Of course, it was the stretching part of Thai Massage that wowed me first. Like any dynamic, innovative and visually stunning rock star, the stretches in Thai Massage are certainly worth falling for. And many do, practitioners and clients alike.
Thai Massage in general, but especially the stretching, is so different and feels so great that it seems to be exactly the right thing for the body. Yes! Stretch me out. Make me longer and taller and feel this awesome spaciousness in my body while helping me relax my mind.
Just like that talented, attractive, hard-working rock star, the stretches in Thai Massage totally deserve the fame and fortune they receive. But, also like any fan and any rock star, for most the relationship can only go so far. Eventually all those songs that seemed to be written and performed just for us in that moment, that reflected exactly how we were feeling right then, they become greatest hits. And we realize, while we still enjoy them, they just don’t work the way they used to.
And so it can go when we Thai Massage practitioners perform really amazing stretches on a client that just doesn’t need to be stretched. Instead of being satisfying and revelatory, it’s just “ok” or “yeah, it feels good.”
Stretching is just one of many techniques in Thai Massage for the tissue layer of the body, and it will probably feel pretty good regardless of whether or not the person needs it. But, what will feel really good and what will be revelatory is giving the client the work they do need. Especially if they don’t even realize they need it.
According to my Thai Medicine teachers, a person needs to be stretched when there is a limitation in their range of motion–the tissue is tight. Maybe they can’t look over their shoulder to check their blind spot when driving. Or maybe they cannot fully extend their elbow or flex their wrist or straighten their knee. All of these situations would benefit from the appropriate stretches (along with other bodywork).
If a person has normal range of motion–their tissue is not tight–they do not need to be stretched. However, their tissue could still need bodywork because it is tense. Tense tissue needs to be relaxed. Techniques like deep, static compressions or massage kneading and use of herbal balms, liniments and/or compresses would all be indicated and more beneficial than stretching in this instance.
My teachers also made sure to note that just because a person is flexible and has good range of motion does not mean that their tissue is not tense and in need of bodywork. (I’m talking to you yoga practitioners.) They just need a different kind of Thai Massage, one with very little, or maybe even no, stretching.
Once Thai Massage practitioners get the hang of assessing clients and tailoring sessions to individual needs, they can make all of their techniques rock stars, and clients will remain devoted fans.
This article was written with gratitude to my teachers Nephyr Jacobsen of The Naga Center, LLC and Tevijjo Yogi.
This article first appeared on Thai Medicine Zone on February 23, 2015.