Looking more closely at the tradition of massage and bodywork in Asia, we can conclude that giving treatments, or teaching a modality, was never seen as “just a job.”
Apart from their use as physical healing arts, massage and bodywork were always considered spiritual healing practices closely connected with the teachings of the Buddha and with other religious aspects of local beliefs.
Even in the recent past, healing arts were primarily taught and practiced in temples, by local healers, and at home. The establishment of secular, commercial facilities and training centers outside of temples, homes, and local healing practices is a quite recent development.
In Asia, historically, giving massage or teaching bodywork was understood to be a physical application of Metta, denoting “loving kindness” — and devoted masseurs, healers, therapists, and teachers worked in a spirit of benevolence, carrying out sessions with full awareness, mindfulness, and concentration.
It’s important to keep this ideal in mind and to study massage and bodywork in that spirit. There is a world of a difference between sessions performed in a meditative, concentrated, and compassionate mood, and a session done “just as a job.” Serious and truthful teachers and healers know this as no other.
Yet, the past decades have brought a whole other kind of massage and bodywork — one that, in terms of treatment and training offerings, clearly outnumbers the traditional style. This new style of doing things is rather aimed at relaxation, overindulgence, pampering, esthetics, physical fitness, and exoticism, subsequently becoming increasingly remote from what the traditional healing arts stood for.
I feel that moving away from the traditional approach of performing massage and bodywork makes those practices not only overly commercial, but also mechanical and less efficient, finally losing much of their healing power. As such, they simply become means to a professional career in order to make a living, instead of a calling to compassionately support people in their healing process.