Massage is the most instinctive and perhaps the oldest form of therapy known to man. The basic health benefit of massage lies in the fact that it reduces stress that is the underlying cause of many ailments. In sports, massage can enhance athletic performance by easing muscular tension, reducing pain, encouraging focus and shortening recovery time.
A massage session given by Jeilo Narvadez, aka Teacher Sarah, is a strange affair. While other masseurs knead their clients body like a mass of gummy dough, Sarah sets himself on one limb, using only her bodyweight to apply pressure. This low-impact massage called yoga therapy is what Sarah is quietly introducing to a small yet growing clientele in Metro Manila.
Except that yoga therapy is not exactly yoga. It is based on two disciplines: northern style traditional Thai massage and tok sen, type of Thai massage that uses a stick and wooden mallet to tap on the body lightly and repeatedly.
Tok sen is native to Chiang Mai and said to be used by farmers as a means to relieve muscle aches after working long hours in the rice fields. Tapping on the skin sends vibrations deep into the tissues and muscles, making them softer and more pliant.
After “warming up” the muscle with tok sen, Sarah applies pressure on the target spot by putting all his weight on it. Like in yoga, he breathes deeply while maintaining a static position. Deep breathing is essential in yoga therapy to control the amount of pressure applied on the body. Sarah holds one position until the targeted limb loses its tightness.
“It’s really more on compression techniques,” Sarah said, “and based on feel.” Finding the body’s problematic areas is done by feeling the muscle for tightness and moving the limb to determine its range of motion. Stiffness is a red flag. Once felt, Sarah performs the therapy until the muscle regains its natural texture and mobility.
According to him, the northern style Thai massage shares the same principles of yoga, particularly, stability and breathing. “You have to move with your breath,” he said.
The gentle nature of yoga therapy makes it suitable for the elderly, the sick, and even children. It is also beneficial to the masseur. One yoga therapy session lasts for two hours. “You won’t feel tired,” Sarah said. “It’s easy to execute and effortless.” The massage is so relaxing that the only side effect to the client, Sarah claimed, is putting them to sleep.
He first saw this method of massage performed by a Singaporean ashtanga yoga practitioner, who taught her a few techniques. Trying her newfound knowledge on his clients, Sarah realized that what was giving them difficulty in vinyasa was not the lack of flexibility, but the presence of muscle tightness.
Sarah flew to Chiang Mai, Thailand to train with local master Pichest Boonthumme, 58, who has been practicing the northern style of Thai massage since he was 13 years old. His training with Boonthumme and his son lasted for three weeks.
Today, Sarah passes on his knowledge of the northern style of Thai massage and tok sen to Filipinos through a series of workshops. The workshops are not meant to rear new teachers, Sarah said, but imparts the basic techniques to perform yoga therapy on oneself or others whenever needed.