By: Ulric Legouest Bodywork
One of the things I love about traditional Thai massage and bodywork is the overall approach to the body: namely the layers of the body. These are depicted in terms of five layers that more or less need to be approached during a session in the following order:
1) skin layer (epidermal): we use heating techniques such as friction over cloth, hot steamed herbal compresses massaged onto the body, herbal balms and liniments to bring warmth and circulation to the surface of the body. This helps get into the second layer.
2) fascia and muscle: this is where you will find the most commonality with other massage modalities, where we stretch, squeeze, rub, or deeply hold muscles for release. We also find commonalities with structural integration work here as we address fascia as well.
3) Sên (depicted in the picture above): this difficult-to-translate Thai word refers to the deeper connective tissue such as nerves, arteries, tendons and ligaments. Osteopathy and chiropractic have similar theories about blockages to these deeper structures. Here, we work between muscles and/or between muscles and bones (through thumb presses and other techniques) to help create space for these deeper structures to function properly. This is the whole goal of Thai massage. But if the muscles aren’t addressed (and some times it takes more than one session) then we can’t always access this layer just yet.
4) bones/joints: this is where we work with techniques such as traction, shaking joints, range of motion to help maintain joint health. This is also to help the sên which may be blocked at the joints. Note, as a massage therapist, I do not manipulate joints. I am specifically working the tissues in a way that also is of benefit to the joints.
5) organs: this mostly applies to abdominal massage, where we engage in visceral massage to help improve organ function. Serious problems with the organs cannot be addressed through massage. We mostly work to support the work of your primary care physician, herbalist, acupuncturist or naturopath that are more directly able to address your organ health.
This is how, among many other philosophical principles, that Thai massage provides a holistic approach to the body. Making sure that each layer is contributing to the optimal function of your other layers.