Ancient Thai Massage
Thai Massage has its roots in the ancient medicine of Indian Ayurvedic practice. The influence of Yoga is also present in the body positions and the stretching movements that are part of Thai Massage. These are largely the same roots from which traditional Chinese medicine also emerged and one can see similarities in the acupressure points and energy lines on a Thai Massage body chart. Thai Massage, however, does not pretend to be anything like Chinese Acupressure or Chinese Acupuncture. It is a different science. The original precepts of Ancient Thai Massage were recorded in the Pali language of early Buddhist texts. The original practitioners were Buddhist monks in northern India in the 2nd and Ist centuries B.C. Prior to modern times in Thailand, the Wats (Buddhist temples) served as Thailand's predominant centers of education, healing and social life. While today some of the Buddhist temples in Thailand and in Laos still maintain the practice of monks and nuns administering Ancient Thai Massage, it is now generally practiced at Thai Massage centers or institutes which also teach the art.
Certain features are characteristic of Thai Massage. It is performed on a mat, on the floor, rather than on a raised table. This allows for many movements and procedures that are not practical or effective in table work, and sometimes impossible. Specifically, mat work allows for maximum effective use of the practitioner's balanced body weight, rather than mere muscular force used in other types of massage. Through balanced body weight applied with control pressure, force and energy are applied and transmitted by the practitioner to the client.
The work of the Thai Massage consists primarily of pressure on the body's energy lines and pressure points, along with a variety of stretching movements. While the energy lines and pressure points are the central feature of Thai Massage, one must not make the error of assuming it is similar to Chinese acupressure. The body charts of both are quite similar, but the practices are respectively quite different. In Thai Massage the energy lines and pressure points are worked within a comprehensive whole body massage that may be performed in a period ranging from one to three hours. One hour is actually too short, whereas one and one-half to two and one-half hours is considered reasonable, and two and one-half to three hours is considered ideal. Thai Massage is not a quickie toning of the muscles and loosening of the joints. It is a whole body massage which helps nearly all parts of the body.
The energy lines in Thai Massage are the most crucial feature. They are called "Sen" and although they appear similar to the meridians of Chinese acupressure, the energy theory of which is similar, the "Sen" follow energy flow through the form of the body whereas the meridians of Chinese acupuncture represent the energy flow associated with specific body organs . In the tradition of Ancient Thai Massage there are 72,000 "Sen", but in practice there are ten "Sen" which serve as the foundation of all the energy lines. The practitioner exerts pressure on these lines and on pressure points along the lines with the palms, the thumbs and the feet, and occasionally the elbows are used. This is always done, however, with the practitioner's whole body weight serving as the pressure force.
The stretching movements of Thai Massage open the body up and have the effect of both relaxing and energizing the body. These are not called exercises, and no part of Thai Massage is called exercise, because the recipient of the massage is passive and the practitioner does all the work. The stretching movements affect the entire body. They increase body flexibility, and they release body tension at all levels. The stretching movements complement the working of energy lines and pressure points so that together the working of all three provides the comprehensive Thai Massage whole body strategy.
An important feature of the Ancient Thai Massage tradition is the practitioners themselves and what they are taught. Traditionally Thai Massage was passed down from generation to generation by word of mouth. It was primarily taught in the Buddhist temples. While a few of Thailand's temples still teach this art, most Thai Massage instruction is done at private institutes. Practitioners are taught to be sensitive to the client's body because the Thai Massage concept is partially based on the practitioner matching his body and movement to that of the individual client both in terms of common movement and in terms of energy. Thai Massage is meant to be practiced with a certain energy and vigor, and the pressure and stretching movements are matched to the client's needs and physical abilities. Thus, all features of Ancient Thai Massage contribute to the whole body concept, and this includes the use by the practitioner of his or her special learned techniques in the tradition of Thai Massage.
The purpose of Thai Massage is to provide relaxation, balance to the body's various centers, healthy blood circulation, and activation of the body's energy lines or "Sen" as they are called, the practitioner's attitude and physical approach to administering Thai Massage are of utmost importance.
The Thai Masseur is put through a thorough training and apprenticeship before being left on his own with a patient and the "Method" of the Thai Massage is the foundation of its proper application. Those trained in the art of Thai massage are required to cultivate the following thirteen points of attitude and method as they learn the basics and move on to apprenticeship.
Work is to be done in a meditative and concentrated state of mind. This is the purpose of the short chant the Masseur is required to recite prior to beginning each massage as well as at the end of each massage. It's a Buddhist chant that allows the Masseur to summon up the personal energy and focus to concentrate on the health of the individual patient.
