Are Thai Massage energy (sen) lines the same as the Chinese meridians, or are they different?
And if they are not the same – why not? How are they different?
This is not meant to be a precise comparison of locations and functions, but a ‘bird’s eye’ view of how energy lines work, how the various energy methods relate to each other, and why they work in our therapy – or not.
Let’s start out with an analogy to look at the ‘bigger picture’. There is an ancient story of five blind men who are trying to find out what an elephant looks like.
The bigger picture – an analogy
One blind man touches the legs, and proclaims that an elephant is like a big tree.
The second man touches the tail and finds that an elephant resembles a thick rope.
The third man touches the belly and thinks that an elephant looks like a big barrel.
The fourth man touches the trunk and decides that an elephant is like a huge snake.
The fifth man touches the ears and proclaims that an elephant looks like a gigantic leaf.
All five of them are correct – but they all only have one piece of the truth, and they can’t see the big picture – the elephant as a whole with all its parts.
The point of this analogy is that the human energy is such a vast subject that none of us can know every single aspect of it. As long as our perception is limited by our five senses, we cannot possibly understand the totality of energy (Ask any quantum physicist for confirmation).
That’s why there are many methods to approach this, based on the level of understanding and degrees of awareness of people in their environments.
In other words, nobody knows it all, but many therapists know one or several ways to improve, balance, or unblock energy, and they all differ a bit.
The many types of energy work
Energy work is not just one method. There are many ways to work with energy, and there are many ways to perceive it. Let’s look at some examples:
- Reiki influences energy flow without any active movement of the hands
- Acupuncture influences energy flow by inserting needles at certain points
- Some healers are able to see the human aura and they can see issues by looking at the form and color of the energy field
- Qigong moves, increases and strengthens energy through slow, deliberate movements in combination with the breath
- Thai Massage improves energy flow through physical pressing along the “sen” lines
- Foot reflexology influences energy flow via pressure points on the feet which are related to various organs and areas of the body
- Shiatsu influences energy by working on points in the abdomen which are related to various organs and areas of the body
- Chi Nei Tsang influences energy by working on the abdomen, but unlike Shiatsu, it works directly on physical organ locations, and not on distant related areas.
- In India’s Ayurvedic system, pulse reading at the wrist is a common and very effective method for reading the energy and condition of the body
- In China meridians are used in a variety of ways to improve energy flow
Clearly, there are many ways to work with energy, and many systems of energy work have developed in different parts of the world.
Who can perceive energy, and can this be learned?
Energy is something which we all perceive to some degree. We can all tell if we enter a room full of hateful angry people. And we can all feel a very different energy if we enter a room full of happy, joyous, peaceful people.
However, most people have never had any training in perceiving energy. Especially in western cultures energy has been regarded as something esoteric, unproven, and unscientific.
Energy in massage therapy is not a religious, or new-age, or exclusively spiritual concept. It is quite real, and all of us have it and use it every day.
We think, we love, we hate, we feel, we have hunches, we visualize, we grieve, etc. These are all non-material expressions of energy.
The question is this: Is the energy controlling you (as in nervousness, depression, anxiety, stress, worry, etc.), or do you know how to direct your energy and that of your clients for healing?
Most education is primarily focused on tangible, physical things which can be perceived through the five senses.
This is actually a curious phenomenon since quantum physics has clearly proven that energy is not only a very real component of the human body, but that the human body actually consists entirely of energy.
However quantum physics has not made it into mainstream education yet so far.
Energy awareness could be called a sixth sense, and for many people this is a very real part of life. Energy perception can be learned and is taught in many different systems, as outlined in the list above.
Where is this energy and how to access it
Depending on the cultural background, this energy is called by different names, as are the channels through which it flows. Let’s look at some examples:
- Thailand – “Lom” flows through “sen lines“
- China – “Chi” flows through “meridians“
- India – “Prana” flows through “nadis“
There are various areas where this energy accumulates and where it can be accessed. Those might be acupressure points, chakras, the hara, or sen lines.
All these energy systems are similar, but not identical. They are different approaches which have the same goal – to improve, stabilize and strengthen the life energy in the body which in turn improves the physical condition in the body.
