Author Archives: Cristina Alciati

About Cristina Alciati

Traditional Thai Yoga Massage Practitioner. Bespoke fitness and fat loss programs for busy women executives.

Stress at work? It happens. Whether your home office is located on the 30th floor of a tall building downtown, or located on the first floor of your home, looking out onto the backyard, you’re going to encounter stress. There are deadlines and clients and projects and trying to do too much with too little. Even just the time you spend sitting can lead to cramped up muscles on your neck and shoulders.

But do you have to sit and suffer, no matter what, just because it’s at work? The answer, fortunately, is a resounding no.

Depending on the type of work that you do getting up often to stretch your legs around the office may not be an option. Depending on where you work having a professional massage at work may also not be an option. Depending on how long you spend at work visiting a clinic to receive a Thai Yoga Massage treatment may also not be an option.

Some simple exercises, done while you’re sitting and maybe without anyone knowing what you’re doing. In the process you can do more than just calm your nervous system. You can help make yourself more alert, and even improve blood circulation. It doesn’t have to take long and you can do it at any time during the day whenever you need a break from the doldrums of office work.

So what are those exercises and how should you do them? This graphic helps to explain it but, if you live in Essex (UK), as soon as you are ready book yourself in for a proper treatment here.  😉

Give your martial arts moves the edge with Thai Yoga Massage

The first time I ever came across Thai Yoga Massage was during my first trip to Hong Kong to study Wing Chun at Grand Master Ip Chun’s school. I didn’t know what it was but one of my travel companions recommended it highly and I was sold on the idea of being stretched as that was an area of my personal fitness journey that had a lot of room for improvement. It still is, actually.

Cristina Alciati in Foshan, PRC with Grand Master Ip ChunFor those of you not familiar with Wing Chun, it’s a style of Kung Fu that involves quick and sharp movements to hit and overcome an opponent. It’s famous for teaching students the art of the 1 inch punch and fighting inside a phone box, i.e. up close and personal with your opponent.

When you learn Wing Chun in the West most people are of European built: fairly tall, strong, muscular and with good sized bones. However, being a martial art that originates from China it evolved to suit people with a smaller frame, not particularly muscular and typically minute.

It’s the combination of this body type plus the ability to stay relaxed under pressure that gives them the edge when practicing the art. Especially when they train with Westerners.

My travel companions and I learned this lesson the hard way when we arrived in Hong Kong: we watched several accomplished martial artists from the UK and USA being slapped around by their tiny Chinese training companions. These were the kind of guys that would intimidate anyone just with their physique. We were all actually trying very hard to improve our techniques and become more proficient but the secret wasn’t to get stronger, it was staying more relaxed and therefore becoming quicker and more unpredictable.

The importance of staying relaxed under pressure

Fast forward a few years and I started studying Brazilian Jujitsu and Escrima at my local Dojo. Again, especially with BJJ, being able to stay relaxed under pressure as well as being agile and flexible were the key to success. It was the same with Escrima: you start your training with long range weapons (rattan sticks) and again being able to flow instead of forcing the movements gives you an advantage.

When you are relaxed you can throw punches quicker and you can move faster around your opponent. You can call on your strength at the moment of impact to make your strike felt or to pin down your opponent. It won’t matter so much what the other person tries to do to you because you will be able to counter their martial arts moves with ease.

BJJ has some spectacular martial arts moves

A big part of the martial arts classes that I attended at Shen-Ti were the stretching sessions at the end of training. These were great to help us increase our natural range of movement to help us move better around our opponent as well as prevent injuries. They were also great for relaxation after all the exciting stuff during each class.

The thing is if you focus your training on building mass and getting stronger you are also creating muscular tension, i.e. what women call a “toned body”. This is brilliant for any physical activity and/or fat loss programs BUT, if you want your martial arts moves to really improve, you need to put just as much effort into relaxing and stretching as you do building your body.

Think about people who spend a lot of time sitting at their desks and how they develop hunched shoulders and short chest and abdominal muscles… that’s also what happens when you do too many sit-ups or chest flyes without stretching adequately afterwards.

The secret to unleashing your best martial arts moves

That’s where Thai Yoga Massage becomes your secret training aid that will give you the edge over your fellow students and competitors.

Unless you are naturally flexible in the beginning most stretches will be uncomfortable to get into and hold for any period of time. If you are really struggling with your flexibility doing the stretches on your own won’t help you much because they will feel like torture and you will wiggle and compensate and twist to get comfortable defeating the object of the exercise.

