NOTE: Grant will be away training in Thailand until December 20.
01 October, 2021

Make Your Thai Massage Last With Qigong

01 October, 2021

The benefits of Qigong are similar to the benefits of Thai massage, so practicing Qigong is the perfect way to extend the benefits of Thai massage.

One of my goals as a Thai massage therapist is to help clients regain mobility. Culturally, we are more sedentary. What’s worse, as we age our joints tend to tighten, making range of motion and flexibility even more restricted.

The combination of stretches and acupressure in a traditional Thai Massage helps loosen tight muscles and improves the range of motion in all your joints. So regular Thai massage can keep joints more fluid and make them less prone to injury, but this can be costly. If a client is already active, they might only need a Thai massage every month or so. But if a client is not active, or if they are in a workplace where repetitive action or inactivity is augmenting their problems, they might need to have a Thai massage once or twice a week to make any headway. That would be great financially for me as a therapist, but cost prohibitive for my client.

To make a Thai massage last and not break the bank, clients need to add activity to their schedule. And this activity needs to include intentional stretching or mobility exercises. And this is the problem. Clients who are not active have a hard time beginning any sort of mobility program because their movement is so restricted. Static stretches are almost impossible, and so these client quickly become frustrated.

Clients who are active are not much better as they readily confess that the spend little to no time working on mobility. There is a reason why you don’t see selfies of people stretching in the gym. Active clients who work regular hours usually slot their training into specific blocks of time; either in the morning before work, during lunch or after work. But since they only have an hour or so to train, they typically fill that time with strength and cardio. Usually they have the opinion that stretching is boring and a waste of time.

There are two problems with standard stretching and mobility exercises. First, they are boring relative to standard exercise. Twenty to thirty minutes of hard aerobic exercise will release endorphins that result in an energy boost for two or three hours. Twenty of thirty minutes of stretching or low impact mobility will not give you the same high. So the temptation is to forego the slow activity for the rigorous activity.

Second, it is hard to know what to stretch and which types of stretch exercises you should choose. It is simple to search Google for a stretching program, just as it is to search for a fitness program, but without guidance, it is hard to know what your body needs most.

My recommendation for all clients, both active and inactive, is to take up Qigong (chee·gung). Qigong is an ancient Chinese exercise and healing technique that coordinates body posture and movement, breathing and meditation. People practice Qigong throughout China and worldwide for recreation, exercise, relaxation, preventive medicine, self-healing, alternative medicine, meditation, self-cultivation and training for martial arts.

I personally recommend Qigong to my clients for three reasons. First, Qigong teaches us how to move and breath together. Too often we ignore our breath. During a Thai massage, I often have to remind my clients to not hold their breath during stretches. And during workouts, I have to remind clients to not hold their breath when they are trying to power through an exercise.

Breathing is essential to activity. We need to be breathing actively during both stretches and activity, and Qigong teaches us how to do this. Qigong synchronizes each movement with breath. It encourages slow, deep breathing and it trains you to breathe through your nose. Every action is intentional and is matched with either a breath in or a breath out. And so by practicing Qigong, you re-learn how to breathe. Proper breathing balances your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, and allows your body to function better, stronger and faster.

Second, Qigong improves range of motion with non-linear movement. Many of the common stretches and exercises that we do are linear. We move forwards and backwards, or from one side to another. This is great for joints like the knees or elbows, but our hips, shoulders, wrists, ankles and neck move in more than two directions. By only doing linear types of movement and stretching, we begin to lose the full mobility of these more complex joints. So I have clients who are able to touch their toes, but can barely twist their torso or move in any circular pattern.

Qigong is both fluid and non-linear. During a form, a practitioner moves in circular patterns that require joints and muscles to fully utilize and improve their range of motion. This helps keep our joints more fluid and makes them less injury prone. And this helps the muscles stay more loose and increases your energy levels.

Third, Qigong has a definitive form. Most Qigong forms last about ten to fifteen minutes, and so they are much easier to add to a busy workload for active people, and less daunting for inactive people. And the form does not change. You get better at doing the form, but the form is set. Qigong forms have evolved over hundreds of years, and so even though the form is short, it works very specifically on your body. The Dragon and Tiger Qigong consists of seven movements that trace the acupressure meridians of your body, giving your body a full energetic massage and cleansing. The Yi Jing Jing purposely targets tendons and sinews to promote strength and flexibility, which, in turn, improves balance and coordination.

And finally, Qigong is beautiful to watch and rewarding to practice. At the risk of offending gym rats, most exercises and stretches are boring. They can be repetitive and unimaginative. Qigong movement mimics animals and objects, so it activates the imagination. The movement Tiger Springing on Its Prey makes you feel powerful, whereas Wind Swinging Lotus Leaves requires you to imagine yourself being so delicate that you are being moved by wind.

By imitating the world around us, Qigong connects you to where you are. You can do regular exercise in the park or on a beach, but the actions do not connect you to the space. They don’t require you, or inspire you to take note of your surrounding. The movements of Qigong connect you to your surrounding and encourage you to interact with the world around you.

The benefits of Qigong are similar to the benefits of Thai massage. Qigong relieves muscle tension and soreness, increases flexibility and range of motion, reduces stress, and improves breathing and posture. So practicing Qigong is the perfect way to extend the benefits of Thai massage. It can be done by anyone at any fitness level, and it only requires a small amount of effort and consistency of practice to achieve positive results.

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