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Traditional Thai Massage

A full Thai massage usually takes 2 hours, but shorter facial and foot massages are offered. Prices vary from 100 to 300 Baht per hour, but masseurs like tip to supplement there income.

There are numerous places offering Traditional Thai Massage in Chiang Mai. Most are really good, only a few are crooks!
Following are some well known places for traditional Thai massage:

Old Medicine Hospital (hours 08:30 - 17:00)
78/8 Wualai Road
Tel. 275085

Suan Samoonphrai (hours 08:00 - 22:00)
8 Wangsinghkam Road
Tel. 222770

The following excerpts from the book "Traditional Thai Massage" from Sombat Tapanya ISBN 974-210-510-3 will give you an overview of traditional Thai massage and we hope will help you to get some worthwhile experience.

Background to Thai Massage

The instinctive act to touch, rub, or knead different parts of the body when there is pain or discomfort can probably be traced back to the beginning of human evolution. Many different kinds of mammals will rub themselves with their paws or lick wounds that hurt them. With our superior intelligence, we learned to memorize, differentiate, and systematize our ways of touching and their effects on our body; hence, various systems of massage developed.

The earliest historical records of massage appear to be from China over 5,000 years ago during the reign of the Yellow Emperor, Huang Ti. Recommendations for massage as a means of helping the body to heal itself also appeared in the Indian book of Ayur Veda around 1800 BC There are also numerous references to the benefits and uses of massage in the medical literature of many other cultures around the world. Even in the Bible there are many references to the "laying-on of hands" as a method of curing sickness.

Until recently, not only in the West, but in Thailand too, the popularity of massage has been marred by the general population's puritanical attitude towards the body. Massage is now once more regarded as a legitimate method of health care because of the surge of interest in the many alternative approaches to conventional medicine, particularly in the types of body-oriented therapy. Over time, the art of massage has been developed into many different schools. There are institutes or teaching centers in many countries around the world. The most popular are, currently, the Swedish style (which, in fact, was developed from Chinese massage by a Swede named Per Henrik Ling) and the Japanese massage (shiatsu or acupressure).

Traditional Thai massage is believed to have come from India along with the expansion of Buddhism and Indian culture into Thailand. Some scholars speculate that possibly there might have been Chinese influences on Thai culture, through trading relationships over a long period, which also played a part in the development of Thai massage. This, of course, spanned many centuries of history and during this time the art has been refined and shaped into its present system.

At present traditional Thai massage is still taught and practiced at many Buddhist temples and massage facilities throughout the country. The most well known school is at Wat Pho (the Temple of the Reclining Buddha) in Bangkok.

Massage exemplifies the "Four Divine States of Mind", of Buddhist teaching: loving kindness, compassion, vicarious joy, and equanimity. These are collectively known in Thai as the "Promwihan See". They embody the spirit in which Thai medical services were traditionally given, as opposed to the motivating forces of commercialism which are so apparent nowadays in Thailand.

For this reason, traditional Thai massage had a clear role to play in the activities of the Buddhist temples. It formed part of the social services for which the temples took responsibility. However, with the advent of government-funded health care, the role of the temples has become unclear. The government has promoted and financed primary health care services in the villages which concentrate on a Western medical approach; therefore the popularity of Thai massage has declined. At the same time there has been an over-reliance on treatment by drugs. These drugs are often inappropriately prescribed, are very costly for the villagers and may cause harmful side effects.

The Foundation for Village Doctors - a group of concerned physicians, pharmacists and other health professionals based in Bangkok has set up workshops in many provinces of Thailand, in a project called "Thai Massage Revival Project", to try to re-awaken Thai interest in the traditional art of massage. The foundation is also trying to set up formal courses in massage which it is hoped will in time gain official recognition by the medical profession.

Facts & Myths About Massage

Before learning about massage, we first need to dispel some common myths, otherwise our misconceptions will lead us astray and will prevent us from gaining the most benefit from massage.

Myth:
Massage always has to involve sex.

Fact:
Massage can, but does not always have to, involve sexual activities. Massage can beneficially be given to infants and it is a common practice among mothers in many different cultures. Massage can be done for the purpose of relaxation or for relieving the symptoms of certain ailments. Massage can be practiced between parents and children, between other family members and by physiotherapists.

