When it’s about practitioning Thai Massage, we often read that giving a session is (or should be) a “meditative and mindful experience” for both the practitioner and receiver. But when we look at the majority of Thai Massage treatments and courses offered in Thailand today, and very often in the West too, the “meditative and mindful” aspect can not be further away.
Nonetheless, historically in Thailand, Traditional Thai Massage was often practiced and taught in Buddhist temples, the Watpo temple in Bangkok of course being the most notable example of the temples in Thailand positioned as centers of healing arts. This reminds us of the monasteries in medieval Europe, which likewise were the healing arts, cultural and scientific centers of the earlier European civilizations.
Vipassana Meditation and Mindfulness Training
The Buddhist temples in Thailand were (and are) centers for the practice of Vipassana meditation and Buddhism, and often also centers of education on numerous other subjects, such as languages, arts, medicine, vocational education, practical household and daily life issues, and so on. Thai Massage treatments and education continue to be offered at some Buddhist temples, although it must be said that Traditional Thai Massage training has become very much secularized in the form of colleges, universities, and private institutes and associations.
Today, we see a global trend trying to return to the meditative aspect of giving and receiving Thai Massage. It wasn’t away or gone, but more or less marginalized as a result of the incredible rise and expansion of secular, commercial Thai Massage training schools and teachers in Thailand.
We now witness the emergence of an adapted set of Thai Massage training courses, emphasizing the meditative and mindfulness aspect of practitioning Thai Massage. There’s an obvious trend in wanting to practice Thai Massage in a more traditional, respectful and responsible fashion, which has its roots in the prominence of the healing arts in Thai Buddhist temples, Buddhism and Vipassana meditation.
Vipassana meditation encompasses mindfulness in touch, in acts, in being, in daily life, in giving treatments, in the way we do our jobs. It’s to come to a way of life and insight in life that is based on a non-intrusive, non-judgmental, non-conceptual way of approaching the world, oneself and others.
Vipassana meditation centers, Insight Meditation and Mindfulness training in Thailand have become very popular among foreigners and foremost emphasize the cultivation of certain meditation techniques to come to “see clearly.” To see clearly that there is no permanent Self, Ego or “I” in ‘our being there and here’ and that there never was.
In fact, it’s to come to an understanding that if there’s no permanent Self, there’s also no one there that suffers, no one there that “wants” or “needs,” and the doors are subsequently opened to be able to live in a compassionate, non-judgmental way with ourselves and others.
Thai Massage as a Mindful Experience
Approaching Thai Massage as a meditative, say mindful experience, is then seen as giving a session without judging the receiver. The client or patient is… not fat, stupid, smart, skinny, stiff, flexible, ill, annoying, demanding, and so on… no, the receiver is what he or she is as an expression of being, a phenomenon, being there as a given what-is.
When we are able to work with and touch another person dispassionately, without any judgement, without prejudices, then out of that attitude compassion is there, present, and healing arises miraculously. Not because of cultivating compassion, but simply compassion arising spontaneously as the result of a non-judgmental, non-prejudiced attitude.
Understanding as a fact, as truth, that our own personal make-up and view of life, ourselves and the world is created and formed by our education, our society, our family and friends, by the concepts and ideas prevalent in our own culture, that is, being circumstantial… understanding that very deeply, and realizing, seeing, that many contemporary illnesses both mental and physical, arise from rigid preconceptions… understanding that clearly, then that can set us free. Free from our artificial, untruthful “selves.”
Being Mindful, living Mindful, is in fact being without a full mind, without a mind full of clutter. For a Thai Massage practitioner it means giving the other person, the receiver, the chance and the space to be what-they-are, to express themselves as-is, being fully accepted, becoming free themselves, to finally heal themselves.
I hope that we will not again see arise falseness, artificiality, and unnecessary mystification, or exactly the opposite—desecration, this time by hybrids of Vipassana, Mindfulness and Thai Massage training courses in Thailand or in Western countries, as we’ve unfortunately too much needed to witness in past years with Thai Massage being practiced and taught with unrecognizable features.