(Name and certain personal details have been changed to protect privacy)
“I am here because a friend told me this would be good for me,”Harvey told me at our first meeting. “I don’t know what you do, but if it works to keep the stress down, fine.”
At 80 years of age, Harvey maintained a slim and trim physical appearance with a regular personal training regimen. Despite his physical health, personal challenges at home brought a wall of emotional stress, which colored everything in his life.
Massage Therapy is a well-known and well-documented remedy for inducing relaxation and reducing mental stress. In particular, traditional Thai massage with its slow meditative and rhythmic compressions, yoga-like stretches, and passive joint movements seemed to be an ideal tool for someone like Harvey.
Part of Harvey’s secret to youthful appearance was his discipline with himself. At 80, he still went to work every day, running his successful business. On a daily basis, he was committed to maintaining optimal health in his physical body. He watched what he ate, and remained open to new health trends and ideas, willing to incorporate them into his life.
Harvey was still wearing his business suit and relayed to me that he was here on his lunch break and that he only had exactly one hour. “No problem”, I assured him. This confirmed my decision to go ahead with Thai massage.
Traditionally, the Thai massage recipient remains fully clothed as long as the clothing provides for a full range of motion. In addition, no oils are used, so there is no need to take a shower afterward to wash the oils off the hair and the skin.
As his business trousers looked loose enough, I asked Harvey to remove his shoes and jacket only. As he looked a little puzzled, I told him that he will not even have a crease in his pants. And not only will he feel relaxed, but also energized and ready for the rest of the day.
After a brief conversation, our Thai massage session began with my careful examination of tightness and weakness throughout the whole body. I thoroughly worked through and tested all major muscle groups and joints for any irregularity. Harvey’s body was stiff with many holding patterns, or areas of chronic tension, especially around the hips, and the chest.
“Do you stretch?” I asked while working on his Hamstrings. “I’m sorry, what did you say?” Harvey responded. “Do you stretch regularly?” I repeated my question. “Are you asking if I am stressed?” Harvey couldn’t hear my softly-posed inquiry. But he answered the real question I had in mind. I smiled and proceeded in silence.
In yoga and in Thai massage, the hips are believed to hold a lot of emotions. For this reason, innumerable techniques have been developed over the centuries of Thai massage practice to release the hip muscles and joints.
It is a tradition in Thai Theravada Buddhism to cultivate compassion, loving kindness, and mindfulness through many spiritual practices of prayer and meditation. The art of Thai massage is no exception. Thai massage without compassion and mindfulness is like a car without a driver.
As wonderful as it is to have such noble values be part of Thai arts and culture, long hours of daily seated meditation and prayer stiffen the hip joints and the lower back muscles. Again, Thai massage is the commonly sought remedy.
Many Thais spend a lot of time sitting on the floor, eating, talking, and working, or just watching TV. It was only natural to create a style of therapy that would also be practiced on the floor. Usually, a soft thick mat and plenty of pillows are used for comfort, especially in the side-lying positions.
I decided to address all muscle groups around the hips for Harvey: the hip flexors, the side hips, the inner thighs, and all the rotators and the glutes in the back. Using various yoga-like stretches and such techniques as palm pressing, thumb springing, foot pedaling, and elbow pressing, Harvey’s hips began to release.
Next, I moved on to the chest and shoulders, another area of deeply held emotions. Breaking up scar tissue around the muscle attachments at the sternum caused quite a few involuntary flinches and protective impulses. I encouraged Harvey to breathe. When he felt an emotional release or a particularly sensitive area, I could see him tensing up but then his ribcage would fill up with breath. Any sharp sensation would immediately subside and the chronic tension would slowly begin to dissolve.
I could tell that it was here, around his heart, where Harvey was holding most of his emotional trauma. “It would take a few sessions to release it”, I thought to myself, making a mental note to encourage Harvey to continue with our therapy program.
Continuing to work the chest and shoulders in the side-lying position, we tested every possible angle, stretch, and range of motion to find Harvey’s holding patterns. Breathing consciously through the whole session, we found and released several trigger points, areas of concentrated tension and limited blood flow, that formed in the Pectoralis muscles in the chest and the Scalene muscles on the side of Harvey’s neck.
As he got up after the session, he shared with me that this “massage on the floor was pleasantly surprising” and that he could feel more ease, freedom of movement, and energy already.
Harvey decided to make a commitment to come in once a week. I didn’t have to explain to Harvey that consistent therapy, like regular exercise and regular healthy diet, are the keys to health. We wouldn’t want to eat only one healthy meal a week and expect to be healthy. Likewise, the benefits of massage therapy are cumulative.
A year later, with regular Thai Massage therapy and personal training routine, and at 81 years old, Harvey maintains his youthful posture with open chest and upright back. He has learned to calmly face any emotional challenges that may still be present with full breath and patience.