What are the best ergonomics for Thai massage?
The word ergonomics comes from the Greek word “ergon,” which means work and “nomos,” which means laws. It’s essentially the “laws of work” or “science of work.” Good ergonomic design removes incompatibilities between the work and the worker and creates the optimal work environment.
Physical ergonomics focuses on injury prevention through designing and evaluating workplaces, including postures, manual tasks, and repetitive movements. In addition to reducing injuries, physical ergonomics also focuses on increasing productivity and reducing quality issues and errors.
Sustainable ergonomics is fundamental to Thai bodywork to prevent injury for Thai massage practitioners and their clients. Using non-ergonomic postures can lead to unnecessary strain and even permanent physical damage.
Thai Massage is not just one set sequence of techniques that is the same for every client. Thai massage can be very ergonomically friendly, and practitioners can easily modify techniques according to the needs of their clients. The sequences you learn in schools should give you the experience to become confident enough to work from intuition. This creativity is a learnable skill and a real art.
Work From Your Centre
A Thai massage practitioner should initiate all movement from the centre of their body just below the navel. Working from your centre is the most important safeguard against working too deep too fast, as you have more control over your movement.
To work from your centre, engage your core muscles and visualize moving from the area below your navel. Keep your arms straight but not rigid and your shoulders relaxed so that your hands become extensions of your body. Every slight movement from your centre translates into a more significant move in your hands.
Use Your Body Weight And Gravity
Thai massage can be relatively effortless for a practitioner when you learn to use your body weight and gravity efficiently. Never rely on muscle power or arm strength. If you use your muscles at any point during a session, immediately stop and try it differently. Keep your shoulders relaxed, your back straight, and exhale as you apply pressure.
Do not bend your elbows or use your arms for movement, as that is much less efficient and causes your shoulders and arms to work harder than necessary. It also may result in cumulative injury over time. Allow yourself to be drawn into your clientʼs body, to the depth they need and with the sensitivity they need, to work with them instead of “doing” Thai massage.
Keeping in fixed positions only for a short time when working is essential. Thai Massage offers multiple ways of sitting on the floor. You can squat, half squat, lunge, or even stand in addition to sitting or kneeling. Move your body position often and always work within your reach. Move your body as you work, adjusting your legs and knees and alignment whenever necessary.
The safest way to support your weight is by using your clientʼs body. Keep your body weight directly above the extensions of your arms, and stay focused on your centre. Be careful not to overextend yourself by reaching far away to do a technique, as you could slip and hurt your client. Instead, move your body closer or more in alignment with the client before beginning the move.
Use More Than Your Thumbs, Wrists and Elbows
Thai Massage offers many techniques that do not need the hands to carry them out. For instance, a practitioner can apply acupressure with the elbows, forearms, knees, buttocks, and feet. Using other body parts during a massage session can prevent repetitive strain on your thumbs or wrists.
When you use your thumbs, use the pad of your thumb, close to the first joint, instead of your thumb tip. Keep your thumb close to your other fingers and support it by keeping the first joint of your thumb in line with your forearm.
Always keep your wrists at a comfortable angle, about 80 degrees or slightly less. Working beyond that angle may pinch nerves or overstretch your ligaments. Guard against overstretching ligaments, which could cause the bones in our joints to come out of alignment. Likewise, keep your arm rotation comfortable and sustainable.
When performing butterfly palm presses on the shoulders, thighs or back, keep the inner parts of your elbows facing each other, with the creases of your arms facing forward. Make sure not to allow your arms to rotate externally. When you’re palm pressing, direct your energy through your arms and into the heel of your hand, and then spread the pressure throughout your palm to broaden the contact point. Failure to apply the pressure may create a sharp sensation in your client and injure your wrists.
Keep Your Back Straight and Chest Open
Keep your spine in alignment, neither rigid nor exaggerating the natural curves of your spine, by engaging your core muscles as you move. Eliminate or modify any moves requiring you to bend over and round your spine, whether standing or sitting. If you do need to bend over, bend from the hips instead of the waist. If you need to lift your client, bend your knees and raise their body by straightening your legs. For moves that require you to pick up your clientʼs feet for a stretch, kneel to pick up their feet before you stand up.
Remember to keep your head up, your neck aligned with your spine, and focus on the space between your shoulder blades on your back. Keep your chest open whenever possible to prevent the curving or rounding of your spine and rotator cuff problems.
Keep your hips and shoulders facing the same direction to avoid torquing your spine. For example, palm pressing the leg lines, have your knees wide apart to “frame your work,” and align your spine at each point along the line.
Regulate Your Breathing And Your Client’s
Ingestion of air empowers and stabilizes our bodies and feeds us sustenance. Neither the client nor the practitioner must hold their breath while stretching or dramatically moving the body.
Whenever you begin a session, take some time to focus on your client’s breathing patterns and regulate your breathing to be in tune with her body. From time to time during the session, look at the rise and fall of your client’s abdomen so you know when to apply your movements.
A client must breathe deeply to benefit from the compressions and stretches fully. You may need to remind them sometimes, and your example of deep, relaxed breathing enables them to breathe more deeply.
Your clients should exhale when you apply significant pressure or dramatically move their bodies from one position to another. They should inhale when you release the tension or return their bodies to the starting position. You should also exhale as you lift your client into place, giving you more strength as you engage your core muscles. Under no circumstances should you or the client ever hold your breath during a Thai massage session.