Some modern physicians and health professionals, especially in the fields of child care and mental health, have recently become more aware of the significance of the positive effects of touching on health and interpersonal relationships. Thus, they encourage patients to touch each other more, and even to give massage.

The image of massage as a specifically sexual activity probably comes from commercial advertisements for the so-called "massage- parlors", with pictures of beautiful women sitting naked in bath-tubs. In reality there are many legitimate massage facilities in many countries around the world where the masseurs or masseuses are required to have adequate training and, in some cases, even licenses before they can practice.

Another factor which causes some people to associate massage solely with sex is probably the general lack of touch and intimacy outside sex in our contemporary society where loneliness, isolation and alienation are becoming more common. In extreme cases, there are children who grow up in a household where sex or physical displays of affection and intimacy such as hugging, kissing or even touching are considered dirty, evil, or sinful. This type of individual is often hypersensitive to touching and gets upset or anxious easily when touched or when in close physical proximity with another person. In some cases even the touching of a person of the same gender gives rise to suspicions of homosexuality. People of this kind usually end up being literally "out of touch" with others and become either lonely and depressed or aloof and hostile, since their needs for touch and affection are never attended to or satisfied. They deserve our sympathy and should be educated on the value of touching.

Myth:
Once a person is massaged they will "develop the habit" and become dependent on the masseur; they will feel "achy" even though they never felt like that before having massage.

Fact:
It is a natural reaction to tense up some muscles when one experiences fear or anxiety in a threatening situation. Sometimes when fear or anxiety is internal (for example, resulting from a poor self-image or from self-doubt) muscle tension may be so minute that one is not aware of it e.g., frowning, shoulder or rib-cage tensing, pressing the lips together, and so forth. When tensions persist for a long time, the person will develop muscle pain in such forms of tension as headaches, back pain or pain in other parts of the body. After some time, the person will cease to be aware of the tension as one can see in a person who habitually frowns or someone who walks with one shoulder hunched a little higher than the other. When those muscles are massaged, they become "reawakened" and the person experiences pain or discomfort the day after the massage. This could be eliminated by one or two more sessions of massage on the same area. Recurrence of pain or tension may result if factors such as low self-esteem, a stressful life style, or self-destructive habits persist. These problems need to be addressed separately. It is not enough simply to get a good massage. The alleged problem of developing a habit or craving for massage is not supported by empirical evidence. One may like to repeat a good experience when it brings joy or tranquillity, as a massage does, but this is different from drug addiction where the individual has to suffer until the craving is satisfied, and where the brief satisfaction that the drug brings is followed by a stronger need for progressively higher doses of the substance. Massage can draw people or family members together and create intimacy and understanding among them, but it is definitely not addictive and does not cause a habitual and painful longing for it.

Myth:
Massage should be practiced only by physicians or physiotherapists. If a lay-person attempts it, they may cause harm or injury to the receiver, such as sprained joints or paralysis.

Fact:
In the health-care field at present there seem to be two contradictory beliefs held by opposing groups.

The first one usually consists of specialists who believe in medical omniscience and regard the field as belonging exclusively under the supervision of the medical profession. According to this belief, one ought to consult a physician as soon as the slightest ailment sets in. No one should try to attempt self-treatment.

The other group, however, sees this as unrealistic because of the unfortunate fact that there are not enough physicians available to take care of everyone, quite apart from their dissatisfaction with commercially-oriented, over-specialized and fragmented medical services, which have recently raised alarm amongst consumers and caused some to consider "alternative medicine", or at least a "second opinion", before making decisions concerning medical treatment.

This second group believes in using community or personal resources. They feel people should be able to help themselves since it has been estimated that the majority of the ailments presented to doctors at clinics or hospitals can be self-treated. Besides, in many developing countries, like Thailand, most of the population anyway live in rural areas and thus have very limited access to modern medical services. If we can educate the population to help themselves, we should be able to greatly cut down both on medical expenses and unnecessary suffering.

