Me Up, Thai Me Down
by Nathan Johnson
an ancient form of massage cure my distinctly 21st century
problems? After a week suffering from throbbing shin splints and a
hand and shoulder gone numb for reasons linked to incessant computer
use, I couldn't wait to find out. I had heard that Thai massage could
help cure anything from back pain to stomach aches to psychological
problems. So, armed with the recommended loose clothing and a company
credit card, I blasted into the waiting room of San Diego's Pacific
Center of Health like Seinfeld's Kramer after one too many
cups of coffee.
of the other patrons waiting in the lobby even noticed my daft entrance;
while I stuck out like a sore thumb, they all seemed rather in tune
with the new age music playing. I strutted up to the front desk,
a corporate fish out of water. "I'm here for my spiritually uplifting,
stress-relieving Thai massage," I said grinning. The receptionist
was visibly unimpressed, but politely lead me to a room.
masseur, Leonard Flagg, was extremely professional, and was happy
to explain this and other components of the massage as we went along.
at my feet and moving up, Leonard spent an hour and a half releasing
tension in a myriad of awkward yet somehow logical positions. But
everything seemed to make sense. Why was my foot pressed between
his thigh and calf, I thought to myself at one point. Then he took
my opposite knee and pushed it laterally, sending a stretching sensation
of relief up and down my spine. My foot's position was merely a
method of bracing me to provide a means to stretch the body in a
way I never could have come up with on my own. Thank Buddha, my
Thai massage was an overwhelmingly positive experience.
to tradition, Thai massage was first introduced around 2,500 years
ago by a northern Indian doctor named Jivaka Kumar Bhaccha, a contemporary
and friend of Buddha.
massage is used to treat a variety of ailments, including headaches,
back aches, gastrointestinal pains, menstrual cramps, and psychological
problems such as paranoia or depression. It is also used simply
as massage, as in my case. Curiously, Thai massage is performed
with the recipient on his or her back for the majority of the massage.
In contrast to other forms of massage, Thai massage is a key component
of an entire Thai 'medical system.' Historically, it was used in
conjunction with any number of other remedies from this system to
treat just about anything that afflicted the people of Thailand.
Deep Tissue, Swedish, and other well-known forms of massage, Thai
massage actually involves very little "rubbing" at all. Instead,
the techniques used revolve more around compressions. And fingers
are not the only phalanges performing these compressions. The toes
are well utilized in Thai massage, as are the elbows, often in awkward
don't worry; this is not some kind of kinky conspiracy to get the
whole body involved. In fact, Thai massage is comparatively more
puritan than its more commonly known therapeutic counterparts such
as Swedish massage. This is because its first practitioners were
monks; Buddhist, that is. "This (Thai massage) arose through the
Theravada Buddhist monasteries in Thailand," explains Richard
Gold, Ph.D., a Thai massage authority and founder of the Pacific
Center of Health in San Diego. "You had a lot of monks doing work
on the populace or on each other, so touching the skin was not culturally
to look for
there is no official certification for Thai massage, there is a
national organization called the American Organization of Bodywork
Therapies of Asia (AOBTA) that concerns itself with Thai massage.
According to Dr. Gold, those masseurs affiliated with AOBTA are
typically quite reputable. "I would ask individuals to simply inquire
of their practitioner as to what their background is - where they
studied," he adds.
be aware that there is more than one type of Thai massage. The variety
discussed in this article is called Northern or 'Chiang Mai' style.
Southern Thai massage, including the type normally performed in
Bangkok, is more quick and abrupt, and those unaccustomed to it
often consider it painful.
concepts of Thai Massage: a quick glance
- a mélange of Chinese medicine's phen and Ayurvedic medicine's
vata concepts. An aspect of energy, wind is purportedly
involved in such bodily functions as peristalsis and circulation
of the blood. According to Thai massage philosophy, it is vital
to health in the body and can become disturbed or trapped. The compressions
administered in Thai massage are meant to help redistribute and
harmonize wind in the body.
- Kindness or love. In historical times, Thai massage was considered
a practical application of Metta, and this belief persists today.
States - Measurable neurological states equivalent to the
meditative states achieved in Yoga. Thai massage is intended to
transport the recipient through different alpha states. For you
skeptics out there, allow me to translate this new-age sounding
lingo. I went through these alpha states during my massage and I
would describe the experience as being extremely, extremely relaxed
- a sort of half-asleep yet cognizant state. According to Dr. Gold,
he could have measured a change in my brainwaves.
Mantra - Some literature on Thai massage describes this
practice as a 'chant' recited by the masseur prior to the massage
for the purpose of achieving a focused, meditative state of mind.
My masseur seemed to be praying. Dr. Gold describes this practice
as a request for wisdom and good fortune during the massage session.
for Lazy People?
one session was certainly not enough to cure my shin and shoulder
problems for good, it did relax me for a few hours. It may not
cure cancer, but Thai massage has fittingly been coined 'Yoga for