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Web Interview - Thai Massage

Simon Gall

with Simon Gall from England

Simon Gall, a holistic therapist working in London and the South East of England, he is the founder and Principal of The London School of Traditional Massage - LSTM.

website: www.lstm.com


About Simon Gall

With over 15 years of education and experience in Holistic Health & Fitness. His holistic approach combines massage, exercise prescription, and nutrition, for the benefit of individual and corporate clients at his practice in Kent, and on site throughout London and the South East.
Simon has trained as a Yoga Teacher, is a qualified Pilates Instructor, Nutritional Therapist, and Sports Massage Therapist.
Simon is a qualified teacher of adults, and a member of the Association of Therapy Lecturers (ATL). He is also an active member of the Federation of Holistic Therapists (FHT) where he is a part of their National CPD Seminar Programme.

Thai Massage History

Q. What is Thai Massage and what are its origins?
A. Thai massage is quite a complex thing, and for me the more I learn and practise the more I realise how much more there is to Thai Massage than first appears. I have yet to find a satisfying description of Thai Massage, and a description of its parts falls short of defining the whole. Passive yoga is a good short description, and also suggests its Indian origins. An Indian Doctor called Shevaka Komarapaj (spellings differ) brought massage to Thailand in the 2nd or 3rd Century BC.
In Thai Massage the therapist will move you into various positions that are very similar to some of the asanas of yoga. Pressure is also applied to the body by various parts of the therapists' anatomy, sometimes the thumbs, palms, elbows, knees, feet, or buttocks are used, and sometimes a combination!

The intention is always to work the sen (energy) lines of the body to harmonise the flow of energy around the body, rather than to simply stretch muscle and soft tissue as you may traditionally do in a massage. The sen lines are similar to, and derived from, the prana nadis of yoga.
Another characteristic of Thai Massage is the gentle rocking of the therapist as they work. This helps to regulate the pace of the massage and create a very meditative and relaxing massage, but it also allows the therapist to vary the pressure they apply by rocking with more or less of their bodyweight rather than by using muscular force.
The massage is performed on the floor on a mat, and the client remains fully clothed.

Q. Is Thai Massage popular in Asia and how long has it been a recognised massage therapy in England and the West?
A. In Thailand it is possible to get a massage almost anytime and anywhere, on the beach, in your hotel, in a shop, on the street, at a temple, at a hospital, in a shopping centre, all of which are plentiful in Thailand (the only part of Asia I know). There are also I believe some of the best Spas in the world. Thai Massage is incredibly popular in Asia, however how much of the demand is by Asians I couldn't say. They certainly have Thai Massage but I think tourists have created a lot of the demand. Traditionally Thai massage would only be performed in a place suitable for Thai Massage, this would rule out the beach!
As a recognised therapy in the West, I would put this at the time that westerners started to travel to Thailand and "demanded" to be taught Thai Massage. Asokananda (Harald Brust) a leading author and teacher of Thai Massage, was studying at the Old Medicine Hospital in Chiang Mai in the mid 80's, in the traditional way i.e. orally with very little or no structure to lessons. As westerners began to arrive at the hospital to learn this massage they were increasingly frustrated at the lack of structure and Asokananda was asked to provide a suitable structure for the classes.
Asokanandas book "the Art of Traditional Thai Massage" was first published in 1990 and was the only western book available on the subject at the time.

Thai Massage Session

Q. What is the main benefit of Thai massage to the human body?
A. The main benefit of Thai Massage for me would have to be the feeling of harmony and tranquillity after the massage.

Q. Can you explain what a Thai Massage consist of? And how long does a normal session last?
A. Traditionally a Thai Massage would last for maybe 2.5 hours, however shorter versions are more popular nowadays as the demand from westerners and our hectic holidays require.
A traditional massage will begin with you lying on your back and it will start from the feet, working the sen up through the body. Quite a long time is spent on the legs, before moving up the body to the abdominals, arms and hands. The therapist will then move you onto your side and start again from your feet working up to the head. This side lying position is particularly good for pregnant women or people with back problems who would be uncomfortable laying flat. This position is repeated for the other side, and is often left out of a one hour massage.
The next position is Prone so you lie on your front and the therapist works your back, again starting from your feet. This section can involve a lot of hyper extension of the spine that feels great and helps mobility.
The therapist will then turn you over and sit you up, but there is a whole massage involved in sitting you up that also flexes the spine, again great for mobility.
And finally the seated position, which is great for the upper body and especially the upper back, neck and head. The therapist will usually finish with a face massage in either the seated or supine position.
It may sound like a lot of moving around, but as long as you relax the therapist will do all of this for you.

