The other day I met up with an old friend who I haven’t seen since university (which was many, MANY, years ago!). As in any normal “it’s been so long…” catch-up conversation, she asked me about what I’m doing in my career, and I happily shared with her that I am practicing and teaching Thai Massage. Unfortunately, at the mention of Thai Massage, her facial expression immediately changed, and she said to me “Oh… I had a Thai Massage once. Never again, it just wasn’t for me.”
Naturally, I was concerned about what she had experienced which could have caused her not to find deep relaxation and therapeutic bliss in her first Thai Massage experience. So I asked her to share with me exactly what it was that she didn’t like… Mind you, after years of practice and teaching, I already had a couple guesses of my own.
As it turns out, I was bang on with my first guess:
She didn’t enjoy her experience because she found it to be rough, and painful. She said the pressure was too much all at once, it felt uncomfortable, and her practitioner was not able to make the modifications necessary to ensure her comfort. She also mentioned that she wasn’t told what to expect before the session started, so she was startled by the way her body was being moved and pressed during the massage.
Aside from being deeply saddened that her experience wasn’t a positive one, I assured her that in and of itself, Thai Massage is a beautiful practice that is rooted in the compassionate application of touch. I painted a new picture for her, of a Thai Massage treatment where each movement, posture, and massage technique is applied so mindfully that her body receives the perfect amount of pressure and stretch, while gaining many therapeutic benefits, WITHOUT a nearly unbearable sensation of pain!
Even with that simple explanation of what Thai Massage truly is/should be she really liked this new picture of Thai Massage. It sounded so much more enticing than what she had experienced that first time, and this made her feel much more comfortable with the possibility of trying a Thai Massage again in the future!
So as a practitioner (new and experienced), what can we take away from this?
Approach each individual and every treatment in a way that exudes loving-kindness and compassion, and allows them to have positive experiences while in your care. This is especially important at the beginning of a therapeutic relationship, when someone is coming to see you for the first time.
Here are 3 important steps to creating an amazing first massage experience:
- Tell Them What to Expect! Prior to starting your treatment, give your client an idea of what will actually be happening during the session. This could include things like: “Your massage will take place on a floor mat, with you fully clothed.” or “Throughout the treatment I will be guiding your body into a number of different shapes, to facilitate mobility and relaxation”, or “I will be applying pressure using my hands, forearms, feet, and knees. But don’t worry, I will only go as deep as your body will comfortably allow.” or “This should be a relaxing and rejuvenating experience overall, so please let me know if anything feels uncomfortable, and I will adjust.”
- Explain “Good Pain” vs “Bad Pain”. While we do want to avoid our client’s pain threshold, we should also not be afraid of the “good” type of pain that can occur as the body receives stretch or massage pressure. Explain to your client that during the massage they may feel a mild discomfort that eases with breath and time, and actually feels GOOD. It is okay if they experience this type of “pain” as long as they can breathe through it with relative ease and their body remains relaxed, rather than cringing, cramping, shaking, or tensing up.
- Tune Out and Tune In. In every treatment, it is crucial that you take the time to “Tune out” thoughts that may distract you from being attentive throughout the session, while “Tuning In” to what is happening in your client’s body, and how they are receiving each posture and touch technique you apply. This will guide your choices throughout the massage, ensuring that you are offering a session that is customized to exactly what their body needs (and is ready for) at that particular time. The first thing we try to instil in every practitioner we meet (and train) is the foundation of Metta Bhavana, which is the cultivation of loving-kindness. This is something that should be a daily practice of meditation and mindfulness, so that when it comes time for a massage treatment you are able to bring the same caring and focused energy to your client-practitioner experience.
Please remember that first impressions are long-lasting and deeply impactful. For this reason, we urge everyone who works on the body to adapt an approach that uses the least discomfort necessary in order to achieve the desired outcome. Saving any work that is notably uncomfortable for the situations in which it is truly necessary… (which are rare) and applying each technique from a place of knowledge, education and most importantly, compassion.
As practitioners of such a wonderful form of bodywork, let’s work together to ensure that every client’s first Thai Massage one that they will enjoy and remember with fondness.