By Ramilton Franco, LMT
Thai massage is an important component of a comprehensive, traditional system known as Thai medicine — a 2,500-year-old method of natural healing developed in the ancient kingdom of Siam, now modern Thailand. Traditional Thai medicine is composed of four major branches: Herbal medicine, food cures and nutrition, spiritual practices and the manual therapies of Thai massage, or nuad bo’rarn. Traditional Thai massage is based on an energetic paradigm of the human body and mind. Energy is thought to travel on pathways, called sen, throughout the body. Specific points of energy on these pathways are called nadis. Energy freely along these pathways as it blends acupressure and stretching, facilitating balance and health.
Thai massage is an interactive therapy involving the gentle stretching of muscles with pressure from a practitioner’s palms, thumbs and feet. The recipient will usually wear loose-fitting clothing while lying on a cotton mat on the floor. No oils or lotions are used during the 90-minute session. In Thailand, it is not uncommon for sessions to last up to three hours.
The techniques of Thai massage are applied very slowly. It is impossible to work too slowly as long as there is some movement. The slowness of the practice facilitates the tendency toward mindfulness. Because many of the techniques require heightened flexibility of both the practitioner and recipient, the slowness significantly diminishes the chance for injury.
Proper body mechanics are key in the application of Thai massage. Often referred to as “assisted yoga,” many aspects of a Thai session resemble those of yoga postures. While anyone can receive Thai massage, certain procedures should be eliminated if they are not appropriate for the recipient (i.e., certain stretches of the back and legs would be avoided for individuals with lumbar disc problems).
Thai massage has been utilized for centuries as an important healing tool in the treatment of a wide variety of ailments such as musculoskeletal problems, internal medical problems, neurological complaints and emotional distress. Its benefits include structural alignment, increased flexibility, and decreased muscular and joint tension. Even for a novice, Thai massage can provide a good opportunity to achieve a state of deep mental and emotional equanimity, profound stress relief and moments of sweet bliss.