And many are unwary and have no idea that what they are doing is unethical. The stereotype of massage therapy as “hippy health care” is still strong, because a large number of massage therapists, probably the majority in North America, are what many people would describe as “flaky” or leaning in that direction. Such therapists are mostly ignorant of how science works, and actually hostile towards the idea of evidence-based care. They define themselves in opposition to the “mainstream” and distrust of The Man more than by their scientific and clinical knowledge and skills.
I stayed there as the administrator and an instructor for five years after I graduated, and during that period of time, I could not possibly even name all the things I went through. I had a lot of psychic readings. I availed myself of EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique), an invention of Dr. Mercola, [sic]84 which basically consists of tapping on meridian points in order to relieve emotional negativity, food cravings, and pain. I tried Aura Soma, which is described as “color healing.” I got tuned up with tuning forks, and crystal bowls. I participated in one workshop called Matterspeak, which consisted of sitting around chanting random words, letters, and numbers for 8 hours, as in “1263supercalifragilisti789.” I don’t remember what the purpose of that was and frankly doubt that it had any purpose, other than to enrich the teacher’s pocketbook. If memory serves, she had “channeled” that information from the Atlanteans. I also used the chi machines, the detox foot baths and pads, biofeedback and all kinds of computer programs designed to balance your body, mind and spirit, and most New Agey-sounding things in existence at the time. If it was out there, I tried it. All kinds of “healers” came and went through the school.
An Indian physician named Shivago Kumar Bhucca, a contemporary of the Buddha, is often credited with developing Thai massage. The impetus was to give monks and nuns the flexibility to sit for long hours in meditation. Whatever its genesis, massage was considered such a crucial aspect of medical treatment in Thailand that until the early 20th century, the Thai Department of Health included an official massage division. Thai massage is based on releasing blockages along ten lines of energy called sen, which are similar to the meridians of traditional Chinese medicine. The technique incorporates stroking and kneading of muscles, manipulation of joints, and pressure applied to specific points in order to balance the body’s four elements—earth, water, fire, and air. But there’s also rocking, breathing, and lots of stretching—Thai massage is often referred to as “lazy yoga.”
The reason the Pressure Question exists is that it’s hard for patients to tell the difference between nasty pain that might be a necessary part of therapy, and ugly pain that is just abusive. Not everything that hurts is therapeutic, but not every therapeutic procedure is painless! How can we tell if an intense massage technique is therapeutic or not?
Massage has been shown to reduce neuromuscular excitability by measuring changes in the Hoffman's reflex (H-reflex) amplitude. A decrease in peak-to-peak H-reflex amplitude suggests a decrease in motoneuron excitability. Others explain, "H-reflex is considered to be the electrical analogue of the stretch reflex...and the reduction" is due to a decrease in spinal reflex excitability. Field (2007) confirms that the inhibitory effects are due to deep tissue receptors and not superficial cutaneous receptors, as there was no decrease in H-reflex when looking at light fingertip pressure massage. It has been noted that "the receptors activated during massage are specific to the muscle being massaged", as other muscles did not produce a decrease in H-reflex amplitude.
For others, the notion of being in touch with their own needs and desires is totally alien, says Andrew. People who grew up in a family environment that centred around the needs of a sibling or a parent might have spent their whole lives never being asked about what they wanted to do. “It might genuinely be something they’ve never considered before,” she says. For those people, identifying something they might find enjoyably relaxing, and pursuing it, can be a huge, life-changing shift. “It can be quite dramatic.”