In beginning the work on the patient, ask first if the patient has any illness or has recently had an operation. The Masseur is trained to avoid certain physical applications depending on the person's general physical condition. From the beginning, the Masseur is taught to work in a slow, gentle and soothing style. The Thai Massage is never rushed. It is meant to take place over a period of 2 1/2 to 3 hours and the Masseur is never in a hurry to meet a timetable. The time is flexible and the Masseur works at his or her steady pace until the massage is complete.
The working of the energy lines is the most fundamental aspect of the Thai Massage, but both before and after the working of these lines the Masseur is trained to apply palm pressure to the legs, the arms and the back for the purpose of body relaxation . The palm pressure applied is not a hard press, nor is it the rough sort of working you might receive in other types of massage. In Thai Massage the palm pressure is intended to both loosen up and relax.
The various pressure points on the body are as essential to Thai Massage as the energy lines. These points are akin to the pressure points in Chinese acupressure, the basis of the concept being similar, but the working of the pressure points in Thai Massage is much less specific and all on the exterior. The Masseur presses these points to achieve a state of relaxation in the patient. This is done because the points within the body build up levels of stressed energy that must be relieved. The Masseur is taught to work the area of each pressure point, after pressing, by applying a broader pressure using the thumb, the finger, or the palm and moving in a circular motion.
Above, it was stated that the Masseur first asks the patient if he has any illness or if he has recently undergone any sort of operation. An example of the importance of this question, and the answer, in Thai Massage is the areas of the body the Thai Masseur might work in applying pressure. In the case of one with high blood pressure, heart disease or varicose veins, the Masseur will never stop the blood flow at the groin or in the armpit area as this could do bodily damage. These and various other health aspects are an important focus in the training of practitioners of Thai Massage.
The whole idea of Thai Massage is the working of the entire body. The Masseur too is trained to think in terms of the "whole body" concept, and not just yours. The pressure we have been referring to, an essential part of the Thai Massage Method, is the natural and balanced pressure applied to a patient by the Masseur's whole body and body weight. Rather than applying pressure that originates from the Masseur's finger, thumb or palm, the Masseur always works with straight arms and a straight back so that the strength and balance of applied pressure comes directly from the weight of his body. This makes the art of Thai Massage a more controlled engagement of the Masseur's senses and physical applications, and it is a feature that makes Thai Massage so unique.
The bones and joints are an area that are considered especially sacred to the Thai Masseur. They are considered delicate members of the body which should never be worked or pressed directly Thus, in Thai Massage your Masseur will never press directly into any bone, most importantly, the Thai Masseur, will never work on the knee, the most sensitive part of a bone,cartilage and joint areas.
Much of the work in Thai massage is done with the thumb. This is particularly true for applications intended to affect the energy lines and pressure points of the body. The Masseur will always work with the ball of the thumb, not the tip. This is related to pressure application using a balanced weight. The ball of the thumb can be used in a much more therapeutic way because it covers a larger area and because the pressure applied comes from the whole arm, not a levered pressure that would come from the tip of the thumb.
In work that requires the fingers, the Masseur uses a circular motion rather than a direct pressure from the finger tip.The principle here is related to that in using the ball of the thumb rather than the tip, but the fingers bring in another dimension to Thai Massage. Above it was said that the bones are never worked on directly. They are not, but they are worked indirectly. One way is by the working of the area around the bones; another is the use of the fingers moved in a circular motion over the bone. In all facets of Thai Massage where the fingers are used, a very light soothing pressure is applied by moved the fingers in a circular motion.
There are many other specific features to the art of Thai Massage and how it is applied both generally and individually. The Masseur is well-trained in these features and is always astutely aware of the patient's feelings and disposition. The stomach, for example, is a sensitive area if a person has just eaten. In this case the Masseur will not apply stomach massage. Another feature that might be overlooked in many other types of massage is hand and feet cleanliness. Because in Thai Massage all parts of the body are worked, the Thai Masseur will make sure that both his and your hands and feet are always clean This is something you will greatly appreciate when you discover to what extent the hands and feet come into play in the application of Thai Massage.
The final feature takes the Masseur back to the beginning point of the massage, the chant. When the Masseur completes your massage, he will again recite the chant This is a fitting ending for such a long period of focused concentration on the health features of another's body The recitation of the chant at the end allows the Masseur to exit the finely tuned state of mind he has been in for the past 2 1/2 to 3 hours.
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