Originating in India over 2,500 years ago, this healing art spread to Siam (ancient Thailand) with the spread of Buddhism. Once performed by monks as part of elaborate healing rituals, it formed one part of traditional Thai medicine. The complete practice includes nutritional counseling, often recommending dietary changes. It also entails using herbs, both consumed internally and applied externally usually in the form of oils or heated liquids, along with meditation and discussion.
But even apart from the integrated practice, Thai massage has many healthful effects. A session in Thailand will often last as long as two hours and cost only a few dollars. From the time when monks practiced manual manipulation in a temple setting, it has sometimes entered seedy areas. But 4-star hotels in Thailand now offer the same style (though at a greatly elevated price).
Though like many Asian styles, it’s sometimes accompanied by unfounded pseudo-science such as ‘energy meridians’, there’s no doubt about the validity of the practice. Thai massage is safe, effective and produces a wonderfully relaxing result.
Traditional manipulation techniques are used to adjust the skeleton, increase flexibility and relieve muscular and joint tension. In many cases, the stretching movements incorporate elements of yoga.
Clients remain clothed, usually in a loose-fitting pajama-style pair of pants and shirt. Through gentle stretches the client achieves a state of readiness for the rest of the massage. Then the practitioner will apply gentle pressure with the hands and feet, eventually working her way over the entire body.
Because of the type of movements and hand pressure employed, this massage type is particularly suited to the elderly and those suffering from conditions that benefit from massage. There are no sharp jerks and no highly focused applications of pressure – just a smooth, relaxing flow of movements applied gradually.
While lying on a mat, rather than a massage table, the practitioner elevates the knees, applying a gentle stretch to the back and behind the thighs. The legs are lowered and the Thai masseuse will use toes and feet to gently apply pressure to various parts of the lower body, giving an overall sensation that relaxes and produces good circulation.
Oil is rarely used and the movements are rhythmic and regular. Working along the so-called Sen energy lines (similar to Chinese meridians), the practitioner covers the entire body. Sometimes a hot herbal compress will accompany the relaxing movements.
Many therapists will manipulate the fingers and toes, walk on the client’s back and perform gentle arches of the spine. All this is done in a safe, pleasant way that results in a client who is re-energized at the end.