Look forward to reduced stress, better sleep and improved range of motion from the Land of Smiles.
By Anna Bonet
The health benefits of massage are universally recognised and stressed people the world over have been reaping the rewards of a good rub down since time began. But if you’ve ever been lucky enough to visit Thailand (or popped into a Thai massage parlour on the high street) you will know that a massage hailing from the Land of Smiles is simply next level.
Massage has been proven to help ease stress and make us feel more relaxed. But what’s the difference between an everyday massage and the Thai variety, and what gives Thai massage its unique mind-body benefits?
What is Thai massage?
Traditional Thai massage is an ancient healing practice that requires a touch more active participation than other types of massage. Thanks to yoga-like stretching elements, Thai massage is sometimes referred to as lazy person’s yoga. Guided by the massage therapist, you are encouraged to manoeuvre your limbs into different positions similar to yoga, in order to benefit from deep muscle compression, joint mobilisation and acupressure. ‘Thai massage uses gentle to strong pressure and stretching techniques to relax the whole body,’ explains Greene.
Thai massage therapists will use their hands, knees, legs, and even their feet to mobilise you into a series of yoga-like stretches.
Forget undressing and relaxing on a table. Thai massage therapists will use their hands, knees, legs, and even their feet to mobilise you into a series of yoga-like poses. In contrast to the gentle kneading characteristic of an everyday massage, Thai massage also tends to employ stretching, pulling, and rocking techniques to relieve tension and enhance flexibility.
Thai massage is also carried out fully clothed on a padded mat on the floor with a limber therapist to guide you. ‘Thai Traditional massages must use elbows and knees as a Thai technique,’ says Greene. ‘We do Thai traditional massage on the floor on a mattress where clients must wear comfortable clothes, without a bra. The therapists provide massage without oil and the process with Thai traditional massage is mixed with yoga,’ says Greene.
What to expect during a Thai massage
There are a few factors that set traditional Thai massage apart, so consider the following points before you arrive:
🌺 Remain fully clothed
If you’re in the market for a relaxing snooze set to tinkly music you might get a surprise, so come prepared for an active rub down. Wear loose, comfortable clothes that won’t restrict your movements, as traditional Thai massage is performed fully clothed.
🌺 Don’t eat before your massage
Thai massage has some active elements, so it’s best if you arrive on an empty stomach, similar to if you were attending an exercise class. ‘When you come for a Thai massage you must not eat one hour before the massage,’ says Greene. ‘During the massage, for best results you should breath deeply in and out. This is the best thing you can do by letting your body and your mind calm and relax.’
🌺 Start on your back
In contrast to other forms of massage you start on your back, not your stomach, and often manoeuvre into different positions, so prepare to limber up.
🌺 Trust your massage therapist
Your massage therapist usually sets up the poses while you lie still, before gently pushing and pulling your limbs to stretch and release muscles, so lie back and trust in your therapist.
🌺 Keep an open mind
At different points during the session your massage therapist may be pushing, pulling, and kneading you – and don’t be surprised if they even start walking on you (lightly) for additional pressure!
🌺 Speak up if you’re in pain
If something twinges or doesn’t feel right, make sure you let them know. ‘During the massage you may have some pain from muscle tension which is normal but if you can’t take over the pain, please always let the therapist know immediately,’ says Greene.
Thai massage health benefits
Traditional Thai massage comes with a number of proven health benefits:
- Aids deep relaxation
A Thai massage is incredibly relaxing. Stretching techniques combined with the gentle pressure used by the massage therapist relax the whole body.
- Improved cardiovascular health
Thai massage has been proven to stimulate blood circulation as well as lymph circulation through the use of stretches, which fills the body’s tissues with oxygen and promotes healthy cell growth and good heart health.
- Stress relief
A 2015 study found that Thai massage significantly reduces levels of a certain stress marker present in the saliva, called sAA. The researchers concluded that Thai massage is more effective at reducing stress in healthy people than just resting.
- Improved quality of sleep
Because of the way in which Thai massage can lower stress and boost relaxation, it should come as no surprise that it can also aid restful sleep. In fact, the US National Institutes of Health has found that Thai massage therapy can reduce fatigue and improve sleep quality.
- Headache relief
Research has found that Thai massage is an effective treatment for people who suffer from chronic tension headaches. In a separate study, researchers found that Thai massage can also ease the symptoms of migraine.
- Reduced muscle tension
Thai massage incorporates yoga-like movement which has been proven to ease stiffness in the body and, over time, improve range of motion and flexibility.
- Improved athletic performance
One study of 34 football players looked at the effects of Thai massage on their athletic performance. After receiving Thai massages three times within 10 days, they showed significant improvement in their ability to do sit-and-reach exercises.
Does Thai massage have any side effects?
As a fairly active approach to muscle tension, traditional Thai massage may come with some side effects that you should be aware of. ‘You may have redness after the massage, but this is normal and will be disappear,’ says Greene. ‘You may also feel dizzy after the massage, but a therapist will offer you water and some time to sit. It’s recommended you take your time before you walk or drive due to potential dizziness.’
Some people also experience muscle soreness following a Thai massage, but given the high impact nature of the treatment, this is normal and usually nothing to worry about. ‘To aid any post massage pain or perhaps headache from the tension release, a general home painkiller can help and within 1-2 day you will feel better,’ adds Greene.