A good massage is a really enjoyable and beneficial experience. Why? There are two ways to explain this. The first one is often presented by the massage therapist profession, by the massage providers.
I happen to be part of this group, and I read a lot of what my colleagues have to say. However in contrast to most of them, I live in Thailand and therefore have quite a different perspective.
Massage benefits in scientific terms
When reading massage articles on blogs or posts on forums, I cannot help but notice that many of the movers and shakers in our profession have a tendency to talk about the benefits of massage in mostly scientific terms.
In other words, 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 have to prove every perceived massage benefit scientifically, and the list goes on.
Please don’t misunderstand me 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.
How was your massage session?
But, there is another side to the story. The side of the one who receives the massage.
Most people, when asked how their massage felt, would say “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 more and more obliged to talk about their work in scientific terms. They often seem to be afraid to use any other language since “feeling” is not as valid and acceptable compared to all the scientific jargon.
The feelings are often relegated to a less important status, and the massage therapy profession is struggling to become acceptable to the scientific community. Your sense of intuition or your ability to read your client’s energy is officially not an acceptable skill although in actual practice it counts very much.
What is your scientific proof that you love your wife?
Luckily we don’t have to prove or scientifically demonstrate our love for our partner as a prerequisite for marriage. And we don’t have to explain the scientific benefits of intercourse to our spouse before making love. So there are still some areas where feelings are considered perfectly acceptable without any scientific validation.
A different massage world
Here 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 experience. 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 or their lives.
Nobody expects their 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.
Here it is not a major decision to get a massage with 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 in regards 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 applied in excess, can strangle the beauty, the feeling and the magic of 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 and emotions are perfectly valid in many areas of life, in our relationships with partners, friends, our children, in our spiritual outlook, our memories of beautiful moments, our experiences of watching great performances of music or dance, in our connections with our pets, or watching a sunset.
I would like to propose that the spirit of massage, it’s healing benefits and the many magical moments that the human touch can generate, is perfectly represented by our feelings, with science being in a supporting role rather than in the driver’s seat.
And that’s just my opinion. If yours is different or you have observations on the matter, feel free to leave a comment below.
The author, Shama Kern, is the founder and director of Thai Healing Massage Academy and the creator of 20 online Thai Massage video training courses. He has been practicing and teaching Thai Massage for 16 years.