All pain and no gain!

by | Sep 4, 2017

I recently had a Thai Massage that injured me. I went to a place in Thailand that I know well and that has a good reputation with foreigners. My expectations weren’t too high, I hoped for a decent relaxing massage and nothing more.

Thai massage, if performed badly can be quite dangerous and I would categorise my experience this summer as one of those such events. It wasn’t just bad in that the practitioner was lacking skill (although he obviously was) or that he was doing a cookie cutter sequence. It was as if he was deliberately and intentionally harming me.

I asked him a few times to be more gentle, even using the Thai words for this (‘bow bow’) and when he continued to ignore me I placed my hands on his and physically lifted them off my body. I then spent a while trying to understand why I let him continue for so long, and thanks to hindsight I have a few answers.

Firstly I doubted myself. I was having crazy thoughts running around my head; Was I being pathetic? Could it be that what he was doing would eventually have therapeutic effect? Was my body holding more water than usual and therefore feeling ultra-sensitive?

Then a little part of me gave in and decided to succumb to an experiment, despite my being thrown into it without initial consent – to experience a massage that absolutely did not address my body in an aware and intelligent way. At this point I realised my thinking was definitely skewed. The Thai word for this is ‘Baa baa bor bor’ and it means ‘Crazy’ which nicely sums this up!

It is somehow very hard to get up and walk away from a massage. Even when the practitioner is harming you, or (as a friend experienced at the same place on the same day) being inappropriate. I put this down to something that happens when having a treatment, (and this subject could lead to a whole new blog as it needs dissecting) just how vulnerable one is when receiving a treatment.

All in all, I was being very English, too polite to say ‘stop’ or cause a fuss. As I write this I am just fully recognising how absurd all of this was.

Lessons learned

I feel that there are clearly lessons to be learned from this experience:

  1. I am the authority on my body and I should never give that authority away.
  2. Cookie cutter massage can be great when it is done REALLY well but it has to be carried out to nigh on perfection and with skill or at the very least with some attention to detail.
  3. For any bodywork to be therapeutic the practitioner should always go in slowly, knocking politely at the door, and not barging in -at least until they have assessed how deep the pressure should be for that individual.
  4. There most certainly IS bad pain, from which there is NO gain! Therapeutic Thai Massage can be deep and intense but still on the right side of deep often described by my clients as exquisite pain.
  5. There is no place for the practitioner to have such an ego that it gets in the way of listening to the client.
  6. There is a real need for practitioners to have some knowledge of the body and how the physical layers respond to touch. In this instance the knowledge would ideally be Thai anatomy but Western anatomy would be very welcomed too.

Are you wondering what the injury was?

Before I tell you that I want to say how this guy worked on me. He went in as deep as he could, with muscle strength from the get go, straight into the channels. There was no preparation for this, no working the skin or soft tissue first. Then he did some ‘blood stops’. (Note that I am not calling his technique working the ‘wind gates’ which is a different thing altogether). The name I am using should bring a good image of his technique and depth of pressure to mind.

The effect of his unfeeling touch was that the blood-flow was distorted and the nerves were impeded. For two days my hands were tingling and both arms would fluctuate – a rush of blood one minute and a cold and numb sensation the next. The whole feeling was very disconcerting and uncomfortable.

But there was a silver lining to this. My skilled colleague was still in Thailand and she gave me a 2-hour arm massage. She is also trained in Thai Medical theory and approaches the body through this effective lens. Her touch was extremely proficient. She worked some medicinal creams into the soft tissue, performed range of motion and traction and took her time to pay attention to what my body needed for healing. And heal it did.