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What exactly is Thai massage?
This full-body massage is nothing like your typical Swedish massage. Sure, it's relaxing, but there are no oils involved, you'll be dressed in yoga clothes and you'll be doing a bit more than just lying motionless on your stomach. While sitting or lying on an oversize yoga mat, your masseuse will alternate between massaging, compressing and stretching parts of your body by rearranging or pulling you into poses that test your flexibility. For example, you might be reminded of yoga's locust pose when, while lying on your back, your masseuse pulls your arms back, lifting your abdomen off the ground, providing a stretch throughout your arms, chest and back.
What are the benefits?
Thai massage has the same benefits as stretching. If you do it regularly, you'll notice improved flexibility and increased range of motion in your usual workouts, which can help protect you from injuries. "If you're active—if you run or lift weights at the gym—it's a good adjunct to your workout," says Celia Au, registered massage therapist at the Miraj Hammam Spa in Toronto.
Also like stretching, the massage can help improve circulation, increasing blood supply to the surrounding muscles. The massage techniques are based on what the Thai call the sen lines, explains Au. Sen lines form a pattern in the body that largely follows the circulatory system. The idea of working sen lines is to open up energy flow in the body, but the stimulation of your circulation might explain why some people experience relief from things like muscle fatigue after their massage.
You'll find Thai massage relieves stress, like any massage or yoga practice. The soothing effect of getting a massage is compounded by the deep breathing you should be doing during the session. "Our focus is to take your everyday life, close the door and step into a journey in Thai massage, with an emphasis on relaxation," says Au.
Since the focus is on relaxation, don't expect all of the benefits of yoga. The massage is very passive, so you won't be strengthening your muscles, which means it's not a replacement for your workout.
Of course, you could get these benefits from stretching it out at your regular yoga class, but it's nice to make someone else do the work once in a while!
Want to get the benefits of stretching at home? Here are five great stretches to do by yourself.