When I lived in Thailand, I became a connoisseur of Thai massage. Well, a very very basic connoisseur. Okay, I was a novice. But I knew the best spots in Bangkok to stop in for a fabulously relaxing Thai foot massage (my favourite), and where to avoid.
So let's delve into the bliss of a Thai massage.
A Thai massage is an ancient healing practice that dates back 2,500 to 7,000 years ago. Aligning the energies of the body, Thai massage originated in the Buddhist tradition and considers the holistic body through activating a series of pressure points.
Situated in ancient Ayurvedic wisdom, Thai massage is a comprehensive treatment that considers the body as a whole resulting in a multitude of benefits. Thai massage not only relieves muscular tension but also improves circulation, boosts your immune system, and balances your body’s energy. For more on the origins of Thai massage, check out this brief but informative piece.
Ok, so now you want a Thai massage, but which one should you choose?
You can opt for a full body Thai massage, or one that focuses solely on your feet, back, or neck.
Most often you will be wearing the clothing you walked in with, but if you are getting a full body massage some centres will ask that you change into comfortable garb that they provide for the duration of your treatment. And during full body massages, it can get intimate but I promise it is totally worthwhile!
Whether you choose to focus on your whole body or your feet only, know that where you choose to focus the practice, your Thai masseuse will get deep in there. If you’re getting a back or neck massage, you will likely be laying on the ground as your masseuse gets a feel for your body and its tensions, using the strength of their entire body to help your whole body. This may include walking on your back (not kidding, go with it).
Do note that if you are a person who appreciates your personal space (aka: you have a huge personal bubble) then a Thai massage may not be your favourite. A Thai massage is a fairly intimate experience with your masseuse. There will be constant body contact - pulling, stretching, and rocking your body - as the masseuse moves with the synergy of your needs.
The honest answer is yes, a Thai massage can cause slight discomfort while it's happening. Your masseuse if exploring points of tension that you may never have released. That said, a Thai massage does not always hurt, in fact most of the time, it is quite tension releasing and calming. Most often you'll be grateful for the slight discomfort because it is a sign that stress and tension are leaving your body, leaving you all the more relaxed. That said, make sure to listen to your body and speak up if it is hurts so that your masseuse can adjust their pressure.
And if you’re nervous about unwanted pressure on your neck and/or back, stick with a Thai foot massage - they are remarkable. Like heavenly. And travellers, after wearing flip-flops for day (or many days), your feet and calves deserve this kind of attention. Backpackers, I am talking to you!
In fact, you may like your Thai massage so much that you’ll want to share the massage love. Maybe even buy your tuk-tuk driver a Thai massage - they have long days, seated, on busy roads. Talk about stress - oy vey! So share the Thai massage love, and receive massage karma (it's likely a thing).
Thankfully, the answer is that you don’t have to be in Thailand to experience a Thai massage. You can book a Thai massage virtually anywhere! Just use our trusted friend Google (or Siri, she usually knows good spots to check out), and ask where to find one near you.
But, if you want an authentic Thai massage in the land of its birth then Thailand is naturally your best option. Go to the source.
When you land in this magical country, there will be much for your senses to take in. So when you’re feeling overwhelmed, take a moment to indulge in a Thai massage in whichever city you may find yourself. Ensure that it is clean and certified, and blissful. Take the time to breathe and relax.
While in Chiang Mai, Thailand travelling with friends, we came across a remarkable Thai massage center unlike any I'd ever encountered. This centre, the Women’s Massage Center, employs local women as Thai masseuses, but these woman are former and present female prisoners. You read that correctly, the facility provides women with a meaningful vocation, so that they can provide financially for themselves and their families upon return to civilian life after leaving prison. This center is certainly an example for rehabilitative strategies globally.
The Women’s Massage Center is a part of the Dignity Networkwhich was established to help former female prisoners reintegrate into professional society with success and confidence. The first massage centre was opened in 2014, and now on account of demand for the program and from massage seekers, there are three centres in Chiang Mai! The women receive extensive and up-to-date training, and have the capacity to grow within the centre into managerial roles etc.
I was quite impressed by the entire operation, and the massage itself was brilliant. The women were kind, skilled, and contribute to a narrative of releasing former prisoners from stigma and into meaningful positions within society. We left the centre feeling relaxed and whole, and wiser to the value of rehabilitation and the merit of communal support.
Consciousness building and a stellar massage? I'd say that's a win - win.