Friday, 22 February 2019

Thai Massage in Chiang Mai and beyond.

I first went to Chiang Mai in 1995 as a backpacker . It felt like a largish provincial town, a gateway  to the Northern Thai hills to go trekking or visit the Golden Triangle where Northern Thailand meets Myanmar and Laos . It still is this , but these days also feels like a growing international city with hugely increased tourism including these days significant Chinese tourism. There is also a semi permanent significant sized international community comprising : non Thai retirees , younger non Thais who have settled and often run their own businesses , digital nomads , English teachers , Muay Thai (Thai boxing ) students/fighters and of course Thai massage students ! Of which I have been one for twenty five years and now eight visits to Chiang Mai in that time . It's a fascinating dynamic , there's a lot going on there ..  

There are at least five major schools of Thai massage, as well as individuals, offering various courses and qualifications for both new students and people with experience. Many students return to explore different aspects of the massage as just the same as any discipline and practice there are many variations on the theme of Thai massage and different theories co-exist just as in western forms of massage and bodywork . Consider osteopaths , chiropractors, physiotherapists and remedial massage therapists all potentially trying to help people but from slightly (or sometimes significantly) varying perspectives of how best to do this .

There is though a lot of formulaic Thai massage being taught and practiced which unfortunately ( in my humble opinion ) misrepresents the potential effectiveness of Thai massage . These formulaic massages can feel good , but unfortunately not always as in inexperienced hands Thai massage can feel a bit rough which unfortunately puts some people off .

Over my years of practice I have thought and experimented a lot with how to work with this approach that I love and believe in . I generally prefer to work slowly and build up to any deeper work which in keeping with traditional Thai massage takes a longer time . I've also been lucky to be introduced to working with heated herbal compresses and sometimes warming balms which greatly support this process at times.

I have an active practice at the Ola Centre , Totnes Devon, UK where I am available most days. Much more information on my Thai massage practice here  - feel free to get in touch to book in via or 07915 650106

Below is a walk in open Thai massage 'clinic' at one of the temples in Chiang Mai . There are also clinics run by blind practitioners , female ex-prisoners, street market practitioners , traditional medicine hospital clinics , small private shops/clinics , plush hotel spas - whatever you like !  


Friday, 7 December 2018

Spot Specific Thai Massage .

Massage is often long in Thailand - book yourself in for the morning or afternoon ! 

Thai massage can be very long compared to many modern therapeutic forms of massage . Two or three hour therapeutic massages are not uncommon in Thailand to treat a problem. This may not be possible for everyone outside of Thailand , whether due to reasons of cost or time or culturally that we're not used to the idea. 75 or  90 minutes spot or region specific treatment is considered on the short side for Thai Massage but of course good work can be done in that time. 

Why is it so long traditionally ?

There are likely two or three main reasons why Thai massages are so long . One is the consideration that no body pain situation has developed in isolation from the rest of the body and therefore there will be other related areas contributing to the problem needing work. Another is that Thai massage theory teaches that each layer of the body must be addressed in turn in order for the recipient to feel comfortable enough to allow the therapist to work deeper into the next layer . This takes time or the process can be too uncomfortable.  Chronic pain in particular may take time for the therapist to get through to effectively. A third reason is that Thailand has had a massage culture for thousands of years and historically the idea of short timed sessions would have been strange in a less time/money pressured society . It's easy then to see how Thai Massage became so long. 

How does spot or region specific Thai massage work ?

Shorter sessions sacrifice the whole body element of the treatment in order to focus in on a particular area or areas of need and can therefore be done in 75 or 90 minutes - this allows the therapist time to safely work through the layers of tension or blockage to hopefully reach or get closer to the core of the problem , and if there's time to start exploring related areas.  This may not be enough to fully address the situation in one session, but that could be attended to in further sessions if necessary . 

For more information on Thai Massage in Totnes you can list my page here 

Friday, 2 March 2018

Heated Herbal Compress in Thai Massage .

Heated Herbal Compress are an excellent addition to a Thai Massage . They are used everywhere from mountain huts in Northern Thailand to International Spas in major cities . The list of herbs used can vary a little acccording to local ingredients but a typical list along with effects is given below ; this combination of ingredients are useful to everyone and carry, to varying degrees, muscle relaxation , analgesic and anti-inflammatiory properties.  More highly trained herbalists can create bespoke compresses according to what they intend to treat . They can also be combined with heating type muscle balms and oils for extra effect. 

Most commonly, the compresses, though a combination of heat and the herbs will :

  • Relax and soften sore muscles and tight tissues around the area being treated.
  • Relieve pain in the area. 
  • Reduce inflammation. 
  • Prepare an area for deeper massage work if required, and bring circulation in after.
  • Loosen congestion both in tissues and nasally. 
  • Produce a relaxing aromatherapy effect. 
  • Support Detox.
They can be used by themselves to support people for whom deep massage maybe too painful, such as people with fibromyalgia, Lupus or other autoimmune conditions, or as a way of creating good conditions for effective deeper massage .

