I have a strange relationship with Traditional Thai massage (TTM). I am convinced I love it, then halfway through, as I’m grinding my teeth begging the hour to end, I swear I’ll never have another one. And a month or two later, I’ll go back for more.
It’s a bit like giving birth: your memory has ways of erasing the parts about the extreme pain, only allowing you to recall the fun times, like the morphine drip and the cute baby.
My hardcore colleague Supreme Spy loves TTM although she’s a firm-pressure, probably threads-her-own-eyebrows kind of girl. I, however, take painkillers and check the lunar cycle before I have my legs waxed, and still feel they should offer me an epidural.
Why do it then?
Immediately after a TTM, I invariably feel clear headed, energised and high as a kite. One Thai friend compared it to a chilli addiction (yes it’s a thing) – the sharp pain causes the body to release endorphins, giving you an opiate-like buzz. I like to think of it as the tequila slammer of spa treatments.
What is it good for?
TTM is described as ‘passive yoga’, whereby you like lay on a floor mattress like a sack of potatoes while the therapist presses and heaves your limbs into impossible, eye-watering positions.
It is supposed to be good for lowering stress levels, increasing energy, flexibility and, ironically, pain relief. Your therapist doesn’t mean to hurt you, honest: she truly believes she is unblocking your Sen channels and releasing the flow of healing energy.
Mine must be very blocked…
If it hurts, why don’t you stop it?
Good question. A mix of pride, British reserve, stubbornness, hope and idiocy. Or I am extremely good at enduring torture – I am, after all, a spy.
What’s the difference between TTM and sadomasochism?
Honestly? The jury’s out.
I had my first Thai massage in Thailand, and was thrown by the paradox of a very tiny and subservient therapist suddenly having the strength of The Rock and the sadism of The Red Queen. She pinched my ears, dug her elbows into my kidneys, played my hamstrings like Hendrix, twisted, jabbed and pulled every weak spot in my body, and laughed when I cried out in agony. She interspersed this with deliciously soothing long strokes that fooled me into thinking everything was going to be okay.
To add embarrassment to injury, it was performed in the middle of a village in the open air and I was wearing nothing but a sarong: believe me, some of those positions require trousers or at the very least, pants.
At the reputable and high-end Thai Square Spa in London, at least I was given some rather chic, lime-green Thai pyjamas to preserve my modesty. But even here, I felt that my petite therapist might have called in a giant thug to jump on me when I had my eyes closed.
Afterwards, I asked her if Thai people had these massages often.
“Oh, Thai people don’t have Thai massage,” she deadpanned. “Only tourists.”
I’m still not sure whether she was joking...
Top Ten Tips for Surviving TTM
If you have never had a Thai massage, and are an impetuous wuss like myself, here are my tips on how to emerge with your dignity intact:
1) Don’t do it if you cry easily.
2) Also, if you are not remotely bendy.
3) Or if you are premenstrual – they say the same about leg waxing. You are more sensitive at certain times of the month, more prone to tears, more liable to violent retaliation. Trust me, you don’t want to get into a fight with a Thai therapist…
4) Go to a reputable and preferably up-market Thai spa and make sure your therapist is qualified.
5) Don’t feel you must pick TTM for the sake of authenticity. Thai spas are known for their beautiful rituals and blissfully sensuous massages. Go for a Sen Harmony at SenSpa in the New Forest, or a So Sen Uplifting Jasmine Massage at Thai Square.
6) Dare to ask for gentle pressure and tell your therapist if it hurts.
7) Or if you are too proud, just tell yourself it’s supposed to hurt and that it’s good for you. What doesn’t kill you…
8) Limber up and relax your limbs in the thermal rooms beforehand.
9) Make sure to wear loose-fitting trousers.
10) Keep in mind that, at the very least, a Traditional Thai massage experience has anecdotal potential.