If you are planning a trip to Thailand, it is worth your time to seek out a great traditional Thai massage while you are there. Unlike most Western massage, traditional Thai massage works the entire body and leaves you feeling both relieved but reenergized. There are many reasons that Thai massage might be the perfect type of massage for you, including the numerous associated health benefits.
Thai Massage Is Amazing: Traditional Thai massage offers a number of health benefits in addition to its ability to relax and invigorate you. It has been shown to
- Reduce stress levels
- Boost energy
- Increase flexibility
- Reduce headaches
- Improve mood
Even if you aren’t sold based on the health benefits alone, traditional Thai massage can be a great experience. It is quite different from most western massage techniques, so occasionally new clients are completely surprised by the alternative methods if they are unfamiliar with the practice.
Thai massage requires the client to frequently change positions while a practitioner stretches and folds, contorts and coaxes the body into poses. A traditional Thai masseuse uses his or her entire body for the massage, sometimes sitting atop the client, sometimes using legs or feet for additional leverage.
The result is an incredibly deep penetrating series of stretches that relaxes muscles while also stimulating a more awake, energized feeling in the client. Whether you’re new to massage entirely or are simply curious to try something new in your massage routine, read on below to find out more about what makes traditional Thai massage so appealing.
What Makes a Thai Massage Different From A Regular Massage?
If you have received Swedish or deep tissue massages in the past, you may be asking yourself what makes Thai massage different from these techniques. Thai massage features some key differences that make it unique and appealing.
One of the first major differences between Thai massage and western massage styles is that the masseuse is not limited to only using his or her hands and elbows in order to massage. It is not uncommon for a Thai masseuse to use his or her feet and legs in order to achieve a wider range of deep stretching and proper leverage to massage tissues.
Rather than laying on your stomach on a raised table like for most Swedish and deep tissue massages, Thai massages will require you to be positioned in various poses in order to stretch the body in different ways and target various muscle groups.
Thai massage is sometimes compared to yoga, in the sense that the client’s body will be pulled, stretched, and pressed into poses rather than the western massage technique of simply rubbing on muscles. As such, the Thai masseuse stretches and elongates muscles, coaxing limbs to fold and bend in order to relax while the client simply breathes and meditates.
Traditionally, Thai massage does not use any oils or additional equipment. The masseuse uses his or her entire body to guide the client’s body into positions that achieve deep, relaxing relief of muscle tension.
What Are the Health Benefits of a Traditional Thai Massage?
Thai massage is an ancient healing practice and is considered to have its origins anywhere from 2500 to 7000 years ago. One of the reasons it has persisted as a practice for so long is because of the perceived benefits to health associated with it. Thai massage has been shown to both relax the body but also restore energy levels, making it an especially rejuvenating experience.
One documented benefit from Thai massage is its ability to reduce stress levels in participants. Traditional Thai massage resulted in decreased markers for psychological stress in one study conducted in 2015.
Another study demonstrated that, in addition to reducing stress, Thai massage can help boost your energy levels. When compared to Swedish massage, Thai massage showed a significantly greater influence on the client feeling energized and mentally stimulated. Thai massage can, therefore, help you feel rejuvenated. These beneficial effects were also shown to have long-lasting properties, persisting well after the massage was finished.
In addition, Thai massage has been shown to help stimulate circulation and improve balance. A study in 2015 demonstrated that Thai foot massages effectively helped increase the range of motion, foot sensation, and balance performance in those with peripheral neuropathy from diabetes. Peripheral neuropathy is a common complication from diabetes and it can result in reduced foot sensation and difficulty with balance.
Thai massage has also been shown through some studies to help relieve chronic tension headaches. In addition, Thai massage can help improve overall flexibility and range of motion in participants. Since it incorporates deep, whole-body stretching, Thai massage can gradually improve the body’s flexibility over time.
Do Thai Massages Use Oil?
Traditional Thai massages do not use oil. Most of the time, you will keep your clothes on, making the use of oils impractical. Your masseuse will pull and distort your limbs to stretch muscles and crack joints, so there is no need for lubrication to help knead muscles like in a Swedish or deep tissue massage.
