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Acupressure vs stretching in Thai massage

Northern Traditional Thai massage includes stretches, but acupressure is essential to restore balance to the body’s energy force.

Traditional Thai massage is most often associated with stretching in the Western world. Most pictures or videos demonstrating Thai massage show a practitioner performing fantastic stretches, almost like acro-yoga. And many schools and clinics advertise Thai massage as Thai Yoga Massage.

The reality is that stretching is not the main focus of Thai massage. Many Thai massage styles and modalities have little or no stretching. For instance, the type of massage from the most famous Thai massage school in Bangkok, Wok Pho, has few stretches. Likewise, Royal Thai massage, meant for massaging royalty or nobility, discourages stretching as it would be improper for a practitioner to get that close to a recipient.

The style of Thai massage with the most stretching is the Northern Folk Style of Traditional Thai massage from Chaing Mai. But other Northern modalities, such as Tok Sen, Herbal Compress, Ched Hak and Yam Khang, have little or no stretching. So again, stretching is not the core of Thai massage. That distinction belongs to acupressure.

In a Western massage, a therapist works on anatomical components like muscles, ligaments, and joints. By comparison, a Thai massage aims to restore balance to the body by removing blockages that inhibit the body’s energy force (Lom Pran) by using acupressure on pressure points and along energy channels called sen. Stretching does not target the pressure points or energy lines integral to restoring energy flow in a Thai massage. It works with acupressure to open the recipient’s body into a position where the practitioner can apply pressure in a different area.

Thai Massage and Yoga

Traditional Thai Medicine is a Buddhist healing system that shares commonalities with yoga because they belong to a broader Asian family of mental, physical and spiritual disciplines. But the commonalities do not mean that Thai massage is a derivative of yoga or that they have similar intents. Yet these apparent similarities often lead teachers, therapists and the general public to wrongly conclude that Thai massage is a type of ‘passive yoga’ to the extent that they misname it as Thai Yoga massage.

It is understandable how these misrepresentations of yoga in the teaching and practicing of Thai massage may have occurred. For many years, Traditional Thai medicine theory and Thai element theory were unavailable or taught to Westerners who did not speak Thai. As a result of this inaccessibility, some people began to substitute concepts and ideas from other systems, such as yoga, to explain what they imagined to be a lack of theory inherent in Thai massage. Others took it further by deliberately distorting information to aid their commercial marketing efforts.

Thai massage and yoga do have things in common. Both systems attempt to balance elements. They both consider herbal medicine, diet and lifestyle. And they both use manipulations and movements to help dissolve blockages so that energy may flow freely.

But traditional Thai massage is a unique modality with a different and evolved system of medicine. Thai massage teachers, practitioners and students should teach, learn, practice and view Thai massage through its unique, time-tested and highly effective healing system.

Applications for Stretching

Relieving Tension

Stretching is beneficial when a patient requires relief from tension and tightness built up in their muscles when over-used. A good stretch will also help increase the blood flow to your muscles, leading to a better range of motion and allowing your joints to remain aligned. And a good stretch will prevent your muscles from experiencing painful spasms or cramps and stop knots from forming.

Opening The Body for Acupressure

Stretching does not target the pressure points or energy lines integral to restoring energy flow in a Thai massage. It works with acupressure to move the client into a position where the practitioner can apply pressure in a different area, but it is an accessory, not the core of Thai massage.

Balancing a Water Predominance

A Thai massage practitioner can use most traditional Thai stretching techniques for recipients who manifest a state of agitated or increased water. For instance, in the supine position, the practitioner can pull on the legs and arms and hold them in place for a few seconds. Or a practitioner can stretch the neck while pulling the arm or compressing the shoulders in the supine or seated position. In the prone position, a practitioner can lift the legs upward or bend them toward the recipient’s head and use assisted cobra techniques.

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