WHAT IS THAI MASSAGE? BY MARIA MERCATI
HERE’S HEALTH MAGAZINE
Its mechanics show a strong Indian Ayurvedic and yogic influence, but a very disciplined emphasis on energy channels betrays a link with Chinese Traditional Medicine.
Thai Traditional medicine has existed for over 1000 years, in pretty much the same form that is used today. Its recent world-wide spread has been quite phenomenal.
You lie on a mat on the floor, fully clothed except for shoes and socks. The practitioner uses thumbs, palms, forearms, elbows, feet knees and even shins to press and stretch your body. Thais believe that good health and freedom from pain result from the unhindered flow of vital energies through the body’s tissues.
The main ‘channels’ for distributing these energies are called ‘Sen’. There is no general agreement as to the exact number of Sen but those who know something of Chinese Medicine quickly recognise that the Thai practitioner is effectively working along the Chinese Qi meridians.
Pressing is the mechanical process used to stimulate energy flow in the Sen, and to release blockages or stagnation which result in pain. This part of the massage is very thorough.
Each Sen channel is pressed repeatedly from every direction, with the relative positions of the limbs and trunk being constantly changed. The process is very thorough. When the practitioner is satisfied that all soft tissues have been adequately pressed, stretching begins.
This will be subtle at first but gradually progresses to the elegant, large scale stretches for which Thai massage is renowned. Every muscle and joint is treated.
What does it do?
Thais have long recognised that most musculo-skeletal pain and lack of mobility of the joints is the result of muscles shortening under the influence of repetitive strain.
The pressing techniques of Thai massage prepare muscles for stretching by increasing their permeability to the flow of Sen energies. The manipulations are designed to stretch the muscles a little more than would be possible unaided.
Even advanced yoga cannot compete with the stretching capabilities of Thai massage when applied by an expert.
Tension and spasm in a muscle are the result of a vicious circle of events involving the muscle and its sense organs; those muscles that are antagonistic to it and the brain.
The more tense the muscle the shorter it gets, and the brain interprets this as contraction, so inhibiting the function of the antagonistic muscles, which weaken as a result.
Regular Thai massage stretches the muscles back to their normal resting length, which deceives the brain into ‘thinking’ that all is well and it stops inhibiting the antagonists. Before long, tension disappears and joint mobility is restored.
Muscles are the masseur’s ultimate target but fibrotic connective tissue and weak circulation are also treated during the massage.
How does it feel?
Different from other forms of bodywork – smoothness, rhythm and flow are three words that come to mind.
Nothing is hurried; there are no sudden changes of rhythm or speed. Every technique melts into the next with total economy of motion; it looks like a beautifully choreographed performance.
First time recipients of the massage react differently; some find the pressing techniques – particularly those done with the thumb – a little uncomfortable; others are shocked at the degree of stretching their stiff body can achieve.
Almost all feel relaxed, refreshed and much more flexible afterwards, and those who have regular Thai massage come to enjoy the deep pressure techniques and spectacular manipulations.
And the effects …
There are many, all of them positive, provided of course, that the massage is applied expertly.
Benefits of regular Thai massage include relief from constipation, IBS, headaches, sciatica, back and neck pain.
For the Thais this is not surprising. They regard balance and unimpeded flow of Sen as vital for good health. A good Thai massage achieves this and can correct emotional problems as well as physical ones.
Who can have it?
There are some contra-indications to this kind of massage – very much those that apply to massage in general. For those in reasonably good health – regardless of age, lack of flexibility and obesity – Thai massage is highly beneficial.
So much of feeling ‘old’ comes from what is often regarded as the inevitable stiffening of joints with advancing years. Regular Thai massage quickly proves that this is not so as it restores long lost mobility to the joints.
Cost of treatment often depends on where you live. In the London area expect to pay between £40 and £80 for a one-hour massage. Elsewhere, prices are likely to be between £30 and £45. An hour and a half is ideal.
How do I train?
Courses of widely varying content and length are available in the UK. Some are recognised, most are not. Those who are seeking training should check out the credentials of those offering Thai massage courses before making a commitment.
Ideally, a course should offer practical training to an advanced level together with anatomy and physiology that focuses very much on musculo-skeletal mechanics.
Don’t be deceived by the apparently effortless way in which a Thai master performs large scale manipulations on someone twice his size! It is physically demanding and requires proper training.
Anyone who attempts to perform Thai massage without expert training risks injuring the recipient and oneself. The slight misplacement of a foot or a centre of gravity that is not correctly positioned can make the practitioner’s back vulnerable to injury.
Professional training courses should provide a disproportionate amount of time to train the student to control their body movements and positions in a way which is not demanded of those in other types of bodywork.
The BODYHARMONICS Clinic in Cheltenham offers recognised courses leading to a diploma.
Courses in Thai massage are also offered in Thailand. However, these are often taught by instructors whose command of English can be minimal. Relevant physiology, contra-indications and precautions to avoid injury are not covered.
Bodyharmonics courses teach the ways to use each technique in its best therapeutic context.