A good Thai Massage is a really enjoyable and beneficial experience. Why? There are two ways to explain this – the scientific way and the experiential way.
The first one is often presented by the massage therapist profession, by the massage therapists.
As a professional Thai Massage therapist and teacher, I happen to be part of this group, and I am well aware of what my colleagues have to say.
However, in contrast to most of them, I have spent most of my Thai Massage career in Thailand, and therefore I have quite a different perspective. This is what I would like to introduce here.
Thai Massage benefits in scientific terms
When reading articles about massage, it is obvious that there is a tendency in our profession to talk about the benefits of Thai Massage (or any other massage) primarily in scientific terms.
In other words, Thai Massage does this to your muscles, it does that to your ligaments, it elevates levels of certain chemicals in your body, it increases blood flow, it has been scientifically proven that it does x, y, and z, we need more research on all those things, we need to prove perceived massage benefits scientifically, and so on.
Now don’t get me wrong here. All those physical and scientific facts, observations, and correlations are true and useful to know. I am grateful that we know so much about the body via scientific knowledge.
But the question is if the intuition, the feelings, and the personal experiences of therapists need to be confirmed by science in order to be valid?
Is the unique experience of a Thai Massage therapist valid in itself, or does it only become valid by conducting peer-reviewed academic studies?
Can the essence, the beauty, the wonderful experience of a great massage ever be captured or expressed in scientific terms? The answer is NO. Science will always miss the soul of massage.
How was your Thai Massage session?
Now, let’s step away from the therapist for a moment and look at another side of the story – The side of the person who receives the massage.
Most people, when asked how their massage felt, say something like “great”, “wonderful”, “relaxing”, “opening”, “heavenly”, etc. You might notice that all those responses describe a feeling. And what’s wrong with that?
Do your feelings matter?
It seems to me that the massage therapist profession as a whole feels quite obligated to talk about their work in scientific terms.
They often seem to be reluctant to use any other language. “Feelings” are not considered so valid and acceptable compared to scientific terminology.
Feelings and personal experiences are often given a less important status – not something that is taken very seriously.
The fact is that the massage therapy profession is trying hard to become acceptable to the scientific and medical community.
In the light of this scientific recognition, your sense of intuition, your ability to read your client’s energy, is not an officially accepted skill, although in actual practice it counts very much.
We might ask ourselves to whom we need to prove the quality of our massage work – to our clients or to the scientists.
There are therapists who label their work ‘clinical’ or ‘medical’. In spite of such names, in the end, the only thing that matters is that the client feels better.
When scientific proof becomes a bizarre request
Luckily we don’t have to prove or scientifically demonstrate our love for our partner as a prerequisite for marriage.
Neither are we expected to explain the scientific benefits of intimacy to our spouse before making love.
So there are still some areas where feelings are considered perfectly acceptable without any scientific validation.
Thai Massage is in a different world
In Thailand, massage is very popular and affordable. But hardly anyone talks about scientific observations.
People are quite content with expressing their feelings about their experiences. It is all less clinical, more exposed and public, more social, and less serious.
You might see a row of massage mats lined up right next to each other on the sidewalk in the middle of a busy market. Thai Massage therapists and clients often interact socially, chatting about the weather, their family, and their lives.
Nobody expects their Thai Massage therapist to be a walking encyclopedia of scientific benefits. Nobody would ever dream of suing their therapist, and nobody has to fill out any intake forms or sign anything.
In Thailand, getting a massage is not a major decision, involving online appointment booking software, credit card deposits, and cancellation fees. You just go to a shop and lie down on a mat.
Different perspectives and an open mind
So what’s my objective with these observations? Am I saying that Thailand is better than America in regards to massage or that there is something wrong with scientific facts?
No, that’s not what I am saying. I am not trying to judge or criticize any system.
What I am pointing out is that there are different perspectives when it comes to looking at massage therapy.
If you spend your therapist career in one particular environment, it is easy to believe that there is only one way, the right way, your way.
I am fortunate enough to have exposure to two very different massage environments and attitudes – the western one and the Asian one.
I can see that the scientific model, if given too much importance, can strangle the beauty, the feeling, the magic, and the soul of Thai Massage.
While being a valid tool, it should not be the main or only gauge for the effects and benefits of massage.
Feelings are very important in many areas of our lives
Feelings, emotions, and experiences are perfectly valid in many areas of life.
Examples are our relationships with partners, friends, our children, our spiritual outlook, our memories of beautiful moments, our experiences of watching great performances of music or dance, our connections with our pets, or watching a sunset.
I would like to propose that the spirit of massage, its healing benefits, and the many magical moments that the human touch can generate, is perfectly represented by our feelings and experiences, with science being in a supporting role rather than in the driver’s seat.
In my 20 years of practicing Thai Massage on countless clients, I am sure that my feelings, my intuition, my sensitivity, and my sense of touch have contributed much more to my client’s well-being than my knowledge or my explanations of scientific facts about massage.
This is based on living and practicing in Thailand where both therapists and clients are less scientifically oriented than in the western world.
They are more focused on appreciating Thai Massage as a wonderful feeling, a healing experience, a heavenly sensation, or a time to relax and enjoy.
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The author, Shama Kern, has been practicing and teaching Thai Massage for over two decades. He is the founder of Thai Healing Massage Academy and the creator of 20 online Thai Massage training courses.