I have never considered looking at the hip level of a supine client to determine if the spine is twisted/rotated. It makes sense! Shama have you seen anyone with even hips, but rotated in the upper back?
I have worked with people who appear to have a slight scoliosis, found by finger-tracing along the spine. However, as the muscles release tension, the side-to-side curvature corrects. I have been a client who has exhibited this, too.
Shama, you mention using forearms and elbows instead of fingers/palms. I have shoulder weakness and find using forearms and elbows sometimes aggravates this. Do you have any tips? I watch whether I am “muscling” with my forearms/elbows or “leaning in” which is a great difference!
I have seen all kinds of combinations of back issues. Often there is not much of an advantage in figuring it out in great detail. Instead I implement a very comprehensive treatment plan which includes good muscle work and then the 7 ways to move the spine. There can be so many inter-related issues that you often have to go for the shotgun approach instead of trying to apply individual bandages. That’s why it’s called a holistic therapy, it encompasses the whole instead of it’s individual parts.
Kyphosis is the easiest condition to use stretches for. There are many degrees of Skoliosis, some respond well to massage, some are carved in stone, it seems. Lordosis can respond well to lower back and hip work. A good session which works the entire back is generally the most beneficial option.
If you do the leaning correctly, I would think that this should not put much stress on your shoulders. However you can replace many techniques which use your arms with your knees and feet.
I notice Shama often uses slightly bent elbows when using most moving techniques–ex. “double palm circling”. I saw this in the foot massage course as well. Using slightly bent elbows helps keep my shoulder down, away from my ears and reduces stress on my shoulders/neck. It also allow more movement for the client’s body. Sometimes I catch myself holding my body to rigid; when I am relaxed and comfortable, my client’s body responds in kind. Shama mentions restricting the energy flow and using techniques that allow it to flow.
I am not clear on the horse gallop rhythm with butterfly palm: are you maintaining pressure with the first palm while applying pressure with the 2nd palm, then lifting pressure; OR are you pressing with the first and as you lift the first palm pressing with the 2nd palm? The first way I described would cause some stretch or rocking side-to-side. Is that stretch/rocking ok? I could see using both ways. ?
Transitioning to the other side of the body hasn’t been a topic of other Thai massage classes I’ve taken–either in person or through video. I appreciate this new ability–which will take practice to do. Thai massage is supposed to feel like a wave through the body and I have felt disconnected when moving from one side of the client to the other side.
Being able to change the broadness or specificity of pressure from palms to thumbs, forearms or elbows (and knees) makes my massage more dynamic for the client. It allows me to respond to the tissue under my hands (or whatever body part I am using).
I was privileged to take a class from Lek Chaiya in California a couple of years ago and observe her response to the changing tissue beneath her hands. We laughed b/c our teacher was reading from the manual in English while Lek Chaiya demonstrated. We would stop the reading, “no, that’s not what she’s demonstrating right now.” Our teacher would laugh and say, “ok, now she’s doing…” That was a good lesson in responding to the client’s tissue in the moment.
As in Module 6, keeping the flow of the massage when moving from using thumbs to knees or heel of the foot is new for me. While a challenge, it makes me feel better about keeping the massage connected and in rhythm. Thank you for explaining in detail about positioning my body to my client in order to move more fluidly.
As a side not: I love the music during the demonstration at the end of this module. Thank you for putting together an example of flowing from one technique into the next. It usually comes organically to me while I work, but I get stuck sometimes about where to go next.
to Shama’s reply on Module 3 question
Thank you for your response! I often have to slow down my work and get into a meditative state so that my body posture is easy and takes the pressure off my thumbs and shoulders. If I focus through my hara, instead of through my physical body, the force passes through my shoulders and thumbs. I don’t feel any pressure or discomfort during or after a session if I do this. It takes some effort to remain in this relaxed, yet concentrated state. I will try this too, while leaning in with my forearms and elbows.
When I originally went to Thai Massage school, we were never taught anything about transitioning, flowing, or connecting energetically. It was a rather mechanical approach. Luckily I had a couple of good teachers early in my career who opened my awareness to those issues. Since then I have always paid a lot of attention to the flow and the connectedness in Thai Massage. I know it has made a big difference in my massage and many of my clients confirmed that.
Thai Massage is often taught and performed in a rather mechanical way. My Thai Healing Massage system is just the opposite – it is all about connecting and flowing and moving gracefully.
I’m practicing the rhythm and rocking motions on pillows to get the feel of them. It’s especially helpful with Palm Rocking the Far Side of the Back!
The forearm rolling technique is effective for the low back! It works like a rolling pin up and down the area as well as cross fiber by circling!
Shama, when using your elbows in the groove–how far do you roll your forearms toward the floor? I have pointy elbows and am not sure how to gauge during the technique–BEFORE my client gets upset! I think it may have something to do with how much I am sinking/leaning into it, too.
I like to use my knuckles (both hands) in the soft tissue of the posterior hip between the sacrum and hip joint (in lateral hip rotators). I use them to cross fiber by leaning and gently draggin them toward me and to gently lean in and rock or circle.
