A touch of Thai massage with a (spinal) twist

“Now sit,” says my Thai massage therapist, as she stands behind me, folds my hands behind my head, loops her arms through mine and, before I know what’s happening, twists and bends me forward until I hear what to my ears sounds like an alarmingly loud crack come from my lower back.

Although the sound of one’s spine cracking can be somewhat alarming, within a second or two I am aware of a freedom of movement that has suddenly returned to my lower spine, after months of stiffness I had become so accustomed to I no longer noticed it. “Again, again,” I beg, like a small child.

Unlike Swedish and other more ‘traditional’ forms of massage which work on the soft tissues, Thai massage targets the joints as well as the muscles.

“It’s a combination of acupressure and pulling, twisting and stretching,” explains Suladda May, owner of A Touch of Thai.

Although she offers a variety of beauty treatments and therapies at her salon in Park Place, Suladda opened her salon just over two years ago primarily to introduce this healing, balancing treatment from her homeland to Cayman.

Thai massage is unlike other types of massage in almost every way, I quickly realise, as I find myself putting on, rather than taking off, clothes for the massage.

Based on a combination of Traditional Chinese Medicine and yoga, Thai massage works on the principle that energy flows through channels in the body. These channels can become blocked, resulting in aches, pains and disease. Therapists use their fingers, palms, elbows, knees and feet to work their way along these channels, releasing blockages and mobilising joints.

Starting with my feet my therapist works her way up to the crown of my head, applying pressure along each of these energy channels. This is the acupressure part of the treatment. Suladda explains that this works as a kind of ‘warm up’ for the muscles. Every now and then the therapist’s deft fingers hit a particularly sensitive spot that makes me almost flinch. In western terms these must be those ‘trigger points’ where tension is held. After a few seconds of discomfort, however, something is released and the area becomes oddly relaxed.

Once she has thoroughly worked the energy channels the therapist then starts on the stretching part, picking up my arms and legs and pushing and pulling them into yoga-like positions, using her own body weight to increase the range of motion. There is a good reason that Thai massage is often called “lazy man’s yoga.”

Although fitness trainers and doctors constantly remind us of the importance of regular stretching, many of us fail to heed their advice. Both underuse and overuse of muscles will cause them to shorten and tighten, which we feel as stiffness and tension. These shortened muscles will limit mobility and flexibility and put one at greater risk of injury. Whether you never exercise or workout regularly, a good stretch is incredibly beneficial for all round health.

If you have ever performed yoga stretches, you will know how good a proper stretch or twist can feel. However, until someone does the stretching or twisting to you, you have barely scratched the surface of the bliss that stretching can induce.

As I lie on my back the therapist fixes my shoulder down with one hand, and with the other pushes my crossed knees down to touch the bed on the other side of my body, twisting my spine until a I feel another one of those satisfying pops. It’s a far, far deeper stretch than you can ever achieve on your own, because every muscle is relaxed and the therapist can push your limbs further than you can move them yourself.

By the end of the treatment I feel like every joint in my body from my toes to my shoulders has been moved and twisted and every muscle stretched. When I stand up my limbs seem to be loose and light, and I feel an inch taller.

Whether you are an exercise junkie or a couch potato, a Thai massage will give you the kind of all over body stretch that you just can’t give yourself, will keep your joints mobile and your muscles long and relaxed. And for those who think that stiffening of joints is an inevitable part of the ageing process – think again. A regular Thai massage can help to keep your body young and supple.

Treatments range from 50 minutes to two hours, so if you are not sure it’s for you, you can start out with a shorter treatment. For the month of September, A Touch of Thai will be offering 90 minutes of Thai massage for $99. Next time you are in need of a massage, give the Thai a try. WH

For more information, call 949-8989.