I am a professional Thai Massage therapist, and I enjoy receiving massage as much as I like giving it.
Why? Because it makes me feel great!
However I can’t help but notice a trend towards establishing the benefits of massage in increasingly scientific terms. While this is certainly important and useful knowledge, I want to emphasize another aspect.
Massage should not be a scientific experience
I want to propose that the benefits of massage are not just about scientific data and double blind studies and physical reactions that can be measured and proven and tested and put under a microscope and evaluated in a test tube and approved by scientists who might have never had a massage in their entire life.
The true experience of a good massage cannot be measured scientifically.
Why do people really get a massage?
Massage by its very nature is a sensual experience! What do you think how many people go to a massage therapist to get their neuropeptides adjusted or their dopamine levels elevated? Care to take a survey?
People get massage because:
- They want to feel good
- They know that it helps them with their aches and pains
You don’t need scientific facts to understand that. You can feel it. Granted, is is good to have the scientific facts as a backup.
There is a branch of massage aficionados who subscribe to the theory of no-pain-no-gain. The harder the therapist presses, the more therapeutic it must be, even if it is very painful. If that works for you, good for you. But massage can do a lot more than loosen hard muscles. It works on an emotional or mental level too. It releases stress.
Let’s take a look at what kinds of experiences help to release stress in life.
Sensual experiences release stress
A heartfelt hug releases stress, because it is a wonderfully sensual experience. We are naturally inclined to give a totally stressed out and desperate person a hug.
We intuitively know that it helps!
The trouble is that often we wait until we encounter such a desperate person before we allow ourselves the healing benefits of a genuine hug.
Sex releases stress too, because it is highly sensual. It is very difficult to think about the pressures back at the office while you are in the middle of a wonderful sexual encounter.
Cuddling your purring cat releases stress too because it is a sensual experience.
If you don’t believe that, ask your cat. She knows and makes no attempt to hide it.
Why should massage be an exception?
Massage releases stress too, because it is a totally sensual experience (not sexual). We see the common thread here. Sensual experiences are good for you. They release stress.
If stress is released, energy is freed up in the body and mind which in turn enables your body to do what it knows how to do and is designed to do very well: to heal itself on many levels.
Your body has an absolutely amazing ability to heal and restore itself if you don’t sabotage it too badly by ingesting junk food, drugs, alcohol, nicotin, and depriving it of enough water or sleep and yes, sensual feelings.
Sensual feelings do not only release stress, they make you feel more balanced, happier, enthusiastic, confident and on purpose. Puritans are not fun to be with. They deprive themselves and others of the sensual feelings that every baby and every cat and every dog knows is great for them.
Our pets might have more common sense than we do
We have some confusing standards. If you rub your dog’s belly and he rolls over and stretches all four legs, we all think that this is cute. If a human appreciates sensual touch, it is immoral and indicative of a questionable character. If you hug and kiss a baby, it is adorable, if you hug and kiss an adult, you are promiscuous.
If you stroke your purring cat, it is lovely, but if massage therapists dare to admit that massage is a sensual experience, they run the risk of being accused of unprofessional conduct and their clients might become highly suspicious of their motives.
Yes I know – there are child molesters and sex maniacs out there. But I am talking about reasonably normal people here, which is the vast majority of us. And yes, although very rare, things can go wrong between a massage therapist and client.
Anyway, if you want a guarantee that you will never be mistreated by any human being, you have to go and live in a cave in the Himalayas. But then the tigers and cobras might get you.
Sensual is not the same as sleazy
Let’s get one thing straight: sensual and sexual are not identical. They can go together very well, of course, but they can also be easily separated, like in the case of a professional massage session. There is no reason to be afraid of the word ‘sensual’. It is not a four letter word, and it is not indicative of sleazy establishments.
It is a natural, essential and necessary feeling that contributes enormously to your physical, emotional and mental health, and your professional massage therapist can help you experience it. Of course in the process he or she can also elevate your dopamine levels, if you must know.
The problem is that in our western culture, sensuality is often associated with sexuality. But the fact is that sexuality is a subset of sensuality, or an optional component, you could say. Sensuality is just a pleasurable experience through our senses.
Even the dictionaries can’t agree
I did a test and checked on dictionary definitions of sensuality. The result shows the cause of the confusion. Here is what Encarta World English Dictionary has to say:
- being sensual: the capacity for enjoying the pleasures of the senses
- being pleasing to senses: the quality of being pleasing to the senses
And here is what Webster’s has to say about sensuality:
The first definition sticks to the natural meaning of the word, whereas Webster’s attaches a strong negative slant.
Touch spies on duty – a revealing experiment
This reminds me of a study where researchers went around the world to observe touching habits in different cultures. They just sat down in cafes and counted how many times people touched each other. In Italy and Brazil it was dozens of times per hour, in America two times, and in England zero.
In Italy sensuality won’t have that negative charge attached to it that it sometimes has in North America. The meaning of words depends on the cultural context.
Let your pet teach you the meaning of massage
Those of us in the professional massage business who are honest enough and have enough common sense, we understand that massage is a wonderful sensual experience (which has nothing to do with ‘sexual’ in this context).
We know that this is what feels good, and in the final analysis, this is what most clients are coming for. They want to feel better after the treatment than before it, and they want to enjoy their session. If you are not sure what enjoyable means, watch your cat or puppy and they will gladly show you.