Not your average rubdown: Thai massages both release tension and align your spirit


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About a month ago, while in Thailand with Airbnb Animal Experiences, I walked into a massage parlor. I had no idea what a Thai massage entails, and was solely focused on getting my muscles some TLC after hiking. Quickly I learned that Thai massages are pretty freaking intimate, not at all what I was expecting, and also—most importantly—fantastic for the body and mind to experience. It’s also not offered exclusively in Thailand.

“Thai massage is a kind of dance with gentle stretches and movements that are continuously being engaged in between the muscle-tension release and activation of acupressure points along the Sip Sen lines,” says Thai massage practitioner Leslie Lyons, founder of One Mi Body in New York City.

Below, learn about what, exactly, the Sip Sen are, along with all the other facets of how traditional Thai massage works and what to expect from your first session.

With Thai massage, muscle tension is drawn from you

“Most people who have ever had massage of any kind will be familiar with muscle-tension release,” says Lyons. “This is laying on the muscles with pressure and then releasing or sometimes using body oil with a sliding technique.”

With a Thai massage, though, there is no sliding along the body, save for some parts of the neck or feet. “The technique is a rhythmic flow of laying on the muscles and releasing or with assisted stretches that move—or pulse, if you will—along the body,” she says.

Sip Sen are the energetic pathways engaged during the massage

The most crucially unique aspect of the Thai Massage, says Lyons, is that it focuses on healing the spirit. “This is addressed through what are called Sip Sen lines associated with this technique that represents pathways throughout the body, which correspond to the flow of energy in each individual and collectively,” she says. “Sometimes this energy is blocked, so blood does not flow as efficiently in those areas.”

The Sip Sen is a pathway of 10 lines that operate as energy channels, and sometimes, these pathways can get blocked. The concept is roughly similar to the way chakras work, or how energy meridians flow in Traditional Chinese Medicine.

“With Thai massage, we hope to elevate your spirit by stimulating your energy. It is designed to relax your body but stimulate your energy to best achieve homeostasis.” —Leslie Lyons, Thai massage practitioner

“By working these lines, we can improve blood flow, which augments and assists the work being done with the muscle-tension release and assisted stretches,” Lyons says. “With Thai massage, we hope to elevate your spirit by stimulating your energy. This is what makes this practice so unique. It is designed to relax your body but stimulate your energy to best achieve homeostasis.”

Your practitioner gets up close and personal with your energy

The session is often performed with clothes on, and, as a result, the techniques are better able to address areas that other massage modalities often neglect.

“One of my favorite techniques is a hamstring stretch, where a client is laying on their back and I am sitting on the floor at their feet, with one of their ankles in each hand,” Lyons says. “Then I place my feet into one of their inner thighs and gently push open the leg and begin to bicycle into their hamstring with my feet.”

Again, really up close and personal. Lyons contends that in these compromising positions, though, you can literally see the energy on someone’s face.

“It’s a full-body release once it’s over,” she says. “So much space is created in that leg, pelvic area, and through the feet that no other technique can really quite match the result.”

And that’s precisely the idea; that with a traditional Thai massage, space is created for you to unwind, loosen up, and best use your energy for the day ahead.

Tell me honestly: Is my massage session supposed to hurt? And you can mimic a Swedish massage with—surprise!—just a lacrosse ball.

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