I confess that I’m a glutton for massages. I’m convinced it’s genetic; my dad loves them, too, and once on a trip to New York we each got two separate massages in a single day. So yeah, I fancy myself as a massage connoisseur. But a good rub down can be hard to find, especially if you’re looking for something beyond hot stones and a mediocre foot rub.
That’s where Thai massage comes in. It’s a dynamic, intuitive style of massage that’s only recently gained popularity in the U.S., despite ubiquity in its namesake, Thailand, and other countries. Sometimes called Thai yoga massage, it is a 5,000-year-old discipline that descends directly from yoga in India. Studies have shown that Thai massage is effective in relieving headaches, stress, and body aches and pains. Um, sign us up for reducing all of those, STAT.
In a Thai massage session, the therapist places the client in a series of yoga postures, focusing on stretching and mobilizing joints. You don’t have to be an active yoga practitioner to receive a Thai massage, however: the masseuse meets you where you’re at, and your only job is to relax. I recently had the opportunity to try this unique practice and experience its benefits firsthand.
I arrived at my appointment to find a gigantic padded cushion in the middle of the room. In a Thai massage, the client and therapist sit fully clothed on a flat surface, which enables unrestricted movement. My masseuse asked me if there was a part of my body that needed the most work (answer: neck and shoulders), as well as a few other questions about my daily habits. After that, she had me sit in front of her and she began to work on my back, neck, and shoulder areas.
There aren’t any oils or props used in Thai massage, but I didn’t mind. In fact, I found that the absence of extras allowed everything to feel deeper and more intentional. My favorite seated posture involved an assisted dhanurasana, where the therapist pulled my shoulders back until I felt a stretch along my pectoral muscles. Another pose was a supported back bend that involved the therapist placing her feet at the middle of my back while I was in a seated position. It felt amazing.
But there were parts of the massage that were a little painful, and this is coming from someone who likes her massages to “hurt so good.” When the therapist had me lay on my back, she used her foot to put pressure on my forearm…a lot of pressure. Who knew forearms could be so sensitive? I also didn’t love that the masseuse chatted with me the whole time, which generally doesn’t happen in standard massages. And unlike a table or chair session, where you’re face down and the light is dimmed, in a Thai massage you’re sitting upright and sometimes even facing the therapist, which can be unnerving to some people who just want to close their eyes and bliss out.
Nevertheless, upon leaving my appointment, I felt even more nimble and peaceful than I have after deep tissue work. Part of this is because Thai massage aggressively works parts of the body that might go untouched in other types of massage therapy. I also think people who perform this type of body work have a different approach to treating and viewing the body–one that seemed less performative and more intuitive.
Would I try Thai massage again? Yes, probably. As with other types of massage, I like to try out different companies and therapists, so I’ll probably see a different person next time. If you like deep stretching and yoga assists, I highly recommend seeking out Thai massage in your area.
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