This form of massage was developed more than 2,500 years ago in India by Jivaka Kumar Bhaecha, physician to the Buddha. It arrived in Thailand in the 3rd century BC. The masseur works with hands, feet and elbows.
GINA MERCATI has the perfect pedigree for performing Thai massage – it was her mother Maria who introduced the technique to Britain in 1994. Maria discovered it while raising her family in Southeast Asia. left with a stiff hip from a childhood illness, she was trying out traditional local therapies to see if they would help when she stumbled on the practice that was to become her lifelong vocation. Trained in both Swedish massage and shiatsu, Maria was drawn to the holistic approach of the Thai method, which is more about stretching than simple back rubbing.
Gina, 27, is as dedicated to Thai massage as her mother. ‘I’ve become so aware of how important it is to be well stretched out and flexible: she says. ‘And there are so many emotional, as well as physical benefits to be had out of even a single session’
Gina practises a combination of the vigorous style from the north of Thailand with the more static southern approach. The result is exhilarating – you’re not only rubbed, pressed and stretched, but shaken, swung by the ankles, hauled up by the wrists and even stretched out across the therapist’s back.
Such a vigorous method requires trust, so credentials are all. Gina’s mother runs the only accredited training course in Britain and keeps a register of practitioners, which includes Gina who works from her home in London.
The massage involves no oil or nudity, just a pair of loose cotton trousers and a T-shirt for ease of movement. You remove jewellery, socks and shoes – and Gina also works barefoot. Her stretching and twisting efforts, aimed at coaxing the spine back into alignment and balancing the energy of the internal organs, are intense but never painful. Gina says clients experience dramatically increased suppleness in just a few sessions.
Since many movements involve holding hands with the therapist, it isn’t surprising that there’s a strong emotional quotient to the massage, leaving you feeling loosened and liberated in mind, as well as body.
WHO BENEFITS? People who want to improve flexibility; anyone who suffers from stress and exhaustion.