When does it work, and when does it not work?
The vast majority of us cannot see, perceive, or understand the total picture of energy, in the same way as the five blind men in the story above cannot see the elephant as a whole.
Even within one system not everyone sees energy in the same way. For example, in Thailand not all schools agree on the exact location of the sen lines, or not even on the exact function of them. Why is that?
Location: Energy is not a physical thing which can be measured, scientifically defined, and plotted on anatomy charts in a way that everyone agrees on. This works to some degree, but not 100 percent.
Function: A common misunderstanding is that energy can be activated or moved by simply pressing on certain points of the body. This is not true. Energy work is not just a technical skill.
You can’t just press a certain point and expect to get a corresponding result in the body. It takes more than that, as you will see.
How to work with energy
Working with energy is not just a technique, but an intuitive, sensitive feeling for what you are doing. There are a number of ways to develop better perception and energy awareness:
- Training your hands to perceive changes in stiffness, texture, or temperature
- Comparing two sides of the body to determine where the problem is
- Listening with your hands instead of just doing something with them
- Trying to feel or intuit what the body is telling you
- Keeping an open line of energetic communication with your client
The various techniques for working with energy can ALL work. It’s not that one is better than the other. The effect of them is not just a matter of the specific technique which is used, but it is also a matter of the intuition, skill, and perceptive ability of the therapist. Good therapists naturally develop a sixth sense, even if they don’t call it by that name.
Thai Massage sen lines and meridians
Let’s get back to the original question: Are Thai Massage Sen lines and Chinese meridians identical?
No, they are not identical, but quite similar. Since we now understand the bigger picture, it is obvious that it’s not just a matter of pinning down the exact location of such lines.
For example, one of my most influential Thai Massage teachers taught us that sen lines can move, and part of the sen line work is to move them back to where they are supposed to be.
There are different approaches to sen line and meridian training.
- The meridian system is better known than the sen line system. There is more information and more detailed training available in the English language about meridians than about Thai Massage sen lines.
- Meridian training includes a lot of theory and supporting knowledge. It is an entire sophisticated system by itself.
- Sen line training is part of the overall system of Thai Massage which includes many aspects like energy line work, massage techniques, yoga-like stretches, and many physical manipulations.
Typically there is less theory taught and there is more focus on the practical application. Sen line work is generally not used as a stand-alone energy system like acupuncture, for example.
It’s more art than science
It is a tendency of western minds to want to be specific, to pin down exact locations and techniques, and to define everything scientifically.
However this approach does not work that well when it comes to energy.
It is possible to learn every available detail about location and techniques for either sen lines or meridians and not get any effect or result at all. It is not a mechanical science.
And it is possible that one highly intuitive therapist gets amazing results without having lots of specific formal training. I have experienced both of these scenarios many times.
The science of the energy lines doesn’t work without the art of it.
Can you use other types of energy work with Thai Massage?
Yes, you can. Many of Thai Healing Massage Academy’s students have a Reiki background and apply this in their Thai Massage sessions. I am personally using energy methods from Quantum Touch and Qigong.
This does not mean that you swap out the sen lines with Reiki, for example. These other methods do not replace the sen line component, but they can be used in addition to the traditional sen lines for other aspects of Thai Massage.
Any kind of energy awareness is a benefit, and there is no conflict between sen lines and other ways of working with energy.
The energy will work if you feel it in yourself
So what’s the conclusion? Whatever energy system you work with will not work if you only look at it from an analytical, scientific point of view. It will work if you learn to listen with your hands, to feel with your heart, and to connect with your energy and not just your hands.
The energy doesn’t move in a client because you are pressing a certain point. The energy has to start moving in YOU first before it moves anything in the client.
Reiki, sen lines, meridians, nadis…they are all a little different, but they aim for the same result. In the end, it comes down to the practitioner, and not just the method.
For detailed information and training how to perceive and work with energy in Thai Massage, Thai Healing Massage Academy offers online training options:
The author, Shama Kern, the founder and director of Thai Healing Massage Academy, has been practicing and teaching Thai Massage for 20 years. He is the creator of 20 Thai Massage online training courses.