Man struggling to stretch

I know this because when I got back to exercising at full speed after a 3 years convalescence I was stiff like a plank and even the stretches I always found easy were really painful. It takes time, skill and patience to get a lot out of stretching and actually see improvements.

Or you could cheat and get somebody to stretch you.

Thai Yoga Massage isn’t that dissimilar from PNF stretching however it doesn’t involve any active participation from the client in the form of contracting the muscles to resist the stretch. Quite the opposite, in fact. The secret to successfully stretching past your comfort zone in Thai Yoga Massage is to relax and let the stretch happen as opposed to try and force it.

I worked with many martial artists in the past 6 years or so and they all reported being able to fight better because they were more relaxed and had more reach whether they were sparring or rolling. They had regular treatments and they reaped massive ROI for their investment.

But wait… what about this?!  👇👇👇👇

Capoeira martial arts moves

Although I only studied Capoeira for a short period of time I can promise you it’s very difficult to pull off these martial arts moves unless you spend insane amounts of time preparing your body for it.

Again it’s all about being smart with the tools available to you. If they are not good enough come and find me. I know I am.  😉

Jokes aside… when you invest in the right training, and you could say that Thai Yoga Massage treatments would be an ideal addition to any serious training program, the limits of what you can expect to achieve suddenly get that much broader. When you are more flexible you can deploy your strength better. You can balance better. You can kick people in the head. You can windmill yourself out of a sticky situation. You can swing at your opponent better. You can get out of chokes and bear hugs easily.

Get the picture?

If you are ready to take your martial arts moves to the next level (and the next, and the next) don’t hang around and book your first treatment today.

As a lifelong student of martial arts I would be honoured to show you just how much better you can become. Your fellow students might call you a pain in the arse but, trust me, it’s worth it.

A treatment to help you clear your head

When people ask me about the Thai Yoga Massage treatments that I offer they are curious as to what they are as, surprisingly, not many individuals are familiar with them. Whereas most people focus on the physical aspects of the treatments they are often surprised when I mention the spiritual benefits. It’s something that I can only discuss with a few discerning clients!

A complete break from the daily grind to clear your head

When you are super busy all the time juggling many roles in your life it can be difficult to stay focused on the most important tasks in the midst of all the distractions. I see this a lot with clients who are visibly flustered and I can just tell they have that little hamster spinning the wheel in their heads…

Being able to clear your head and filter out the unimportant stuff is of the utmost importance if you want to remain relaxed and enjoy your work, hobbies, family and interests. I am sure you have noticed how it’s so much harder to be successful at anything when your head is in the clouds.

Have a break from your daily grind

Sometimes being able to meditate even for just 10 minutes first thing in the morning is enough to help you get focused and plan your day ahead. However if you are also experiencing physical tension in addition to feeling that your thoughts are scattered you may need help from an external source.

My personal experience (it might help you clear your head)

A few years ago I was going through a bit of a rough time in my personal life that was made worse by all the physical tension that I accumulated after years of constantly pushing myself to the limit, small accidents and dealing with conflict on a daily basis at work.

I was no longer able to think or stand up straight and I was in the grips of a permanent feeling of dread and fear. I just couldn’t shake things up and create a way out. That’s when I sought help from a very talented Holistic Therapist that was recommended to me by a client. Among the various treatments she also offered a mini version of a typical Thai Yoga Massage. It focused on stretches as a way of eliminating all manners of tension.

The “physical intervention” soon started to bear fruit: because I was able to relax more physically I was also able to think more clearly and with a more positive mindset. This compounded the effect of the treatments: thinking freely and reconnecting my creative side undoubtedly helped the body remain more relaxed and better able to recharge its batteries with rest.

How you can experience more clarity and clear your head too

I always insist that clients turn their phones on silence during the treatment. I do this too. The reason for this is that it gives them the chance to disconnect from their digital life and being always available. Let’s face it, we are all addicted to our digital lives to varying degrees. On my side going unplugged gives me the chance to work intuitively to make sure I focus on what my client needs.

I find that for most people the 1 or 2 hours of the treatment is the only time when they can completely let go and experience deep relaxation. In fact it’s unusual for clients not to fall asleep at least once during the treatment. Admittedly the location of the clinic, away from the busyness of most towns, helps with this too.

A moment of peaceThe thing is being able to go through the stretches is a lesson in “letting go” of fear and learning to trust. Whenever your limbs are encouraged to move beyond their regular range of motion the body’s own defense mechanism kicks in and causes the muscles to tense up to stop the stretch from going too far. Although this is great for preventing injury it also prevents you from experiencing the sense of freedom that taking your joints through the full range of motion that they are designed to withstand will bring.

