Imagine your spine lengthening, your hips opening, your shoulders releasing, all without your doing a thing. Ah, this is the bliss of a Thai yoga massage, an ancient healing art that is said to date back to the time of the Buddha. Thai massage can feel like a nurturing, effortless yoga practice in which your partner moves your body in and out of postures, enticing your muscles into gentle stretches and your mind into deep relaxation.
Legend has it that the practice began in India more than 2,500 years ago, then migrated to Thailand, where it was performed in temples and regarded as a spiritual practice. In offering a massage, the giver cultivates the four divine states, or brahma viharas, of Buddhist practice: metta (lovingkindness), karuna (compassion), mudita (sympathetic joy), and uppekha (equanimity). In this way, a Thai massage becomes both a meditation and an offering of sublime kindness. Bringing this spirit to a massage makes it truly healing for both giver and receiver.
The theory of Thai massage is based on the belief that prana (life energy) flows through the body along a network of channels (similar to the nadis in Ayurveda or meridians in Chinese medicine) and that stimulating and balancing prana creates a deep feeling of relaxation, vitality, and renewal.
The following sequence is an introduction to the art of Thai massage—and an appropriate offering to a friend, lover, or family member. To practice this sequence, both partners should be in good physical health and free of injuries or any serious medical condition.
Ask the receiving partner to be generous with feedback. Adjust the pressure as needed, and stop immediately if anything doesn’t feel comfortable and healing. Be open to enjoying the role of giver as much as receiver and to receiving the healing energy of the practice, regardless of your role.
1. Namaskar (meditative prayer)
Sit cross-legged facing your partner, holding hands or with your hands in Anjali Mudra (Salutation Seal). Bring awareness to your breath and your body. Once you’re fully present, you’ll be able to create a deeper connection to your partner. Cultivate a meditative quality, focusing your attention inward and, if you want, setting an intention for this massage. What do you want to communicate to your partner through this experience?
Traditionally, Thai masseurs pray to the father of Thai medicine, Jivaka Kumar Bhaccha, giving thanks and asking for his guidance and blessing. They ask that their efforts bring health and happiness for their partner. You can choose your own invocation—something that resonates with you and has relevance to the moment. The act of meditation or prayer will open you to the energy of grace and encourage you to be receptive to healing energies, intuition, and wisdom.
2. Sole to Sole (walking acupressure on the feet)
Ask your partner to lie on her belly, with her arms comfortably at her sides and her head resting to one side. While standing, gently press the ball of one of your feet into the sole of one of her feet. Then press your other foot into her other foot. Slowly “walk,” shifting your body weight from side to side, as if you were practicing a slow-motion walking meditation. Do this for several minutes, adjusting the pressure as needed. Then, turn around to face away from her, and gently press your heels into her soles and, again, gently walk. (Using the heels creates stronger pressure; if your partner has sensitive feet, you can skip this part.)
3. Opening the Leg Channels (palming the backs of the legs)
With your partner still on her belly and her legs slightly separated, kneel between her feet. Press your palms into the backs of the legs above the ankles. Applying gentle pressure with the palms, rhythmically work your way up the back of the legs. Do not press on the backs of the knees. Continue palming up the legs to the buttocks and then back down, leaning your body weight onto her legs with each press. Repeat several times.
4. Hero Stretch (stretching the lower body)
Come to a stable, comfortable position, with both knees, or with one foot and one knee, on the floor, and grasp your partner’s feet—one in each hand. Push the tops of her feet away from you so that her heels move toward her buttocks. Check with your partner to make sure the pressure is appropriate. Repeat two or three times, holding for 10 seconds each time. This gives a great stretch to the feet, ankles, thighs, and lower back.
5. Side-to-Side Stretch (opening the hip, sacrum, and low back)
Stand behind your partner, who remains on her belly. Bend or sit to take her feet in your hands, and lift her legs until the shins are nearly vertical. Gently push the feet to the right side and watch the left hip begin to lift. Then rock the feet to the left. (The motion is reminiscent of upside-down windshield wipers.) Rock gently from side to side as your partner experiences an opening in the hip and lower back. Don’t force!
6. Organ Energizer (palming the back channels)
Place your palms on either side of the spine (not on it), with the fingers pointing out. Use the rocking of your body weight to press your palms into her back, and then lift off. Move your palms up her back, press, and lift again. Work from the sacrum to the tops of the shoulders and back down. Palm in rhythm with your partner’s breath, pressing down on her exhalation. Ask her to inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth to release tension.
