More and more tourists are returning from Thailand with lasting impressions of a massage that is more like yoga. Performed through your clothes, Thai Traditional Massage leaves you in a state of sublime relaxation.
Its mechanics show a strong Indian Ayurvedic and yogic influence, but a very disciplined emphasis on energy channels betrays a link with Chinese Traditional Medicine.
Thai Traditional medicine has existed for over 1000 years, in pretty much the same form that is used today. Its recent world-wide spread has been quite phenomenal.
You lie on a mat on the floor or a big bed, fully clothed except for shoes and socks or no cloth exept underware and cover with sheet. The practitioner uses thumbs, palms, forearms, elbows, feet knees and even shins to press and stretch your body. Thais believe that good health and freedom from pain result from the unhindered flow of vital energies through the body's tissues.
The main 'channels' for distributing these energies are called 'Sen'. There is no general agreement as to the exact number of Sen but those who know something of Chinese Medicine quickly recognise
that the Thai practitioner is effectively working along the Chinese Qi meridians.
Pressing is the mechanical process used to stimulate energy flow in the Sen, and to release blockages or stagnation which result in pain. This part of the massage is very thorough.
Each Sen channel is pressed repeatedly from every direction, with the relative positions of the limbs and trunk being constantly changed. The process is very thorough. When the practitioner is satisfied that all soft tissues have been adequately pressed, stretching begins.
This will be subtle at first but gradually progresses to the elegant, large scale stretches for which Thai massage is renowned. Every muscle and joint is treated.
Thais have long recognised that most musculo-skeletal pain and lack of mobility of the joints is the result of muscles shortening under the influence of repetitive strain.
The pressing techniques of Thai massage prepare muscles for stretching by increasing their permeability to 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.
Tension and spasm in a muscle are the result of a vicious circle of events involving the muscle and its sense organs; those muscles that are antagonistic to it and the brain.
The more tense the muscle the shorter it gets, and the brain interprets this as contraction, so inhibiting the function of the antagonistic muscles, which weaken as a result.
Regular Thai massage stretches the muscles back to their normal resting length, which deceives the brain into 'thinking' that all is well and it stops inhibiting the antagonists. Before long, tension disappears and joint mobility is restored.
Muscles are the masseur's ultimate target but fibrotic connective tissue and weak circulation are also treated during the massage.
How does it feel?
Different from other forms of bodywork - smoothness, rhythm and flow are three words that come to mind.
Nothing is hurried; there are no sudden changes of rhythm or speed. Every technique melts into the next with total economy of motion; it looks like a beautifully choreographed performance.
First time recipients of the massage 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.
Almost all feel relaxed, refreshed and much more flexible afterwards, and those who have regular Thai massage come to enjoy the deep pressure techniques and spectacular manipulations.
And the effects …
There are many, all of them positive, provided of course, that the massage is applied expertly.
Benefits of regular Thai massage include relief from constipation, IBS, headaches, sciatica, back and neck pain.
For the Thais this is not surprising. They regard balance and unimpeded flow of Sen as vital for good health. A good Thai massage achieves this and can correct emotional problems as well as physical ones.
There are some contra-indications to this kind of massage - very much those that apply to massage in general. For those in reasonably good health - regardless of age, lack of flexibility and
obesity - Thai massage is highly beneficial.
So much of feeling 'old' comes from what is often regarded as the inevitable stiffening of joints with advancing years. Regular Thai massage quickly proves that this is not so as it restores long lost mobility to the joints.