This concept of health care also suggests that it is not therapeutic for a patient to leave the responsibility of his or her well-being solely in the hands of a physician, just like leaving a car in a garage to be fixed by a mechanic. The patient's motivation, will and effort to get well play an important role in his or her recovery. The patient should be part of the "treatment team" and not just a "case" to be treated by an expert.

This approach to health care is gaining more acceptance these days as reflected by the increase in the literature on it and also the educational articles and programs in the mass-media on self-care. This is sometimes called the "self-help movement", or "alternative medicine".

The application of massage falls within this area. The goal is to help people to become more aware of and more responsible for their health and for the health of those around them, and to enhance well-being and prevent sickness.

Massage, or any other skill, can be dangerous only when practiced irresponsibly, without careful preparation and training. Risk of injury from massage should be minimal if one acquires, through reading and careful practice, the basic concepts and skills.

Myth:
Massage is for the weak and sluggish; a luxurious activity for the affluent; not suitable for the general population.

Fact:
Massage is essential to good health. It has to do with people who are attentive and feel in charge of their own health and the health of those around them. They care enough to invest time and energy in learning and experiencing massage.

There are people who devote their lives to their work and to earning a high income. Such people may become highly successful and knowledgeable in many ways, but, without proper care and understanding of their own bodies and minds, in the end their appreciation of their wealth and achievements is marred by poor health or chronic illness -- the price they usually have to pay for their so-called "successful life".

Caring for one's own health is, therefore, something an intelligent individual does. It need not be an activity for the self-indulgent or rich. Massage is an excellent method of self-care. It might be worth noting that in rural Thailand it is common to find massage being given freely and frequently amongst family members or village friends. Particularly noticeable are the young children massaging their parents at the end of a day's hard work in the paddy fields, or the free massage sessions given to the very old on certain days at the local Buddhist temples.

Myth:
One needs to be big and strong or muscular to be able to give good massages. A small or thin person will never be able to do well. For such a person giving massage can be very tiring since massage is hard work.

Fact:
With proper learning and practice, you will see that you don't need big muscles or extreme strength to give a massage and, if it's done properly, you shouldn't feel exhausted after giving a massage; instead, you should feel relaxed, alert and refreshed. Massage is an act of giving and compassion which should bring joy and a sense of well-being to both the giver and the recipient.

There are probably several more misunderstandings about massage. The ones described are the most common and should serve as good examples.

Benefits From Massage

There are many ways to prove the value of something, but the best way is through personal experience. The benefits of massage (for both the giver and the recipient) can be briefly described as follows.

For the recipient:

1. An experience of relaxation throughout the body and tranquillity of the mind. All day-to-day tensions and concerns will evaporate, tight muscles will relax, and sometimes the mind will slip into a trance-like state or even a deep sleep, in which case the receiver will wake up refreshed and alert.

2. When one feels alert and refreshed after a massage, one should have more courage and energy to cope more effectively with daily work and problems. One will have a better chance of being successful in whatever one does. Most professional athletes are well aware of the value of being relaxed and alert before competition. They often have a massage before going out onto the field. Tense and anxious competitors are less likely to perform at the peak of their ability.

3. The recipient will have a better self-image resulting from a feeling of well-being and joie de vivre. The mind is stimulated to a mild euphoric state without the sort of adverse side-effects that one usually gets from drugs.

4. With relaxed muscles, the circulation of blood and lymph are improved. The body will receive more oxygen and nutrients and the immune system will be more efficient in fending off disease agents, thus lessening the chances of becoming ill.

5. A good massage after strenuous exercise or activity will help the muscles to rid themselves of toxic chemicals and will prevent the stiffness and pain which might otherwise appear the following morning.

6. Massage will preserve good muscle tone and prevent atrophy, especially in the case of a person who has to stay inactive for long periods of time due to chronic illness.

7. Internal organs will be stimulated to function to their best capacity. There will be an improvement in digestion, the absorption of nutrients and the elimination of waste.

8. It has been claimed that massage, as a result of the improved circulation it induces, can slow down the aging process, especially the wrinkling of skin on different parts of the body.

9. Psychologically, if the giver is a friend or a family member, the receiver will feel loved and cared for, which will bring about a feeling of self-worth. A child who receives regular loving massage will grow up to be a stable, relaxed, and confident person.

