Early in 2005, after doing yoga for over three decades, I decided it was time to get my yoga teacher certification. After some exploring I decided to attend the June IYT (Integrative Yoga Therapy) training in PA. Little did I know at the time just what an impact that yoga training would have on me.
The man who taught the postures classes, Jonas Westring, was fabulous. I learned so much from him on body alignment that it has since become the foundation to my practice and my teaching. He also introduced to me to a modality I had never heard of before, Thai Yoga Bodywork, more commonly known as Thai Massage. He showed us a few techniques during our postures classes and talked it up during our free time, such as during meal times. At the end of the two weeks of intense yoga training, Jonas was giving a three-hour intro workshop in NJ not far from where I live. I shared with my husband what I had learned about Thai bodywork and he was all for going to the workshop. His motive of course was for me to do the training and he reap the benefits. So we went and I fell in love with this amazing healing modality.
I learned that Jonas was going to be teaching Levels 1 & 2 at a 10 day training at the Kripalu Yoga Center in upstate NY that coming September. So I signed up and had yet another amazing experience with yet another group of equally amazing students. About a year later I completed Level 3 and two years after that, completed the advanced level 4 course with Jonas. My clients couldn’t get enough and I loved the healing process for them, plus it deepened my intuitive touch abilities in reaching my clients on an energetic level.
Jonas began giving the Level 1 & 2 trainings at the Open Center in NYC and I was more than happy to assist him numerous times. Each time it gave me a chance to deepen my understanding and knowledge of this old healing modality deeply rooted in yoga.
Know I’d like to pass along a bit of that knowledge in hopes you’ll want give Thai massage a try to reap the benefits for your health physically, emotionally and spiritually.
At little bit of history.. .
5,000 – 4,000 > Chinese Medicine and Indian Ayurvedic Medicine
4,000 – 3,000 > Indonesian develops out of Ayurvedic Medicine
3,000 – 2,000 > Chinese & Ayurvedic Medicine come together > Thai Massage
2,000 – 1,000 > Out of Chinese Medicine > Shiatsu
500 > Osteopathy
100 > Chiropractic
So, as you can see, Thai Massage has been around for a while.
You lie on a mat on the floor, fully clothed except for shoes & socks. Best to wear yoga clothes or other exercise clothes that gives the practitioner the ability to move you freely. The practitioner uses thumbs, palms, forearms, elbows, feet, knees and even shins to press and stretch your body. It is believed that good health and freedom from pain result from the unhindered flow of vital energies through the body’s tissues. These “channels” of energy are called “Sen”.
There is not a general agreement as to the exact number of Sen channels there are, but those who know something of Chinese Medicine quickly recognize that the Thai practitioner is working along the Chinese Chi meridians.
There are four basic positions used in a Thai massage; sitting, lying on your back, side, and belly. Some or all of these positions can be used in any one session. An added benefit to these position choices is a pregnant woman can comfortably receive a full massage only using two positions, sitting and side.
Starting with the feet and then working up the legs, pressing and thumbing is the mechanical process used to stimulate energy flow in the Sen. This is done to release blockages or stagnation which result in pain. This part of any session is very thorough. Each Sen channel is pressed repeatedly from every direction and when the practitioner is satisfied that all soft tissues have been adequately pressed, stretching begins.
What does it do?
Thais have known that most musculoskeletal pain and lack of mobility of the joints is the result of muscles shortening that are also strained by repetitive movement. The pressing techniques in Thai massage prepare muscles for stretching by increasing 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. The tension and spasm in a muscle are the result of a vicious circle involving the muscle and the brain. The more tense a muscle is, the shorter it gets. Then the brain says > contraction! I see it as sneaking up on the muscle and before the brain can say, CONTRACT! I’ve stretched that muscle further than it could go before. The Thai massage has stretched the muscles back to their normal resting length, which tricks the brain into ‘thinking’ that all is well. Before long, tension disappears and joint mobility is restored. Muscles are the practitioner’s ultimate target but fibrotic connective tissue and weak circulation are also treated during the massage. Plus, there are techniques used to massage the belly which are especially good for clients with digestive issues. I don’t perform these moves without consulting the client ahead of time. Those that have it, like it. (But there nothing to not like.)
How does it feel?
Thai is different from other forms of bodywork. The smoothness, rhythm and flow best describe a session. Nothing is hurried, there are no sudden changes of rhythm or speed. Every technique melts into the next, even when changing body positions, and it looks and feels like a beautifully choreographed dance. First time recipients 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. All of my clients have felt relaxed, refreshed and much more flexible afterwards. Those who come for regular Thai massage sessions enjoy the deep pressure techniques and magnificent manipulations. Each session is no less than 90 min. Anything less, one cannot give a full Thai massage justice. I have given two-hour sessions and some practitioners go even beyond to three hours.
During the sessions I give to my clients, I expect quiet. This gives me the chance to intuitively zero in on the flow of Sen in that client’s body. I can “feel” just how much pressure to apply and how much to stretch a muscle. This way my client gets the best session I can give her/him.
At the end of a session I give the client time in savasana/relaxation pose just like in a yoga class. This gives the client a few minutes to take in the session and wake-up, which isn’t always so easy to do. I always love to see and hear the reaction of a client as they come out of the “coma” and try to get back to the real world.
Who can have it?
There are some contra-indications to this kind of massage – very much the same as those that apply to massage in general. For those in reasonably good health – regardless of age, lack of flexibility and obesity, a Thai massage is highly beneficial. I’ve had a couple paraplegic clients that left amazed afterwards. It’s important to understand that much of feeling ‘old’ comes from what is often regarded as the stiffening of joints. Regular Thai massage, like a regular yoga practice, quickly proves that this is not so as it restores long-lost mobility to the joints and elasticity to the muscles.
There is a branch of Thai Bodywork that I have not studied, which is the use of healing herbs during a session. However, I do offer the use of essential oils during a session if a client so desires. I apply them at the beginning of a session to the bottoms of the feet where the body can quickly absorb them. I can also defuse oils in the room.
A quick wrap-up of the benefits to Thai bodywork…
Loosens tight muscles
Induces mental relaxation
Provides a feeling of well-being
Deep relaxation; pressure on feet and legs is sedating
Releases points of tension in the body which block the natural flow of energy, Induces homeostasis, balance, and harmony
Releases stress and increases energy
Increases flexibility and range of motion
Assists alignment and postural integrity of the body
Improves blood circulation
Strengthens the internal organs
Improves neurological function
Promotes inner peace and a quiet mind
Suitable for Pre/Postnatal mothers
I hope you will decide to try a Thai massage if you haven’t already. 🙂