However, some Thai massages have started incorporating the use of essential oils. If oils are used during Thai massage, it is usually a simple essential oil such as jasmine or lemongrass.
Jasmine oil can help relieve muscle cramps and strains. Jasmine is known for its calming properties and can help relieve the symptoms of depression. Some studies have shown that jasmine can lower blood pressure and increase oxygen saturation levels in the blood. The same study also demonstrated jasmine can have positive effects on emotion, as well, such as creating feelings of being more attentive and more relaxed.
Lemongrass oil, alternatively, has been shown to have antibacterial qualities and antifungal properties. It has also been shown to have anti-inflammatory qualities that are beneficial for relieving muscle tension. In addition, a 2017 study showed that lemongrass oil can help reduce pain levels.
How Do I Prepare for a Traditional Thai Massage?
Often, you don’t need to take any special preparations for a Thai massage. It can be helpful to avoid eating within an hour of the massage, as some of the positions and stretches can cause discomfort if done on a full stomach. Drinking water or tea can help ensure your body is adequately hydrated before the experience, but again it is advisable to avoid drinking so much as to make deep stretches difficult due to a bloated belly.
It is often helpful to arrive a few minutes early to the massage and to make sure your cell phone is turned off or set to silent mode, so you won’t be disturbed during the experience. Remove any jewelry or watches that you don’t want to be potentially be damaged if they happen to get caught during the massage. If you have long hair, it can be helpful to tie it up and out of the way.
Wear loose-fitting, comfortable clothes and preferably flat shoes. Many spas and studios will offer clothing to change into if you are coming straight from work or don’t have any suitable attire. If essential oils are being used, you will often be given a robe or clothes to change into but you should keep your undergarments on. The robe will be removed so that the oils can be used on your skin but your underwear should remain on.
Be sure to tell your masseuse if you have any injuries or particular areas of the body you would like to stretch. Additionally, you should inform your masseuse if there is anything you are not comfortable with or anything you do not wish to have performed.
Do not be afraid to tell your masseuse if you are experiencing pain during the massage. Thai massages can be quite intense, often balancing the line between pleasure and pain. While it can be expected to feel some slight pain or discomfort followed immediately by relief, you should alert your masseuse if anything feels too painful or intense.
How Often Should I Get a Thai Massage?
There are no strict guidelines or regulations as to how frequently someone should get a Thai massage. However, after the intensive stretching and flexing of the body, you will most likely need to give your body some time to rest and recover before your next session.
It is important to listen to your body and know your limitations. If you have a particular area of complaint, you can bring up this concern with your masseuse and set up regular sessions to address these tight areas of your body.
If you find you are consistently experiencing pain or any long term discomfort, you should consider seeking a consultation with your primary care physician. You may have an underlying health condition that cannot be properly solved through Thai massage alone.
What Are Sen And What Are Their Role In Thai Massage?
In the traditional Thai healing system, there are healing energy lines called “sen” within our bodies. These sen are pathways for energies to flow, often thought of as rivers of energy that have courses throughout our entire bodies.
In traditional Thai massage, techniques are performed to remove any blockages along these sen lines, allowing our energy to flow smoothly throughout our entire body. Some practices believe that blockages along sen lines will result in health complications, and thus it is important to have these blocks in the energy lines removed.
These sen lines have similarities to Chinese meridian lines and Indian Prana Nadi lines. In traditional Thai techniques, there are considered to be ten main sen lines, all of which interrelate and communicate with each other throughout the body.
Where the sen lines intersect are called chakras, and it is these areas which are typically focused on within traditional Thai massage because these areas tend to be where knots and blockages of energy occur.
Are Thai Massages Painful?
Thai massages rely on constant contact between the masseuse and the client, with the client often being twisted, bent, pulled, rocked, and stretched into a variety of positions. The masseuse will often use his or her entire body as leverage to achieve the deepest stretch and penetrate all muscle groups.
Because of these deep stretches and the contortion of the body, Thai massages can have varying levels of discomfort depending on the client’s flexibility. For most, Thai massages are considered to involve a fair amount of pain during the actual massage. They are often not gentle, and your practitioner will actively stretch your body to its flexibility limits, sometimes while actually sitting on top of you.
