Thai massage has captivated many people since its introduction to the world centuries ago. Originally developed in Thailand, with roots tracing back to Buddhist Indian health traditions, it is now practiced worldwide. In western society, we have begun to appreciate the benefits of Thai massage and are turning to it for occasional relaxation and therapeutic benefits.
Traditionally, the therapist performs a series of rhythmic movements on the recipient’s body using his or her hands, feet and sometimes knees and elbows. Movements are combined with assisted yoga-like stretches to encourage relaxation of muscles and joints. That’s why it’s sometimes also called “yoga for lazy people”. The recipient remains clothed during the session in a mat-covered floor room.
No oils are used in the massage as in other forms of massage therapy; however, a Thai massage therapist will sometimes use warm compresses or scented oils before, during and/or after the session to further enhance the relaxing experience. Usually the practitioner begins by gently stretching the client’s limbs, back and torso to relax the body and prepare for the deeper work that follows. Typically, the body is then worked from the feet up to the head in a rhythm that is intended to bring balance to the subtle energies of the body, which is believed to flow along lines also known as “sen”. A typical full-body treatment lasts 1 to 2 hours; however, treatments can be modified to suit individual needs and can range from as short as 30 minutes to as long as several hours.
A typical full-body treatment begins with rhythmic compressions along energy lines of the feet and legs which stimulate the internal organs, followed by a full body application of deep tissue pressure using the palms of the hands and the thumbs to stimulate the circulation of blood and lymph throughout the body. This loosens and releases tension throughout the entire body. The therapist may also use his or her forearms to apply broad pressure and stretch muscles in the same direction as the blood flow returning to the heart, thereby relieving muscle tension and improving flexibility. When the client is fully relaxed, a final sequence of stretches is performed to improve flexibility and well-being.
During a typical two-hour Thai Massage Session you will feel yourself slowly melting into the table as you are pampered with delightful nurturing touches while experiencing a state of pure relaxation. A two hour is usually enough time for most clients to receive maximum benefits. However, additional time can be requested if desired.
Benefits of Thai massage
The benefits include increased circulation and flexibility; relief from muscle aches and pain; improved posture; and increased energy and vitality, and an elevated sense of well-being and improvements of mood.
What to expect during a Thai Massage Session
You will remain fully clothed during your session on a padded floor mat; however, you will be asked to remove your shoes upon arrival at the studio or spa facility. Your therapist will leave the room to allow you to disrobe to your level of comfort, usually down to your underwear or lighter garments. Many places also offer comfortable lose cotton clothing, typically pants that reach down to your knees and a shirt to cover your torso and shoulders, while still allowing for plenty of movement and manipulation of your limbs.
You will lie face up on a padded mat or firm mattress on the floor. In colder facilities, you will be covered with a blanket during the session to keep you warm and comfortable. Your therapist will begin the session by applying pressure along the energy lines of your body using the palms of his or her hands, thumbs, forearms and occasionally knees and elbows. This encourages the release of tension and stress from your muscles. The rhythmic movements are designed to stimulate the flow of “prana” or “chi” through your body. In addition to applying direct pressure to the body, your therapist will use a combination of passive and active stretching techniques to relax the muscles and improve flexibility.
These stretches are held for varying lengths of time depending on their intensity and the sensitivity of your body. When the therapist feels that you have achieved the maximum level of relaxation possible within that particular position, they will move to another part of the body to continue their work. The session will usually end with a short series of gentle stretches designed to improve overall flexibility and well-being.
After your session you are encouraged to remain resting quietly for a few minutes to allow the effects to settle in before getting dressed.
Is traditional Thai massage painful?
Many traditional forms of massage therapy are often quite painful, and this applies to Thai Massage too. Thai people believe that an intense massage will be more effective at relieving tension, loosing muscle knots, freeing joints and ligaments, and improving the flow of energy. However, you can always tell your massage therapist if you prefer a more gentle massage, or if you don’t want specific positions or techniques to be applied.
Many people may feel discomfort when the massage therapist applies deeper pressure to tense areas or reaches certain sensitive spots within the body. This is normal and not harmful in any way when done by a skilled therapist.
Definitely tell your therapist about any health conditions or physical ailments before the massage begins!
What does Thai massage cost?
The cost of a Traditional Full Body Traditional Massage in Thailand ranges from around $5 – $15 USD per hour depending on the place you visit and the experience level of the practitioner. More upscale places charge anywhere between $30-$200 per hour.
The price for a Full Body Traditional Massage in the US starts at $50-$60 USD per hour depending on the place you visit and the experience level of the practitioner. Look for a place that has been in business for several years and has a good reputation.
How to find the right Thai massage therapist for you?
When you find a good place that you feel comfortable visiting on a regular basis, ask to speak to the owner or the supervisor in charge to discuss your individual needs. Tell them what types of problems you have with your body and explain what type of results you are looking for from the sessions. Ask them about their business policies including whether they require appointments in advance, how many sessions you will need to achieve your goals, and whether they offer packages of sessions at a discount. Do they require you to pay up front for the sessions? What is their refund policy? How regularly do they update their therapists’ skills?
Also consider independent massage therapists. I’ve found that the best practitioners often work independently, rather than for a business, and are more capable of customizing their treatments to your specific needs. You can find these practitioners online (search for “Thai Massage Therapist”), or through referrals by friends.
What about erotic Thai massage?
While unfortunately many establishments offer sexual massages under the name of Thai massage, original Thai massage does not contain any sexual or erotic elements.
It can be advisable to ask if they offer erotic massages before booking a therapy session. While this might seem embarrassing to ask, legitimate Thai massage studios will politely let you know that they don’t do so, and you can then tell them: “Wonderful, I’ve been looking for someone who would say no. I’d like to book a session then.” They’re familiar with this situation and will understand why you asked.
Different styles of Thai massage
Typically there are different treatments offered at a Thai massage place. Traditional Thai massage, which is the “hardest” type of Thai massage, where strong acupressure is applied along the energy lines, and limbs are manipulated.
Thai foot massage is focused on the feet and often uses a wooden stick to stimulate specific acupressure points.
Thai aroma therapy uses essential oils and balms to relieve sore muscles, and is generally softer than Traditional Thai Massage.