Should you Study Thai Massage in Thailand?
I live in the center of the universe as fas as Thai massage is concerned – Chiang Mai, Thailand. There are hundreds of Thai massage shops and schools all over town, and tens of thousands of people come from all over the world to study here. So the question is: Is Thailand the best place to study Thai massage? Here are the pros and cons.
Pros of studying in Thailand
Some good reasons to study here is that it is cheaper than in the west. The cost of living is low, the country is beautyful and the people are friendly. If you combine a vacation with the study of Thai massage, you have a really attractive combination. You easily meet like-minded students and there are many opportunities for networking and making friends. Another advantage is that you can choose from many schools and even study in several of them.
Cons of studying in Thailand
But there are some cons to consider. Most of the certificates that you get after completing the course are not accepted in the west as part of the required hours of a massage licence (There are exceptions and it depends on your country of origen). There are schools in Thailand that advertise that their certificates are accepted elsewhere, but if you read the fine print, it says that they are accepted for continuing education. That means that they still do not count towards your massage licence.
Is “traditional” always better?
How about quality of education? The Thais advertise “Traditional” Thai massage, and this has become a world wide slogan. The implication is that “traditional” is some kind of quality standard, a guarantee of purity. After living in Thailand for many years, I can say that this is not neccessarily true. Let me tell you an illustrative story.
Cutting off the bacon
A newly wed husband noticed that his wife always cut the ends off the bacon and asked her why she did that. She replied that she did it because her mother always did it. So the man asked the mother why she always cut the ends of the bacon off. Her reply was that she did it because her mother had always done it. So the man went to grandma and asked her the same question. She solved the mystery by explaining that she had always cut off the end of the bacon because her frying pan was too small.
What is the moral of this story? Blindly following a “tradition” is not always a symbol of purity and quality, but it may be counter-productive and limiting. My observation is that many Thais practice Thai massage with some elements of “cutting off the bacon”. In other words they sometimes do things that are not neccessarily useful, but since it is tradition, everyone simply copies and follows.
For example there are those quick one-two chops that do absolutely nothing, but everyone administers them. Then there is chopping on the forehead which is distincly unpleasant but is done almost universally in the Thai massage shops. Next is the compulsion with following a routine sequence. In general everyone gets the same cookie cutter massage regardless of your condition or request.
Addiction to routine can limit inspiration and innovation
It is very difficult to get most Thai massage therapist to forego their routine and just concentrate on one area where you feel you need the work. I have tried countless times. If you ask for specific work on your shoulder, for example, they will say yes, and then they will proceed to start at the feet and give you the standard massage with a few extra minutes of shoulderwork thrown in.
The case for blending various techniques
Now don’t get me wrong here, I have received many great massages in Thailand, and there are excellent and highly skilled therapists here, but I am pointing out some of the “cut off bacon” that exists in following a tradition. Thai therapists almost never study anything outside of Thai massage whereas their western counterparts have a much higher degree of curiosity and less adherence to tradition (and granted, more opportunity). They often study other compatible therapies like Shiatsu, yoga, energy work, Chigong etc. As a result they combine traditional Thai massage with other modalities which can be an improvement.
For example Thai massage combined with yoga principles is a definite improvement, as is Thai massage done with energy work components. My personal addition is lots of rocking techniques which works very well. Many practitioners have combined it with Swedish massage or with Shiatsu. I am not saying that Thai massage should be changed, but there are definitely areas where value can be added. Thais are not as receptive to those elements as are westerners.
Two good choices – take your pick
Studying Thai massage in Thailand can be a wonderful experience with many benefits and a great cultural experience. There are also many highly qualified and talented teachers in the western world who should be given consideration. Studying in the west can produce excellent skills and hours towards certification, but it will lack the cultural element of Thailand and it will cost more. Two good choices with pros and cons each.
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