A topic of great debate amongst many Thai Massage practitioners and educators, the future of Thai Massage is a can of worms that we’re going to open, right here, right now. Let me start by stating for the record that all discussion around this topic is very important for the evolution of this practice and for it’s continued use. Too often we are witnessing old styles of medicine be overrun and forgotten, and I believe that is partly due to lack of discussion and communication about it.
Each day I continue to be amazed by the power of Thai Massage and the effect it can have on people’s lives. (And my own life). Because of this I want Thai massage to continue to live on, and thrive – giving more and more people access to such incredible work.
When it comes to discussing the future of any medical practice / Eastern practice, we generally come at it from 1 of 3 different perspectives:
- “Traditionalists” who prefer to keep it as it is/was forevermore
- People on the fence who kind of just go with the flow
- “Evolutionists” who prefer to evolve and adapt it for now and future
I’ve tried to weight the above labels evenly so that we can each feel comfortable in our perspectives, and so that we can hopefully let go of these categories with a bit more ease. Fair warning though, the following text will essentially be focused on convincing you that the future of Thai massage lies in its evolution. (Disclaimers for everything these days).
In fact, and to be a bit fairer, I actually think that the most traditional aspect of any Eastern medical practice is its adaptability – so in actuality what I’m about to go through should also jive with those of us placing ourselves in the “traditional” camp too.
I’ll start by saying that the only way any Eastern practice becomes traditional is through experimentation, adaptation, the use of locally available products and through relevance to the people you’re working with. This is the only way that any practice is formed and lasts throughout the years. Anything that is not useful is no longer practiced – it’s a constant process of refining in order to produce therapy. If something doesn’t work for the people it’s being used on, it gets dropped. No Eastern medical system ever came fully formed from birth/inception and this process of refinement has been going on for decades and centuries.
I hope we can all agree on that much.
From here, the question then becomes, should we continue this process of refining and adaptation or not?
And the answer should really be a universal yes! Both from the perspective of keeping our work relevant, and from the perspective of the tradition. We as a modern societal culture are different to the people for whom this practice was originally designed. We don’t move, eat, work, live or rest in any of the same ways at all. So why then, should we be treating the same? We shouldn’t. Much the same as the contemporary yoga practice has evolved, we too need to evolve the way we utilize Thai massage and Thai medical theory. ((NB: this doesn’t necessarily mean change the medical theory, it means adapt the way we APPLY the theory)).
This also doesn’t mean that we change the entire system. It simply means that we need to gain a deeper understanding of what our work is doing. To do this we need to do only 2 things: listen and respond.
It sounds like such a simple task, but it generally takes a lot of practice given our misconceptions of what Thai Massage is and what it should be. It means completely stepping out of any and all protocols we’ve learned before, questioning why we’re doing what we’re doing and making informed decisions about every single thing that we choose to use, based solely on what we are listening to with our touch. This means that we should question what our teachers taught us, and when needed go against their teachings. “Because my teacher told me to do it this way” and “Because it’s one of the Great Poses” are not good reasons for their use – all that shows us is that we’re not actually listening for the effect of our work. (That’s harsh, but unfortunately it’s the truth).
The therapeutic potential of Thai Massage is almost incomparable to any other physical therapy that I’ve experienced. However, in order to access such potential we need to evolve the practice within every single treatment – and to do that to the greatest effect we must also study human anatomy and physiology in order to understand what we’re doing.
The future of our practice lies in education. Will we continue to educate the exact same way? Or will we once again adapt and bring in more current knowledge of the body? This doesn’t mean that we sacrifice any of the Eastern knowledge/education. It simply means that we learn more things, we have a greater pool of knowledge upon which to draw and therefore we have a deeper understanding of what we’re doing. I’d also like to take a moment to note that learning human biology actually augments intuition (rather than reduces it). More on that here.
The topics of therapeutics and education also leads us to another important aspect of the future of Thai Massage. And this is a bit of a sticky one, generally speaking: it’s the topic of regulation and standards of practice.
Many are opposed to the idea of regulation and standardization of practice, and I believe this is because a number of traditional medical systems that have been standardized have lost a good portion of their essence. However, the fear of past mistakes should only invigorate us to do it better in the future – to make the process of standardization one that maintains and upholds the foundational principles of practice (and elevates it even further). It shouldn’t make us avoid the idea.
Going through such a process of regulation does actually have numerous benefits – it forces an improvement in educational practices (because at this point in time anyone can teach anyone else Thai Massage and can “certify” them to practice), it ensures a more consistently positive experience (I can’t tell you the number of people I’ve met who have been hurt or had a very unpleasant experience with Thai Massage), and it improves access to something that we should all have access to.
At some point this regulatory process will happen – Thai Massage is becoming rapidly more popular in the West and just like everything that comes here, it’s beginning to be put through its paces. We can debate all we want, but at some point it will be regulated – there’s really no question of it in my mind. Our only decision is how we manage it. We have the responsibility to ensure a bright future for Thai Massage, and we can as long as we make the right decisions moving into regulation and standardization.
As a collective, we have the ability to be at the fore of this process and to nurture the elements of this practice that make it so magical. If we work together, we can come up with a system of practice and educational standards that elevate our work and allow us to keep the freedom with which we currently practice. Yes, we’ll be held accountable for our actions, but there’s no instance in life where we shouldn’t be.
The future of Thai Massage lies in education, improving standards of education and practice, and adapting education and practice to incorporate both old and new sciences. Interestingly enough, this is also the tradition of Thai Massage.
I hope we can work together on this.