Thai massage basics

  • 2010-03-04

Thai massage is a type of massage in the ‘Thai’ style that involves stretching and deep massage. This form of bodywork is usually performed on the floor, and the client wears comfortable clothes that allow for movement. No oils are used in Thai massage. It is known in Thailand as “nuat phaen boran,” the ancient-manner massage. The founder of Thai massage and medicine is Shivago Komarpaj. In fact, the history of Thai massage is more complex than this legend of a single founder would suggest. Thai massage, like Traditional Thai medicine more generally, is a combination of influences from Indian, Chinese, Southeast Asian cultural spheres and traditions of medicine. The art as it is practiced today is likely to be the product of a 19th century synthesis of various healing traditions from all over the kingdom. Even today, there is considerable variation from region to region across Thailand, and no single routine or theoretical framework is universally accepted among healers.

Generally speaking, practitioners of modern Thai massage operate on the theory that the body is permeated with “lom,” or “air,” which is inhaled into the lungs and which subsequently travels throughout the body along 72,000 pathways called “sen,” or “vessels.” Typically, massage therapists manipulate a handful of major sen lines by pressing certain points along the lines. In most models, the sen originate at the navel and spread throughout the body to terminate at the orifices. A significant part of the practice of Thai massage also includes yoga-like stretches, which are intended to stimulate the sen and move lom through the body via a pumping action which is connected with the patient’s breathing. The theory of sen and lom is often translated into English as “meridians” and “energy.” While there are some superficial similarities to Chinese meridian theory, the Thai system is markedly different, as the sen are unconnected to the internal organs.

Often referred to as Thai Yoga massage, this style of bodywork is different from what most Western people think of as massage. It is practiced fully clothed on a floor mat, without oils or lotions. Thai massage techniques, using the thumbs, elbows, palms, forearms, feet, and knees include: rocking, rhythmic muscle compression, assisted yoga positions and stretching, working along energy meridians called Sen Lines. Three of the Sen Lines run along the same areas as the yogic nadis, the Indian version of energy lines, affecting certain chakras (energy centres) in treatment. A session is practiced very slowly (sometimes for more than two hours), in a choreographed “dance” as the practitioner moves the receiver around the mat, creating a relaxed, meditative state for both.

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