Clients usually describe this feeling as one of lightness and happiness. Their bodies are no longer contracted to the point of causing constant pain, their posture is great and their thoughts are flowing freely once again. Having the opportunity to remain in silence for the duration of the treatment allows for introspection although I often find that people enjoy opening up and chatting with me to get an outside perspective on something that’s on their mind.

Although I cannot promise that you will suddenly rediscover your inner Picasso I am confident that you too will benefit greatly from some quiet “me time” with plenty of space for your mind to wander wherever it wants to go.

Ready to clear your head?

BOOK YOUR FIRST TREATMENT NOW

Thai Yoga Massage Essex at the Nature’s Medicine Clinic in Purleigh

When I first started with Thai Massage Essex I was offering treatments at my home in Witham, Essex. It was great for a while as I live in a very quiet area on the outskirts of town with very little noise during the day and a lot of light coming through the giant windows.

I would normally set up the mats in my front room and on the warmer Summer days I have been able to treat clients on the lawn, under the hawthorns and apple tree. My cats sometimes would come to say hello to clients and they always knew which ones were the “cat people” and which ones weren’t.

Eventually though I felt the need to find an additional venue in more formal settings where I could treat people who perhaps were not so keen on visiting somebody’s home where there were pets.

By pure chance I saw a message on Facebook posted by one of the lovely ladies at the Nature’s Medicine Clinic in Purleigh, Essex. It’s a new branch of a well established group of Clinics operating at various locations in London, Sussex and Essex and it so happens that my teacher also offers Thai Yoga Massage treatments at one of their venues.

A new home for Thai Yoga Massage Essex

I love love love this place. Set on the outskirts of a working farm in a secluded location, the clinic is surrounded by beautiful landscaped gardens with a heated pool on one end and plenty of well established trees alongside the hedge ensuring privacy from the main road.

The treatment rooms are hosted within an old cottage that has been exquisitely decorated to give clients a warm welcome in an understated chic environment.
Thai Massage Essex is also here

On 30th May 2015 I gave a couple of demos at the Clinic’s open day to spread the word about Thai Yoga Massage Essex and what I do.

I joke about it on the home page but unfortunately there is a huge problem here in Essex with men mistakenly associating the ancient healing art of Thai Yoga Massage with the infamous red light district art typically practiced in seedy areas in major (and minor) cities around the world.

There is also another myth that portrays Thai Yoga Massage as “excruciatingly painful”. This is simply not true as typically treatments are conducted with the utmost respect for the client and his or her boundaries and pain is never an option. However, I have experienced the rough end of massage during one of my travels myself so I am well aware of what goes on out there, I just don’t want Thai Yoga Massage Essex to be associated with it.

One of the "treatment rooms" at Thai Massage Essex

Summer house by the pool… in the rain.

At the Clinic in Purleigh I can offer treatments in different “locations”: in one of the treatment rooms within the main building, in the Summer house by the pool or on the lawn under the trees on the other side of the pool. The choice is very much with the client depending on whether he/she prefers more privacy or is happy to enjoy the warm Summer days.

In Thailand massage is carried out pretty much everywhere: on the beach, on the pavement, in clinics, within shopping malls, etc. both client and practitioner are fully clothed so as long as there is enough space for one person to lie down and the other to work around them, there is enough space. All you really need is a bit of floor space and something for the client to lie on comfortably so they don’t get bruised on the hard surface.

This is my typical set up in the treatment room upstairs at the Nature’s Medicine Clinic. 👇

 

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I received some amazing feedback for my demos on the day and a few people have already booked their first treatments at the clinic. I am very grateful for my “models” who patiently laid on the floor why I was illustrating some of the basic techniques used in Thai Yoga Massage and often had only one side of their bodies treated. I know how weird that feels! 🙂

Ready to experience Thai Yoga Massage?

You can book your treatment HERE.

Spotlight: the bridge (kidney stretch)

Of all the stretches and massage techniques used during a typical Thai Massage session the bridge, also known as the kidney stretch, seems to be the one that worries people the most.kidney stretch

Perhaps it’s because this is an unusual position to find yourself in, perhaps it’s because it requires you to trust completely in your therapist and let go of any kind of control.

Why is kidney stretch so beneficial?

First of all in order to be taken into the kidney stretch you have to make sure that the plants of your feet are firmly resting on your therapist’s knees. This is for balance and support but it’s also to use your own weight against the therapist’s kneecaps to stimulate the acupressure points on the soles of your feet that are connected with the kidneys.

