Thai massage FAQ



» Which common pains can Thai massage help with?

Thai massage is great for relieving:
– shin splints (tennis players, joggers)
– improving range of motion (golfers)
– elbow pain (frequently in professions requiring manual dexterity, such as mechanics and large machine operators)
– neck and shoulder tension (desk jobs, journalists, computer work)
– back and leg tiredness (standing jobs, like waiting tables or table-massage therapists!)
– back pain, sciatica or piriformis syndrome (“false sciatica”)
– leg pain due to knee problems (and vice-versa)
– leg and foot cramps
– insomnia, anxiety, lack of concentration
– digestive issues
– headaches brought on by tension or stress


» How does Thai massage work?

Thai massage consists of
(1) passive mobilization & stretching
(2) compressions along energy lines (called “Sen”)
(3) rhythmic rocking motion
(4) guided breathing, meditation, compassion

1. Passive stretching affects the muscle tissues and nervous system quite differently from active stretches. During active stretching, the brain essentially sends signals to the muscles limiting the extent of the movement to prevent injury. It says “This is how far it is safe for me to go”.

In order to actively stretch a muscle, its opposite (antagonist) must contract. It logically follows that you can’t stretch a muscle further than you are able to contract its antagonist: consider your triceps and biceps. You can’t stretch the one any further than you are able to contract the other – at least not without the help of the other hand! During a Thai massage, muscles are stretched without the active contraction of their antagonists.

And then there is “muscle memory”: muscles that have been in a tense position or doing a repetitive motion over a long period of time, quite literally “forget” what it means to be extended and relaxed. Indeed, the muscles (and the person) believe they are relaxed, but in fact are not. A good example of this is how, in the winter, we tend raise our shoulders to keep our neck warm…

The passive mobilization and stretches in Thai massage “remind” the body (& the brain) that it can indeed move in a given direction – that your shoulders don’t belong up by your ears! – and achieve a greater range of motion, as muscle fibres are extended without the conscious, active contraction of the antagonist (opposite) muscle (i.e. quads/hamstrings).

2. The Sen are energy lines that go all over, through and around our body; there are some 72,000 lines practically forming another body in, on and around each of us. In Thai massage, 10 of these lines are considered most important – don’t ask me how these 10 were chosen, they just are. (“Wax on, wax off.”)

Compressions are applied along the sen, helping to release energy blockages along the way and promote the free flow of energy.

In physiological terms then, for the skeptics who resist “energy talk”: Incidentally, these lines follow along muscle tissues and nerve and blood pathways (how about that?). The practitioner uses thumbs, palms, elbows, knees and/or feet to squash the fibers all along muscles, from origin to insertion. This causes micro-tears in the muscle tissues and then the body’s fluids rush in to do their repair work. Kind of the same principle behind how exercising and lifting weights builds muscle.

3. The practitioner is almost always in a rocking motion: side to side, forward and back, and in circles (whirlpool). It allows the practitioner to transfer their body weight to achieve pressure, rather than using force (which would be very tiring). This constant rocking, which also transfers to the recipient, calms both their nervous systems. It’s one of the reasons practitioners themselves usually “feel better after” having given a Thai massage.

4. My Thai massage master has explained meditation as such: “Meditation is not the absence of thought, but rather the space in between thoughts”.

I like to compare meditating to competitive swimmers. Our brain is made to think, that’s what it does; how can you train it not to? Similarly, our lungs are made for breathing, you can’t ask them not to. We don’t rapidly breathe “in-out-in-out-in-out” — we’d get all light-headed and pass out! There is a …pause… between breathing out… and the next breath in… and then out again… Athlete swimmers don’t hold their breath; with practice, they train their lungs to need breaths less often, to lengthen that pause in between the inhale and exhale. The way swimming trains the lungs, meditation is training for the brain. With practice, we can learn to expand that space in between thoughts, and with practice, we can learn to find that quiet space more and more easily when we need it. Having that quiet space quiets the “noise” in our brains, and allows us to better focus our energy.

Thai massage is a meditative practice, in that both giver and receiver are completely present and mindful of their breathing for the duration of the session. This state of mind allows the practitioner to be more aware of, and in tune with the recipient’s responses to each posture. When giving a Thai massage, the practitioner is giving of their kindness, compassion and caring; to help the receiver feel better.


» How does Thai massage differ from “regular” oil massages?

