What can you expect from my massage?
When you come to me for a massage, I will always start the session with a little conversation. I explain some things about Thai Massage and about what you can expect. And I ask: ‘why do you feel like receiving a massage today?’. The answers I get can vary quiet a bit. And depending on your answer we formulate a goal for the massage together.
For instance, you might be looking for relieve from physical discomfort or pain. Maybe there is a specific area of the body you want attention for. Using pressure, strokes and stretching my aim is then to bring back space and movement in those areas. To let energy flow again, also in corresponding places of the body, since pain in one area often is a manifestation of misbalance somewhere else. Sometimes vigorous treatment is called for, sometimes more gentleness, sometimes all I do is let my warm hands rest on a painful area inviting the tension there to drain away.
An other reason to receive massage might be that you are looking for a form of support. You might be in a challenging and stressful period of your live and be looking for place to put your burden down for a while and experience a sense of being carried. In that case I could choose for a slower or more gentle quality of touch. Or a strong steady pressure reconnecting you with the ground. I listen to the breath of the receiver to move in harmony. We enter a soothing rocking rhythm in which you can let go deeply, sink and arrive back home in your own body again.
It can also be a choice to activate, to generate some energy. Thai massage can be dance-like and playful with big movements, rocking and shaking. The receiver is then like a lazy dance partner. One time you end up on your belly, then on your side. I’m the active partner, folding you in and stretching you out. A surprising voyage. I invite you to breath fully again so that after the massage you will feel more energetic and alive.
So as you see there are different possibilities when you come for a Thai massage, depending on the request you bring. In all cases you will leave deeply relaxed and and with a great sense of physical well being.
Is any massage given by a Thai person automatically a ‘Thai massage’?
Good question. What we mean when we talk about Thai Massage nowadays, in Thailand is called nuat phaen boran (‘ancient-style massage’) or more recently nuat phaen thai (‘Thai-style massage’). There are many forms of Nuat Boran, but certain characteristics they all have in common: the receiver is dressed and is brought in positions that you could say resemble yoga poses. There, without the use of oil, energy lines are stimulated with pressure and stretches. In the West, massage is mostly associated with relaxation. In Thailand though, Nuat Boran is an integral part of Traditional Thai Medicine, and is seen as a medical procedure. It can be used in combination with other forms of treatment like herbs, rituals and other types of physical manipulations.
Legend has it that Nuat Boran was developed by Buddha’s doctor, doctor Shivago, and arrived in Thailand together with Buddhism. That is why many masseurs have little altar for him in their practice space and pray to him before a treatment. It is more likely though that it has developed over time out of several influences from local customs, from Chinese medicine and from healing arts that came from India.
Not so long ago, Thai Traditional Medicine, and Nuat Boran being part of it, became in decline as Western medicine become more commonplace in Thailand. Practitioners were even prosecuted in the beginning of the 20th century. But since the ’90s a revival has started, supported by the Thai government. One reason for the revival of Nuat Boran was that westerners traveling through Thailand became enthusiastic about it. Some even wanted to learn how to give it.
Nowadays Thai massage is given on a grand scale, and much of it to tourist. But because part of those tourists are looking for a ‘happy end’ rather then a traditional massage, the word ‘yoga’ was added to indicate that no prostitution was on offer.
Beginning in the ‘80s some westerners kept coming back to Thailand to learn Nuat Boran. They studied for many years with Thai masters or in Thai massage schools. They started offering it and started schools of their own, teaching to other westerners.
Is it possible for a westerner to give a ‘real’ traditional Thai massage? Nuat Boran is part of a complete Thai vision on medicine in which next to Buddhism, shamanism, herbs, amulets and ancestors play an important part. Westerners can learn to perform the massage techniques with great skill, but the complex context of Thai tradition is a whole study by itself.
Many western practitioners come to Thai massage with already a certain therapeutic background. They might be physiotherapists, shiatsu-masseurs, acro-yogis or osteopaths, with very different ideas about the functioning of the human body and the conditions for its health. This causes new forms to evolve. This is comparable with how yoga took on all kinds of new forms after its arrival in the west. Many of the practitioner of those newer forms tend to call their work Thai Yoga Massage, or even Yoga Massage, rather then Traditional Thai Massage. Myself I have trained in different styles and forms in Thailand and in the West and feel comfortable calling my work ‘Thai Yoga Massage’.
“Is Thai Massage supposed to hurt?”
In October 2015 I spend three weeks in Chiang Mai, in the north of Thailand, to take courses at the Sunshine massage school, a place with a very good reputation (even though it’s name might not sound very formal).
The last course I did was a week of ‘fieldwork’. Under the supervision of a teacher we were going to give massages to senior citizens at a service center for the elderly. I was very excited about this. The center itself was not much more then a corrugated roof over a hall where activities could take place. Every morning we were assigned a different, mostly female client, varying in age from 50 to 80. One of them worked behind a market stall, another cooked in the street, there was a retired schoolteacher and another had worked for the government. Hardly any of them spoke English. Some of them had high blood pressure, diabetes or were obese, while others were in perfect health. The massage teacher interviewed them about their health and translated for us, five western massage students. Almost al of them had received many massages before. It was clearly a part of their culture. After that interview a treatment plan was made. As expected, seen the age of our clients, our teachers mostly advised us to keep the pressure light. As we, masseurs, were about to discover, the idea of what is light pressure was quiet different from that of our Thai ladies. Nearly all recipients asked for more pressure, stronger massage, more weight. A quiet hefty American fellow student said he had never given as much pressure as to his 80-year-old recipient.
My impression is that the Thai idea about their massage is: ”no pain, no gain”. They want to feel the strength of the masseur. Western massage is often oriented towards relaxation. The Thai idea about massage is more medical, to help heal injury or an ailment. The sen-lines (meridians) get worked on, to get energy that is stuck moving again. This explains the experience of some travelers who take a massage in Thailand. If they yell out in pain, the masseur laughs politely and continues as she did. Maybe also live in general in Thailand is more tough, so peoples attitude is more ‘no nonsense’.
What is my approach? There is a theory that says that people are happiest when they experience challenge and relaxation at the same time. Relaxation is nice, but gets boring after a while. But if all you experience is challenge, you get stressed. We seek a balance of both. So a massage too must be a combination of deep relaxation and at the same time enough pressure to have an impact and also to hold the attention of the receiver. But if the massage hurts, or the client is afraid that it is going to hurt, her body will start to tense up, which is the opposite of what I hope to achieve.
Many clients have sore areas, for instance in the shoulders, the back or the calves. Of coarse these areas will feel sensitive when they get massaged. It is very possible though to treat these areas without the receiver tensing up. By going slow, by listening to the clients’ body, sensing where the boundaries are and if necessary by asking. The massage should be more of a collaboration than an imposition. That way the receiver can keep a sense of control and stay relaxed. Even if it hurts a bit sometimes.