For the giver:

1. Feelings of joy, fulfillment and compassion are usually experienced.

2. A feeling of pride in one's ability to help others generally develops.

3. It enhances feelings of closeness or positive relationships with others. An experienced masseur develops interpersonal sensitivity; the ability to understand, accept and react compassionately to other people, which is essential in healthy relationships with others. Hence, a person with skills in massage usually gets along well with people, has many friends, and is rarely in conflict with others.

Preparing Your Body And Mind For A Massage

Good preparation increases your chances for a successful massage session. It helps both the giver and the receiver to center their attention on the activity. There are three important factors in giving and receiving a successful massage:

1. The Setting

Pleasant surroundings are crucial. The most important factors are cleanliness, privacy, minimum noise level, a comfortable temperature, and good ventilation.

In Thailand, places to give a good massage can range from an air-conditioned room to the cool shade of a tree, a beach, or the shaded area underneath a home on stilts. Natural sounds such as a trickling stream, ocean waves, or bird calls are better than man-made music.

The most distracting kind being songs with lyrics which have a way of creating images and emotions in the mind. Pleasant natural fragrances such as from fresh flowers also have a relaxing effect while a faint smell of incense makes the atmosphere mystical and tranquil. There should be no bright light shining directly on the recipient's face. A small towel placed over the eyes and forehead also helps in blocking off the light. Telephones should be off the hook or there should be someone to take messages during the massage session.

2. The receiver should be on a thick blanket or firm mattress.

Too soft a bed or mattress tends to absorb most of the pressure from the giver's hand and renders the massage ineffective. However, bed sheets and pillows should have pleasant colors and designs. White ones should be avoided since they usually remind people of hospital beds and make the person who lies on them feel like a patient who has to be treated.

3. The giver should be physically and psychologically ready.

He or she should be in a giving frame of mind and use massage as a tool in expressing care or compassion. The giver should be in a relaxed and healthy state and not under stress or the influence of drugs or alcohol. The giver should also have clean, warm hands with short finger nails.

Both the masseur and the recipient should dress in light, loose, comfortable clothes with room for easy movement and stretching. Besides comfortable clothing, care should be taken that the recipient has removed from the body rings, watch, bracelets, or other items which might interfere with massage or restrict the circulation and movements. It is most important that the receiver trust the giver. Massage is rather an intimate interaction involving intense physical contact. Without trust, the receiver will feel awkward, vulnerable, and unable to relax.

Conditions Restricting The Use Of Massage

There are certain conditions under which massage is not appropriate.

1. The giver should always ask before proceeding with the massage whether the receiver has any of the following conditions or illnesses so as to avoid exacerbation of the symptoms or injury:

  • muscle injuries, especially if there is inflammation or swelling
  • bone fractures or joint dislocations
  • high fever
  • venous problems (e.g., thrombosis, varicose veins, arteriosclerosis, etc.)
  • skin disease
  • heart conditions
  • cancer
  • wounds, cuts, ulcers
  • diabetes
  • drug or alcohol intoxication
  • severe debilitating illnesses in which only complete bed-rest is recommended

2. The giver should not put himself in the role of a healer or physician and give diagnoses, prescribe drugs or give medical advice without formal training in the field. When in doubt, the only permissible advice to the recipient is to consult a qualified doctor. Training and education in the medical field, whether traditional or modern, takes many years of intensive study. Self-appointed "healers" are morally and ethically unsound and should be avoided.

3. Massage should not be done while either the giver or the receiver are hungry, tired or sleepy.

4. Massage should not be given while the giver is in a negative frame of mind, such as being irritable, angry, or depressed. The receiver will usually be able to sense such feelings and negative effects will result.

5. If the receiver feels ticklish, it might be an indication that there is not adequate trust in the relationship. The giver should try to be more firm and confident; sometimes a little extra pressure on each stroke helps. If not, the massage ought to be postponed until the receiver is really ready.

Principles Of Good Massage

The content of this chapter may be considered to be the key to an effective massage - "the heart of the matter". Without this, a massage will just become mechanical "technique" with very little benefit to either the giver or the recipient.
If, prior to massage, the giver can familiarize himself with the following principles and briefly explain them to the recipient, then it will make the experience more enriching. The key elements to a good massage are as follows.

