After receiving Thai massage for the first time, it’s not uncommon for clients to remark that they have just found their new favorite form of massage. While slowly collecting themselves vertically in gravity as they rise up off the mat, they notice a refreshed perspective on life, feeling deeply relaxed yet energized. As a practitioner witness to this transformation of body-mind, the experience is gratifying. The transcendent state influenced during a Thai massage session is evident in the client’s slow rousing, mentally returning from a seemingly distant and timeless place. Clients overwhelmingly state how wonderfully unique the experience was and note the significant relief they feel from previous pains in their body. Headaches are gone, hips feel open and free, their breath is relaxed and full; overall, greater movement is possible. This is the incredible potential of Thai yoga massage.
Many people describe Thai massage, or Thai yoga massage, as a dance. Indeed, when executed with skill it is a dance between the graceful movements of the practitioner and the relaxed body of the client being held and moved in gravity. It is dynamic, fluid, and like a performance on stage, one could be entertained from a park bench while a Thai massage is given on the grass, as if it were created just for that purpose. Adults are rarely moved around, cradled like a sleeping baby and stretched by another when capable of doing so themselves. Equally rare in a given day is the experience of receiving ‘hugs’ all over the body in the form of acupressure, giving deep relief to tight and achy muscles and tendons. It is as if witnessing a mother tenderly caring for her child mixed with the precision of a doctor targeting and treating the exact places of discomfort.
The Roots of Thai Massage
Many texts state that Thai massage established its roots at the time of the Buddha, circa 500 BCE. It is believed that the medical doctor of the Buddha, Jivaka Kumar Bhaccha is the father of Thai medicine, which includes Thai massage. It is a tradition for many Thai massage practitioners to begin each massage by honoring Jivaka. This gratitude in the form of a chant is given while kneeling at the feet of their client who has just laid down on the mat on the floor. The client is clothed to allow for ease in movement and stretching. Through the action of gratitude and focus a practitioner calls forward the healing energies of all things. The massage is anchored in Metta, the intention of loving kindness. Experienced practitioners can go into a state of mindfulness leading into a meditative experience for themselves and the client.
The theory of Thai massage is based in the energy system called Sip Sen, derived from the system of Nadis, or channels of energy running through the body that can become blocked or opened by life experience. Through deeply applied pressure and passive stretching along the Sen lines, a practitioner has the ability to bring balance and healing to all of the physical systems of the client’s body as well as their emotions, mental state and spiritual perspective.
Other influences include Traditional Chinese Medicine and folk medicine of the hill tribe peoples in northern Thailand. Due to Thailand’s location along the Silk Road, many influences to its culture are blended into a delicious stew, where perspectives merge forming a holistic approach to treating the body. Some practitioners incorporate herbs and salves in the massage, some consider the Ayurvedic constitution of the client and others use Tok Sen, a wooden mallet and chisel-like instrument used for tapping along the Sen lines.
Most practitioners giving Thai massage are drawn to it for its playful exploration and the nourishing and fulfilling meditative mindset they go into during the session. Thai massage is increasing in popularity. It is great for those who stretch little on their own but are in need of increased flexibility. It is also well-suited for individuals who do not want to remove their clothes for a massage or who prefer the grounded experience of lying on a mat on the floor. Ask your therapist to target areas in greatest need, though expect a full body massage as Thai massage addresses the body as a whole. Enjoy the experience of being moved like a baby through space, softening into the dynamic art of healing touch.
Licensed Massage Therapist Diana Brenes Seiler is a Thai massage therapist and instructor, a yoga and mindfulness instructor and senior massage instructor at The Finger Lakes School of Massage in Mount Kisco, NY. She offers house calls and sessions at The Living Seed in New Paltz. For more information or to schedule an appointment, call 641-5311 or visit HudsonValleyThaiMassage.com.