What to expect from Thai massage
If you're used to the smooth, gliding strokes of Swedish massage, then the movement, stretching, and direct pressure of Thai massage will give you a totally different experience. This form of massage therapy incorporates assisted yoga-like movements and stretches while the massage therapist applies direct pressure to your muscles.
A bit of background
This massage is part of the traditional medical system of Thailand, believed to be more than 2,500 years old. You may also hear the massage referred by its traditional Thai name: Nuad Bo-Rarn.
Similar to traditional Chinese medicine, Thai medicine is based on the flow of energy through the body. While the Chinese call the body's energy lines meridians, the Thai word for energy lines is sen. To promote the flow of energy through your sen, the Thai therapist moves you through a series of stretches that resemble yoga poses while applying direct or rhythmic pressure, usually without any of the gliding prevalent in Swedish massage, to your muscles.
Traditional Thai massage
The first difference you'll notice in a traditional massage is that you lie, dressed in loose-fitting clothing, on a well-padded mat on the floor. Without using oil or lotion, therapists use their hands, forearms, knees, elbows and feet to move your joints through their ranges of motion, stretch your muscles and apply pressure directly to your muscles.
The massage typically starts with gentle rocking and rhythmic compression to prepare your body for the yoga-like stretches and deeper pressure. Although this massage is a very physical massage, with all the stretching and direct pressure, the Thai therapist is actually using the theory of sen to promote the flow of energy through your body by using the assisted yoga poses to open your joints and direct pressure to release muscle tension.
Not only will a typical massage session include techniques with you lying on your back and stomach, but also with you lying on your sides and sitting on the mat. A true Thai massage will cover all your muscles. That's why two-hour sessions are more common than in most other types of massage, though you can schedule a one-hour session from most therapists.
Although this massage has a reputation for being intense, a skilled therapist will always work at a level that's comfortable for you, even if you have serious joint limitations. Thai massage is not recommended for people with serious circulatory problems, recent surgery, and so forth. Always tell your massage therapist about your physical condition to ensure the therapist can give you a safe massage.
Western massage therapists have adapted the traditional Thai massage for use on a massage table. Some therapists directly use the techniques with you on a table, performing the massage with you fully clothed. This approach often involves the therapist getting onto the table with you to do the massage.
Other therapists combine some Thai techniques with other types of massage, in which case you may be undressed but fully draped during the Thai techniques. There's even a specialty type of massage called Swe-Thai that combines Thai and Swedish massage techniques.
The typical price range for a one-hour Thai session is between $60 and $120, although spa prices may be higher. Longer sessions cost proportionately more. Some therapists may incorporate other therapies, such as aromatherapy or herbal compresses, into a Thai session, usually at an increased price.
For more information, please visit the Angie's List Guide to Massage Therapy.