A visit to Thailand is simply not complete without experiencing a Thai massage. Heck, some of us who live here might argue that a single day is not complete without one. The traditional Thai massage is sometimes referred to as Yoga Massage, or what I like to call “Yoga for people who can’t be bothered to do it.” I’m a hot yoga addict myself, but there are the days when I simply can’t be bothered, and on those days I often use a Thai massage as a substitute (and an excuse for skipping my yoga class).
Unlike an oil massage which requires you to strip down, a Thai massage allows you to wear loose and comfortable clothing. The spa will normally provide you with a proper Thai massage outfit consisting of cotton pajamas, which are appropriate considering that the massage is performed on a mattress on the floor. You can see how tempting it might be to skip yoga and just go for a massage. Instead of changing into my yoga gear and working up a sweat, a Thai massage allows me to change into pajamas and lie down on a mattress while I let the massage therapist do all the work!
The treatment includes a combination of assisted stretches, deep tissue massage and acupressure. Throughout the massage the therapist will twist and turn you in such a way that it might seem like a game of Twister gone wrong, yet it feels so right. And in the end they might just walk all over you. The traditional back walk is not administered by all practitioners. Though if you’re willing to give it a try the back walk can help realign the spine and release tension from the back and shoulders. I never thought I would pay someone to literally walk all over me, but it can be one of the most beneficial aspects of the treatment.
In Thai massage the therapist uses his or her hands, elbows, knees and feet to essentially push and pull you through a variety of yoga poses. With the added strength of the therapist I can go much deeper into the yoga poses during a massage than I ever do in my yoga practice. If you hate pigeon pose in yoga, you can count on your massage therapist to work on opening your hips. If you dread the spinal series in your hot yoga class, you can enjoy a deep and effortless cobra pose during your Thai massage.
Legend has it that traditional Thai massage is an ancient practice that was developed by the personal physician of Buddha himself over 2500 years ago. With roots in Indian Ayurvedic medicine, Thai massage is based on the theory of energy balance. You may know this energy as prana from Indian Ayurveda, or as Qi from Chinese medicine. The treatment focuses on the sen energy lines (similar to Indian nadis or Chinese meridians). The basic theory is that an imbalance or blockage of these energies leads to pain and illness, whereas releases of these blockages and restoration of balance brings good health. I’d like to believe that my weekly Thai massage will cure what ails me. At the very least, it feels pretty darn good. And hey, if it was good enough for Buddha…Photo Credits: Thai Massage – by Tara Angkor Hotel on flickr; Reclining Buddha – by Olga Oslina on flickr