While it is not uncommon to feel pain during a Thai massage, you should tell your masseuse straight away if you feel too much discomfort, in which case they will decrease the pressure. Unlike deep tissue or Swedish massages, Thai massage isn’t necessarily meant to lull you into a state of relaxation to the point where you nearly fall asleep. The controlled tension of a Thai massage often keeps you alert and aware.
During a Thai massage, you will balance between pleasure and pain. A deep stretch may result in some discomfort, but after it is released there is an endorphin rush that leaves you feeling invorgated and content.
Some report that the experience of a Thai massage can be incredibly jarring if you aren’t mentally prepared for the discomfort. You may find yourself gritting your teeth and wondering why you would ever sign up for it again, but the remarkably relaxed refreshed feeling that results when the massage is completed, along with the associated health benefits, is usually enough motivation to return for more massages.
Do I Have to Be Undressed For a Thai Massage?
Traditional Thai massage uses no oils, so it is common practice to keep your clothes on during the massage. It is recommended you wear loose, comfortable clothing, however, since you will be performing deep stretches.
Depending on where you get the massage, some spas will provide robes or plain, loose-fitting clothing to be worn during the massage.
In Thailand, it is not uncommon to receive massages in large rooms concurrently with other clients. Sometimes, massages are given while seated, and these can be performed in public spaces such as at temples or in parks.
Do Thai Massage Practitioners Need a License?
In Thailand, the Thai Ministry of Public Health’s Department for Development of Thai Traditional and Alternative Medicine controls the licensure of traditional Thai massage spas and masseuses. Medical schools often feature alternative medicine as part of their coursework. In order to be licensed, massage therapists must be certified by the Department of Health Service Support.
Undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in Thai Traditional Medicine are also available in Thailand. In order to operate legally, Thai massage venues must have practitioners that have completed at least 800 hours of training, according to the Department of Health Service Support.
Some schools in Thailand, such as the Wat Pho Thai Traditional Medical and Massage School, are associated with temples. These schools offer certification for Thai massage practitioners in settings closely associated with the Buddhist teachings supported by the massage techniques.
There are 181 schools in Thailand that offer approved training in Thai traditional massage that is compliant with certification from the Health Service Support.
Incorrectly performed Thai massage can be dangerous and potentially fatal, and so it is important to seek out licensed establishments with properly certified massage practitioners. Unlicensed massage studios are often associated with lower standards and a greater health risk to clients, so clients should take measures to seek out accredited massage venues.
What Is the Difference Between a Thai Massage and a Swedish Massage?
There are several notable differences between a traditional Thai massage and a traditional Swedish massage. Depending on your personal preference and your body, you may prefer one technique over the others.
In a traditional Thai massage:
- You will keep your clothing on or wear provided loose-fitting clothing
- You may have the massage in a large room at the same time as other clients
- You will change your position multiple times during the course of the massage
- The massage is based upon principles of energy and spiritual beliefs and it aims to improve the energy flow in your body
- The massage is more dynamic and you will be more alert during the process
- There is frequently no massage table and massages are given on floor mats or while seated
- The massage will work your entire body in a single session
- The massage will involve much more stretching
- The massage can last up to two hours in some traditional venues
In traditional Swedish massage:
- Clothing is removed and you will often be covered by only a towel or underwear
- The massage will be in a private room setting since you will be undressed
- You will remain laying on your stomach, face down on the massage table for the duration of the massage
- The massage is more focused on relaxation, with movements being mostly stroking, gliding, drumming, kneading, and rolling over muscles
- A massage table is utilized to provide you comfort and to raise you so that the masseuse can perform the massage comfortably
- The main areas of focus are the back and upper arms, although occasionally legs can be massaged if requested
- Swedish massage often uses essential oils and lotions
- Less flexibility and action are required from the client receiving the massage
These differences can help determine which massage style is a better fit for your personality and experience levels. Traditional Thai massage is an excellent option for anyone wanting a whole-body massage that will rejuvenate and reenergize you without needing to remove any clothing.