Massage, Reiki and Holistic Care: Different Strokes for Different Folks?

I have been recently reminiscing on times spent in the past in China and East and Southeast Asia.  Aside from the vibrancy and creativity of cities such as Hong Kong, Bangkok and Shanghai, the unexpected natural beauty in many regions, and the memorable food to be found on street corners, the region has a unique historical relationship with massage as an integral part of life.  This last aspect has always been striking to me as a holistic health practitioner.

Indian and Chinese influences merged about a millennium ago, including a fusion of their ideas on holistic medicine.  Massage combined with practices such as yoga, ayurveda, and traditional medicine to form part of a holistic approach to healing.  It was woven into everyday life:  in rural Thailand, for example, massage was very much a family thing—something that even children learned to do to soothe the aches and pains of elders who had been toiling in the fields. It was a simple act of care and love within the family (https://www.bbc.com/travel/article/20200707-the-birthplace-of-traditional-thai-massage#:~:text=While%20Wat%20Pho%20is%20conventionally,countryside%20within%20Thailand’s%20farming%20communities). This dispels the idea that there is anything indulgent or luxurious about massage, although it can of course be so.

In the modern day, massage has been revived in the West (starting in Sweden in the late 19th century) but the acceptance of it as a regular part of everyday life—with no other connotations involved—remains greater in Asia.  Friends and clients have remarked on how in Southeast Asia, massage huts are seen on beaches, and it is almost a communal activity with families receiving massage treatment together.  There is no reason to be bashful about receiving the human touch.  In the English-speaking world, however, there is still too much suspicion about traditional healing and non-allopathic medicine (for example, even in mainland Europe, there is far more mainstream acceptance of homeopathy).

At the same time, and this was already evident 30 years ago, massage has been marketed to the rest of the world, and has become a tourist trade, sometimes in less wholesome ways.  This industrialisation and commodification has made me think about my philosophy as a holistic health practitioner, here in Kensington, London. In my vision, massage and the other treatments that I offer are complements to each other and part of a healthy overall lifestyle. The aim of the massage and Reiki treatments that I offer is not to be just a quick fix for pain, but to offer the client an individualised pathway to self-healing, i.e., a tool to help them help themselves.

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