In some cases they maybe useful for some people who would prefer not to have to take regular painkillers . This study carried out in conjunction with Chaing Mai University is interesting : Randomised Control Trial Comparing Thai Herbal Compress and Oral Ibuprofen for pain relief in knee osteoarthritis 

Here's a more detailed general description of  Thai massage with herbal compress from the US Massage Magazine :  Massage Magazine - Thai Herbal Compress 

For General information on thai Massage and my practice Totnes, Devon, UK: Nev Thai Massage.   

Ingredient list and their potential uses/benefits : 

Zingiber Cassumunar ( Phlai in Thailand ) - anti-inflammatory and analgesic.

Tumeric - anti-inflammatory and antioxidant.

Zedoary - anti-inflammatory and blood purification.

Lemongrass - antioxidant, analgesic, improves circulation and soothing for the nervous system. 

Derris Scandens Benth - Pain Relief. 

Cryptolepis Buchanani Roem - pain relief . 

Kurz Leaves - anti-inflammatory .

Pandanus - brain and heart tonic. 

Kaffir Lime Leaves - stress relief and rejuvation.

Tamarine Leaves - anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. 

Acacia Concinna Leaves - analgesic. 

Bauhinina Acumirata Linn Leaves - anti-inflammatiory and blood purifier. 

Pummelo Peel - decongestant .

Calamus - neurological problems , brain fog , depression. 

Myrtle - decongestant and mental clarifier . 

Camphor - pain relief and circulation support.

Citranella - Reduces muscle spasm. 

Gangal - tonifies tissues. 

Borneol  - Pain relief, skin tonic and stress relief.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Introduction to Thai Medical Theory for Thai Massage.

Thai Massage some history and modern developments. 

What we now know as Thai massage formed over thousands of years from a conglomeration of Asian influences. Early Massage and medical practices of indigenous South East Asian peoples have combined with early Chinese medical ideas and early Indian Ayurvedic medicine and yogic ideas.

I emphasise the word early as there has been a modern tendency to overlay  fully developed modern Chinese, Indian and yogic theory onto Thai medical and massage theory, which is a little misleading as it already exists as a fully developed theory in its own right.  

Thai massage is sometimes referred to as Thai Yoga Massage, which, while appealing is also partly misleading. The (over) emphasis on stretches in some modern Thai massage is partly a consequence of non-Thais being over exposed to this element of the massage which traditionally would only use stretches as an adjunct to to a whole multitude of other bodywork techniques. 

Traditional Thai medical theory for massage would include its own element theory (Earth, Water, Fire, Wind  and sometimes Space and Consciousness)  and constitutional analysis as a foundation to decide what mode of massage is appropriate for an individual. 

On closer analysis many aspects of this element theory is not so different from Western medical anatomy and physiology and the aim, as with most massage, is to relieve pain and restore movement and function to areas of the body that are stuck or restricted in some way. 

Behind this is an idea that the massage therapist works through layers of the body (skin, tissue, sen, bone (joints) and organs) to restore movement, function and health . Organ work is a more specialist area , but much of the rest of the layers are addressed by most modes of Thai massage...

All of this is enveloped within the container of the Thai cultural environment and Buddhism. An understanding and sensitivity to the human condition as described in Buddhism is an important supportive element of Thai massage practice.  

With this behind it, Thai massage has no real need to borrow from other disciplines. Fusions with other ideas maybe beneficial at times, and are inevitable as that is how disciplines evolve; but it is as well to check if what is being added enhances the depth of what is already there or if it is just a marketing gimmick .    

Friday, 15 June 2012

Practising yoga by yourself is the way forwards.

Practising yoga by yourself is the way forwards. This is when our practice shifts from being somebody else's  (that guided by the teacher), to our own, guided by ourselves. Pretty much everyone needs a teacher as well , but with practice we can be taught by the 'inner teacher' much of the time.

The 'inner teacher' is not some mysterious being, it is a faculty we all have that requires we learn to trust ourselves and our felt sense of what we are doing whether in asana (posture) practice, meditation or indeed in how we lead our lives. When we are guided from the inside, we also learn what type of practice we need at any particular time.

As a general guideline to practising the postures by yourself, I would suggest that when you start any pose:
  • Do less than you can. 
  • Relax and feel what you are doing with respect to grounding yourself and breathing. 
  • Listen to the feedback messages from your body and only then move deeper into the position if that feels right. 
It is wise to attend classes or courses regularly so a teacher can correct, inspire and give you ideas. A good teacher will do all these things but also should help to guide you towards your own practice through their mode of instruction.

For formal sitting meditation, some formal instruction would be wise to start, though there is no harm to experiment by just sitting still for 5 or 10 minutes and closing your eyes.

When we start to practice by ourselves, 10 minutes a day will make a difference. It is achievable as we can all find 10 minutes if we want to. Once we start we may find ourselves spending longer. The most important thing is to roll out the mat, or sit on the cushion, and begin.

For asana (posture) practice, roll out your mat and start in whatever way is familiar to you from your class and then try to work from your body memory to proceed from there. You may be pleasantly surprised what you can remember. If you can't remember anything, or enough, try paying close attention in your classes to the sequencing of  poses and try again.

