Traditional Thai Massage

I’ve had a lot of Thai massages in Thailand and the ones at Wat Po  are, by far, the best. The Wat Po Thai Traditional Medical and Massage School was opened in 1955 and were the first to be approved by the Thai Ministry of Education and in my opinion, it really sets the standard for Thai Massages. The Training School follows the strict high standards and the consistency of the massage but as they masseuses are students the prices are half those of within Wat Po, it’s also in the very accessible area of Sukhumvit Soi 39. To aid me with this review, however, I’ve called in a Thai Masseuse friend of mine to give me some of the theory behind the massage – Thank you Siska Vergauwe.

I usually go for a two-hour Thai massage, however, it can be quite intense and involves stretching and back cracking, so if you’ve never had one before I would recommend trying a one-hour session to start off with.

My review is set into three parts – description of the session, how I felt directly before and after the treatment, my overall review.

Wat Po Training School

The Session – Thai Massage

To begin the Thai Massage the Therapist asked me to remove my shoes and she washed my feet, downstairs in the foot washing basin. I was then asked to slip on some comfy fabric slippers and we proceeded upstairs in the lift to the massage cubicle rooms (rooms that are divided into private spaces with a mattress on the floor), where I was asked to change into the clothes laid out on the mattress – a cotton t-shirt and loose fitting trousers (like pyjamas). When I was changed the Therapist came back into the room and asked me to lie down on my back while she covered my body with a lightweight towel.

The start of the massage began with the Therapist crossing one foot on top of the other and pressing down and then by doing the opposite on the other foot, she then bent both my feet in a forward curl, then pushed back against the bottom of them, flexing them back. She then proceeded to press firmly up and down both legs with her palms. When she got to the top of my legs she pressed down on the inside of my hips firmly for a few second, stopping the blood flow into my legs. When she released them I could feel the warm rush of blood into my thighs and then right down to my feet.

She pulled back the towel from my left leg, leaving the rest of my body covered and began pressing up my leg from my ankle firmly with her palm. Then she came back to my foot and massaged it with her fingers, pressing quite deeply on the instep. She worked her way up and down my leg a series of times whilst pressing with her palm on the more meaty muscles and then pressing in more intensely with her fingers and thumb on the thinner muscles alongside my shin. She also used her knees on my upper leg muscles and used her body weight to press more firmly into the stronger muscles in my legs. Then came the stretches – Thai Massages include movement and stretches, almost like the Masseuse is doing yoga on you, and it feels very therapeutic. To do this the Therapist opened my left leg into a 90-degree angle on the mattress. She pressed down on it first, then folded it against me, across me against her while she massaged all around my leg including my glutes (my butt muscles). After completing the massage on my left leg, she lay it down and covered it back with the towel before performing the same sequence on the right leg.

Once both legs were massaged she moved on to my right arm, starting off by stretching my arm out and pressing into my armpits, similar as she had done with my hips to stop the blood flow for a few seconds. Then she proceeded to massage up and down my arm, again using her palms in a pressing motion and her fingers and thumb in a squeezing and sharper pressing motion. This finished when she stretched my hand backwards to touch just behind my shoulder, whilst she pounded my triceps with her fist. She then did this on my left arm before she asked me to turn over.

Once turned over she started to massage my shoulders, again using a pressing motion with her palms and also by using a squeezing motion. As my shoulders are usually really tense I asked her to do the back and shoulder massage very hard and wow, she did and she was pretty damn strong. She concentrated on the muscle that runs beneath the scapula to the rib cage and this area gets particular knotty for me so she worked hard to press on and flick the muscle where the knots were. Sometimes this was a little painful, but I know that it’s beneficial in the end so I persisted. She also worked on the area behind my armpits where the tendons connect to the shoulder blade, which is another area of tension for me. She worked up and down my spine and the muscles that support it then came back to my shoulders before using her body weight to massage me. By that, I mean she stood on me. I know that for some people, this is something that can be quite scary but I’ve learnt to embrace it in Thai massage because I’ve found that if I can relax into it then I can get the best out of this movement. The Masseuse tends to stand on my buttocks and massage them slightly by rocking from side to side then she will leave one foot standing on, say, the left buttock, while she moves her right leg in a pressing motion up and down the right side of my body. Seen as the massage takes place in a cubicle the Therapist tends to use the sides of the walls to counter balance her weight, however in this case I’m quite sure that she had her whole weight on me. I was confident that she knew what she was doing because she had thoroughly massaged my back and had a good idea of how strong it was and how tense it was – I guess it needed her whole weight… working on yachts gives me a pretty strong back. She then swapped legs and did the same action on the left side of my back.

