozens of students around.
So on that particular weekend we took off in a caravan of truck taxis.
Thai temple as healing clinic
When we arrived at the village, we set up shop in the local temple. The herbal doctors provided consultations and the rest of us gave Thai Massage treatments.
I had been both excited and apprehensive about this event. Although I had been studying for a while, I was still a rookie with no experience of actually working on people with real problems.
So I was wondering what I could possibly contribute. But the school officials told me not to worry and just come along. So I did.
You have to imagine the situation in the temple. This was not a professional private massage room with a comfortable mat, soothing music, and a well-to-do client who treated him or herself to a 1hr/$70 massage for a stiff neck from watching too much TV or browsing the internet for too long.
There were only hard cement floors with thin straw mats and no pillows. And privacy was the last thing on anyone’s mind.
All day long lines of villagers came through the temple, many with serious issues, diseases, deformities, pain, and other traumas.
A lot of them were farmers with thick callouses on hands and feet. They were either assigned to the herbalists or to the Thai Massage therapists.
We were given 20 minutes for our sessions in order to get through the multitude of people who were seeking help. The straw mats were lined up so closely that you had to be careful not to bump into the therapist and client next to you.
The role of the mind in healing
I did not speak any Thai in those days, and the villagers did not speak one word of English, so our only communication was through a translator, or sign language and smiles.
It was a very humbling experience. Here I was, a rookie Thai Massage student with no real therapeutic experience, and suddenly I was confronted with all those people, many of whom had issues that could certainly not be fixed with a 20 minute massage session.
I felt nervous and overwhelmed and doubtful as to my effectiveness. But what happened was quite amazing and something that I had not expected at all.
When I worked on those people I noticed that they had a simple faith in the treatments and gratitude for the free sessions.
Even though I knew I could not have accomplished much physically in my 20 allotted minutes, my clients were very appreciative and many told me they felt better now.
Healing environments contribute to healing
Imagine the atmosphere: A beautiful and tranquil temple filled with dozens of healers, herbalists, and Thai Massage therapists.
Monks chanting, temple gongs sounding, and Buddhist mantra music playing. Hundreds of people from the village and surrounding areas were streaming through the temple all day long.
There was a healing energy present and the villagers had the expectation that something good was about to happen to them.
I realized that the energy of the place and the expectations of the clients were probably more important than my actual therapeutic skills, and so I surrendered to just doing my sessions without worrying about my lack of experience.
Rookie Massage therapist “gets” the big picture
I learned a lot that day. It was a dramatic demonstration that Thai Massage therapy or any healing art is not just a matter of technique or skill.
The overall energy of the environment, the sincerity and intention of the therapist, and the expectation of the client play a major role in the healing process.
At the end of the day I was exhausted and exhilarated. My feet and knees were hurting from working on the hard floor. But for the first time I had seen healing at a profound and very real level.
I had seen the bigger picture and never again would I think that Thai Massage is just a technical skill. That day marked my transition from a massage practitioner to a healing arts therapist.
The author, Shama Kern, is the founder and director of Thai Healing Massage Academy. He has been practicing and teaching Thai Massage for 18 years, and he is the author of 20 online Thai Massage training courses.