Q. It has been said that Thai Massage is a hard or even painful form of massage. Would you agree?
A. Yes and no! The massage should never be painful, however a degree of discomfort may be felt as your body is worked in ways it may not be used to. Communication between therapist and client is the key here, and as communication between Western client and Thai Therapist can be difficult problems inevitably arise. Whenever I hear a Westerner saying that they had a massage that was painful I always ask why they didn't say anything. Thai people are on the whole far more supple than Westerners and so they may over estimate our flexibility.
If you have a massage and find anything painful just say "Jeb" meaning pain. I must say that I have never had a massage where I have felt pain, any discomfort I have felt has always been followed by a feeling of release.
The nearest I came to a painful massage was in a college of massage in Bangkok, where the students are all blind and train for many thousands of hours. This is a charitable project set up by the Queen. The therapist working on me was kneeling on the inside of my thigh whilst I lay in the side position. The discomfort was bordering on pain, but my legs felt brand new soon after the massage and there was no continuing discomfort. I remember the therapist was laughing with his friend as he did this and I thought maybe it was some sick joke at my expense, until a Thai friend explained that he was laughing because my legs seemed to go on forever!

Q. How often can you have Thai massage? Is there a limit?
A. Ideally you should have a couple of days between massages, and the benefits of just one massage may still be felt for up to 5 days - however I frequently flout this "rule" and if you ever have the time I recommend a one hour Thai Foot Massage, followed (but not immediately) by a 2 hour Thai Massage. The combination is fantastic. The Thai Foot Massage stimulates your internal organs via the reflex points and begins to work the sen, and then the Thai Massage continues to work the sen throughout the body giving a truly holistic experience.
Thai Foot Massage

Q. Can Thai massage be used in sport preparation either in sports injuries or as part of a warm up technique?
A. My first impression of Thai Massage was that it was the best form of sports massage I had come across. I still believe this, but feel it is also much more. It is possible to use the massage as both a pre and post event massage, if you ever visit a Muay Thai Boxing contest you will see parts of the massage being performed before, during and after the bout.

Q. When picking a Thai massage practitioner what qualifications should you be looking for? And Where in England can you have a Thai Massage, is there a registered body where you can search for qualified Thai Massage therapists?
A. The best way to find a Thai Massage therapist who is suitably qualified is to go through a governing body.
The largest in the UK is the Federation of Holistic Therapists (FHT) www.fht.org.uk.
Their website will allow you to search for a Thai Massage Therapist in your area, and you can be sure that their qualifications have been verified.
Experience and practice is the key to a good Thai Massage Therapist.

Learn & Qualify

Q. Is Wat Po the best Thai Massage school in Thailand? What other schools or training colleges in Thailand have a professional training course?
A. It all depends on the teacher you get assigned to at Wat Po. Although all the teachers follow the same syllabus their interpretation can differ, along with their experience and teaching skills. There are also many schools in Chiang Mai, which tend to offer a very similar syllabus to that taught at The Old Medicine Hospital. These all offer professional training courses but this does not necessarily mean that your governing body back home will accept their qualification. The lack of case studies and proper assessment is often an issue. My advice, if you are intending to train in Thailand, would be to check with your governing body before you go. Wat Po and The Old Medicine Hospital are probably the most established.

Q. Not everyone can travel and spend the time required to become qualified in Thai Massage in Thailand. What would be the alternative in England?
A. We offer 2 courses in Thai Massage. Level I and II. Level I will enable you to practice professionally upon successful completion of the course and case studies. This first course is 30 hours in length and will enable the therapist to perform a full body Thai Massage in all four positions for up to 2 hours. The level II course is another 30 hour course and is for people who have completed Level I. This course goes into the sen lines in more detail and will enable the therapist to perform about 4 hours of Thai massage, along with the use and preparation of herbal compresses. We offer these courses as either intensive courses throughout the UK or over weekends at our base in SE London.
For further information on our courses please visit our website at www.lstm.com

Q. If someone wants to learn Thai Massage what previous qualifications are required and what does it entail and how long does it take to become fully qualified?
A. Thai Massage has traditionally been taught without a scientific knowledge of Anatomy & Physiology, however an accepted A&P qualification would be a pre-requisite to joining a governing body in the UK and working as a professional therapist. Applicants should bear this in mind. I don't restrict entry to people who do not have A&P, but they will only be able to practise on friends and family without membership to a governing body. Courses on offer are generally between 30-60 hours, however any course requires plenty of home practice to refine the skills learnt.
A recently completed DVD has proved an excellent training tool to compliment our course.

Working as a Thai Massage Therapist

Q. Is there a benefit in actually performing Thai massage e.g. Reiki practitioners benefit from actually practising their therapy on others?
A. You will get better at performing Thai massage! It is also considered an act of metta, of loving kindness, and your intention is to free your client from any illness. It would be too unjust if such acts went unrewarded.

Q. For someone starting out in Thai massage what equipment do you require?
A. A mat, some pillows and someone else!

Thai Massage

Q. Do you use any creams, oils or lotions in Thai massage? What do you personally recommend?
A. Herbal compresses, or Balms such as Tiger Balm are most commonly used. Herbal compresses are satisfying to make and use.

Top Tip

Q. On PureCalma we have a page dedicated to 'Your Top Tips'. What would be your Top Tip?
A. Meditate

Thank You Simon for taking part in the Web Interview
For More Information on Thai Massage - Visit www.lstm.com

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