After this, she knelt down and massaged the backs of my legs with her knees in a pressing motion. She went back to massage my back and shoulders with her hands in the same sequence as previously then she asked me to sit up, cross-legged. This is another bit which isn’t for the squeamish – back cracking – but again, if you can relax into it then you can get the best out of it. At first, she placed my right hand behind my head so it was folded backwards and stretched my right triceps, then she did the same thing on my left arm. After this she asked me to place my hands behind my head and lock my fingers, then she threaded her arms through the gaps in my folded arms and proceeded to swing me from one side to another whilst she cracked my back. Usually, this doesn’t have too much of an effect on me because it takes a lot to loosen my back muscles, however, this time, my back cracked from the bottom of my spine up to the middle where the main twist took place. This happened on both sides and it felt pretty fantastic, I guess that she must have really loosened my muscles by applying so much pressure to my back when she stood on it. She unfolded her arms out of mine and then motioned for me to move my arms backwards and lock onto hers as she pulled my backwards in a bend across her knees, she did this bit by bit as she moved up my back and again each bit cracked, especially the top of my spine.

She finished by giving my shoulders a very intense massage using her elbows and forearms as she pressed down on my sat upright body from a standing position. Then she used her hands again to squeeze and press on my muscles. After this, she gave the temples on my head a massage and the muscles on my neck, especially the ones at the back where the tendons connect to the back of my skull. She squeezed the back of my head as she pulled her hands away, as though she was drawing some kind of energy away from my head, she did this a couple of times. Then to complete the massage she pounded my back and shoulders with her hands that were in a loose clap, placed her hands together in a ‘Namaste’ position and quietly whispered ‘finished’.

Pre-session sense check (7th March 2016, 3pm –  1 hour before treatment)

Physically – Sense checking my body today I can mostly feel the throbbing of my calf muscles, probably because I’ve been walking around Bangkok in flip-flops for most of the day. My left shoulder isn’t too sore today but I do have a subtle neck ache. I feel quite alert for a change, but the heat of the city is starting to tire me as the day goes on.

Emotionally – I feel quite neutral today, I think it’s because I’ve spent the morning working on a business idea so I’ve been quite focused and thus not dwelling on any present emotions, I am possibly numb and avoiding. There is a sense of background negativity in me which is usual these days (as in anyone experiencing grief) but it seems manageable today.

Post-session sense check (7th March 2016, 7pm –  1 hour after treatment)

Physically – My body feels refreshed and it was really gratifying feeling my back crack so many times – this is very rare for me. The massage felt more like a physiotherapy session when the cracking took place and as a result, I feel like I’m walking taller and in a better posture. My shoulders feel slightly sore because they were worked on quite intensively (which I asked for) and I know that not all the knots are gone (even though I’ve had a massage every day this week) but they are definitely looser and the cracking of my back demonstrated this.

Emotionally – Strangely I don’t feel that in touch with my emotions right now, or at least there isn’t anything noticeably positive or negative. I actually still feel neutral and generally unaffected emotionally by the massage but maybe this might change later.

Overall Review

Thai Massage remains one of my favourite massages. It’s a very interactive massage where the client is asked to move into certain positions, it involves stretches, cracking and a variety of techniques all working along the Meridian energy lines. This one was especially intense as I asked her to go very hard and because of this she was able to really push my muscles to loosen up, hence the cracking of my back. Most of the time my back doesn’t crack because the muscles are so tight around it and it takes a lot of manipulation or yoga to release this but this experienced masseuse was able to. The thing that I love most about the Wat Po Training School is that the Therapists are very skilled at what they do and they are all very intuitive. Although the language barrier can provide to be an issue sometimes, once you get to know the rhythm it’s easy to work with the Therapist and get into the positions. The reception area also has a help sheet with some Thai phrases on such as ‘A little harder please’ which is helpful.

I really appreciate the diversity of the Thai Massage as it doesn’t just rely on the Therapist to work on the muscles but the client also has to move around too. I also like that the client is moved into different positions in order to allow the therapist to use gravity to their advantage, simply because it means that the pressure of the massage doesn’t necessarily depend on just the strength of the therapist.

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