Traditional Thai massage has gained popularity in recent years due to its graceful yogic stretches, and ability to rejuvenate and manage various chronic conditions.
As massage modalities go, Traditional Thai massage can be one of the most peculiar forms of bodywork. For starters, it requires no creams or oils, and the recipient is fully clothed. Then to make things even more strange, Thai massage is performed on a floor mat, with the therapist using feet, knees and elbows as massage tools.
There are however, even more bizarre forms of Thai massage that are equally effective or can be applied to specific conditions or ailments.
The principle that is common among all of them is the "Sen" (Thai meridians). The Sen are channels through which the life force (Qi/Chi/prana) flows in the body. By working these channels, a skilled therapist can re-energize both the body and mind. Over time the Thais have developed various styles of working the Sen.
Here four types of oddball Thai massage that you might not be familiar with, but should definitely try:
1. Jap Sen
Jap Sen is similar to Traditional Thai massage, except that instead of using direct pressure on the Sen, the practitioner adopts a cross-fiber action, similar to that of strumming a guitar string.
This nerve touch style generates a mildly ticklish reaction. It always causes a first time receiver to burst out in a fit of nervous laughter. But eventually, the receiver gets used to the sensation and will then find it quite relaxing and therapeutic. The sense of physical and emotional release felt after a Jap Sen session is unlike any other form of massage I've experienced.
2. Tok Sen
It is said that the origin of this style of bodywork is originally credited to the farmers of Thailand. After a hard day's work in the paddy fields, their tired bodies often needed some serious therapy. Not having access to all the stretching and compression techniques of Traditional Thai massage, the farmers evolved a more simple technique. A wooden hammer and mallet is tapped along the Sen with a steady staccato rhythm creating a vibrational feel, helping to open the channels and free any myofascial adhesions or other chronic pain disorders.
Legend says that the best Tok Sen mallet and hammer comes from the wood of a tamarind tree struck by lighting. Once carved, a Buddhist monk blesses it, giving it special healing powers. And though Tok Sen massage can be experienced with select practitioners in the West, it is highly doubtful that any of them uses a hammer made from a special tamarind tree that was struck by lighting.
3. Yam Khang
This amazing fire and light show begins with the recipient lying on a mat and the practitioner standing beside them. The practitioner uses a stick to balance while working one of his/her legs on the recipient. For the massage he dips his foot in a bowl of Plai oil (a herb related to ginger), and then heats it by running his foot over a red-hot iron plate.
The heat on the plate is so high that the Plai oil on the foot explodes in a loud whoosh accompanied with a fireball! The practitioner then applies the heated oil with strong pressure on the client's meridian points. You can usually recognize a Yam Khang practitioner by the singed hair (if there is any left at all!) on one leg.
4. Kar Sai
This esoteric form of therapy works solely on the reproductive and excretory meridians of the body. Practitioners will work in and around the genitals and anal canal using special warmed oils. The work is very effective for those who suffer from various uro-genital and reproductive problems. It is also highly recommended for postnatal massage.
While Kar Sai works with the sexual and reproductive organs and can be quite intimate, be in mind that it is not a sensual massage. It is often very strong, intense and certainly not for the faint of heart.
Of course these are by no means the only variants in the larger body of Thai massage. This healing art form is an ever-evolving modality that has been for several centuries. With its acceptance in the West, practitioners have been blending it with other modalities like Osteopathy, Trigger Point Therapy and Kinesiology. The simplicity of Thai massage lends itself well to innovation, which means that even more quirkier styles of Thai massage might soon be developed.