Thai Massage can be rigorous but may be exactly what your body needs.
What to expect:
In Thai massage the therapist puts you through a series of stretches that cover the entire body. You lie on a floor mat or on a table wide enough to accommodate the therapist and yourself, and you wear loose-fitting clothing. In many cases, the spa will provide it to you.
Because there’s no way a sheet can stay put during these movements, the therapist might kneel on the back of your legs and pull your arms to arch your back and open your chest, or she may place her shoulder under your heel to lift your leg and stretch your hamstring.
Thai massage also includes deep-pressure point work to stimulate the sen, or the body’s energy pathways.
Long considered a medical treatment in Thailand, Thai massage is sometimes referred to as “lazy man’s yoga”.
How Therapists are trained:
Thai massage therapy requires extensive training, and the preeminent place for it is Wat Po in Bangkok.
The school offers three certification levels, with the third one alone requiring 800 hours of training. Graduates are issued a certificate from the Thailand Ministry of Public Health.
There are numerous programs around the world with solid training as well, but many die-hard therapists make the pilgrimage to Thailand to acquire at least some authentic knowledge base.
Good to know:
Thai massage may at first seem a little intense, especially if you’re used to Swedish massage and don’t normally do much stretching, but as it proceeds it becomes relaxing and invigorating.
Thai massage reminds you that massage isn’t just pressure applied to you by someone else, but it is rather a balancing of the body by limbering joints and loosening muscles through movement and strategic pressure.
Unlike Swedish massage, there’s a lot of interaction in Thai massage between you and your therapist.
To move you around the mat efficiently, the Thai massage therapist uses her body to leverage you into the elongating stretches that produce the desired effect.
She’ll also use your body as a tool for deepening stretches by sitting on your feet and legs or pushing or pulling you into twists.
An Indian physician named Shivago Kumar Bhucca, a contemporary of the Buddha, is often credited with developing Thai massage. The impetus was to give monks and nuns the flexibility to sit for long hours in meditation.
Whatever its genesis, massage was considered such a crucial aspect of medical treatment in Thailand that until the early 20th century, the Thai Department of Health included an official massage division.
Thai massage is based on releasing blockages along ten lines of energy called “sen”, which are similar to the meridians of traditional Chinese medicine.
The technique incorporates stroking and kneading of muscles, manipulation of joints, and pressure applied to specific points in order to balance the body’s four elements—earth, water, fire, and air. But there’s also rocking, breathing, and lots of stretching.
A photo gallery labeled “What does a Thai massage look like?” on the International Thai Therapists Association website is good preparation.
The patient is on a padded floor mat wearing loose pants and a T-shirt while the therapist uses her fingers, palms, elbows, knees, feet, indeed her whole body as ballast.
Slowly the therapist gets the patient into such familiar yoga positions as “bridge” (a backward arch) and “bow,” reaching back to grab the therapist’s wrists rather than one’s own ankles for a deeper stretch.
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