With roots in Buddhism, traditional Thai massage is enjoyed worldwide by many – practitioners and receivers alike – for its full mind-body approach and deeply therapeutic experience. Also known as Thai yoga massage, this ancient form of healing has been a part of everyday life for many across southeast Asia for hundreds of years, before it started to gain popularity in the West. Indeed, until fairly recently Thai massage was performed and taught only in temples, but its growing global popularity has seen schools and practices emerge in new environments.
Working with the body’s energy, known as chi in Traditional Chinese Medicine, or prana in the ancient Indian practice of Ayurveda, Thai massage works on 10 invisible energy lines, each corresponding with the organs and functions considered key to maintaining optimal health.
What makes it so popular?
Massage in general can help to ease some of the body’s aches and pains and form part of the treatment to alleviate the symptoms of many health conditions. On a mental and emotional level, clinical research shows it can achieve a significant reduction in anxiety-inducing cortisol while releasing feel-good hormones including dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin. In other words, it’s an enjoyable and relaxing experience that can lift the spirits and boost wellbeing.
With its holistic approach to mind and body, Thai massage delivers all of the above and more. Its unique, meditative element makes it especially helpful when juggling busy lives or seeking relief from stress, anxiety, low mood and hormonal imbalances. As it works on an energetic level it can help to achieve balance by relieving excess energy, or gently boosting energy levels during times of feeling a little flat.
How does Thai massage differ from other practices?
Whereas most forms of Western-style massage focus solely on kneading the body’s soft tissues, Thai massage (this is where the word massage becomes rather misleading) consists of a beautiful dance of opening, lengthening, refreshing and balancing which, when practised in its true spirit, provides a meditative, relaxing and healing experience for both parties.
The practitioner uses their hands, forearms, elbows, legs and feet to manipulate, as well as their own frame to support and move the body of the receiver. There is no direct, hands-on contact with the bare skin of the receiver, making it perfect for those who prefer to remain fully clothed. Other differences include the surface on which the experience is delivered – Thai massage is performed on a mat on the floor, allowing the space and freedom to support the full range of bodily movements required to experience all the benefits of this technique.
One of the real splendours of Thai massage is that it’s a true two-way experience that requires participation from the receiver as well as the practitioner. In this respect, you get out what you put in. Clients might arrive in a state of tension – think shallow breath, clenched muscles and anxious thoughts. Trusting the practitioner, and the process, creates the conditions for fully letting go, slowing and deepening the breath, consciously releasing areas of physical tension and allowing thoughts to simply ‘be’. Many practitioners also describe their own experience as one of deep meditation.
Thai massage at home
As great as it is to experience a session with an expert, this option isn’t possible for everyone. The good news is there are ways to enjoy the benefits of Thai massage at home with a soothing self-treatment. Here’s a short practice that works on the energy lines in the feet to gently release the physical and emotional stresses of the day.
- Sit where you will be comfortably supported, crossing one foot over the opposite knee.
- Use both hands to cradle one foot.
- Use your thumbs to gently press into the heels with a slow, rhythmic motion.
- Slowly move the thumbs down towards the arch of the foot, continuing to press gently.
- Move down to the soft, sensitive area beneath the ball of the foot, noticing a releasing sensation in each area as you move.
- Gently press into the ball of the foot with a soft, circular motion.
- Use thumbs and first fingers to softly massage each toe in turn.
- Finish by gently patting the sole and top of the foot using both hands.
- Breathe deeply and take a few minutes to absorb the sensations and feelings of relaxation.
It’s important to remember there are no rights or wrongs here – and the more you practise, the easier it becomes. Experience, explore and enjoy.
Words: Simone Scott
This article was originally published in Issue 20 – Wellbeing in bloom