Student Clinic Sm

Soft Touch

Thai massage is often associated with strong physical work, both for the Giver and the Receiver.  Traditionally, Thai touch tends to be fairly aggressive and assertive.  Sometimes stretches are quick and deep or just deep and painful.  Sometimes compressions are quick and deep or just deep and painful.  Sometimes the thumbing can be quick and deep or just deep and painful.  Especially the southern or Jap Sen style, the thumbs are used to flick nerve bundles or tendons.  Not particularly relaxing.  And don’t get me wrong, that’s not always bad and many have a lot of success using these methods.  So I don’t dispute them outright.  I just know what works for me, or seems to work better for me.

After many years of receiving and practicing and studying with Pichest, I have come to realize that this sort of aggressive touch is not always the best policy.  Pichest will often say, “go to fast or too deep and muscle afraid, muscle scared go to this website.  And when muscles afraid, then (he clenches himself into a ball – not knowing the word “contract”) and SUPER BLOCK.  Super afraid and super block,” he says.  Pichest’s work has gotten softer and softer as time has gone on.  That’s not to say he never goes deep.  But it is always with the muscle’s consent, with the person’s mind’s consent.  And most of the time, he works fairly light and moves with the breath.

Another teacher of mine, Pee Noi, is also a proponent of soft touch.  Her touch is very light and soft, so much so that she seems to barely be touching the person at all.  Yet, despite this super soft touch, people let go under her hands.  Tears are common at Pee Noi’s studio and body’s let go of holding and long held tension.  And after all, isn’t this what we are trying to do but working so hard at doing.  Pichest calls it “buffalo work”.  Doing the sequence and working hard doing it.  Isn’t it good to know that you can do less and less and get more and more results.

My friend Chance once said to me, “how much trauma do you want to create in someone’s body in order to get them to release trauma?”  A rhetorical question for sure and one worth pondering.  If I can help someone release tension without creating more trauma, without creating more blocks, then isn’t that the better route to go.  And in this world where people are moving so fast, where people are tense and tight and holding strong against the ever encroaching world, isn’t it best to use a gentle approach, where the body can learn that it doesn’t always need to be aggressed upon in order to fix it or heal it?  How often to people truly experience love in this way? How often are they given the opportunity?

So, then the question is, how do we integrate Soft Touch into a Thai bodywork session.  Where it seems like the very nature of the work makes it impossible to work in this way.  I’m thinking that’s a subject for another blog post.  I will put it out there that it is possible, it just takes a different mindset.  More on that later.


  1. Paul W
    Paul W05-04-2012

    Right on! I have had many a moment during sessions where I felt somehow obliged to apply more pressure, and yet something it just doesn’t feel right. Kind of like not being able to take a deep breath. The problem is that the muscle/point isn’t letting go, and on a deeper level, the energy isn’t moving. In fact, as Paul F/Pichest says, it’s “contracting” against you. It takes courage (for me anyway) to really back off, to wait and be patient, and then even back off a little more, and… LISTEN to what the muscle/patient is telling you.

    When we impose our own expectation on how deep to go, that is ego. That’s why it takes courage to back off. The ego is the part of us that is afraid to let go. The ego is afraid that it won’t be good enough. Won’t “do” good enough. That it will be rejected. The key is in not being attached to the outcome or to what the client’s response is (or what we project onto the client as their response). But how do we REALLY make that shift? SImple. Go from your head into your heart and gut and then respond. This is where we have to listen from! Or it doesn’t work. That’s the shift. Be empty-headed. Empty Head.

    Paul F worked on me a bit the other day, and I really felt this from him. Over the last few days, it changed my own work significantly.

Leave a Reply