In a previous article, the importance of connecting to one’s breath, belly and the earth as places to issue power and effective pressure in Thai massage were explored. In this follow-up article, we will further explore connectivity in our own bodies as practitioners, as well as connectivity to our clients’ bodies as the final keys for powerful healing.
Every movement in Thai massage is connected to and through one’s center, as well as to the earth. It is apparent when there is disconnection in the practitioner’s body, movement or even intent (see previous article relating to inner stances). In disconnection, practitioners often revert to muscular force; their body, energy and power lack presence, and their movements are effortful and tiring.
The point of transfer of power and energy from the lower body to the upper body is the waist. The waist is located at the level of the navel along the transverse plane, and is the region of the body that includes the muscles, ligaments and connective tissue of the low back, as well as the abdomen and oblique muscles. In certain postures and movements, the waist is held “static,” yet is still active and engaged, allowing energy to move from the earth through the navel center, and then through the torso to the arms and hands.
In other movements and postures, power is further generated through a rotation of the lumbar spine (sometimes a subtle rotation, and other times a more overt rotation). In this instance, simply engaging the obliques to turn the upper body will not generate power. Rather, this causes a rotation of the thoracic spine, disconnected from the energy reserves of the abdomen (see previous article) and earth, and is experienced as a kind of slipping or gliding movement (like the upper body slipping over the lower body) rather than something that is more connected and experienced as gears turning one into the other. Another image is that of a whip; when the lumbar spine is engaged, a relatively small movement (akin to a flick of the wrist), the wave or rotation draws from deep in the earth and amplifies up along the spine to increase in power as it travels to the extremities.
In order for this power to translate to the client, there then must also be adherence or “sticking.” At all times, we make contact with the client and have our presence known, physically and energetically. In Thai massage, it is best to make contact that is firm, yet not forceful. In other words, the practitioner’s intent and touch are made clear and carry presence, yet are not intrusive. This allows the client to relax into the confidence and security of the practitioner’s touch. Because the practitioner remains in her centre and remains in “listening” mode, she is able to respond quickly to needed changes in pressure or movement.
One movement where practitioners often lose adherence, for example, is in the ankle rotation where the client’s foot rests against the practitioner’s belly. During the falling-back portion of the circling movement, rather than controlling the contact of the sole of the foot with the belly by using one’s hand, many practitioners let the foot come away from the belly. This causes an incomplete rotation of the ankle and a loss of presence between practitioner and client.
Adherence is also important in the seated sequence between the practitioner’s torso and the client’s back. The pressure should not be so much as to push the client’s body forward, but more to meet the client with presence and gentle support. Note: If you find yourself having to fully support the client’s weight, it will be both tiring for you and detrimental to the integrity of the client’s spine, which is collapsed or slumped in this position. Gently request the client to sit up a bit taller. If the client simply is not in a place of self-support, then complete what you need to in order to leave him balanced, and then bring him into a lying position.
It is tempting for practitioners to curve their back to meet the client’s body—or to do so simply out of lack of body awareness or habit, laziness or fatigue. However, it is critical to find ways of adjusting one’s posture to accommodate this particular “rule.” While a slight bowing may be useful in some stances, in the long run, curving the back in bent-over or leaning positions or during lifting will create strain on the intervertebral discs, pushing them against supporting ligaments along the spine. This can lead to pain, and possibly even slippage of the discs.
However, the arms are encouraged to bow in order to issue pressure that has a sense of responsiveness and “softness” in the midst of firm pressure. Muscular force results from straight lines and a bound musculature. If the arm is held straight and rigid, it has already reached its full extension and has nowhere left to go if further power is required—and is less responsive in retreating when needed. Furthermore, the client receives falling-in pressure through a rigid structure that imparts shock rather than having the capacity to absorb and channel it. However, it is equally as important not to “break” the bow and over-bend at the elbow or other joints. Connectivity in the sen line will be lost, excess force will be exhibited on other joints (potentially causing pain and damage), and internal power will also be lost.
In terms of bowing the legs, it is important to remember in both half and full lunges (kneeling and standing) that the knee of the forward-bent leg should never exceed the toes. This ensures the safety of the knee joint itself, and also adds to the stability of the posture. The back leg remains somewhat bent so as to offer more (or less) power through shifting of weight, as needed.
When all of these factors are held as a unit, the practitioner arrives fully in the massage—not just into the best physical position for issuing the movement, but also in heart, mind and spirit as well. This means practitioners have:
- Proper positioning, in alignment, fully coordinated and connected, neither over-extending nor under-expressing; rather, fully responsive and in harmony with the client’s body and needs.
- Focused, directed attention that leads to a direct awareness of that which is occurring in the present, free from any projections, expectations or assumptions of the mind.
- Awareness that is focussed and delivered through intent to develop internal power. The intent of the practitioner’s heart must be held, focused and delivered in order for the resonant energy field to carry it to the client. Otherwise, the massage is simply a robotic set of movements devoid of any true heart, devoid of healing connection between client and practitioner.
Nikki Manzie is the director of Eastern therapies and bodywork, as well as Yogatherapy, at Pacific Rim College in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. She is also co-director of Three Winds Academy. She deeply values relatedness and healing connections between self, other and nature; this is apparent in her training of therapists, practitioners and other trainers. For more information about her work, visit www.ThreeWinds.com and www.pacificrimcollege.ca.