Probably wearier of all the candy-coated quackery out there than anyone else in the Health24 team, I got the assignment to investigate this age-old Eastern form of massage.
After putting my body on the line, here is what I made of the reputed "wonderful healing powers" of Thai massage (also called Nuad Phaen Boran).
According to the website TraditionalThaiMassage.com, Thai massage "combines elements of yoga, shiatsu and acupressure, working with the energy pathways of the body and the therapy points thought to be located along these lines."
Aewly, the Thai masseur, offered me juice and a seat in a tranquil waiting room. These are probably deliberate slow-you-down tactics, and those few moments of waiting may actually be quite important. After all, if you go into this kind of thing with the wrong mindset, it is bound to fail.
Sufficiently calmed down and wearing loose-fitting clothes, I was led to a massage room.
Do note, that unlike some other forms of massage, you keep your clothes on for the session. Even so, Thai massage is still very intimate and might not work for people who are uncomfortable with letting others into their personal space.
Stretched out on a futon, with new-agey music drifting in from the next room, and a towel over my eyes, the session started with a firm reflexology-like foot massage. Aewly pushed and prodded the key points on my feet, slowly making her way up my legs and then to my arms and back. There was something deliberately rhythmic and calm about the way she went about it. If anything, this meticulous slowness forces you to calm down and slow down internally.
The session gradually became more interesting, as she first started bending and stretching my legs, and then later doing the same with my arms and my whole body.
You have little option but to let go and trust the person doing the massage to treat your body kindly. This "letting go" is a large part of what I liked about the session and certainly has a lot to do with how it functions psychologically.
The description of Thai massage as "letting someone else do yoga with your body," is certainly accurate. Pressing, pulling, folding, stretching, using her feet, hands, elbows and legs, Aewly managed to contort me into a number of strange positions – but always with a calming patience, as if it is the most natural thing in the world.
There is a strong sense of the whole session building up to a release. This climax is the moment when, lying on my stomach with her sitting on the back of my legs, she took my hands and dragged me up, stretching my torso upward, forcing my lungs open and flooding them with oxygen.
If the session up until then was a slow kind of falling asleep, this was a kind of surfacing. Indeed, it is no wonder that the experience is so easily framed within religious or mystical paradigms.
Explanations aside though, it was a memorable moment.
After that the session wound down with some additional neck and back massaging, leaving me calm and sleepy by the time she told me we were done.
The most striking thing about a Thai massage is the way in which it helps you get in touch with the physicality and fragility of your body and how it makes you want to take better care of it - which certainly cannot be a bad thing.
Still, an hour after the session my headache of earlier in the day was back. And even the next morning I can't say I felt any better than on any other morning.
As with many such therapies though, it is quite conceivable that over an extended period of time regular sessions may well yield worthwhile health benefits – if not for anything particularly to do with the technique, then for regularly being forced to slow down and to get in touch with your body.
So, while I am still as sceptical of pressure points and energy channels as I was before, and I certainly can't see Thai massage as in any way warranting talk of "wonderful healing powers," it is nevertheless worth trying out.
(Marcus Low, Health24, December 2007)
Expect to pay about R300 for a 60 minute massage and R450 for 90 minutes.
For more information, contact:
Time-Out Wellness Studio
Tel: 021 439 5412
The mother of all massages
Have you tried?