Far from being the beachfront massage offered by young women to tourists in Thailand, Thai Yoga Bodywork, often simply referred to as Thai Massage is really an ancient method of bodywork that was traditionally known as Nuad bo Rarn, which literally means “ancient massage.” Nuad Thai is the name of an early branch of traditional Thai health care that may have originated from Vajrayana Yoga practices found in Tibet, though it is also believed to be based on an Indian Ayurvedic and Buddhist spiritual practice that combines yoga with a form of Acupressure. Some believe that it was developed by an Indian doctor who was the personal physician of the Buddha and the king of Siam, whereas others say it came in ancient times from the Yellow Emperor of China. Whatever its origins, it was often employed by the monks in Buddhist monasteries to help relieve the pain caused by sitting for long periods of time in meditation, and in Thailand, it was used by the king and his family for healing purposes rather than pleasure. Traditionally, pulse analysis was used to determine those elements that were out of balance so that the practitioner could better direct attention to resolve dysfunctions, and the complete therapy included diet, herbs, and prayer. These elements are generally not part of the modern form of Thai Yoga Bodywork.
Traditional Thai bodywork (also known as Sombat Tapanya) has two styles, the Northern and the Southern. The primary difference between the two is that the Southern style is more invasive and more painful than the gentler Northern Thai style. However, there is often overlap between the two styles, and many practitioners employ variations of the traditional forms. Another form of Thai massage, known as Piradara includes the use of hot herbal compresses with or without oil. Burmese Massage is similar to Thai, but involves variations in body positioning, flexing, and twisting and in the use of different parts of the practitioner’s body for leverage. The bodywork can be painful when sensitive areas are being treated, but, for the most part it is very exhilarating and helpful for providing adjustments and realignments that bring the body back into balance. All of these approaches can be carried out by two practitioners working simultaneously.
Today’s Thai Yoga Bodywork is usually performed on a mat on the floor with the recipient dressed in loose, comfortable clothing. It acknowledges the body-mind connection, and the practitioner tries to work in a state of mindfulness in which every breath is connected to each moment. The massage focuses on ten major energy conduits or pathways, known as sen lines, and acts as an external stimulus to produce specific internal effects, opening and creating space within the body to allow it to move harmoniously. Rather than using points as in Acupressure or Shiatsu, a practitioner applies slow, deep, rhythmic compression and pressure to release blockages and balance the energy along the sen lines by using the fingers, thumbs, palms, hands, elbows, forearms, knees, and feet. Myofascial stretching techniques, soft-tissue manipulations, and energy balancing can also be part of the treatment. Simultaneously with the hands-on bodywork, the practitioner stretches the client into a wide range of yoga-like poses while the recipient is sitting, lying down on the stomach or back, or inverted, and sometimes gently and rhythmically rocks the client, often aligning the movements with the client’s breath. Thai Yoga Bodywork is like a passive, assisted form of yoga in which the recipient doesn’t have to work at holding active Hatha Yoga postures.
Though emphasis may be placed on the abdominal area during the treatment, the arms and legs are the body parts most frequently moved, often in ways that twist and stretch the spine, hips, and joints. Tractioning of limbs is also used for dealing with issues of sciatica, spinal compression, and bursitis caused by tightness in a joint. The role of conscious breathing is an important part of Thai Yoga Bodywork, and the client is often instructed to synchronize the breath with the practitioner’s movements and to breathe into areas of resistance. Quite often, the releasing process will spontaneously cause shifts in the recipient’s breathing patterns. The Ayurvedic concept that the wind element is important in supporting body function is also incorporated into the therapy, since the pressing and deep compression promote the correct movement of wind in the body, thus freeing stagnant energies. Today, some clinical forms have adopted minor modifications, but Thai Yoga Bodywork is still concerned with the balance of energy and the creation of a powerful meditative healing experience that promotes wholeness of mind, body, and spirit.
This modality comes from “Our Inner Ocean”, a book by Captain LeCain W. Smith: The author, LeCain W. Smith, learned early in life that his personal path to awakening was through ocean sailing, bodywork, and transformational energetic experiences. When living on the sea, making friends with the elements and with nature, he uncovered his passion for adventure, exploration, fitness, and health. He spent many years studying and experiencing bodywork and practicing yoga, qigong, breath-work, and meditation. This passion, combined with seeing numerous friends struggle with health problems, eventually drove Smith to reach out and help others through the writing of this book. If this endeavor changes the life of only one person, he will consider it a success.
Good health is something we all aspire to, but it’s so much more than just being free of disease. A perfectly functioning body, tranquil mind, and vibrant spirit working together harmoniously create the joy and happiness that put the good in good health and the worth into a life worth living. Our Inner Ocean describes ancient and new holistic modalities of practitioner-applied bodywork and revitalizing self-care practices.