PHILOSOPHY AND THEORY OF THAI MASSAGE

Thai massage is one of the brances of traditional Thai medicine. They are manipulation, medicine (orals, salves, compresses and vapors), diet and spiritual ceremonies or magical practices. These ceremonies are deeply rooted in mysticism, astrology and the supernatural. For the mast comprehensive results, Thai massage (i.e. manipulation) should be practiced in conjunction with these three other aspects.

Thai massage’s Buddhist background elevates it to such a high level that it is regarded as a perfect spiritual practice in Thailand for it exemplifies the four divine states of mind taught in Buddhism. These are: metta, good will, loving kindness; karuna, compassion, the desire to help others; mudita, sympathetic joy, gladness for the good fortune of others; and upekkha, impartiality or equanimity. The following words by The Dalai Lama describing Tibetan medicine could actually be used to perfectly describe Thai massage, “Tibetan medicine is deeply integrated with Buddhist practice and theory which stresses the indivisible interdependence of mind, body and vitality. The ideal doctor is one who combines sound medical understanding with strong realization of wisdom and compassion.”

As mentioned before, Thai massage is an Eastern form of therapy where the whole person is diagnosed and treated – not just a particular symptom. It is based on the holistic point of view that any problem is not simply an illness of a particular part, but rather a disorder of the whole being. All the parts of the body are believed to have an organic relationship which exists within an even greater whole – nature. Because of this holistic approach, treatments are usually about two hours long so that the person’s whole body can be addressed. Pichet Boonthumme, whose work this book is based upon, always points out the connections between one problem area and the other and repeatedly says. “connect, connect’” when palpating. Wataru Ohashi, a shiatsu teacher, describes thes in the following words. “In the Orient we believe you are built in one piece, that it is impossible to isolate a part without considering what effect it will have on the whole. We do not concentrate on the illness, but on the entire body. We do not label disease, because all diseases come from the same source – an imbalance of enegy flow throughout the body.”

What is this energy? It can be defined as the force that initiates all physical and psychological functions. This life energy is absorbed from the air we breathe and the food we eat. Different cultures have given different names to this energy. In India it is called Prana, in China – chi, in Japan – ki and in Thailand it is called lom which means wind. This energy is believed to travel down invisible pathways. In Thailand the pathways are called sen, in India, nadis and in China and Japan they are called meridians, channels and/or vessels. In Tibetan medicine it is said that the “…mystic channels are numerous, they are sometimes numbered 72,000 but are also said to be uncountable”. In India and Thailand it is also believed the there are 72,000 energy lines. Whatever the number of lines, where they run and what they do varies “…depending on the medical system…involved. They are not solid realities which one can point out like in the physical body, in spite of the fact that people often try to make exact identifications with particular parts of the body. Such identifications do not hold up. There are however, more general correspondences which do have meaning and significance.” The pathways according to Ryokyu Endo, “…can be felt only through personal experience and therefore belong to a world indefinable by words. Clinically, the position and depth of meridians varies infinitely according to each patient…Because of their qualitative nature, meridians can only be perceived by an equally qualitative mind. Healers are able to recognize meridians when they are in sympathy with the patient’s vital energies and there is a fusion between the feelings of the two…Meridians were discovered as a means of cure based on treatment through sympathy between the patient and doctor. In fact, meridians cannot be understood outside the concept and practice of curing the patient through the touch of the skin…Recent attempts to scientifically prove the existence of meridians by electrical responses in the living body have not succecded because what can be scientifically proven is linited to the quantitative expressions of scientific method.”

In Thailand, out of the 72,000 lines, ten have been selected as the main ones to use during Thai massage therapy. Although it has been agreed that there are ten main sen, descriptions of where they run and what they do differ from school to school. It is important to note here that in Thai massage. Therapy is is focused on the whole line rather than on individual points although points can be used for treatment in addition to the line work. Descriptions and illustrations of the ten main sen, according to the findings of Ahjarn Pichet Boonthumme, can be found in the Advanced Course manual. These sen illustrations, however, are only rough maps of invisible pathways many of which travel deep inside the body and therefore are very difficult to put down on paper.

As far as the beginner’s training is concerned only parts of these energy lines are used. These segments have been referred to as Lines 1,2,3 and so forth for the convenience of Western students. These line numbers, however, are not part of the traditional Thai way of teaching which is more experiential and less analytical. Illustrations of where these line segments run are given in the Technique section.

Lastly, according to Thai Belief, the right side of the body is considered the masculine side and the left side is considered the feminine side. Therefore, in a traditional treatment, the right side of the body is treated first when working on a man and vice versa for a woman. For example, if you were working on the feet one at a time and your client was a female, you would massage her left foot first and her right foot second. Energy in women is believed to flow in a counterclockwise direction, whereas in men it is thought to flow in a clockwise direction.

The important things to focus on during the basic training are to develop sensitivity to the lines, to be able to feel areas of tension and tightness, to know how to use one’s bodyweight and to work in a relaxed and yet concentrated way.

