Thai Yoga Massage – An Ancient Therapy for a Modern World
“When any person is sick at Siam¹, he begins by causing his whole body to be moulded by one who is skilful herein, who gets upon the body of the sick person & tramples him under his feet.”
Simon de la Loubére, French liaison to the Thai court, 1690
¹Siam became Thailand in 1949.
Upon encountering the term ‘Thai massage’, the mental pictures conjured for many will inevitably revolve around the colourful Bankok nightlife, complete with parlours offering services bearing no relation to actual massage. This could not be further from the reality of an ancient art with its roots firmly embedded in the gentle spirituality of the Buddhist philosophy.
The origins of Thai massage (or ‘ancient massage’ as it is known in Thailand) date back more than 2,500 years to the time of the Buddha (Siddharta). Its founding father is believed to be an Indian doctor, Jivaka Kumar Bhaccha, a friend of Siddharta & physician to the Sanga, the Buddhist monastic order. He brought the principles of massage & herbal medicine to the region; even today the influence of Ayurveda (the ancient system of medicine practised in India) can still be clearly seen in Thai healthcare.
The theory behind Thai massage hinges on the principle of energy flow in the body. Disease & dysfunction, whether it is physical, mental or emotional is believed to be caused by blockages in the flow of this energy. For those involved in the practice of yoga or martial arts, the concept of ‘chi’ (also known as ‘Ki’ or ‘Prana’), the energy existing within & surrounding all living things, should be a familiar one.
In Thai medicine it is believed that a ‘shell’ of some 72,000 energy lines, or ‘sen’ covers the body like a second skin, transporting chi. Thai massage utilises ten of these, those containing points which, when manipulated have a direct influence on the health of the individual. As with acupuncture points in oriental medicine, western science is beginning to recognise that these points, while not anatomically verifiable, do seem to influence the flow of nerve impulses in the body.
Thai massage differs considerably from other forms of massage commonly practised in the West in that no oils are used & the client remains fully clothed. The treatment is also given on a floor mat or futon as opposed to a massage couch. A dual approach to treatment is utilised to encourage healthy energy flow in the body:
Acupressure: not to be confused with acupuncture, which uses needles, the therapist uses fingers, thumbs, feet, toes, elbows, knees & even sitting on the client to manipulate various points on the sen.
Stretching: passive or assisted yoga stretches are applied throughout the treatment to supplement the point work.
The mention of ‘yoga’ often conjures up images of highly improbable (not to mention damaging) body postures. It should be emphasised that one should never stretch, or be stretched beyond the limits of their range of movement at that time; to do so causes injury. As such, during a Thai treatment the individual’s body will not be made to do anything that it is not able to perform.
The combination of acupressure & stretches result in a highly invigorating ‘workout’ of the soft tissues & joints, leaving the individual feeling looser, more relaxed & energised. Think of it as the yoga class where someone does all the work for you! While initially some of the stretches & points can feel a little challenging (like a rusty gate being opened for the first time in years), clients report that any resulting ‘pain’ is brief & of the good variety, rather like an itch being scratched.
Regular treatments can produce many benefits:
a) Increased flexibility: passive stretching produces a deeper & more profound stretch than can be achieved on oneself. Over time the range of movement of a muscle can increase to a considerable degree, especially if the client is supplementing their treatments with a regular & sensible stretching regime of their own. Areas of the body that tend to see particular improvement are the pelvic area & hamstrings.
b) Less injury: most injury to muscles occurs when a muscle is too tight to fully accommodate the demands placed on it, leading to a strain. More muscle flexibility will therefore reduce considerably the risk of such an occurrence.
c) Improved recovery & performance: the release of excessive tension in the muscles & the elimination of built-up toxins improves circulation to all areas of the body. A better blood supply means more nutrition & oxygen for the muscles, resulting in greater muscle efficiency & increased rate of recovery from injuries when they do occur.
d) Increased energy: the benefits mentioned above all combine over a period of time to greatly improve energy levels, as tension in the body is reduced & the systems of the body function more effectively.
The greatest gift of this ancient healing art is increased self-awareness. An improved knowledge of the functioning of the amazing machine that is one’s own body, as well as the less tangible forces that influence it will allow the individual to better maintain themselves as an investment for the future.
About the Author: Ana (short for Anamcara) Benedict has been working in the field of complementary therapy for more than a decade. Her extensive physical therapy portfolio includes Sports & Remedial Massage, On-site Massage, Champissage (Indian Head Massage) & advanced Thai Yoga Massage techniques.
In recent years Ana has extended her skills to assist with issues beyond the physical. She is a certified Cognitive Hypnotherapist and NLP Practitioner & has also trained to kyôshi/teacher level in both the traditional (Usui) and Tibetan Reiki systems.
She lives in the Hertfordshire town of Hitchin with her family.
For more information visit Ana’s website at www.stressresponse.com