20 years on…and still in awe at the Power of Touch

Hundreds of clients, thousands of treatments….

You never quite know what to expect when a client walks through the door. They can be in such a wide variety of mental, emotional and physical states. I’ve seen all manner of clients – young and old, mobile and infirm, everything from muscle-bound athletes to heavily pregnant women. Those that are happy and enjoying life and those experiencing stress, grief and trauma.

It’s certainly been a rollercoaster of a journey; many laughs, tears and lots of wonderful hugs.

I specialise in Traditional Thai Massage. For those of you who haven’t experienced what this is – it’s a powerful, energy-based, meditative massage; fully-clothed, we use a futon on the floor with assisted yoga stretches and joint mobilisations. Acupressure points are pressed with the use of hands, elbows, knees and feet. You breathe, relax and surrender to gravity, as I take you through a rhythmical flow of manoeuvres that may feel as if we are dance partners. I take the lead and your body follows.

Many of my clients, view their Thai massage treatment as essential ‘me-time’ to renew themselves before the next working week. It certainly seems to bring ease to the body, relieves discomfort and de-stresses the mind fantastically well. However, what I’ve observed over the last two decades is that when sensitively applied, Thai massage can produce much more profound mental and emotional shifts.

What do I mean by this?

Thai massage is a treatment that seems to affect people to their core, allowing an uncovering of what’s really bothering them. For example, I’ve had female clients who reveal self-loathing of their bodies; men who’ve admitted to suicidal thoughts and young adults who keep their over-use of drugs a secret from their celebrity mothers.

It sometimes surprises me how many layers seem to fall away to expose the things that people don’t want to look at. How well, we hide our memories, thoughts and fears until they come bubbling up to the surface.

It’s been hard not to cry with my clients at these times, but instead I try to provide them with the safe space for emotions to be heard, feelings to be felt and their body’s tension to be released.

Why does it happen?

I believe that we used to be so much better at handling stress and expressing our emotions. We’ve become like those old-fashioned pressure-cookers without that essential valve to automatically whistle and vent our stress.

Modern life, juggling many plates, with ever decreasing resources has meant that our ability to regularly de-stress through the mechanism of the nervous system has been severely impaired. So the body (unable to flee or fight) stores the uncomfortable memories, thoughts and events in the tissues of the organs and muscles. This storage reduces the capacity of the body’s systems to function optimally, and when an overload invariably occurs, the resulting imbalance appears as symptoms, dysfunction and pain.

From the tight neck and shoulders carrying overwhelm, burden and responsibility to the nagging lower back discomfort that reminds us of being unsupported. Your digestive system may be on stop-start mode unable to completely process or stomach what may be going on, or those repeated cluster migraines, making it seemingly impossible for your thoughts to be switched off.

It is often said that the language of the mind is the words we speak and think. So it can be easy to keep those thoughts from others and deny them even to ourselves, but the language of the body (that we know as vibrations or sensations) simply cannot lie, and at some point, will surface as emotions to be felt and processed. Although uncomfortable, this release, is a good thing.

For whatever reason you come to massage, the space and time to listen to the communication of your body is vital to your wellbeing.

The body and how you get sick, can be an accurate reflection of what goes on in the mind. That tight, tense musculature, the restless mind, restricted movement and pain is an indication of the body alerting you to take some kind of corrective action.

So what’s key to this process of triggering a ‘release’ or allowing a ‘letting go’?

For a start, Thai massage can be a very thorough full body treatment, so it’s not easy to complete in just an hour. Typically, treatments are 90 minutes to 2 hours or more. I work from the tips of the toes and fingers right up to top of the head, covering the front, back and sides. You can be seated, lying down, twisted and even raised up into the air. My clients have told me that it feels as if they have been washed and tumble-dried!

Secondly, the way in which the slow pressure and movement occurs helps to facilitate the depth of touch. It’s rhythmical, alternate rocking motions move you through tension and its opposing relaxation phase – back and forth repeatedly. From an on-the-edge stretch to a deep softening, you can be taken to your limit and brought back to safety and comfort.

You can be reassured that I’ve become skilled at leaning into those uncomfortable spots, applying my weight and leveraging our bodies playfully, so that movements are made with ease. As the body’s protective defence mechanisms drop, the breath and energy can finally flow into the much needed corners and crevices of the body.

Thus, as the softness and expansion returns, your body and mind feel restored.

But, my aim is not to push and pull your body into a better shape, although many of my clients love this aspect. It is in fact, to guide you to the areas within yourself, that require your attention. So that you can choose when and if, to soften and release, what you are able and ready to. This is done by creating space within your joints, allowing for the free-flow of energy and bringing back movement where restriction and congestion previously existed.

My teacher, the amazing Andrea Baglioni, (whom I’ve learnt from since 2001) reminds me that true sustained healing will always be achieved when the client feels ready to address the imbalances in their own lifestyle (be it work, family, relationships, diet, sleep, etc) and we can play an important part in raising their vitality to be able to do so.

The body sends symptoms of chronic discomfort, as a way to alert you that you are off-balance and may need to take corrective action. There is nothing to ‘fix’ or eliminate, no magic red pill. The goal of a treatment is to just restore function and flow, so that any held tensions can be naturally released. Similarly, as some of you may know, the hardest asana (yoga pose) is the one that requires the most ‘letting go’.

So, some two decades in, practising therapeutic, nurturing massage, I still am, in awe of the power of touch. The learning and surprises from our amazing bodies, will I’m sure, continue to come.

Together, you and I, can gently listen and respond to the body as they reveal their hidden stories, messages and infinite wisdom.

Siva ( @renewme_siva ) has been working at the Triyoga studios since 2011 and is fascinated with touch, energy and movement. An Advanced Thai Massage, Abdominal, Pregnancy & Deep Tissue Massage Practitioner, as well as a Yoga, Thai Massage and Anatomy Teacher.  She is also currently studying integrated nutrition and homeopathy.  You can find Siva practisinwhat she loves to do at Triyoga Chelsea (Sun 9-2pm) and Triyoga Ealing (Sat 9-2pm). See her full schedule at triyoga here.

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