Acupressure is a big part of Thai Yoga Massage as it works to release energy blockages along the Sen Lines. These are thought to be energy channels similar to the Meridians found in Traditional Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture. The points relating to the kidneys are situated on the soles of the feet, more or less around the same spot where the kidney meridians have their origin. Although the kidneys are stimulated via other points on the body during a treatment, the points under the feet are worked on multiple times.

The other benefit from this technique is that, as the hips are being lifted off the floor, the spine, the abdominal and quadriceps muscles get a gentle stretch and, if your therapist is taller than you, you will be able to enjoy the feeling of almost being suspended upside down which in turn will allow the vertebrae to naturally stretch a bit further.

Because the arms are resting on the floor this technique will help your chest to open and to let go of stress and anxiety and create the space for happier thoughts.

To get the most out of this technique it’s imperative that you, as a client, remain as passive as possible throughout. “Helping” your therapist with this technique will backfire on you as you won’t reap the full benefits of the stretch and will put your therapist at risk of injury if you either resist or push yourself up.

The bridge, although a technique with plenty of scope to be executed in isolation, is usually part of a sequence of exercises aimed at mobilizing the spine by gently flexing it backwards and forwards. This will make your core stronger and better able to cope with every day life activities and even, hopefully, help you prevent injuries in the event of a banana skin moment resulting in a fall.

If you think you will benefit from the kidney stretch book a treatment HERE.

Thai Yoga Massage, Reiki, Acupuncture: differences & similarities

Thai Yoga Massage Statues at Wat Pho, Bangkok

Thai Yoga Massage Statues at Wat Pho, Bangkok

Thai Yoga Massage is probably best known to the masses as the relaxing treatment with a lot of stretches that makes you feel good and makes you sleep better.

Not many ordinary folks seem to be aware that Thai Yoga Massage is considered a healing art and as such is deeply rooted in ancient Indian, Buddhist, Thai and Chinese medical traditions. Because of this patients are not just looked at as physical beings, but also from an energy point of view.

This article will discuss some of the differences and similarities between 3 styles of treatments: Thai Yoga Massage, Acupuncture and Reiki. The last two are also energy treatments originating from the Far East. I will also briefly discuss how they can complement each other to provide patients with a more thorough healing experience and practitioners with a deeper understanding of the work they are carrying out.

Brief history of Thai Yoga Massage, Reiki and Acupuncture

Both Thai Yoga Massage and Acupuncture share a long history spanning over 2500 years and are both intrinsically linked to the traditional medical culture of their respective countries of origin. Nowadays, perhaps in recognition of their increased popularity, they are the subjects of evidence based research to prove or discredit the efficacy of the treatments.

The first official record of Chinese Medicine can be traced back to some time between the first century BC and the first century AD. Whereas the first written mention of Thai massage dates back to XVII century medical scriptures written on palm leaves (Asokananda, 2002, p. 5) of which a large part was destroyed during the Burmese invasion in 1767. What’s left of the original scriptures offers vague and incomplete anatomical assessments but they are nevertheless the only remaining historical source.

In contrast to both Thai massage and Acupuncture, Reiki is a relatively new healing art – its origins dating back to the mid-XIX century (Lambert, M., 2000, p. 8). Unlike TYM and Acupuncture the history of Reiki isn’t deeply steeped in traditional Japanese medicine but is more similar to a religion: its foundations being based on a story about the experiences of Dr. Usui (as told by him) that practitioners are asked to have faith in. Instead of being borne out of years and centuries of studies of human ailments and afflictions Reiki was based on “revelations” that Dr. Usui had after fasting for 21 days during a meditation retreat on a sacred mountain.

The common denominator between all three styles of treatment is the concept of life energy permeating every inch of the human body and the idea that illnesses and diseases happen when somehow an imbalance or blockage to the free flow of this energy occurs. The ultimate aim of each treatment is to restore the body’s equilibrium (www.acupuncture.org.uk) resulting in the patient’s healing. How each style of treatment approaches this task differs significantly.

Similarities between Thai Yoga Massage, Acupuncture and Reiki

1. Ming Era Acupuncture Chart

1. Ming Era Acupuncture Chart

According to both TYM and Acupuncture the life energy flows through specific channels running under the skin along the whole of the body. These channels are conceptually similar to the network of veins and arteries but in neither tradition they are considered to have an anatomical basis.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, of which Acupuncture is a part of, the energy lines are called Meridians. There are said to be 12 major and 2 minor meridians in the human body. Of these 12 are linked to specific organs and all have a role in the elimination of disharmony. The pathways of each meridian and their branches with all the associated pressure points have been extensively documented in medical text books throughout the centuries and are often at the basis of other styles of holistic therapies like Kinesiology or Acupressure.

