Thursday, January 8, 2015

Thai Massage with Miss Wanna

Yesterday Thea and I finished our three-day Thai massage course with Miss Wanna, a practitioner of Thai massage for over 20 years. (For those of you unfamiliar with Thai massage, it involves specific pressure rather than 'kneading' as well as active poses into which the practitioner pulls and pretzels the client.) We gleaned that tendonitis in her wrists and hands compelled her to begin teaching Thai massage to foreigners rather than massaging full time. Thea and I were expecting to learn about the theory and history of Thai massage, but as Miss Wanna told us on the first day, "I don't speak good English. I teach with touch." So, Miss Wanna demonstrated on both of us the 130 different moves and poses of a full Thai massage, like this:

Miss Wanna has perfected a touch that is gentle yet firm, delving into muscles knotted with stress and tension without causing too much pain. She brings you just to the edge of discomfort so that you emerge from her touch feeling loosened, opened, and relaxed. And, she makes it look effortless. After Miss Wanna demonstrated a series of moves, it was our turn to practice:

This pose required pushing Thea's legs down towards her chest while she was supposed to resist with pressure. Like I said, Thai massage is very active, at times bordering on acro yoga. Even though the fingers and hand are crucial tools, Thai massage practitioners also use different limbs to massage, such as the forearm bone, elbows, and even the knees:
It was challenging to achieve that perfect level of touch, firm and almost painful but not too painful. For example, pointy elbows must be used with great caution and the client's shoulder bones carefullly avoided:

Thai massage thoroughly works on all parts of the body, from the large muscles such as quadriceps and biceps to the fine joints of the hand and the third eye of the forehead:

Sometimes we pulled and twisted each other into alignment (hopefully):

For those of you interested in geeking out a bit with me, Thea and I researched the theory and history of Thai massage after our course. The legendary founder of Thai massage was Jivaka Kumar Bhaccha, a contemporary of the Buddha and personal physician to King Bimbisara. Dr. Bhaccha is also viewed by Thais as the "Father of Medicine." His massage art likely reached Thailand with Buddhism around the 3rd or 2nd century B.C., though this history remains obscure.

The theory of Thai massage is based on the concept of inivisible energy lines running through the body, known as the 10 Sen in Thai. According to this practice, massaging important acupressure points along these lines makes it possible to treat certain diseases and relieve pain.

Historically, Thai massage was never merely a job; it was a spiritual practice intertwined with the teachings of the Buddha. The establishment of massage practice and teaching outside of temples is a new development. Giving a massage was a physical application of "Metta," a word in Buddhism for "loving kindness," so practitioners strived to attain a state of mindfulness in which they were fully concentrated on the client and thereby able to intuit the client's individual needs. I think this level of mindfulness is equally important for healing in Western medicine but highly underrated, so this is a memorable experience that I will carry with me on my path to starting medical school next fall.

A final good-bye from Miss Wanna (unfortunately we did not have a selfie stick -- those are very popular among the tourists over here):

1 comment:

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