A Practical Guide to Thai Massage as Movement Therapy and Why Your Clients Need It Right Now
I am not going to bore you with stories of how Thai massage changed my life and the lives of my clients (it did). Or give you a basic run down of what Thai massage is, you have probably heard it before and if you haven’t you can look it up here or Google or any one of the other easy research methods out there. Here is what I am going to do, I am going to tell you how Thai massage is going to change YOUR life. Yes, I am that confident that what you are going to learn in this simple lesson is so profound that it is going to impact how you practice for years to come. But first, I want you to know why learning Thai massage is so important to your career. And I can tell you in one simple word – movement. Why is movement such a crucial word? It is the #1 most important wellness therapy that your clients need right now.
Why is movement therapy so vital?
Americans are becoming increasingly sedentary. Not just the elderly, but also younger generations. Especially with so many new jobs requiring the regular use of computers. In fact, it is becoming quite commonplace for people to not even need to leave their homes to go to work, to socialize, or even to go shopping. Even with standing and walking computer desks (which many do not have access to), people aren’t getting levels the activity they need. When you add in that many people also spend most of their free time on phones, laptops, and computers in the same stationary positions – we have a major problem.
Here are a few activities to help you observe and understand this for yourself:
- Go to your local coffee shop and spend an hour watching people who are on their laptops or phones. What kind of postures do they hold and for how long?
- Observe a family member, friend, or even yourself the next time they surfing on Facebook or Instagram. How much time do they spend?
- Survey your clients on how long they spend each week on the phones, computers, and television combined. What are the results?
It is very easy to see that many of us are leading increasingly sedentary lives
How does this impact us?
To put it simply, movement is the key to life. I have seen this first hand as a massage therapist for nearly two decades. My career started in Florida where a worked with a high percentage of people in their later years. I had one observation emerge immediately. When people continued to move and be active their quality of life was much higher. On the opposite end, when people stopped moving and being active their quality of life became poor. The old adage “A rolling rock gathers no moss” became a truth for me and a way that I could explain the need to move to my clients.
Today, lack of proper movement is directly influencing the health and wellness of a huge portion of our population. With all the sedentary behaviors that are emerging in our society, people are beginning to suffer from lifestyle related ailments that are directly linked to their lack of movement. Plantar fasciitis, carpal tunnel, sciatica, IBS, depression, anxiety, diabetes, heart conditions, headaches, I can go on and on listing all the lifestyle issues that can have lack of movement as a primary or contributing factor.
How can we, practitioners in health and wellness, address this?
This is where Thai massage comes in as a therapy that can drastically improve the health and wellness of your clients. Movement is the one of the main goals of a Thai massage. When I talk about movement I am not just talking about the mobility of muscles and limbs. I am speaking about ALL energy driven movement in the body; movement of fluids like blood and lymph, hormone transportation, nerve conduction, digestion, and even breathing.
In Thailand, Thai massage is categorized into a branch of traditional Thai medicine called “energy work”. The energy is called “Lom” which translates into wind. By describing energy as wind, they are relating it to the quality of wind which is movement. They are referring to all pathways that are involved in moving energy throughout the body. Thai massage creates positive and beneficial movement in the body using acupressure, joint mobilization, and passive stretching along those pathways. As a body worker, you have can have a direct impact on your clients’ health through movement therapy. Western styles of massage already have components that address movement, but is it enough? Thai massage as a modality utilizes more active techniques that can greatly increase the amount of movement therapy that your clients get in each treatment.
Stretching & Movement
If you went to massage school you may (or may not) have learned stretching as a part of your routine. Often, I see new practitioners eliminate stretching from their treatments once they start practicing professionally. I have heard several reasons for this. Including:
Draping Insecurity – With either the therapist or the client.
Energy Output – Therapists feeling like it is too much effort to put into every session.
Time – Not enough time to include them in the massage.
Lack of Education – The therapist wasn’t instructed on the importance or relevancy of stretching in a massage treatment or given enough training to feel confident with the techniques.
With a little “brushing up” and practice you can add these back into your sessions. Since this is an almost immediate way for you to get movement therapy incorporated into your massages, I would encourage it.
If you are looking to build your knowledge and skills or find more dynamic and easier ways of adding to your movement therapy to your practice, then Thai massage is the modality for you. Thai massage eliminates many of the issues that can arise from performing movement therapy in a massage session.
1) Thai massage is performed on a mat – this reduces the effort needed when performing stretches because the therapist uses leveraging to do the work.
2) The client is fully clothed which eliminates the issues with draping.
3) The mat is usually much larger than a table allowing for easy abduction stretches that are pivotal in counteracting lack of movement.
4) A typical Thai massage session is 90 minutes which allows ample time to perform all techniques including; warming up, stretching, and cooling down.
Here are a few techniques from Thai massage to illustrate the value of studying this unique modality.
The Palm Press – This technique is used to warm up an area before joint mobilization and stretches are applied. It also compresses a large area creating movement in both directions away from the compression site. It is applied by placing the palm directly over the location and pressing firmly through the entire
palm and fingers. If you are interested in learning how to properly do a palm press you can watch a video lesson here.
Shoulder Rotation – Rotating the shoulder can help create positive movement in all of the surrounding muscle attachments and allow the pathways that travel through the shoulder to move more freely. To rotate the shoulder, we support above the elbow with one hand and gripping the front and back of the shoulder with the other hand we rotate it in a full circle counterclockwise several times.
The Figure 4 Hip Stretch– This technique is excellent for releasing hip restrictions and increasing pelvic mobility. Place one leg in a figure four position with the sole of the foot touching the opposite straight leg. Apply alternating palm pressure to both legs moving from hips to knees and back to hips.
Spinal Twist – The spinal twist has a great effect on stretching the spinal muscles (which sit across nerve pathways that innervate the entire body). This technique can be applied by bending the clients leg and placing the sole of the foot on the floor just lateral to the knee of the opposite leg. Using a hand or foot to anchor the clients shoulder on the same side, the bent leg is moved towards the opposite side of the body creating a twist of the torso.
Gentle Back Stretch – This technique will gently stretch and open up the lower back, an area of congestion for many people. Bring both legs straight up at 90 degrees to the body. Bend both of the client’s knees and press them towards the client’s chest.
Want to add Thai massage to your practice? Live and online classes are available here.