By: Amy Montia, PhD, LMT.
Thai massage is an ancient healing art. It’s one of four branches of the Traditional Thai medical system established 2,500 years ago when Buddhist monks from India moved into Thailand. The role of massage was primarily to nourish the mind and body of monks who practiced yoga and sat in meditation for long hours each day. Still practiced today, Thai massage aims to restore the whole person to a state of balance by facilitating a smooth constant flow of bioenergy (known as Qi, Chi, or Prana) throughout the body and mind.
During a Thai massage session, hands, elbows, or feet are used to apply deep compression to the receiver’s muscles and fascia of the back, arms, and legs to activate energy flow along energy lines (called Sen). Compression is paired with moving the body into yoga-like stretches. The techniques are applied slowly. Caution and awareness of the receiver’s physical limitations are maintained throughout. The session progresses through supine (face up), prone (face down), side-lying, and seated. Thai massage is traditionally performed on a floor mat but easily modified to a table. The client stays fully dressed, preferably in loose clothing (sweatpants/t-shirt).
How does Thai massage affect the body and mind?
The slow compression along ancient energy lines brings a palpable sense of balance and clarity to mind and body. From a physiological perspective, the rhythmic rocking pattern calms the nerves and stimulates systemic circulation to bring fresh oxygen and nutrients to muscles. It also helps to break up fibrotic tissue and realign fascia making it more elastic and resilient. The deep stretches promote joint flexibility and integrity and address muscle tension and contracture. Perhaps most importantly, proper use of pressure (the “therapeutic zone”) activates the endorphin response, which helps to provide pain relief and reveal a state of calm and peacefulness.
In my opinion, a Thai massage combines the best features of deep tissue, sports massage, Active Release Techniques (ART), and myofascial release into one session. The yoga-like stretches are activating and energizing like a pre-event sports massage. The alternating use of compression and stretch is effective in breaking up adhesions and contracture, similar to ART. The pace of the session is slow, allowing relaxation similar to a Swedish massage. And the compression, rolling, and raking of muscles and fascia provides benefits to the body similar to myofascial and deep tissue techniques. Oil is not used in a Thai massage.
Who should try a Thai massage?
Thai massage is excellent for someone who wants an invigorating yet relaxing massage that provides a dose of energy for both body and mind. It is a good option for someone who wants massage therapy but prefers to remain dressed and doesn’t like to feel covered in oil. Great for athletes who feel like tightness or lack of flexibility is impeding their performance.
COVID-19 has changed our daily routines and our mindsets. So many people are working from home now, and need opportunities to move and stretch more than ever before. Furthermore, as we navigate through this pandemic, all of the challenges we face take a toll on our posture and body mechanics. A Thai massage is a great way to minimize the negative effects of all this and to keep our body and spirit warm as we enter the colder months.
CATEGORIES : Massage Therapy