If working from memory seems too much of a leap to start with, then you can try on-line resources such as the the many online classes on U Tube, or specialist sites or a reliable book such as Yoga - Body Mind Spirit by Donna Farhi. Constantly referencing will break up your practice initially until you are used to a few sequences. Eventually try to use these resources as a source of fresh ideas and inspiration rather than a reference while you practice.  

Good luck - and remember - just start.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

How to choose a yoga holiday.

A yoga holiday or retreat is a great opportunity to enhance your yoga practice or immerse yourself more fully in it for the first time. There are, though, some questions you need to ask yourself to make sure you end up in the right place, with the right teacher, at the right level of practice.

Holiday or retreat?

A yoga holiday is essentially an activity holiday with 2 – 4 hours yoga a day and plenty of free time as opposed to a more intensive yoga retreat where most of the day will be organised around yoga practices. It is wise to check what the typical daily schedule is and that it accords with how much yoga you want in relation to how much holiday.

Who to book with ?

Small specialist yoga centres generally understand yoga student’s requirements better than large holiday companies – you probably don’t want to end up staying next to a large outdoor nightclub. There are plenty of these smaller operations around the world and they ought to be happy to talk to you directly if their website doesn’t answer all your questions.

Accommodation and food

Standards of accommodation will be reflected in the price. Food is usually vegetarian. If you have specific accommodation or dietary requirements then check this thoroughly in advance.

Choosing a teacher

It is also important that you find out about the teacher leading the holiday as one or two weeks is a long time to be practicing something you don’t like or is at the wrong level for you.

If you are going with your regular teacher then you know what you will be getting. Otherwise a personal recommendation is always good when possible, though this can of course depend on how well you know the person doing the recommending. Alternatively you could start by checking teacher's websites and give them a ring with your questions, they should be happy to talk to you. If practical, take a class or workshop with them.

Style and level

If you are unfamiliar with the style of yoga on offer then it is wise to check that out and make sure that you understand what it involves. Some styles of yoga are very demanding while others are more accomodating of individual student needs.

It is also important to check that the teaching on the course is appropriate for your level of experience, you don’t want to feel either out of your depth, or under challenged. Again, teachers ought to be happy to talk to you on the phone about your interests and experience and what they teach.

Travel alone or with a friend/partner?

Many people come alone to yoga courses and of course you will automatically be introduced to a group of like-minded people. You would need to check the accomodation situation if you don't want to share a room. Coming with friends, family, partner or spouse generally works best if you are both interested in yoga or if the non-yoga-doers are happily self contained.

What to bring

Yoga mat, loose clothes/shorts as appropriate to the climate and an open mind!

Getting started with your research

There are a huge range of yoga holidays available these days often but not always tied in with seasonality.
I run three courses in on Dartmoor in Devon a year, and some years I have an option to travel abroad; see

Monday, 22 March 2010

Yoga, what is it again?

Most modern day yoga is the bastard child of an ancient esoteric Indian tradition and the modern western health and fitness industry. Arguably the two backgrounds complement each other.

The ancient Indian yoga tradition is based on a deep spirituality and inner vision and stillness beyond the superficial chatterings of the mind.The modern western health and fitness industry is largely derived from western scientific and sporting approaches and people’s desire to stay healthy and feel and look good.

Both approaches have benefits but are arguably incomplete by themselves. The Western emphasis on health and fitness can limit yoga to mainly its physical exercises potentially leading to self absorption rather than self examination. Traditional Indian approaches on the other hand are part of a particular cultural context that tended to encourage a withdrawal from productive worldly activities to ultimately liberate onesself from the cycle of existence. There is nothing wrong with choosing either of these approaches and perhaps a balance between the two options is possible.

A Modern Integrative Yoga?

Modern day teachers have met students with a changing range of mental, physical and lifestyle needs created by an arguably more stressful and sedentary modern lifestyle. Teacher's responses to this, combined with a generally more sophisticated interest in health, fitness and wellbeing has led to yoga evolving in new ways.

The teaching of yoga for its health and fitness benefits has arguably improved enormously under the western scientific microscope provided by interested professionals such as osteopaths and doctors, some of whom have become yoga teachers themselves.

Similarly the increased interest in  forms of spirituality that are less dogmatic than traditional institutional religion, such as that in yoga and some forms of Buddhism, has led to a renewal in the presentation of these inner practices in ways that are digestable to the modern mind and require no religious or esoteric beliefs.

In our generally busy, over stimulated, information soaked and outer directed society, there is little to encourage us to look inwardly for quietness, understanding, emotional balance and inspiration.

Yoga postures and breath work help attend to some of the physical manifestations of stress and inbalance. Meditation and some accompanying philosophy can provide a welcome window pointing towards an inner world of greater ease, understanding, freedom and creativity adding many benefits to our external life of relationships, work and attitudes.

Modern western yoga teachers are now trained to a certain degree in western anatomy, physiology and health care as well as some Indian arts, philosophy, healing, esotericism and spirituality. The resultant evolving creative fusion is modern yoga.

As a cross fertilised collection of knowledge, perhaps increasingly typical of our globalised culture, older timeless aspects of Yoga have richly intertwined with modern knowledge and ideas to give us a truly twenty first century discipline.