Today’s typical American is constantly on the go. All too often, rejuvenation is synonymous with powering up with venti lattes. And relaxation is relegated to those few precious hours between midnight and dawn. But we’re becoming more health conscious, which is why a growing number of Americans, with overall well-being on their minds, are now flocking to an ancient form of bodywork most Westerners have never heard about: Thai massage.
You enter a sparse, dimly-lit room outfitted with a single mat. The space is serene with only soft music emanating from a sound system. You are lying on the mat, dressed in loose clothing, while the practitioner kneels in front of you and begins to carefully stretch your body. Over the course of the session, your body is strategically stretched, lengthened, and molded into several positions. All you have to do is breathe. Sound relaxing? It is, but relaxation is just one of the many benefits clients reap.
WHAT IT IS
Thai massage is a centuries-old practice that is only now beginning to gain popularity in the United States. In fact, Thai massage therapists only began practicing here in 1984. The typical session runs anywhere from 90-120 minutes and is priced comparably to–or sometimes less than–a Western massage.
Where the typical Western massage focuses mostly on the external physical body, the goal of Thai massage is to treat the whole person in his entirety and restore the client to a state of balance. Through acupressure, Hatha yoga and Ayurvedic medicine, Thai massage combines gentle, yoga-like stretching with massage of the muscles, tendons, pressure points and energy lines–also known as sen.
The method is based on the philosophy that each human has an infinite number of energy channels running through the body. If these lines become blocked or broken, you are more susceptible to disease or injury and will experience various other symptoms because your body is not functioning properly.
“With Western massage, practitioners are mainly concerned with kneading muscle tissue or stripping muscle tissue for it to become relaxed,” says David Roylance, co-founder of Sterling, Virginia-based Touch of Asia, which has seen a whopping 1500% business growth in the two years it’s been open. “Thai massage does have an effect on the muscle and body,” he explains, “but is more concerned with restoring the flow of energy to the body.”
The benefits can be significant and wide-ranging. Not only do you feel instant relaxation and relief from stress, over time, practitioners claim, you can expect enhanced immunity, improved mood, a general increase in energy, and detoxification of the internal organs. Thai massage may also help with high blood pressure and other chronic conditions.
The therapeutic effects are also believed to last longer than the effects of a traditional Western massage. “We hear from our clients that the effects of a Thai massage last 3-4 days versus a Western massage which may last 1-3 hours,” says Roylance, who reports seeing clients with conditions from high blood pressure and depression to the common back, neck, and shoulder issues. After the session is over, his clients say they feel more balanced and have a sense of peace they did not have prior to the massage. Some even say they feel taller!
If flexibility is an issue, Thai massage may be just what the doctor ordered. “Through Thai massage, the client is stretched and ends up with much more mobility than he would get with Western massage,” explains Ananda Apfelbaum, owner of New York City-based Traditional Thai Yoga Massage.
Robert Zanger, co-founder of Los Angeles-based Thai Sabai which sees over 500 clients for massage on a monthly basis, says that the treatment, over time, enhances immunity. His practice, regarded as the premiere Thai massage provider in Los Angeles, treats clients who suffer from sports injuries, high blood pressure, and other chronic conditions, as well as those who only seek relaxation and overall well-being. Master masseuse Sasivipa of Thai Sabai also tells us that skin ailments can be indirectly helped by the direct benefit of organ detoxification.
And still another benefit, for the oil-adverse, is that in traditional Thai massage, no body oils are used. So there’s no sticky residue to wash off of your body–or clothing–when you get home. You need only to relax.
Though Thai massage won’t give you the quick jolt you’d get from an espresso, clients say that the lift it brings is much more sustained. Combine that with a heightened sense of relaxation, the benefits of muscle lengthening, and an overall more peaceful mental state, and it sounds like Thai massage may be worth looking into. And it comes with a built-in bonus: unlike with Western massage, you get to keep your clothes on.