7. Cobra Stretch (gentle backbend)
Your partner remains on her belly as you kneel on her thighs, with your knees just below her sitting bones. Grasp her wrists and slowly straighten your spine and arms. Use your body weight to gently rock back. When you arrive at a place that feels good to your partner, hold the pose and breathe deeply for 5 to 10 seconds. You will probably have to use some arm strength, but try not to use too much. If your partner is very flexible, you can create a deeper stretch by moving your knees
8. Balasana (child’s
Have your partner come onto all fours and sit back onto her heels with arms forward
and the knees slightly apart (supporting the ribs). If she is stiff, you can put a blanket between her
calves and thighs. Press down on her sacrum with both hands, pressing toward the feet. This gently
stretches the lower back. Caution: Do not press on the sacrum if your partner has any type of spinal
injury or pain.
9. Heart and Sacrum Drum (opening the lower energy centers)
Have your partner lie on her belly, with her head to one side. Make loose fists with your hands and
relax your wrists. Drum slowly on the sacrum (not on the spine), with a steady rhythm, for about 20
seconds, and then slowly increase the speed for another 20 seconds. Keep your arms, wrists, and
shoulders relaxed; otherwise you may transfer your own tension to your partner. This is a very powerful
exercise to stimulate and open the lower energy centers in the body and nerves, and it is also
indicated for sciatica, poor circulation, and weakness in the lower body. Caution: This exercise can
stimulate a lot of energy. Skip it in the case of illness, weakness, or any injury.
Continuing with loose fists, drum (softly at first) the upper back behind the heart center on either
side of the spine, not on the spine itself. Start gently and build into a slow and steady rhythm for
about 30 seconds to one minute. This releases tension from the heart and lung area and allows the heart
energy to flow more freely. Caution: If your partner has heart disease or serious heart conditions,
skip this technique.
After doing percussion on the sacrum and on the back of the heart, place one hand on each area, palm
down. Hold for a minute or two. This helps to balance the energy flow between the two places and is a
powerful healing mudra, or energy seal.
10. Cross-Legged Pull-Up (coming to sitting)
Have your partner turn over onto her back and cross her legs. Take her hands in yours,
bend your legs and, on an exhalation, pull her up. Hold for 10 seconds. Repeat 3 times. On the final
lift, walk back slowly, bringing her into a seated position.
11. Shoulder Rub (loosening the shoulders)
Tension in the shoulders can block the flow of energy between the head and torso,
especially for those who carry “the weight of the world” here; it can cause headaches, neckaches,
frozen shoulders, and many other ailments. Work sensitively in this area and observe your partner’s
reaction with care, or ask for extra feedback.
Have your partner come to a seated position. Sit or kneel behind her, finding a position that is
most comfortable for your own back. Using both hands, squeeze the upper back and shoulders between your
thumb and fingers. Massage slowly and rhythmically.
12. Final Relaxation (Savasana with a face massage)
Have your partner lie face up in a comfortable Savasana (Corpse Pose). If she has lower back pain, roll a blanket and slip it under her knees to soften and relax the lower back. Make sure she is warm enough, as the body’s temperature tends to drop during relaxation.
Let your partner rest quietly as her body, brain, nervous system, and spirit absorb and balance
energies created and released during the massage. Then begin the facial massage.
Sit behind your partner. With your thumbs, start at the center of the forehead (Ajna Chakra) and
slide your thumbs out toward the temples, moving and relaxing the skin.
Massage the temples by pressing and rubbing in a circular motion.
Massage the nose and sinuses.
Massage the side of the face, temples, and jaw. Work the hinge of the jaw and along the sides by
pressing and rubbing.
Press and rub the earlobes and the entire ear with your thumb and fingers. Cover the ears with your
palms and hold.
Start by following these suggestions, but draw on your own intuition as you massage the entire face,
especially the forehead, temples, and jaw.
Close the Practice
Ask your partner to remain in Savasana. Reconnect with the intention you set for the massage. Then, making a triangle with your thumbs and index fingers touching, let your hands hover over your partner’s forehead as you send healing energy to her.
Meditate in silence as you allow your partner to be completely still for 10 minutes or longer. At the end of Savasana, you can gently hold her ankles and use a soft voice or a bell to guide her back into her body.