Richard Gold's compelling book is a must for any hands-on practitioner (or student) wanting to develop their techniques further in the art of healing. He emphasises that 'Thai massage differs dramatically from massage techniques as developed and practised in the western world'. The practitioner employs pressing, compression and stretching techniques, the recipient remaining clothed, the primary focus being to create balance and harmony to the body, mind and spirit of the client. Where Thai massage differs dramatically from western techniques (and shiatsu to some extent) is in the importance of meditation and the practitioner's ability to 'work in a state of mindfulness, concentrated and present in each breath, each moment.' This philosophy is deeply rooted in Buddhism, from which Thai medicine has evolved, where the concept of Metta (loving kindness) is regarded as essential in order to achieve peace and happiness. Gold suggests that Thai massage could be seen to be a practical application of Metta, where a practitioner would attempt to bestow, via touch, this quality of mind to a client.
At first I had a little difficulty with this concept. Having learned shiatsu TCM style, where a diagnosis and a treatment plan is made and then applied with an expected outcome, the notion that 'Practitioners simply and honestly apply their skills and knowledge to the best of their abilities without attachment to the results' seemed somehow to lack direction. Perhaps this is the whole point, and one which I failed to grasp upon first reading Gold's fascinating book. On re-reading in Section 1 'Buddhist influence on Thai massage', I began to see the light and realised that it is this simplicity which lies at the heart of Buddhism and Thai massage. With patience and practise, perhaps I will be able to incorporate a state of mindfulness into my own practise.
One major reservation I have is that there is not enough information contained in the meagre first section, which is in two parts. In part one there is a very brief 'A brief history of medicine in Thailand' and an even briefer (one page) 'Buddhist influence on Thai massage'. The 'Basic theories' are indeed very basic, although 'Sen: the energy pathways of the body' is a little more comprehensive. This part clearly illustrates the body's pathways (Sen) and how they correlate with the meridian pathways of Chinese medicine, and includes listings of the indications that a particular pathway relates to. I was left feeling hungry for more!
Part two begins with excellent 'Rules', which set out the ethical guidelines for students and practitioners. This is followed by 'Methods' which set out clearly how to proceed with a new client, what contraindications to look for as well as the importance and rationale of working slowly – 'Above all else, do no harm'. In 'Techniques' each technique - palm press, foot press, thumb press, elbow press, thumb circle, finger circle, palm circles, stretching, stopping the blood flow - is clearly described and illustrated in the accompanying photographs. The 'stop the blood flow technique' quite rightly has a caution sign (!) and I applaud Gold's inclusion of precautions and contraindications. I also agree with his philosophy 'If in doubt, leave it out'.
Section 2, entitled 'Practical application', is in four parts and contains the meat of Thai Massage. Gold methodically describes and illustrates how to apply the various techniques on a client in a supine, recumbent, prone and seated position. I would say that a high level of knowledge of anatomy is essential as each photograph is accompanied by a detailed anatomical description of which part of the limb/body is to be worked upon. This includes specific descriptions of points to be located and 'thumb pressed'. There are wonderful descriptions of further techniques, such as 'thumb-chasing-thumb-but-never-catching'. I would feel cautious about attempting some of the techniques without first seeing them demonstrated safely (illustrations 45-49 for example). In the 'lateral recumbent position' there are some examples of compression and stretching of the thigh and buttocks that I incorporated immediately into a treatment - with very positive feedback from my client. The stretching techniques illustrated in 93-96 are also very good.
In his 'Foreword' Ted Kaptchuk observes that 'Massage is now undergoing a renaissance and re-emerging as a critical component of medicine.' I do hope he is right and that Thai massage, like shiatsu and tui na, will become more available in the West. In his conclusion, Gold says that he hopes to write further about these unique massage techniques and their application for specific complaints, as well as Thai herbal medicine, food cures and spiritual practices related to healing. I await it with pleasure. I end with a mantra, to be found in the 'Appendix'.
'Na-a na-ver roga-byadhi vinasanti' 'May diseases and illnesses be destroyed'.
Carol Daglish Carol Daglish has practised shiatsu and therapeutic massage for the past eleven years. She is the Executive Secretary of the British Acupuncture Accreditation Board in London and the Managing Editor of EJOM.