Before coming to Thailand, I had only heard about Thai massages being associated with pain…and possibly happy endings. While both of these things CAN be part of the bill, there is far more to the traditional massage than most tourists care to discover. While getting a massage in Thailand is on most people’s do to list, it isn’t something that should be taken lightly. Massage is an ancient tradition in this part of the globe. Wise travelers will come in with some sort of understanding as to what they are getting themselves into. Here are a few good pointers to know before strapping in for a crazy couple hours of existence.
1.) Thai Massage is ancient and rooted in tradition- Much like in the Far East, Thailand bases a lot of its health care on massage, chiropractics, and herbal medicine. Well trained masseurs in Thailand give thanks to “Dr. Shivaga,” and “Komarabhat,” whom are both, “…loved by all the deities.” Thanks is given pre- and post-massage, which is also supposed to be performed in a meditative state.
2.) It is sensual, not sexual – While these two terms are often associated, sensuality doesn’t inherently have to be sexual, much like Thai massage. In fact, the great part about the massage is the desexualization of certain body parts whom are often overlooked. Thai massage may touch parts of the body like the bum, chest, and upper thigh, but it isn’t because the masseuse is trying to insinuate something. These parts of the body hold tension and need to addressed just like the arms, legs, back, and shoulders. For those interested, there is even an entire school of massage devoted just to sexual organs known as Karsai Nei Tsang, which works in a completely non-sexual fashion.
3.) The massage is based on energy lines, not necessarily anatomy – While all of the well trained masseurs in Thailand have a solid understanding of anatomy, the traditional massage is based on energy lines or “prana,” lines. The idea is rooted (giving insight into where the traditions migrated from) in Indian philosophy, helping patients re-root and center themselves through focused, concentrated efforts on the part of the masseuse.
4.) Traditional massages hurt, but that’s a good thing – If you are looking to have a nice, relaxing massage with someone gently caressing your back, traditional Thai massage isn’t for you. Traditional massage is much more rooted in the deep tissue philosophy. The truth is the pain is all part of an overhaul of your system that positively affects your body. The body holds tension in certain areas, and unless these areas of issue are addressed, you will suffer from long term problems. Releasing this tension helps in the overall efficacy of your body, while expelling built up toxins. The result may be an hour or two of pain, as well as a day or two of soreness, but your body will love you afterwards. Make sure to rest, stretch, and drink plenty of water for 24 hours after your first couple massages to reap full benefits.
5.) Becoming emotional during the massage is normal – While it doesn’t fall in line with western thought, many philosophies believe that coiled muscles hold repressed or harbored memories. These recollections, which we somehow stymied to experience fully, build up and play a role in the soreness and coiling of muscles. Patients who fully accept the sensation during a massage often find themselves experiencing a myriad of emotions beyond that bestowed by the physical touch. These sensations are normal, showing that the massage is working on the physical and emotional level.
6.) One Massage isn’t enough – Thais typically receive massages at least once a week. While just getting one doesn’t hurt (phrasing?), the impact of traditional Thai massage is fortified with reoccurring exposure.
7.) Thai massage is a cultural experience - The fact is, Thai people can come off as a little rough around the edges. In fact, Thai people are metaphorical coconuts. Though they have a tough exterior, inside they are sweet and nurturing. You just need to foster relationships to get to the center. Thai massage, though extremely tough on the exterior, is something that has deep roots. Once understood, it has fantastic results much further than what is seen on the base level. Those interested just need to put in some work to understand the process completely.
8.) Above all else, Thai massage should be relaxing – I swear this is true…it just isn’t relaxing in an oil massage on a secluded beach type manner. With massage being a sometimes bi-weekly thing for Thais, the atmosphere surrounding it begins to resemble daily life. The best massage places are the ones in a small space, with multiple mats in one room. The masseurs and customers will be doing normal things like talking on their cell phones or watching Youtube music videos. Thai massage is a regular facet of life, and once you figure out how to be calm and relaxed in normal, day-to-day life, you are going to be more relaxed in general. Those fully profiting from the benefits of Thai massage will find themselves asleep or in trance amidst all the chaos.
Photo courtesy of Siam Thai Massage