The traditional model of Thai Yoga Massage works on the notion of energy flow, which until now has made it a deeply intuitive and feeling based art form built up over thousands of years. This had caused problems for some westerners used to working on the physical, on symptoms and with sound empirical evidence, but learning to feel and not think too much was good for them. It’s about that letting go thing again and learning how to feel and flow with natural forces; learning to tap into the deep unconscious and instinctive aspect of nature and ourselves. It was this intuitive ability that could feel and work with the subtle energy body and map it.
The physical body is only a part of who we are, but its also the tangible basis upon which we can work and influence the deeper and more subtle aspects of our being. Modern body workers are now moving into the direction of body psychotherapy more and more because of incresaed stress and through the increased understanding that our states of mind affect the body, and that chronic conditions in the body if not based on physical injury are very often based on some kind of emotional trauma. In Yoga they take this undersanding even further with their model of the Chakra system saying that when basic human instincts or needs are not met it actually creates stress in very specific parts of the body. In the body the problem actually originates from the navel in the fascia or sen line, which is the link betwen the physical body and emotional mind and it is the Sen line (or fascia originating from the navel) which tightens and pulls on the muscular skeletal system to create postural problems and chronic pain conditions and limited mobility. So it seems the abdomen is the core in more ways than one.
Until very recently nothing was really known about Sen lines, but there has now been some important research which shows that the 10 Sen lines manipulated in Thai Yoga Massage are in essence the same as Nadis and Meridians, in being subtle energy pathways and part of a huge inter-connected network running throughout the entire body. On surface appearance Sen lines actually seem to follow the same pattern as the Chinese meridians, but this is only in a general direction, because a particular meridian will often move between different sen lines. A comparison can be made especially on the limbs but they are slightly different overall. Sen lines follow muscular contours, the myo-fascial pathways between muscles and between muscles and bones and whilst the Chinese merdian system also follow these, they often diverege into more subtle routes and even into the internal cyclic flow of energy between our vital organs.
Research carried out at the University of Vermont and college of medicine used high frequency ultrasound scanning acoustic microscopy to study acupuncture channels and the effects of needling, and found that most meridians are also located between muscles and between muscles and a tendon or bone. So it could be that meridians, nadis and sen lines are part of the same subtle connective tissue network of fascia and that the merdians which follow the cyclic flow of energy between organs are in fact part of the deep fascia, subserous facia and membrane linings.
The great thing about Thai yoga masage then is its simplicity in working the myofascial Sen lines because we can actually get our hands on them and we know through the sensation of touch whether we are on them or not, whereas the meridians of TCM are more subtle and variable and require expert training to know if you are on them or not. The simplicity of Thai Yoga massage in no way makes it inferior.
Although the 10 Sen lines are a complete system and very effective model to follow, there are some contradictions on the precise location of these lines between some schools. Most professionals though and myself seem to agree that Sen Lines are energy lines of connective tissue, known as the myo-fascial pathways between muscles throughout the entire body. This network of fascia is so vitally important because it provides stability and structure to the body, enables movement of muscles, metabolism to take place, protects the vital organs and nervous system, allows for communication between cells and boosts our immunity to fight infection to name a few functions.
One common point of view now is that Thai massage can be explained in the same way that Structural Integration therapy or Rolfing can, because each of them apply a deep and sustained pressure into the body’s fascial binding in order to release deeper tensions and blockages fixed into the fascia elsewhere in the body. It can do this because fascia forms an intricate web which is co-extensive throughout the body and so releasing these trapped tensions in one area of the body can correct postural imbalances, chronic conditions and unexplained pain symptoms elsewhere in the body. These blockages are often quite subtle and may be due to injury or emotional trauma, so when therapist and client both focus into the same area being worked, then its far more than the physical body being manipulated, and even childhood issues and holding patterns can be unearthed from the depths of sub-conscious being and let go of.
Fascia is so important. The myo-fascia extends from the deep fascia in the body, which is central to the flexibility and function of vital organs, and it covers, supports and separates skeletal muscle. Myo-fascia helps attach muscles to other muscles, and runs between and separates them, thereby improving movement and function. It also provides a protective sheath for blood vessels, nerves and lymph to flow through. Fascia also acts as a very important circulatory and communication system and recent evidence now suggests that within the collagen cells of myofascia is cerebrospinal fluid which then creates a complex communication system, stemming from the ventricles of the middle brain and reaching out to the heart of every living cell.
The effects then of manipulating fascia during thai massage are endless and perhaps timeless as we tap into a karmic web of the bodies history and capacity. It is obvious that the early Buddhist monks and teachers of Thai Yoga Massage understood this and therefore laid great emphasis on becoming and giving Metta in Thai Massage, which is Indian Sanskrit for loving Kindness. So meditation is practiced at all the main teaching schools in Thailand before the beginning of each class to bring one into the right frame of mind and focussed intention. We influence the people we touch with our state of mind and so its important to achieve that feeling of benevolence and loving kindness within ourselves because this quality and healing vibration is transmitted to every cell in the body through the huge and conscious inter-connected web we call the fascia
Despite common agreements, there still exist conflicting ideas around whether Sen Lines can actually be used as a diagnostic tool, as in TCM. But we might say ‘can the body or meridians really be used as a diagnostic tool anyway? Meridians can be used to diagnose a problem in the body and with a particular function, but this does not reveal an underlying cause. The body just reveals symptoms of underlying causes and all treatments using their particular model try to work on the energetic basis of them. We can work on the symptom, but we can’t always get to the causes which are more often than not based in the mind, past experiences, present stressful conditions and specific attitudes that are preventing the free flow of vital energy in the mind body network.
The healer and writer Carolyn Myss, has produced some important work explaining the symptoms, healing processes and relationships of mind body connections. She offers a very interesting diagnostic system using Yoga philosophy of the Chakra system. Carolyn uses the true Yogic philosophy in that we are all seen as Spiritual beings having a human experience and that the physical body reflects inner stages of growth and that illness can be cured and self realisation attained through our journey into the chakras and the seven stages of healing. Treating the body two dimensionally and mechanically is not very effective at all (for more please read my essays on Chakras under the yoga tab)
Although Thai Yoga works on the physical body, its whole approach is about balancing the energetic system upon which it believes the bodies function is based. Many people have struggled with the idea of finding the right model and the right way, thinking that if one is right then the others must be wrong. However although Oriental models differ, they can and do exist in a perfect relationship with one another. Using the metaphor of a map, we can imagine that we have 4 different people wanting to reach Bangkok city centre, who are travelling in by road from the North, South, East & Westerly directions. They all have to use different roads (vital energy pathways) from each other and yet they all manage to reach the same city centre! According to Yoga, TCM and Thai Yoga Massage, there are 72,000 roads, subtle energy pathways running throughout the entire human energy being network. Yoga focuses on 3, Thai Massage on 10 (inc sushumna, ida & pingala) Chinese medicine on 14. All of them are effective in facilitating a healing process, curing illness and maintaining optimum health.