Thai Massage – Doing A Body Good
BY KITT WALSH
In a building sharing a complex with famed Reclining Buddha in Thailand, you will see anatomical drawings, centuries old, which adorn the most famous massage school in the world—Wat Po. Here is taught Thai massage and it can change your life.
If you are used to the type of massage where oil is rubbed in your skin and slight pressure is exerted around sore muscles, Thai massage is invigorating rather than relaxing, and its proven benefit to the body has spread its fame far and wide.
It has been called “passive yoga” as many of the postures used in yoga are used to relieve stress and improve blood circulation. “Thai massage” or “Thai yoga massage” is an ancient healing system combining acupressure, Indian Ayurvedic principles, and assisted yoga postures. In Thai, its name is nuat phaen boran meaning ancient-style massage and it has been practiced and perfected for thousands of years.
The founder of Thai massage is said to have been Shivago Komarpaj, known as the physician to Buddha himself more than 2,500 years ago. He is remembered for his mastery of massage. What is probably more true, Thai massage is actually a conglomeration of Chinese, Indian and Asian influences.
The first difference you will note if you are used to Western style massage is that Thai massage is performed when you are fully clothed and with no oil or lotion. You will be given loose clothing to wear and asked to lie on a firm mattress or mat, possibly on the floor. This may be in a group or private setting.
Try to relax; the movements can hurt. Your body will be stretched, pulled, compressed and rocked. You will be arranged into a variety of yoga-like positions and the therapist will use deep static and rhythmic pressures.
Modern Thai masseuses believe that the body is permeated with “lom”, or “air”, which is inhaled into the lungs and travels throughout the body along 72,000 pathways called “sen”, which therapists manipulate manually. Traditional Thai medicine follows a different theory—that manipulation of the five layers of organs, bones, channels, skin and tissues allows the masseuse to influence the relationship of earth, fire, water and sen within the body. In this system the “sen” are the blood vessels, nerves, ligaments and tendons and movement is controlled by the element of wind (lom).
The masseuse will follow the designated sen lines in your body and her body will be I constant contact with yours. She (and in Thailand, I never saw a a male masseur) will climb up on the table or mat and use her legs and feet to position your body. There should be no need to tell her where you hurt (massage lasts between 1-2 hours and during this time your body will be stretched, including ears, toes and finger pulling, knuckle cracking, many changes of position and even include the masseuse massaging you with her knees. There is a pattern to the massage—like a dance—though a good masseuse will make adjustments to fit your particular body.
I mentioned that many people find Thai massage painful. You can ask that the practitioner take it easy on you, but I prefer to let her fingers “fix” what ails me and to that end “no pain no gain” does come into effect. Where it hurts probably is where you most need the work (I found that after 16 hours of travel to get to Wat Po, my body was like a pretzel and the first massage was sort of exquisite agony) where my 14th massage a mere two weeks later hardly hurt at all in the places that at first had me all but screaming.
So what does Thai massage do for you?
Just as in yoga, when you hold a pose (or a pose is held for you, as when the masseuse lifts your leg up towards your face), blood flow slows to the area. When she releases the pose, fresh circulation rushes in. It is even said that inverted poses can help with returning the blood to the heart and aid digestion, in a process known as lymphatic drainage.
Emotional and stress can both be relieved through muscle manipulation, helping release the toxins caused by negative emotions. With regular sessions you may find the connection between your physical issues and the issues affecting your mind and spirit, helping to heal both.
The American Massage Therapy Association lists several scientific studies that show that Thai massage can boost your immune system (and as someone traveling on many planes and with a traveling companion who caught the flu on the way through Hong Kong, yet remained healthy myself, I have to credit Thai Massage.) By stimulating the nervous system and getting rid of toxins, your immunity to diseases is strengthened. Many practitioners of Thai massage even believe regular massages can actually help you enjoy a longer life. Whether that claim is true or not, I can personally attest that you will enjoy each day more with Thai massage.
The length and difficulty of a massage course at Wat Po can vary from a five-day introduction to Thai massage, right through to a 30-day professional massage therapy www.watpomassage.com. For a list of Thai masseuses in your area, contact The American Massage Therapy Association at www.amtamassage.org.