How Thai Massage Can Help Us Reclaim Our Right to Touch

by Lola Rephann

Our culture has some serious baggage around the word “massage,” and when you stop to examine why, is it any wonder? It’s a standard canard in sit-coms, a bad joke implying intimate possibilities when someone creepy tries to pick up cute guy/girl by promising a “massage” to help them relieve stress from all that work or studying. Depending on the intonation you use when saying the word or what font it is written in, massage can be code for sexual services. Massage therapists have to protect themselves by only accepting new clients by referral or vetting them through agencies. Mediocre, bad, or even injurious massages received at the nail salon or street fair don’t help massage’s reputation much.

Contributing to the baggage we have around massage is our cultural phobia about being touched. Being touched is often viewed as awkward, weird, potentially uncomfortable and a boundary violation. It’s sad that we have such a cultural shield around healing touch.

Touching is the most natural thing in the world. Newborns who don’t receive enough touch from their mothers do not develop as well or as strongly as newborns who do. Studies on chimpanzees, our very close relatives, show that physical touch is essential for social and emotional development. In humans, a body of study known as Attachment Theory posits that how often and how we are touched (or not touched) as children impacts everything, from our level of confidence and security to how we form relationships as grown-ups.

While we may (or maybe not) got enough touch as children, by the time most of us our teenagers, we have already inherited some baggage around touch. The cultural models offered to us for touch are either sterile, like a doctor visit, or lurid and over-sexualized with the slow creep of porn into entertainment, advertising, and fashion.

All of this analysis of how our culture treats touch is to preface this: one of the most important things I have experienced in my own life is the reclaiming of touch as a natural, healthy, healing thing. I have learned that the language of touch is vast and subtle, and that our people are quality-touch starved.

One of the fastest ways to bond with someone and make a difference in their immediate experience is through the exchange of quality touch. In the practice of Thai Massage, we call what we do “healing touch.” Thai massage is a simple act of putting hands on someone else for the intent of healing and moving prana (vital energy). In Thai Massage, metta, or loving kindness, is at the core of each touch, each moment, each meeting. It is a dialogue between two energetic fields, the giver and the receiver. It is exquisitely intimate but not in any way sexual. And it is done fully clothed, without special equipment, oils, lotions, and can be done just about anywhere there is enough padding to support the receiver’s spine and joints. That means on a blanket, a carpet, the beach, the park…anywhere firm with a soft layer on top.

Thai Massage is also called Thai Yoga Massage, Thai Yoga Bodywork or Lazy Man’s Yoga because the body is put through shapes that resemble yoga poses and the body receives benefits like doing yoga, but is totally passive. The giver stretches, compresses, pulls, rocks, and cradles the receiver’s limbs and joints. Thai massage is wonderful for stress relief, recovery from injury, tension, stiffness, to enhance immunity, and to relieve stagnant or blocked prana in the body. It is very relaxing, but also energizing.

Thai massage operates on the same principle as acupuncture, where the protocols follow the meridian lines of the body which stimulate the vital organs, creating balance at the cellular and glandular level of the body.

Thai massage is ancient. The story taught in all Thai massage trainings is that the system was developed by Shivago Komarpaj over 2500 years ago. Shivago Komarpaj was the Buddha’s personal physician. But Thai massage’s origins are more complex: the system is a mixture of Indian, Chinese, and South East Asian culture and medicine. There is an herbal medicine component which has roots in Ayurveda as well as the Chinese system of herbology. The energetic channels, or sen lines as they are called in Thai massage, are a blend of the Chinese maps and the nadis of yoga. And Thai massage continues to grow and evolve with modern-day influences from osteopathy, cranio-sacral balancing, and myo-fascial work.

In November, I will be teaching a full-body Thai massage sequence that you can give to a friend, family member, or partner. It is the same sequence I first learned when I began my thai massage studies over 6 years ago.

Practicing Thai massage in a group setting, as this workshop will be conducted, is how it is taught and practiced in Thailand. Practicing en masse concentrates the healing energy of the group and creates a group field that is stronger than one person alone. By practicing en masse, touch is taken out of the shadows and brought into the light.

By studying and practicing thai massage, we reclaim our right to touch and be touched in a wholesome, healthy and healing way. We reject society’s burdensome and convoluted ideas about touch that limit us from expressing ourselves and receiving loving healing touch from others. By stepping onto the Thai mat, we step into our role as healers, as stewards of an ancient body of knowledge that is beyond boundaries. We reclaim the power of our connection to the divine, to the Spirit That Moves In All Things, to the prana that moves in each and every one of us, and that we, as children of Spirit, have the right to connect with our true selves, and with the true selves of others. This is our birth right and our sacred obligation to ourselves and our planet.

I hope you will join me for this afternoon of learning, reclaiming, and receiving. No experience necessary. Please wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothes with no buttons or other hard objects that might be uncomfortable when you lay on them.

Thai Massage Workshop

Saturday Nov. 12th from 2-4pm

Yoga in the Heights

Fee: $25 members/$35 non-members