October 1, 2003
Jodi Mackenzie is being kneaded and stretched and folded like bread dough. Her eyes are closed and, yes, she's enjoying it.
This isn't just any massage: It's Thai massage. The masseuse is positioned on the table, straddling Mackenzie, using arms and knees and elbows as well as hands to work the body.
"I've lost track of time," Mackenzie says drifting airily off the table. "I feel very, very relaxed.
"I was really trying to concentrate on the feeling and it was like she was releasing something through her fingers at the end of the strokes. It was a popping feeling."
At the end of the session, the masseuse had asked her to bend and touch her toes and she just fell into position. "Usually, my hamstrings are tight," she says, slightly concerned that maybe her muscles are now too relaxed for a running/cycling/swimming triathlon she's signed up for the following weekend.
We -- the stiff, the tight, the pained, the stressed -- may be hearing more of Thai massage in the months and years to come. At least that's Norman and Nanthawon Dove's objective.
They are the proprietors of Echo Valley Ranch and Spa in Clinton, where Thai massage has been part of their spa package since opening in 1995. The Doves realized they were on to something when clients kept reporting back with their good news.
"Tough New Yorkers, who'd had problems for years, found themselves cured of ailments after having our Thai massage," says Norman Dove. "Week after week, we'd get e-mails from everywhere," he says. "It's gone," people would write of their physical ailments. "I realized something's really working here." Thai massage combines stretching of the joints and muscles with pressure along the body's sen, or energy lines. The Chinese call this energy qi, the Indians call it prana.
Now the Doves have started a company called Asian Spa Therapies Inc. to offer various levels of training on Thai massage at their Echo Valley Ranch and Toronto next year, as well as part-time courses in Vancouver.
The complete training program, authorized by the Thai ministry of health, is an 800-hour curriculum. Components of Thai massage include the luk pra kob hot compress massage, using a blend of herbs, wrapped in cotton and placed over steam for relieving pain and inflammation; foot massage, facial massage and herbal steam baths are other elements of Thai traditional therapies. Students will learn about anatomy, emotional health, bone, joint, muscle diseases, Thai pharmacology, as well as massage techniques, and courses on philosophy of medicine, ethics and law.
Thai healing traditions go back to ancient times but they all but disappeared from academic and institutional medicine in Thailand. It took "two body blows" from the West, says Dove. The first was from the U.S. Rockefeller Foundation, a charitable giant, which offered grants, in the early part of the 20th century, to teach Western medicine on the condition that traditional medicine would no longer be taught.
Then in the 1960s, the meaning of Thai massage was corrupted when American soldiers visited Thailand during the Vietnam war. It became a euphemism for prostitution and of course, had nothing whatsoever to do with the traditional art of Thai massage.
Dr. Pennapa Subcharoen, who has been appointed by the Thai government to research, restore and preserve this ancient Thai medicine, was in Vancouver recently speaking about its benefits.
"Many, many, many illnesses can be treated by traditional Thai massage through a combination of massage, manipulation and stretching," she said. "There are several levels of Thai massage. The first is for relaxation; a second is for the primary medical care for 10 diseases and the third is a 1,000-hour course to treat many more diseases."
Thai traditional medicine had, however, survived in Thai families. "Everywhere in Thailand, families have learned to heal by themselves with Thai massage," she says.
Thai massage has at least one medical advocate in Vancouver. Dr. Orland Ramon, assistant professor in family medicine at the University of B.C., has had personal experience with it. Ramon suffers from multiple sclerosis and pain, he says, was "a 24-hour companion." Medication had decreased his bone density to dangerous levels and he was no longer able to exercise. "I needed exercise to build up musculature in my right leg before the muscles shortened and shrivelled," he says.
While at Echo Valley Ranch, he decided to give Thai massage a try and found immediate relief. "I could feel shock waves going down my back to the toes along the nerves. At first it was unpleasant but the pain eased, then stopped," he says. He continued the treatment for several days and gradually, he felt strong enough to exercise again. "That was most important to me, to keep me out of a wheelchair," he says.
Ramon hopes that eventually, Western medicine will study the merits of Thai massage with clinical studies. "At this point, I'll get as much of it as I can get. It's absolutely not harmful and I definitely feel the benefits."
As practitioners start receiving training next year, we'll see more and more practices offering Thai massage. Vancouver massage therapist Michael Deslippe has already switched his practice after training in Thailand. He became interested when travelling in Thailand and having a Thai massage -- it corrected his chronic "problem shoulder" after a few visits.
"As a massage therapist, I had been seeing people over and over, keeping them going, making them feel better, but never fixing the problem," he says. "In the West, we diagnose the problem, know where the pain is and focus on it. That's wasn't the way in Thailand. They rebalance the body. They look at the body from an energy perspective.
"Now I spend a lot of time with clients to get a sense of what's going on with energetically, physically and emotionally and help release stagnant, blocked energy."
He's noticing more advertising for Thai massage and although he's an advocate, he says it's important to ensure that practitioners are trained properly.
"We Westerners have a knack for tearing apart something that has survived
for thousands of years. This way, we'll get it right, from the start."
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