1. Both the giver and the recipient should remain mentally concentrated on the present moment as much as possible. Try to absorb and experience the effect of the massage without straying into future concerns or dwelling on past worries. Verbal communication should be minimal. Discussion of serious matters, or even small talk, should be avoided. If the giver or both parties are willing, mentally to recite a prayer or to meditate for a few minutes before the massage usually helps to calm the mind.

2. Each pressure, whether from the thumbs, palms, knees or feet, must be slow but firm with a flowing movement. Using body weight, the giver should lean into each push slowly. When enough pressure is applied, the giver should hold the pressure for about 5 seconds by counting from one to five or by mentally reciting a few words from a prayer in the way a meditator would recite his "mantra" while meditating. Once this is done, release the pressure slowly and move on to the next point.

3. Before applying pressure each time, the giver should take a slow deep breath, and then exhale slowly and lean forward whilst pressing. While exerting the pressure, it helps if the giver visualizes his "life energy", located at a point about one and a half inches below his navel at the center of the abdominal region, flowing upward through his chest into the arms and hands and permeating through the receiver's body. This image of "life energy" can be in any form or color - whichever feels right to the giver. It can be like a white mist, or a glowing phosphorus light, or heat waves which slowly flow out when the giver exhales and exerts pressure. This visualization will intensify the positive effects of the massage. To further enhance the flow of this life energy, the giver should also try to keep both hands touching the receiver as much as possible. This is to create a "circuit of energy" with the hands acting as negative and positive terminals. The concept of "life energy" is commonly accepted in Oriental cultures. The Chinese and the Japanese call it "Chi" or "Ki" while the Indians and Thais refer to it as "Prana". It is believed, according to Oriental medical theory, that health is the result of the unrestricted circulation of life energy and that sickness will set in whenever the circulation is blocked or obstructed. One of the main purposes of massage is seen to be the re-establishment of the flow of life energy in the body.

4. The speed and the rhythm of movement should be slow, even, and continuous. Once the giver lays his hands on the recipient's body, he should try to maintain contact throughout the session, otherwise the flow of touch will be disrupted. The slowness and evenness of the movement will also have a hypnotic and relaxing effect on the receiver.

5. The receiver should keep his eyes closed but his attention on the experience and stay alert throughout the massage. Without visual perception, the sense of touch will be more acute. Once the giver has memorized all the techniques and principles, then the massage will become more effective. It also helps if the giver closes his or her eyes, too, while giving massage. Attention will become more concentrated and sensitivity to the recipient's reaction will increase. In some countries in the East, such as Japan or Taiwan, there are many blind massage practitioners, and there even used to be laws reserving the profession of massage for the blind only.

6. When the recipient feels the pressure being exerted, especially on the back or abdominal areas, then he should exhale. To inhale while the giver pushes down will create resistance and discomfort. It will be even better for the receiver to visualize tension, negative thoughts or feelings flowing out and dissipating along with each exhalation.

7. The giver will not feel tense and tired afterwards if she or he learns to use body weight without tensing the shoulders, arms or hands. With excessive tension on the giver's part, the receiver would sense an unpleasant quality of touch, therefore the giver should always pay attention to his or her state of relaxation and keep breathing at a slow, deep and regular rate throughout.

8. Let the receiver know that he or she should always feel free to give feedback on the speed, rhythm, and amount of pressure so that the giver can adjust them to fit in with the need or preference of the receiver. During the massage, if the receiver feels like expressing feelings through making sounds such as sighing, then he should be encouraged to do so. Such reactions are natural ways of releasing tension and will only enhance the effect of the massage.

9. After the massage, the recipient should not get up immediately and get involved in strenuous or serious activities, but he or she should rest quietly for a few minutes in order to fully absorb the effects of the massage and appreciate the feeling of well-being and tranquillity.

10. When all the techniques and principles (the "spirit") of massage are mastered, then during massage both the giver and the recipient should experience a feeling of interpersonal harmony. There should be no more separate giver and recipient but a state of confluence, a continuous flow of life energy. Such a state is considered to be the ideal massage experience - a level which should always be aimed for in the art of massage.

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