What is Thai massage and is it good for you?

A massage that is more like yoga; performed through your clothes, Thai Traditional Massage leaves you in a state of sublime relaxation.


What is Thai Massage?
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.What happens?
You lie on a mat on the floor, fully clothed except for shoes and socks. 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.

What does it do?

Thais have long recognised that most musculoskeletal 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.  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. Here are 8 Provable Benefits of Thai Massage:

1. Unbeatable Stretching
Thai massage has been linked with Muay Thai for as long as the art has been around. Why? Well, the robust massage is excellent for limbering up limbs for athletic performance and relieving deep muscle tension afterwards Useful for both martial artists and stressed out civilians.

2. Improved Mental Well-Being
It may seem obvious but having a physically relaxing experience is good for the mind. A 2004 study found significant improvement in the mental well-being of patients suffering from musculoskeletal pain when treated with massage compared to treatment with relaxation tapes. Like Tai Chi and Yoga, Thai massage is as much a moving meditation as it is a massage.

3. Decreased Cortisol Levels
Most likely a contributing factor to the post-massage sense of well-being is the boost to serotonin and reduction in cortisol found in people who have received massages. Cortisol being a stress hormone, serotonin being the happy hormone. A clear positive result.

4. Improved Circulation
Although not medically researched, it has long been held that Thai massage benefits the circulation of blood in our bodies. This is said to aid in the reduction of migraines through the use of acupressure. While the invisible energy lines that are supposed to move through our bodies are hotly contested by medical research, there is significant anecdotal and experimental evidence to support the claim.

5. Behavioural Treatment for Autistic Children
I found this study illuminating. Autistic children generally experience much higher levels of anxiety and stress. Traditional Thai massage has been shown to provide some degree of improvement to stereotypical behaviours in autistic children.

6. Pain Relief
Patients suffering from scapula costal syndrome (SCS) showed a reduction in the pain suffered and overall patient satisfaction when compared to ultrasound therapies.

7. The Human Touch is Language
We instinctively respond to human touch from birth, and are attracted to it (or repelled from it, depending on circumstance) our entire lives. The touch of another human in a relaxing scenario devoid of the pressures of the real world is priceless. “touch strengthens relationships and is a marker of closeness,” he says. “It increases cooperation but is also an indicator of how strong bonds are between people,” – Michael Kraus, University of Illinois

8. Reprogramming the Mind
Massage increases delta wave frequency in our brains. This particular brain wave is closely associated with deep rest and sleep- I’m sure with less strenuous forms of massage you have experienced the sensation of nodding off on the table, as I have.

Although there has not been an EEG study conducted on Thai massage, I would hypothesise that brainwave activity changes through different stages of Thai massage and indeed different styles. The more relaxing the more theta and delta waves would be released, and the more active the more alpha and beta waves would be released.

We see then that from the deepest part of our minds to the tips of our toes, traditional Thai massage can relieve pain, stress and improve the functioning of the only body we have. Admittedly, the medical evidence for much of what has been claimed is sparse, but essentially there are very few downsides and many potential benefits. What do you have to lose?

Who can have it?
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.

Our Massage therapist Tanja offers Thai, sports and oil massage. Get in touch with her by calling 07904 833164


Leave a Reply