Trying a New Massage: Thai Massage Cheat Sheet

by  Melisse Gelula | Mar 22, 2010
Thai massage
Thai massage / junce/iStock

In lean times, it’s the muscle-kneading treatments like massage that do best at spas—the perception being that a full-body treatment that knocks out knots is best at relieving stress and getting your money’s worth. Of these, Swedish and deep tissue get the most play, but they aren’t the only rest stops on the road to wellness. There’s another massage on many spa menus that melts tension just as efficiently—and it includes health-promoting acupressure: Thai massage.

Considered a medical treatment in Thailand (and now practiced around the world), this massage method might resemble a private yoga class to Americans. It gets at knots, joints, hamstrings, and the spine through stretches and movement, making lay-on-your-belly Western massage look, well, lazy. It can cost more than massage-menu stalwarts like Swedish (Thai training is more specialized), but those who graduate to this master’s level massage find it incredibly satisfying, mind-blowing, and way more engaging. 

Here are six things you need to know about Thai massage:

1.    Wear loose-fitting clothing. (Often the spa provides them.)

2.    The massage takes place on a futon or floor mat or on a massage table wide enough to accommodate the therapist, too.

3.    Rather than knead your muscles, the Thai massage therapist puts you through a series of stretches that loosen them and limber your joints (Thai massage is often called "lazy man’s yoga"). It also includes deep-pressure point work to stimulate the body’s energy pathways . . . a similar principle to acupuncture.

4.    If you haven’t already gotten the picture, there’s a lot of interaction between you and your therapist, who will use her body weight to leverage you in and out of twists and deep elongating stretches. (Hence the loose-fitting clothing; there’s just no way to keep you covered under a sheet.) Sample stretch: the therapist sits on the back of your legs and pulls your chest up off the mat by your arms.

5.    Many of the best North American spa therapists have made a trip to Wat Po in Bangkok, or one of Thailand's other top training schools for some authentic study, which has several levels and requires about 2,000 hours. (Ask your spa at booking about training of their Thai massage therapist).

6.    Because this massage is so active, instead of feeling like taking a nap afterward, you’ll likely feel energized and elongated by the yoga-like stretches; like you’ve had some serious bodywork done, can stand up straight, and gotten at those long ligaments you can typically hide from your regular massage therapist.

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