What is a Thai Massage?
Thai massage or Thai yoga is an ancient practice which finds the practitioner and the receiver on a comfortable floor futon mattress. It is with loose clothes on and no oil or lotion that the therapist gives the client a variety of stretches, traction-pulls, and compressions. Some of the elements of the protocol are more focused on a certain region of the body, but most have an integrated, full-body effect on the client. The therapist is actually assisting the client in yoga practice, doing the active work for them so that the client may receive it passively with great relaxation and subsequent bliss.
The practitioner may find themself using their feet to compress the large hamstring muscles on the client, or teeter-tottering with the client as they are lifted into a bridge-like position: a wonderful lumbar tension relief. Or compressions to the deep hip rotator muscles for relief of piriformis syndrome, a form of sciatica.
All of these moments in Thai yoga massage are performed effortlessly when the therapist has learned to listen for the “echo”: the time when the non-verbal feedback from the client’s body/central nervous system is received by the therapist, allowing them to linger longer in that pose or release it and call it done, effective, and beneficial.
There are as many ways to practice Thai yoga as there are people, even as there are individual sessions; no two experiences will be identical and often the therapist will mix and match elements of a standard protocol based on the client’s need for the day.
It is an ancient practice with master practitioners who spend an entire lifetime learning from other masters of the art and science of Thai massage.
Your therapist will have either graduated from a reputable school in Thailand and learned from master instructors, or they will have learned from experienced practitioners who themselves went to Thailand for mastery.
Come prepared with loose fitting, lightweight, long-legged yoga pants or leggings and a tee-shirt. Generally shorts are not the best choice, but if you do come off the street on a hot Texas day with shorts on, the therapist can improvise by using small hand-cloths between their feet and your bare skin; it’s more comfortable that way. The therapist is barefooted and dressed with loose clothing as is the client.
The session often begins with three intentional deep breaths for centering and focusing there. This is followed by the therapist using their hands and feet as an opening protocol of acupressure along the inside of the lower legs and subsequent work to the hamstrings. The therapist will move up the body to the hips, shoulders, neck and head to finish the supine work, asking you to turn over to a prone position and continue the session. You are invited to turn your head for comfort at any time; it becomes instinctive based on where the therapist is working at that moment.
The session usually ends with compressions to the feet, the therapist using their knees to press into the arch of the client’s feet.
The main thing to remember is to receive everything as you would be a rag doll, limp, loose, and relaxed, letting your therapist do all of the work for you.
Enjoy your first Thai yoga massage!
Doug Spaeth LMT