by Nick Lakoff, CMT
Today I want to talk about a massage that I particularly enjoy receiving. When I owned a massage therapy center in Montreal, I was fortunate enough to have a very lovely and talented Thai Yoga massage practitioner named Annick work for me. Once I tried this type of massage, it quickly became one of my favorite ways to re-energize and combat the stress of running my own business, a problem that ironically massage therapy entrepreneurs are not immune to!
Thai Yoga Massage has many names including but not limited to: Thai Massage, Traditional Thai Massage, Yoga Massage, Ancient Massage, Thai Classical Massage and Thai Bodywork. In Thai, it is often referred to as “Nûat phaen boran” or “Nûat boran” which literally translates to Ancient Manner (or Way) Massage. Thai people today will often refer to it as “Nûat Phaen Thai” or “Nûat Thai” which translates simply as Thai Massage. As with many Asian healing arts, Thai Yoga Massage has roots in many healing art traditions but the most influential was surely the Hindu healing art of Ayurvedic medicine from India. Buddhist documents in Pāli, Sanskrit, Tibetan and Chinese all describe a Hindu physician of great renown called Jivaka Komarabhacca (Shivago Komarpaj in Thai) who had as a patient the Hindu prince Siddhartha Gautama (The Buddha) on who’s teachings modern Buddhism is founded. He is considered by most historians in Thailand as the father of Thai Traditional Medicine (TTM). When Buddhism spread across Thailand between the 2nd and 3rd century A.D., along with the religious philosophies came the healing arts associated with it. Different regions in Thailand modified and adapted the massage to their specific needs and cultural heritage. Thai massage in its current form today is likely an amalgamation of many traditions existing in the kingdom in the 19th century. However even today there are many variations from one region to another. Thai Massage is now recognized and regulated by the Thai government as a component of Traditional Thai Medicine (TTM).
Thai massage theory indicates that humans are inhabited by a life force called Palang Sak (Prana in Sanskit, Qi or Ch’i in Chinese and Ki in Japanese) which is directly related to breathing which gives life. The body is infused with “lom” (air) which is inhaled through the lungs and then travels throughout the body along “sens” (vessels). The vessels referred to have some superficial similarities with Chinese meridian lines however they are more closely related to Nadir lines of Yogic and Ayurvedic traditions. Thai Traditional Medicine commonly states there are 72,000 “sens” but this is not a literal fact but meant in the Buddhist philosophical tradition to mean that there are an infinite number of them since all cells in the body are interconnected.
Thai Massage is practices on Tatami style mats or padded comforters with no oils, creams or gels. Giver and receiver are wearing loose fitting clothes that allow for greater mobility for stretching during the massage. The routine starts with the receiver in a seated cross legged Yoga meditation position and the practitioner is at the rear standing taking a moment of silence and projects the intent of creating a healing space around the client. Practitioners apply pressure to different parts of the body following “Sen” lines using fingers, palms, forearms and feet. Since breathing is an essential part of this approach, movements are done in rhythm with the client’s respiration. Yoga stretches are skillfully applied respecting the abilities of the client throughout the routine. The massage is slow and allows the stretches and applied pressure to have their desired effect on the body. First the anterior face of the body is worked on then the client is flipped over gracefully and work begins on the posterior face.
Once the massage completed you immediately feel a sense of loss, as in you don’t want it to end. There is a feeling of great relief and a surge in energy that you lacked at the beginning. You feel more alert and alive as though you’ve just completed hours of meditation and exercise which is in fact what you have done. Although I do not practice this art myself my enthusiasm for it is boundless. If you want to spoil yourself and discover one of the world’s truly great massages then Thai Yoga is exactly what the doctor recommended!
Nick Lakoff is a certified practitioner in the following disciplines: Swedish Massage, Sports Massage, Reflexology, Acupressure, Myo-Fascial Release, Massage for Pregnancy, Swedish Chair Massage, Hot Stone Massage and Reiki.