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What is a Tok Sen massage?

Thai Tok Sen massage uses a wooden mallet and wedge made from the wood of a tamarind tree.

A Thai Tok Sen massage uses a wooden mallet and wedge made from the wood of a tamarind tree to work the sen lines.

Tok sen is a traditional Thai healing modality that originated in Northern Thailand that has been preserved primarily as an oral tradition. Many massage schools in and around Chiang Mai teach this northern modality. Tok means to tap, and Sen refers to the energy lines in traditional Thai medicine. Tok Sen refers to both the wooden tools and the actual treatment.

During a Tok Sen treatment, a practitioner uses a kon (hammer/mallet) and lim (peg/wedge) to rhythmically tap on the recipient’s energy lines instead of applying pressure with thumbs, elbows or knees. As in traditional Thai massage, recipients wear loose-fitting clothing during a Tok Sen massage, and practitioners do not use oil.

In traditional Thai treatments, Thai healers recite mantras while holding the Tok Sen tools and then blow on them to infuse them with the spirit of the invoked deity. Thai people believe the tapping process transfers the monk’s blessings and the mantra’s sacred vibrations to the receiver.

But Tok Sen is also a simple therapy to relieve muscle tension, especially in the larger muscles like the shoulders, back and glutes. Tok Sen also reduces physical and mental stress, promotes relaxation, improves blood circulation and clears energy blockages.

Benefits

The benefits of Tok Sen include:

  • Releases muscle tension, especially in the shoulders, back and glutes
  • Reduces physical and mental stress
  • Promotes relaxation
  • Improves blood circulation
  • Clears energy blockages

The tapping sound and the deep vibrations bring recipients into a meditative state that restores health and well-being. At the physical level, the tapping of the Tok Sen stimulates tendons, skin, muscles and the circulatory system. On the energy level, Tok Sen stimulates energy points and lines, opens up blockages and reactivates the free flow of energy throughout the body. 

Treatment

A Thai massage practitioner usually performs Tok Sen during a traditional Thai massage, not as a standalone treatment. During a treatment, the practitioner places a lim on the recipient’s body and then taps it with the kon.

The practitioner can use the tools in two ways depending on the desired effects or the area in which the practitioner works. First, the practitioner can tap along the Sen to alleviate sickness or to relax the energy lines, blood channels and muscles. The practitioner can also tap on specific points to heal the illness or problem associated with that point.

There are two main techniques in Tok Sen; double tapping and Chiang Mai tapping. When double tapping, the practitioner taps the lim twice on each spot using regular to strong power. This technique works well on the belly of large muscles, on the back and beside the scapula.

Feather tapping (or Chiang Mai tapping) differs in that the practitioner applies swift, very light taps to the lom while moving it in a pattern. The softness of the tap depends on how sensitive the area is on which the practitioner is tapping. For this reason, a practitioner can do feather tapping almost everywhere.

The Thai massage practitioner applies manual pressure and stretches at the beginning or the end of a massage sequence. While the stretches seek to loosen up the body, the intense vibrations of the Tok Sen instrument stimulate the body’s energy and reach deeper into the physical muscle layers. Tok Sen augments the benefits of traditional manual pressure and passive stretches.

History

The exact origin of Tok Sen is unclear, but some teachers tell us that there once was a king who was very sick. Healers tried various traditional remedies to no avail. The one healer had the vision to go into the forest to a Tamarind tree that lightning had struck and killed. The healer crafted the first Tok Sen tools from this wood, returned to court and performed Tok Sen, and the king recovered.

Though the true origins of Tok Sen are that it developed over time in the Lanna kingdom, to this day, Tamarind wood from a tree hit by lightning, or even other hardwood trees hit by lightning, is the most expensive and most sought-after wood for Tok Sen tools. The caveat is always that the tree had to withstand the strike and still be standing for healers to consider it worthy of becoming Tok Sen tools.

This type of wood is scarce, so woodcarvers usually use the bark of a tamarind tree or other hardwoods. To give the Tok Sen tools the same mystical healing power, the woodcarver takes the tools to the temple, and a monk inscribes a mantra on the kon and lim.

Tools

Tok Sen requires at least two tools; a kon (hammer) and a lim (chisel). Kons and lims are all hand-carved, so no two kons or lims are identical. They all look like a hammer and wedges, but there is no standard size or shape. Some kons are large, and some are small. Some lims have a wedge on one side, and others have two different sizes of blunt ends. Some tools use light-coloured hardwood, and others use dark hardwood. So part of becoming a Tok Sen practitioner is choosing your first kon and lims.

In Thailand, a Buddhist mantra is the most distinguishing feature of a traditional Tok Sen tool. Once a craftsman completes a set of Tok Sen tools, a Buddhist monk blesses the Tok Sen tools by writing Buddhist mantras on them. Traditionally, the blessing and mantras are a prerequisite of Tok Sen therapy. Without being blessed, the wooden tools are ordinary wooden tools.

Before starting treatment, practitioners in Thailand will prepare the kon by doing a chant to supervise the tool. The practitioner will then blow on the kon. Thai healers believe that this ritual protects the client from bruising on the skin or muscle.

Contraindications

Tok Sen is a very effective technique and is safe when a practitioner performs it with adequate knowledge of the recipient’s physical condition. Tok Sen works for any chronic musculoskeletal pain. Still, physical disorders vary from one body system to another, and some areas may be harmful to a person with particular health conditions. Therefore, the practitioner must know the recipient’s health condition and problem to perform Tok Sen safely.

Pregnancy. Only use Chiang Mai tapping in all the trimesters of pregnancy, and always avoid the belly and hamstrings.

Fever. Tok Sen stimulates blood flow and can worsen fever or infection, even low-grade fever.

Tumours. Do not perform Tok Sen on patients with tumours.

Cardiac Arrests. Any recipient who has had a cardiac arrest within the past six months must have consent from their physician.

Acute Inflammation. Do not perform Tok Sen if there is any acute inflammation of the musculoskeletal system.

Burns. Avoid burns and any inflamed area of the skin.

Varicose Veins. Do not perform Tok Sen directly on spider veins, varicose veins, or prominent, raised, swollen blood vessels.

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