One of the best things about travelling in Thailand has to be the ready relief for aching muscles and frazzled nerves to be found in almost every city and town in one of the thousands of traditional Thai massage spas, some very grand and others much more modest. But no matter which, the efficacy of the techniques employed are guaranteed to ease the tension that travelling in Thailand induces to overtaxed muscles and to a patience Job would be hard put to maintain.
A science and an art developed over centuries
Thai massage, often called Thai yoga massage, is a traditional therapy that combines the use of induced yoga positions, Ayurvedic healing principles and acupressure. In Thai it is simply referred to as nuat phaen thai , Thai style massage.
The techniques have changed very little over the centuries
The origins of Thai massage are said to stem from 2,500-year-old practices advocated by Shivago Komarpaj, who, according to Pali scriptures, was the Buddha’s physician, though in reality the present form of Thai massage suggests that it is actually an amalgam of influences from India, China and Southeast Asian cultures and traditions that developed in the 19thcentury into a form of massage that we would recognize today.
Wat Pho School of Massage, Bangkok
Masseurs must undergo training approved by the department of Health Service Support in Thai Public Health Ministry, and this involves many hundreds of hours before a therapist’s licence is issued. Courses are provided by the HSS or students can enrol at one of the many approved training schools nationwide.
Wat Pho, one of Thailand’s most famous temples, also known as the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, is sometimes referred to as the birthplace of traditional Thai massage and houses a school of Thai massage which is widely respected and was the first to be recognized and approved by the Thai Ministry of Education. There are two pavilions in the temple complex where visitors can receive treatment and students from all over the world come to study at the school.
Traditional Thai massage uses passive stretching and pressure along the body’s energy lines, which is believed to increase flexibility, relieve muscle pain and joint tension, and balance the body’s energy systems. Therapists often use their own bodyweight to help you in passive stretching and for the uninitiated some of what is done might come as something of a surprise.
But the trick is to relax as much as possible and allow yourself to be gently guided by your masseur, who will use a series of rhythmic compressive movements with hands or fingertips deep into the muscle to both relax and energizes you. There is an almost constant body contact between client and therapist who uses a variety of pulling, stretching and rocking movements while you lie face up, face down, on your side or seated with your legs crossed. Some of the most soothing techniques involve head and neck massages and foot massages, which are absolutely ideal for the weary traveller or reveller alike.
Therapist using bodyweight for a perfect stretch
The kneading of muscles, which is the dominant Western style of massage, is not used in Thai massage. Rather ‘energy points’ are pressed or a general pressure is applied instead. Thai Massage is believed to work on the body’s energy lines, Sen Lines in Thai, unblocking blocked lines to improve energy flow leading to improved health and vitality. There are said to be six major energy lines on the legs, six on the arms, and four lines on the back, along with several lines on both feet and hands.
Thai masseurs develop a sensitivity over time and a well-developed intuition to find these hard-to-locate lines which are not physical and can move. The massage follows a general rhythm and cadence, with the masseur following the major Sen Lines. The masseur often use their legs and feet to help position their client’s limbs and in other instances their arms to fix the body in position while the feet perform the massage.
Elbows can be very effective in applying pressure precisely
In the course of opening up the Sen lines the masseur may opt to pull fingers, toes, and ears. They may even choose to crack knuckles and walk on the recipient’s back to stimulate the Sen lines. An experienced masseur will change the rhythm and intensity of the massage to fit the client’s needs and level of tolerance. There is a great deal of stretching involved and many exercises might well seem a lot like yoga stretching rather than massage.
Thai Massage is very different from the other massage therapies that usually involve tissue manipulation in that it is a dry massage therapy, the client is always fully clothed, and does not use any oils or lotions. The pressure, tension, and motion movements used during this massage are said to improve blood circulation. Thai masseurs use different body parts such as palms, thumbs, fingers, forearms, elbows and feet to work on stretching and lengthening tight muscles, reduce stiffness and untangle all the knots.
The yoga stretching is reputedly excellent for improving the movement of fluids in the joints, enhance muscle tone and flexibility, increase blood flow throughout the body which in turn helps remove toxins from the body and increase immunity. If nothing else Thai massage is undoubtedly soothing and is great for sleep disorders and eliminating stress, if only in the short term.
The popularity of Thai massage has grown enormously around the world especially since the boom in Thai tourism in the 1980’s and in while in Thailand you should certainly avail yourself of the opportunity to have those aching muscles worked on, those stiff joints loosened up and all the stress off loaded after a busy day at the beach, shopping or sightseeing. It really is the best antidote to the tensions that build up during the day and a perfect way to set yourself up for a great evening out.