I also like to use knuckles between the scapula and spine in the rhomboid area: support the client’s shoulder (cup the shoulder or use an open hand under the upper pec area) with my outside hand. With my inside hand, gently push the knuckles toward the spine while tractioning the shoulder/pec toward me.
I also use the edge of my hand in this way, creating a kind of circling motion along with it. This helps open restricted pec muscles while relieving the overstretch I often find in the rhomboids. (The client’s arm rests alongside him/her and is allowed to move along with it–so I don’t sit too close as to restrict it.)
The elbow technique requires some getting used to. It is a matter of developing a feeling for it. I could try to explain technically how to do it, but it would be better to get a hold of a practice partner who will give a lot of feedback, and then experiment with different degrees of arm angle and pressure to see what feels right. You see, it also depends on the size of someone’s back, how prominent the groove is, much prominent the muscles are etc. There is no general rule that can be applied in this case. It will develop with practice. Just try to practice on a few practice partners before you do it on real clients. Specifically try to work on some practice partners who have different sizes and weights and muscle mass. This technique works great on some people, and not very well on others depending on their individual anatomy.
Shama, when sitting above a client’s head and working the trapezius, especially with the forearm, does it matter that the client’s head is turned to one side or the other? I can see a spontaneous spinal adjustment happening with this move. Do you have your clients turn their heads and repeat the technique on the same side?
Many therapists I know spend most of a full-body session on the back. I spend time on problem areas, focusing on what the client has told me while addressing the whole body–and the body as a whole. I don’t do exactly the same techinques on both sides of the body as my goal is to balance the body.
How much of a full-body session do you spend on the back, Shama? Is there a “rule” or practice in Thai massage regarding this?
Yes, I do work the trapezius technique from both sides. If the client does not use pillow support, I will turn the head the other way. If I use the face cradle simulated pillow setup, the client’s head does not need to be turned since it is face down anyway.
One of my “rules” is not to have any rules when I work, at least not when it comes to sequences, or length of time spent on any area. I only use my intuition for that and the client’s response.
The rules which I do use are to always work with excellent ergonomics, work with my entire body, work with body weight instead of muscle power, use my breath in a conscious way, think softness, and focus on moving energy instead of just body parts.
I have sometimes spent up to a full hour working on someone’s back, if the client likes it, needs it, appreciates it and can handle it. But I never go into any session with a fixed plan or a rule. I always work in a flow state where I adjust according to what I feel.
I appreciate Shama’s explanation for the client-therapist body size ratio in determining whether a stretch is appropriate for that person. One of the things I love about Thai massage is the “organic” nature of it–flowing from one technique to another but not having a “cookie cutter” sequence to follow each time. The variable depths at which I can work, depending on how the client is that session, is also wonderful. I feel good after giving a Thai massage, much as I do after receiving one!
Shama, do you see a difference for the client in doing the Cobra between having the client’s legs together as you do it, or having the client’s legs apart and kneeling between them? Do you think there could be some stress on the client’s lower back/spine with his/her legs apart? I have been taught to sit between the clients legs.
So much of marketing Thai massage uses beautiful images of extreme stretches that not all clients can receive and not all practitioners can do. I try to avoid this as it intimidates many people and always explain that I will use techniques necessary and comfortable to clients, but not for show.
Well, here in Thailand I have never seen anyone sitting between the legs when they do the Cobra. In my opinion squatting over the client gives you better leverage since you are up higher and closer to the head so that you can reach under the shoulders for version one and two. I don’t see how you could do that if you sit in between the legs. I just don’t see the advantage of sitting between the legs, plus it does not necessarily feel comfortable for the client to have to spread the legs far enough apart to make room for the therapist.
I agree about the sensational Thai Massage pictures with the super yogini models. Of course the same is done in the yoga industry. Just that in real life massage sessions the flashy stuff often does not work because most regular clients are far from being super yogi types. But those types of pictures just sell better, get more youtube views, and more comments than what we do in our regular sessions.
Yes, I’ve often thought having the client’s legs apart for cobra seemed less comfortable.
Aaaah! The piece I’ve been missing in backbends! For both the knee into back (sitting) and pull back into the feet, the key for me is leaning the client slightly forward first! This makes the stretch feel more stable and less of a strain on the client by having him/her already stretched to start. It also relieves pressure on the client’s shoulder/arms. Thank you, Shama! The way you teach it these backbends are more gentle and enjoyable for both client and practitioner!
You show a little later the even a less flexible client can enjoy a small backbend and gentle chest opener by making the motion smaller–see the combo between forward bending and backbending with the client’s legs outstretched. NICE!
The other, more difficult stretches look more doable to me now, too. I just need to find a flexible enough person with whom I can practice!
Sometimes the little things make a big difference, as you just found out! I just got a massage a couple of days ago, and the therapist did those back bends in the sitting position without leaning me forward first, and it felt really awkward. I always felt like I was collapsing backwards and I ended up tightening my stomach muscles just to be able to keep my balance. If the therapist would have just leaned me forward first a bit, it would have been a totally different experience.
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