Thai Massage and Western Massage differ greatly in more ways than their techniques. In Western countries there is an ongoing effort to prove scientifically how and why massage is beneficial. Most of the massage therapy profession has accepted science as their unofficial regulator. Therapists feel compelled to demonstrate that their therapies hold up to the demands of science and comply with scientific standards.
In other words the effectiveness of massage has to be proven by scientific methods in order to prevent allegations of unproven, unscientific, or unsubstantiated claims in regards to the therapy – what a mouthful! If you think I am exaggerating, read some of the disclaimers on massage intake forms that you have to fill out before you receive a session.
Massage therapists in the West go through great lengths to state that they do not fix, cure, diagnose, treat, prescribe, or improve any medical condition, and that only doctors can do such things. I know, they have to do that so that they don’t get sued.
Let’s use some common sense here. Before the advent of medical science, people all over the world were treated with all kinds of therapies and remedies. Sometimes they worked and sometimes they did not. Today we have modern hospitals and sometimes their therapies work and sometimes they do not. The one big difference is that hospitals and their treatments, medications and procedures are one of the leading causes of death in the US. In comparison, tell me how many people died on massage tables!
Does anyone really believe that a well-trained massage therapist who has maybe a decade of experience of working with and directly touching hundreds or thousands of people cannot ever improve any medical condition? Compare that to a typical doctor who is forced by the insurance companies to spend as little time as possible with his patients and who runs into the room, spends five minutes with you without hardly touching you at all, and leaves you with a prescription of chemicals which he knows nothing about except what a pharmaceutical rep told him.
I want to emphasize that I have the greatest respect for some incredibly useful medical procedures. Modern doctors can do amazing things when they stitch together victims of horrible accidents or enable amputees to function again. But the track record of modern medical science for curing most chronic and immune system related diseases is very poor.
Now let’s compare this to the Asian model, especially Thai Massage. In Thailand nobody has to fill out intake forms, nobody sues massage therapists, no therapist has to comply with scientific demands, massage therapists or other natural healers can diagnose conditions to the extent of their knowledge, and they can treat such conditions to the extent of their abilities. If what they do is not working, the clients can of course try their luck elsewhere, like in a doctor’s office. Or they can do both.
No Thai massage therapist has to explain scientifically what exactly their therapy is doing. No client expects that either. The therapists don’t know anything about the science behind it since the entire model of Asian natural medicine is not based as much on anatomy, physiology and science as on invisible energy flow and energy lines that cannot be seen by the eye, a microscope, or detected in a test tube. But the energy can be felt by experienced therapists, and it can be altered by Thai massage treatments.
From my vantage point of living in Thailand, I know from personal experience that Thai massage can and does improve many conditions. Some of those cannot be improved by medical science. After all, a stiff neck is surely better treated by massage therapy than by chemical muscle relaxants. And stress, a leading cause of so many diseases is treated more effectively by massage than by chemicals.
Here in Thailand we all know that some massage therapists are fairly useless while others are incredibly good and effective. So we go to the good ones. Massage is not a luxury here like in western countries. Most people can afford massage without breaking the bank. There is no competition here between massage and medical science. They coexist quite peacefully.
Am I saying that everything is better in Thailand? No, that is not my point. I am comparing two very different systems. It is definitely more relaxing and much easier to deal with the massage system in Thailand. But I think that the Asian model could benefit from some western input like more anatomical knowledge or exposure to additional healing therapies that are more widespread in western countries.
Anyone who has ever been in Thailand knows the great feeling of being able to get a full body massage or even a quick foot massage almost anywhere and for very little money. You can get treatments on the beach, on the sidewalk, in open air massage shops, in temples, in busy markets and malls, in airports, in spas or in your own home.
Nobody has to worry about privacy since it is all done fully dressed, intake forms do not exist and neither do legal threats. Ethics rules are very flexible since massage in Thailand is often as much a social event as a therapy, and you don’t have to budget a session since you can get one for under US $5.- per hour.
Some things in life are better felt than explained. We don’t much discuss the scientific benefits of massage here. We just know that it works from personal experience. After all, would you feel better when you fall in love next time, if you were told exactly which neurons fire, which nerves send your feelings to which place, and how much your skin temperature changes in passionate moments?
Some things are better experienced than dissected. For me, the experience of Thai massage is more important than the science behind it. For you, if you must know the science, at least make sure you set it aside during your session. You will feel and benefit more that way.