What is Thai Massage
Thai Massage is a form of gentle exercise which involves the recipient being fully-clothed and pulled – or ‘stretched’ – into positions by the therapist. As such, and unlike other massage therapies, no oil is used.
A holistic therapy, Thai Massage focuses on the body as a whole and is regarded as a healing method in the yogic sense, having been formed via a combination of Indian Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine.
The therapy’s principles are based on the body’s lines – or meridians – of which there are believed to be around 72,000. By realigning these, it’s believed the body, mind and spirit is once again brought back into harmony.
Thai Massage practitioners refer to these meridians as ‘sen’ or ‘vessels’ and believe air travels along them. This air they say, was breathed in via the lungs and permeates the whole body. The sen originates at the navel and spreads throughout the body finally terminating in the orifices. The therapist takes control of the air by massaging the sen – or lines – at various points on the body.
The therapy also involves various pumping movements which are based on the Asanas of yoga. Pressure points (acupressure or ‘deep massage’) mimic the Nadis of Ayurveda. By applying pressure at these particular points in the body the therapist is said to stimulate the sen, allowing it to move more freely throughout the body as a whole.
Other practices involved in a Thai Massage session include meditation and gentle twisting of the limbs and trunk.
For centuries the practice was regarded as a form of medicine and performed by Buddhist monks and nuns in monasteries throughout Thailand, China and India. Today its popular in European and American spas and tourist resorts as well as alternative therapy clinics and other healing centres. It really came into being as a recognised therapy in the West around the beginning of the 1990s when its popularity exploded thanks in part to Thailand becoming a busy tourist destination. Westerners who witnessed Thai Massage being performed asked to be taught its practice. Shortly afterwards books on the subject were introduced into Western and European culture.
What to Expect
It is advisable to turn up for a Thai Massage wearing loose and comfortable clothing such as jogging bottoms and a tee shirt.
You’ll be asked to lie flat on a mat or mattress. The therapist will then perform a series of movements, picking up and manipulating your legs or arms, even folding you over from the waist.
This physical contact from the therapist will be achieved using his or her hands, elbows and feet. Your body will be contorted into a series of yoga-like positions including the bhujangasana – or Cobra – which involves a back arching movement.
When using their elbows to apply acupressure (or massage) the therapist will straighten his or her forearms and lock them at the elbow. This allows a fair amount of pressure to be applied and you’ll certainly be able to feel it (although it shouldn’t be painful). The therapist may also use their feet for massage purposes.
You may be alone with the therapist or there could be a group of you (usually up to a maximum of four) with the therapist stretching each individual in turn – although hopefully you will be alerted as to whether you will be alone or not prior to your session beginning.
Another surprising element is that your therapist may hold onto ropes suspended from the ceiling. This will help them balance while they press their feet into either your back or legs.
As well as rubbing your body at certain points, the therapist will also pull digits such as fingers and toes and even walk on your back. This is all done in an attempt to free the meridians of blockages.
A typical Thai Massage session can last anywhere from one to two hours.
Prior to the session it’s best not to eat a heavy meal and during the actual session any discomfort should immediately be pointed out to your therapist.
Certain medical conditions can be exacerbated or worsened during a Thai Massage session. These include open wounds, inflamed skin, hernias and recent fractures.
Other reasons to avoid a session would be if you’ve just recovered from surgery or had chemotherapy, are prone to blood clots or suffer from heart problems and if there is a possibility you could be pregnant.
Effects and Benefits
Like most forms of massage therapy Thai Massage has a number of benefits for the body. These are on the physical, mental and spiritual plane according to every therapist and guide you’ll ever come across.
Certainly it’s known for its relaxation and anti-anxiety effects, but unique to Thai Massage it’s also praised for its ‘loosening’ effect on the limbs thanks to the pulling techniques the therapist employs.
On the whole the therapy can assist with soothing and improving a wide range of ailments and common degenerative diseases such as osteoarthritis and Irritable Bowel Syndrome. It can also result in an overall sense of wellbeing in the form of increased energy, improved sleep and reduced anxiety.
One of the more common and favoured positions in Thai Massage is when the recipient is moved onto their side and the therapist manipulates certain limbs and applies pressure at regulated points. This is celebrated for its beneficial effect on the hips, back, shoulders, chest and neck.
Some of the main benefits of Thai Massage include:
- Pain relief – by blocking pain signals to the brain and activating the parasympathetic nervous system to stimulate the release of endorphins and serotonin (which, of course, also helps with anxiety and depression). The acupressure also relieves muscular tension and increases flexibility in the limbs
- Anxiety/depression reduction – see above description with parasympathetic nervous system. Also induces a sense of deep relaxation which in turn improves sleep. Increasing sleep has a very beneficial effect on depression
- Reduces blood pressure and heart rate – massage reduces stress and encourages the heart to slow down by improving blood and lymph circulation
- Decreases Lethargy – the therapy removes blockages in the energy meridians therefore leading to a replenishment of energy levels
- Improves posture – thanks to the stretching and pulling yoga techniques and the reduction of pain
- Leads to overall improvement in mental and physical being – improved sleep, relaxation and the elimination of pain enhances mood and energy levels
Fascinating Facts about Thai Massage
- Thai massage goes by a number of names. Some of the more unusual include Old Medicine Hospital Style, Lazy Yoga, Yoga For Two, Passive Yoga and Ancient Siamese Bodywork.
- Thai massage is believed to have been invented by the Buddha’s personal physician called Shivago Komarpaj, more than 2500 years ago
- Monks used to perform Thai Massage as a form of medicine
- Thai Massage is one of the most popular massage therapies for athletes as it’s good for muscle stretching and flexibility
- No-one can tell how the therapy evolved as all written records on Thai Massage were burned when the Burmese invaded the Siamese capital of Ayutthaya in 1767.
- Today Thai Massage is practiced in hitherto unheard of locations such as shopping centres, airports and the beach
- In Thailand, Thai massage is both recognised and regulated by the government and regarded as an extremely legitimate branch of Traditional Thai Medicine (TTM)
- There is no single recognised form of Thai Massage with the therapy varying from region to region even within Thailand itself
- Unlike meridians in Chinese Medicine the ‘sen’ in Thai Massage are believed to be unconnected to the body’s internal organs
- Thai Massage seems to be particularly popular amongst musicians with Paul McCartney, Sting, Sir Elton John and the Rolling Stones all having indulged in the therapy at one time or another
The Thai Massage Organisation
An organisation set up to spread the word about Thai Massage throughout the UK. The group runs practitioner courses in Scotland, the North of England and Thailand as well as workshops.
Set up in 1993 as one of the first schools for Thai Massage in the UK, this London-based organisation provides courses recognised by the Complementary Therapists Association. Provides supervision and feedback for students.