WHAT IS THAI YOGA MASSAGE
As you may know, I’m not only a yoga teacher but also trained in Thai Yoga Massage. Since I started offering Thai Yoga Massage about 10 years ago, its popularity has grown in the Western(ised) world, and in the meantime, there seem to be Thai massage studios everywhere. But what is Thai Yoga Massage, and why is it so beneficial?
When you ask friends and colleagues, their Thai Massage experience varies greatly, ranging from “amazing” to “horribly painful”. Indeed, Thai Massage can be very different, depending on where your practitioner was trained, their background and their individual style.
Let’s have a look at its origins, the practice and the science behind the tradition.
Thai Massage or Thai Yoga Massage has been around for roughly 3000 years. While most of the ancient scriptures are lost it is said that Buddha’s physician (Dr Shivago – the spelling varies) is the founder of this technique which combines ayurvedic practices, yoga and Asian massage. With the spread of Buddhism, the technique became most popular in what is now known as Thailand. Traditionally, Thai Massage was practiced within families for health and wellbeing purposes. With the arrival of Western medicine in Thailand, this tradition lost popularity and only in more recent years, it was revived and recognised as a valuable part of health care.
NORTHERN STYLE VS. SOUTHERN STYLE
Today, we recognise two main branches of Thai Massage: The Northern Style and the Southern Style. Within these categories, many families or villages have developed their own variations.
I am trained in the “Northern style”, Nuad Bo-Rarn, which is gentler than the vigorous and more invasive Southern style (which may have caused your “painful” experience). Although in Nuad Bo-Rarn we sometimes use the feet to apply pressure to some body parts or to stabilize the client’s body, it does NOT involve walking on the client’s back!
WHAT TO EXPECT – WHAT IS THAI YOGA MASSAGE?
Technically, Thai Yoga Massage is quite close to practices like Rolfing/ Structural Integration, Bowen Therapy, or Shiatsu as we too work on “manipulating” layers of connective tissue (fascia) in order to make the fibres move more freely – which reduces tension and pain in the body. You may experience this as a release of blockages and are likely to feel more aligned with an increased ability to move with ease after a treatment.
However, Thai Yoga Massage is a lot more than just a physical application. Here is what you can expect in a session:
FULL-BODY MOVEMENT PRACTICE
While many other massage practices concentrate on a small area of the body – usually where you feel the greatest discomfort – Thai Yoga Massage is a full-body movement practice for both, the giver and the receiver. The receiver is moved through a series of poses.
For the practitioner, giving the massage is a workout as well. He/she will be moving all the time, from sitting on the feet (hero pose) to knee stand, from head-to-knee pose (janu sirsasana) to lunges – the giver uses the whole body to move the client and apply rhythmic pressure up and down the limbs. However, it is not as sweaty as it sounds. Thai Yoga Massage is performed on a futon on the floor, not on a massage table, therefore the practitioner can efficiently use gravity and the own bodyweight rather than relying on muscle power.
For both, giver and receiver, it is about finding ease and flow throughout the session. When practitioner and client are in sync, both in their “zen space”, a Thai Yoga massage looks as beautiful as a dance!
Although many Thai Massage places offer partial massages, such as foot or neck-shoulder massage, a true Thai Yoga Massage covers the full body. This is because all parts of the body are connected through fascia, and the root of the problem may not be where the pain is but in one or more totally different spots.
Of course, this takes some time: For a basic session you should allow at least 60 minutes, but a complete massage can easily take 90-120 minutes. Give it a go – it’s pure bliss!
Yoga is an ancient system that involves breath, movement & mindfulness to remove physical & mental blockages, release tension and make you stronger & more resilient.
In Thai Yoga Massage, we use mostly passive yoga moves to release tension from fascia and muscle tissue and to mobilise joints. This can be both dynamic (rhythmically moving in and out of the pose several times) or static (staying in the pose for a while). Of course, the moves are to be done mindfully, respecting your body’s limits, and we are moving with your breath to optimise range of movement and relaxation.
Just as acupuncturists follow the traditional Chinese Meridians (energy lines) in the body, Thai Yoga Massage utilises a system of “Sen” lines. These are often similar but not identical with the Chinese system. The Sen lines follow body structures – bones, muscles & connective tissue – but they don’t relate to specific organs or organ systems.
Working along these lines, we use palm, thumb or sometimes elbow pressure. The pressure massage softens the tissues, breaks up “glued” fibres and assists the lymphatic system.
As the lymphatic system, which makes an important part of our immune response, has no organ that helps circulate the lymph fluid, the system relies on body movement and muscular activity - or external “help” in form of massage – to move the fluid around.
The combination of both, repetitive yoga moves and rhythmic pressure massage is a very efficient method of lymph drainage.
There are numerous sensitive reflex points (nerve endings) located on the feet, hands, head, and face. Reflexology utilises the relationship between those reflex points and their corresponding organs or other parts of the body through the nervous system and the brain. For example, massaging a specific spot at the edge of ball of the big toe can positively affect your digestion.
In Thai Yoga Massage, feet, hands, face, and skull are always part of the massage, and the practitioner may focus on specific spots to stimulate corresponding body functions.
The quality of a massage and the receiver’s experience is greatly affected by the giver’s mental and emotional state. The receiver on the other hand is more receptive if he/she is in the right head space. Therefore, a Thai Yoga Massage usually begins with a meditation or a moment of quiet to “tune in”. The rhythmic nature of the massage also promotes a state of tranquillity and a sensation of “flow” for both, giver and receiver. There is no talking during the massage except for occasional cues if the practitioner needs the client to actively participate in a pose.
HEALING & INTENTION
An essential part of Thai Yoga Massage is “Metta”, which is a Pali expression for “loving kindness”. The intention of the practitioner is to give the client the attention and care that is needed to help him/her heal. When the giver is acting from the heart, finds joy in performing the practice and assisting the client on their health journey, it will take a Thai Yoga Massage to another level.
Still not sure what a Thai Yoga Massage looks like? I have recorded a video which shows you what you can expect (click on the image below):
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As you can see, Thai Yoga Massage is a complete package that serves you on many levels!
You are convinced and would like to give it a go? Thai Yoga Massage is a regular offer at Inner Smile Yoga & Health, so if you live in Melbourne’s West, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can arrange an appointment.
Alternatively, keep an eye on our YouTube channel www.youtube.com/InnerSmileYoga! We are currently working on a few clips that help you to perform a basic Thai Yoga Massage with your partner or a friend at home.