Thai massage is better! :-)

Ok, ok, I’m biased. Do you mean, besides the stretching and the rocking, and that it’s done on a mat instead of a table, and that you’re dressed comfortably instead of in your birthday suit?

Most massage forms that use oil, massage the superficial tissues just below the skin. Even these can be a “strong” massage, but their beneficial effects may dissipate fairly quickly, sometimes within hours. The body also has “deep” muscles, close to the bone, that cannot be palpated (felt by means of touch) because there are layers of superficial muscle on top of them. The only way to relieve the tension or pain in those deep muscles is to compress — in other words, squash down — the superficial muscles down into the deep ones. This is why the effects of a Thai massage can last for a week or more.


» What do they mean by “energy”?

Good question. Here is how I see it. We take in “prana”, or energy, when we inhale air, and we exhale stale energy, depleted of oxygen.

When we are tired or lethargic, our “energy is low”. When we are excited or nervous, our energy is high. Kids often have too much energy!

Long ago, when tension or pain occurred, “blocked energy” was only one of many ways to define it. When a muscle trembles or spasms as it is relieved and relaxed, energy is released or unblocked.

What we refer to as “energy lines” (or Sen lines) follow bone, muscle tissues, nerves and blood pathways. The recipient “feels energized” for several days following a session, because their body feels good or hurts less.

Bones are composed of minerals. Minerals are crystals. Crystals hold an electrical charge (energy!).

When I work, I follow the Sen. But my hands feel tissues and reactions (while intuition and experience dictate my pace and pressure). I believe that energy was around long before we acknowledged it, let alone learned to manipulate it. I am a firm believer in the teaching method of “do this like this, and it works, you don’t need to know why”, because if you “do this, like this” with the right intentions, the energy will take care of itself.


» How often should I receive Thai massage?

If you live in Thailand, or you are rich, or have a really great health insurance plan: every day. Barring these, I say live in the moment and see how you feel.

You can expect the effects of a Thai massage to last about a week. It’s more important to develop an awareness for how your body is feeling, and not to let the tension and pain build up before going for your next session. Maintenance is more effective than chasing crises.


» Can Thai massage relieve pain in the joints?

The short answer is yes. Scroll down to the next question or read on for long answer.

I see the body as a system of sticks and elastics. If you have too much tension in one elastic, it stands to reason that all the other elastics down the line of sticks will also feel the effect of that pull.

Our muscles — our elastics — cross our joints (you’d be surprised how many people don’t realize this simple fact). When our muscles are too tight, they exert pull on the bones toward each other at the joints, the weakest points in our system of elastics and sticks. And then we start walking funny, and things start to hurt.

But which comes first, the joint pain or the muscle tension? It doesn’t matter, the result is the same. Because muscles that cross a painful joint, will contract in response to that pain, causing further pain.

If you can relieve the tension in the muscles that cross a given joint, you can relieve the pain in the joint without ever touching the joint itself. Thai massage does this.


» Is Thai massage good for back pain?

The back is a huge system of joints, with no shortage of muscles crossing them. Yes, there is nothing like Thai massage for back pain (or knee pain, or ankle, elbow, shoulder or neck pain). A client who came to see me recently, with chronic back pain, said afterwards that she felt like a new person. Personally, I need a Thai massage at least once a week; I can only wish I had discovered Thai massage waaay back when I was waiting for spine surgery!


» I’ve never done yoga before (or “I’m not flexible”); do I need any experience to try Thai massage?

How many years’ of breathing experience do you have? Do you know how to do nothing? Great, that’s all you need!

You do not need any yoga experience; you do not have to be all bendy and flexible. Thai massage is adapted to the individual, and there are thousands of possible postures to put you in. A skilled therapist knows that the art of Thai massage is knowing what *not* to do.


» Is Thai massage good for weightlifters?

Yes. Often, body builders lose some measure of flexibility and mobility as their muscle mass increases – for example, they can no longer apply lotion to their entire back by themselves, or can’t touch their toes. Weight lifting increases the width, the breadth of the muscle fibres.

Thai massage, like yoga, lengthens muscle fibres and helps the body regain its flexibility, and restores the joints’ mobility and range of motion. Thai massage is a safe introduction to yoga and stretching in general, and it’s far more pleasant than physiotherapy 😮

If you have any other questions or comments – or to book a Thai massage — please feel free to write! or click on the button at the top of the page.