The theoretical basis of Thai Yoga Massage is very similar to that of Acupuncture but only takes into account 10 Sen lines (out of the 72,000 that allegedly run through the body).

When comparing the pathways of the Sen lines with the Chinese meridians there are many similarities raising the question of whether the two traditions are the result of different evolutionary strands of a common healing system. One of the main differences between the Sen lines and the meridians is that the formers are not being linked to specific organs but are linked to conditions and ailments of the human body.

As far as Reiki is concerned it’s considered to be a “safe, non-intrusive healing energy which channels itself to wherever it is needed in your body or the person you are treating” (Lambert, M., 2000, p. 6). There is no such thing as energy channels according to Reiki, instead practitioners work with the intention of balancing the chakras considered to be “spiritual energy centres located in seven major points on the etheric body (aura)” (Lambert, M., 2000, p. 24).

Also, whereas TYM and Acupuncture are based on the idea that the life energy flows within the human body, in Reiki the “energy originates from the ‘universal source’ rather than directly from the healer” (Lambert, M., 2000, p. 6).

Differences between Thai Yoga Massage, Reiki and Acupuncture

The point at which each treatment differs from the others is in the techniques used to bring about healing: in Thai Yoga Massage the practitioner uses his/her body weight (through hands, feet, knees, elbows) in a non-intrusive manner to apply leaning pressure to the energy lines and therapeutic pressure points. He or she also guides the patient through a sequence of yoga poses to apply passive stretches to the energy lines as opposed to the muscles. Also the treatment is based “upon the principles of loving kindness and compassion” (De Grunwald, N., p. 3) and carried out in a meditative mood reminiscent of Buddhist practices. Although during a general 2 hours treatment the practitioner follows a set sequence of massages and stretches, they are encouraged to rely on their intuition to feel for the energy lines.

In contrast, Acupuncture is an invasive treatment (can be quite painful) that involves thin sterile needles being inserted in specific positions, that can be pinpointed with accurate measurements, along the meridians connected with the patient’s ailments. Unlike with Thai massage which is completely hands on, there is very little touch involved and after all the needles have been applied the patient is usually left on his/her own for a few minutes to allow the treatment to have effect. Each treatment is typically conducted in a clinical manner with the Acupuncturist acting more like a Doctor than a healer.

Woman doing Reiki

© Amaviael | Dreamstime.com

Finally with Reiki, practitioners channel the universal energy into their patients by positioning their hands on or near different parts of their bodies (12 different hand positions). The more advanced the practitioner the less likely they are to actually touch their patients as this is not a strict requirement for a successful treatment.

The hand positions in Reiki are very similar to some of the hand positions in Thai massage: over the eyes, under the base of the skull, over the pectorals, on the abdomen, along the back. The two treatments also share the intuitive component which the practitioner is encouraged to tune into for guidance as to which areas of the body need to receive the energy. Interestingly, Reiki has the unique ability of allowing the practitioner to treat him/herself unlike the other two treatments which are very limited in this respect.

Although each style of energy treatment offers many possibilities for healing in its own right, these have the opportunity to significantly expand when different aspects from all treatments are combined together to give patients a truly (w)holistic approach.

Thai Yoga massage, as taught in the West, could do with enriching its theoretical foundations through the extensive documentation of meridians and acupressure points available in Acupuncture. This would help cut down on the hopelessly vague explanations often offered by TYM teachers of different schools that tarnish the credibility of Thai massage as a healing art.

In addition Thai Yoga Massage patients could benefit immensely from receiving Reiki energy and from their therapist being able to tune into their clients’ bodies on more subtle levels than just through physical touch.

Bruce Lee once said that no single style of martial arts has the answer to all the situations a fighter might encounter throughout his/her life. This idea couldn’t be more true for holistic treatments as well.


References:

  • British Acupuncture Council Website:

http://www.acupuncture.org.uk/public-content/public-traditional-acupuncture/what-is-traditional-acupuncture.html

http://www.acupuncture.org.uk/public-content/public-traditional-acupuncture/history-of-acupuncture.html

  • Asokananda, H.B., 2002, The Art of Traditional Thai Massage, Nai Suk’s Editions Co. Ltd
  • De Grunwald, N., Thai Yoga Massage Practitioner Diploma Training Manual, Self Published
  • Lambert, M., 2000, An Introduction to Reiki, Collins & Brown Ltd
  • Dale, C.,2009, The Subtle Body, Sounds True Inc.

Images:

  1. “Acupuncture chart 300px” by Unknown – Imagery From the History of Medicine (original in Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris).. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons