A Thai Buddhist prayer offered by the masseur –‘We pray for the one we touch, that they will be happy and illness will be released from them.’Despite many who claim that traditional Thai massage is nothing but pure hellish pain, there are ways you can enjoy this centuries old tradition.
Traditional Thai Massage, also called Thai Yoga Therapy, Nuad phaen boran or Nuat Thai, is a therapeutic technique that dates back thousands of years. Its precise origins are unknown, but practitioners traditionally trace their lineage to Jivaka Komarabhacca, also known as Shivago, who was a personal physician to the Sangha, a friend and physician to the Buddha and renowned as a healer in Buddhist tradition.
Traditional Thai medicine is a natural, holistic approach to health and well-being, developed over thousands of years, which includes proper nutrition, physical exercise, the use of medicinal herbs and therapeutic massage. Traditional Thai medicine is not only concerned with curing diseases and ailments: its primary goal is maintaining health and well-being, as ancient Thais believed that “the absence of illness is the best blessing”. The medical knowledge developed by Thai people through many generations has come to be known as the ancient wisdom of Thailand.
Diagrams inscribed on the walls at the temple of Wat Po in Bangkok illustrate one of the fundamental principles of traditional Thai medicine: that energy flows through the body along ten major channels, or sen lines. If an obstruction occurs in any of these channels it is believed that pain or disease results. In this sense, traditional Thai medicine is similar to many other ancient healing systems, which believe that illnesses are caused by an imbalance or obstruction within the individual, or by an imbalance between an individual and his environment.
Ancient Thais treated a number of ailments by using massage to restore the flow of energy throughout the body. Traditional Thai massage is a deep, full-body treatment, which includes both stretching of the joints and muscles and applied pressure to the sen lines.
The Buddhist spiritual practices associated with Thai massage cultivate humility, awareness, and concentration in the healer designed to bring the practitioner to a deeper level of awareness of herself and the client. This compassionate state of being is termed “metta”, which usually translates as “loving kindness”.
Massage is Healthy for the Body
Visions of pointy elbows and knees poking into one’s body are usually the typical image of “traditional Thai massage”. While this type of massage does use those sharp-angled body parts, fans will be quick to point out that the massage itself is actually very pleasurable and healthy. Traditional Thai massage improves blood circulation, relaxes muscles, increases alertness and flushes out toxins from the body.
Newcomers to traditional Thai massage might be intimidated by what may seem as brutal body-pounding torture, but there are actually ways to train oneself to enjoy and get used to it. Be careful, though, because it can be addictive!
It’s All In The Name
What newcomers must understand first is that in Thailand, there are two different types of “Thai Massage”. Those who are after the wholesome, traditional Thai massage should make sure that the massage shop does provide “Traditional Thai Massage”. In other words, the word “traditional” must be present on the menu. Plain “Thai Massage” (without the word “traditional”) may be another, more questionable kind of massage.
Other ways to check whether a massage shop sells “Traditional Thai Massage” or the raunchier “Thai Massage” is to survey the establishment’s employees. If they are mostly older (30-40-50 year-olds), average-looking women, then the shop most likely offers “Traditional Thai Massage”. You may also want to stick with establishments where massage in progress is visible. That is you can see the massage cubicles from the entrance and you are not being taken upstairs to an unknown destination. Recommendations from those who have their favourite masseurs are also worth following; just ask about their personal experiences.
Preparation For A Traditional Thai Massage
After one establishes the fact that a shop offers the traditional kind of Thai massage, a masseuse will usually arrange for the customer’s feet to be washed. Some customers might feel uncomfortable with the idea of someone else washing their feet, but feet-washing is mandatory because the masseuse will actually massage the whole body, including the feet. Having a customer with sweaty or smelly feet would result in an unpleasant experience for both the customer and the masseuse.
The customer may also be asked to change into loose-fitting cotton pyjamas. Again, this is to ensure that the massage experience will be comfortable and pleasurable. The cotton pyjamas serve two kinds of purpose: one is to absorb sweat (because body temperature will most likely rise during a traditional Thai massage), and two is to keep customer’s modesty, as the body will be bent and twisted into unimaginable positions which can cause some prudes to blush.
Customers should not expect any massage oils to be used for traditional Thai massage. There are two reasons for this: the first one is that the weather in Thailand is usually hot and humid, therefore it is not advisable to slather oil all over the body, unless one wants to develop body acne. The second reason is that traditional Thai massage needs strong grip and pressure to induce sweating, therefore any kinds of massage oil will actually hinder the masseuse’s ability to achieve traction.
What To Do During the Traditional Thai Massage
Most traditional Thai masseuses have incredible grip strength; irregardless of their body size and muscle mass (so do not underestimate if a masseuse is slim and petite). A newbie might have to demonstrate the right massages pressure to the masseuse, but this is actually quite easy to achieve, based on the newbie’s vocal levels. A good, firm pressure might be manifested as a strong, noisy exhalation of the customer, while any stronger and a whimper or some other expression of pain may occur. Luckily, most experienced masseuses are extremely adept in adjusting their massage pressure based on their customers’ vocal feedback. Remember the Thai word for pain is ‘Jep’, so don’t be afraid to use it if necessary!
To completely enjoy traditional Thai massage, a customer should completely relax all muscles and trust the masseuse’s skill. It is not advisable to tense any muscles during a traditional Thai massage, as this will result in feeling ticklish (especially when the feet, legs or armpits are being massaged) or outright pain. Some might be shocked when the masseuse steps on their thighs or back while lying spread eagle on the mattress, but rest assured, this is actually the typical process of a traditional Thai massage (thus the need to wear the pajamas mentioned above).
One useful point to remember is: exhale when pressure is applied and inhale when pressure is released. This will also coordinate breathing with the massage rhythm and create a very soothing, pleasurable feeling for both masseuse and customer.
Is it not advisable to fall asleep during a traditional Thai massage, as an unconscious brain will fail to register the massage’s pressure, thus negating its healthy benefits. The rule of thumb should be: if one is falling asleep during a Thai traditional Thai massage, it means the masseuse is not pounding, twisting, and kneading hard enough to maintain consciousness, improve blood circulation and promote sweating (in order to flush out toxins).
What to Feel After A Traditional Thai Massage
Customers will usually feel alert after a traditional Thai massage, not groggy. The body and legs will feel light, and the shoulders are less tense. It is safe to say that having regular traditional Thai massages will keep one healthy and happy in the long run.