METHODS AND BODY MECHANICS USED IN THAI MASSAGE

Thai massage should be done in a rhythmical relaxed manner at a moderate pace. Touch during the treatment should be used first as a means of gathering information and secondly as form of therapy. Due to this approach, the initial contact in a technique should be lighter than the later ones. In general, perssure builds from soft, to strong for each technique. Usually, perpendicular leaning pressure should be used for applying weight and progressively stronger stretches should be used for stretching. The therapist should rock form side to or from front to back while working so as to slowly shift their weight.

The therapist’s body position is of tremendous importance throughout the massage for with good body mechanics the work can be done easily in a comfortable and effective way. The therapist’s weight should generally be distributed between whatever areas of his or her own body he of she is working with such as his or her hands, elbows, knees and/or feet. When applying pressure, the arms or legs of the therapist should usually be kept straight so that leaning power rather than muscular force is used. In general, space should he kept between the therapist’s body and the area of the client that is being worked on.

It is also important for the therapist at most times to have their “center” – i.e. their abdominal area – facing their client. It is from this center that the therapist’s power comes. In this area there is a specific spot below the navel which is the origin of this power. It is called the dan tien in Chinese theory and is located 1 ½ cun below the navel. A cun is a Chinese measurement using the breadth of the first joint of the thumb. This point is focused on in many Asian meditation and martial arts practices to cultivate internal power

 

There are many parts of the therapist’s body that can be used for applying pressure when giving a Thai massage. Following are the main body parts:

1. Palm the heel of the palm is mainly used
2. Thumb the joint between the two phalanges of
the thumb is used, not the rip or pad of
the thumb
3. Crossed Thumbs one thumb is crossed over the other at
the joint between the two phalanges of
the thumb and pressure is applied
through this joint
4. Thumb and Fingers a body part is squeezed between the
thumb joint and fingers
5. Fingers the end of the fingers are used
6. Side of Hand the lateral side of the hand is used
7. Butterfly Hands the heels of the hands are near each
other with the fingers facing in apposite
directions; pressure is applied through
the palms simultaneously
8. Modified Butterfly Hands the heels of the hands are separated
from each other a little
9. Elbow the elbow is used
10. Forearm the forearm is used
11. Knee the knee is used
12. Sole of Foot the sole of the foot is used
13. Side of Foot the lateral side of the foot is used
14. Heel of Foot the heel of the foot is used

The above body parts can be used in various techniques. Following are the main techniques:

1. Palming the palms of the hands are walked one
after the other
2. Thumbing the thumb of the leading hand is slid
forward four onkkulee on an energy line
and then followed by the other thumb
which is picked up and piaced two
onkkulee behind it
3. Foot Walking the soles of the feet are walked one
after the other
4. Hitting the back or front of a loose fist is used
to hit a body part
5. Chopping each finger of the right hand is joined
with its corresponding finger on the left
hand, i.e. pinkie to pinkie, etc.; the pairs of fingers are kept separated from each other as are the palms, the elbows are brought forward and the chopping movement comes from the rotation of the wrist
6. Squeezing various parts of the therapist’s body are
used to squeeze
7. Circling the palms or thumbs circle on a body
part
8. Brushing the hands brush the body

These techniques are used when the therapist is in various positions. Following are the main positions:

1. Kneeling this can be done in several positions
such as with the knees and feet
together and the feet flat on the floor or
with the knees spread open and the feet
flat on the floor or with the feet up on the
toes
2. Crawling the hands are below the shoulders and
the knees are below the hips with the
knees shoulder width apart, the arms
should be kept straight, the feet should
be up on the toes
3. Half Lunge the knee of one leg is on the floor below
the hip of that leg and the foot of the
other leg is on the floor below that knee
with the thigh of that leg parallel to the
floor
4. Lunge one leg is stretched out and the other is
half bent with the foot below the knee of
that leg and the thigh parallel to the floor
5. Sitting there are various ways of sitting such as
with one leg bent and the other
stretched out or with both legs
outstretched, etc.
6. Half-kneeling, half-squatting one leg is kneeling and the other is in a
squatting position
7. Squatting this is done in a squatting position with
the weight on the balls and toes of the
feet and the heels off of the floor

These techniques are used to move the client’s body in various ways such as by:

1. Stretching
2. Lifting
3. Rotating
4. Pulling
5. Pushing
6. Twisting

For the sake of clarity certain terminology will be used throughout the text as follows:

1. Up the foot move upward from the toes toward the
heel of the foor
2. Down the foot move downward from the heel toward
the toes of the foot
3. Up the leg move upward from the ankle toward the
inguinal crease
4. Down the leg move downward from the inguinal
crease toward the ankle
5. Up the arm move upward from the wrist toward the
armpit
6. Down the arm move downward from the armpit toward
the wrist
7. Up the back move from the hips toward the
shoulders
8. Down the back move from the shoulders toward the
hips

Also certain technical words will be used instead of the common lay person’s words. They are:

Malleolus ankle bone
Ischial tuberosity sit bone
Tibia shin bone
Scapula shoulder blade

Lastly, the positions described in this book are based on giving a treatment to a female client. Remember that with a female client, work is generally done on the left side frist and then on the right.

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