Thoughts on Thai Massage & Energy
Thai medicine has both folklore and science at its centre. It has also been influenced by ideas from Indian and China. I have been looking at the energy model for Thai medicine and realise there is no one comprehensive teaching of this area.
In researching Thai sen lines to try to separate out the different ideas that are Thai, Chinese or Indian, the confusion between the different theories and within teaching sen becomes apparent. In cultures where traditions are taught orally, there will be differences in the detail but I feel the intention of energy work is universal. Finding the balance between working intuitively and working with the head is an important relationship to experiment with. We need to be grounded in our work but open to the possibilities that a healing journey offers. Journeys do not always follow maps but that does not make the map less valuable. Intellect and intuition allow for knowledge and creativity to inform one another.
Currently I am being guided by the Encyclopedia of Thai Massage by Dr C Pierce Salguero and David Roylance for information about Thai medicine and philosophy. Salguero and Roylance have immersed themselves in Asian medicine and spent time in Thailand and America, studying and researching this discipline. Some of their ideas may contradict other teachers but I feel there is scope to remain open as Eastern ideas become more readily available. I suggest focusing on one approach and using this as a personal foundation from which to consider others.
Thai massage has both a muscular skeletal and energetic approach. When working with one aspect, you are working with the other. Thai massage is part of a much larger healing Thai medicine philosophy. I am finding that ideas can be used from other philosophies to illustrate the general approach of energy work. There is a strong correlation between Indian nadis and marmas and Thai sen and acupressure points. There are also similarities to Chinese meridians and acupressure points.
What are sen?
The Thai sen begin at the naval and end at the orifices or extremities of the body. Each part of the body the individual sen pass through will be affected by techniques used to encourage energy flow through the particular sen worked. Through the application of soft tissue techniques and passive stretching, increasing circulation and mobility, Thai massage aims to rebalance the physical body and energetic body; and from this space, healing at other levels may well be experienced and observed. There are many pathways through the body. The number often quoted is 72,000 which is a symbolic number meaning ‘more than we can count’. We focus on ten main channels or sip sen.
When a person is balanced and experiences ease in the body and feels their energy levels are constant, energy (lom) flows uninhibited through the sen. In India, energy is called prana. One definition of a yogi, is a person whose prana is contained. When our energy is not contained, it is not available for day to day activities and ultimately our health and vitality diminish. Thai massage, like yoga, can help to create the conditions to allow displaced energy to become embodied, returning us to a more balanced and vital state.
Blockages to energy flow result for a variety of reasons, eg sprains, injuries, repetitive stresses (emotional and physical), poor diet, unhelpful enviromental factors. Releasing blocks in sen is possible using more general massage techniques as well as specific use of palms, thumbs and elbows. A Thai massage can focus on all the muscle groups which will access all of the sen by the end of the massage. A more therapeutic approach may be to focus on one sen for a particular effect, following the path of specific sen through the body. Using simple techniques and working with an energetic intention can produce excellent results on more subtle levels.
Acupressure points are found along the sen and can be accessed specifically to stimulate or dissipate energy and to energise the whole sen line. Working with the thumb, perhaps the elbow, we try to locate an area that has a different sensitivity and may feel achey or sore to the receiver. The practitioner may experience a pulse or feel a vibration. Although these points have an increased sensitivity, working them is usually welcomed by the receiver, providing there is less intense preparation before deeper work, ending with a nurturing integration of the work by warming down the area with softer pressure. There are many acupressure points to access and they are a valuable tool when working with an energetic and a muscular focus.
Working with energy
I believe that all therapies are working with the same energy and intention but a different intellectual model. However you approach energy work, the most central and important practise is intention. The knowledge of where points are and how lines run through the body is secondary to being in relationship with another person. Our focus when working in this way is to cultivate a space where practitioner and receiver can share an experience that is intuitive and nurturing. Within the interaction, both beings are separate and maintain personal and physical boundaries, knowing where one ends and the other person begins.
When working with the subtle techniques of energy work, faith and trust are important factors; connecting with energy can encourage affirmation but also vulnerability. In the shared space, there are different experiences. It is important to stay open and realise that whilst you are on a shared journey, your perceptions and sensations will differ as will your interpretation. We all come with our own story and ways of seeing the world.
It is a gift for both to have the space and time to be. Whilst the practitioner-client relationship needs to be honoured, each person can decide what is or what is not shared. It is often appropriate to stay with one’s own experience rather than colour it with another’s perception.
What do you think? … Even better, what is your experience?