When a client walks into the treatment room looking anxious, their face tense and pale, their eyes edgy I know almost immediately the type of treatment they need. However, I sit and find out more details from them asking about their mental state, sleep and digestive patterns, energy levels, their general sense of themselves and their well-being.
I ask these questions so I can take their whole being into account when I decide on a treatment plan for that session.
We often talk a while and they share deep and private thoughts and vulnerabilities, it is a safe space for them to notice themselves and reflect. I’m really keen for my clients to ‘notice themselves’ and my enquiry into their experiences and history reflect this, everything they tell me is relevant and paints a picture of their lives.
I am a multi-disciplined health practitioner working primarily with Thai bodywork and Bowen, herbs and nutrition. I have been a practitioner for over 25 years. Personally I had experiences during my teenage years of physical violence and trauma and these experiences led me to searching for ways to heal and mend my body, mind and spirit.
So when I see someone suffering, anxious and on edge and very under par I know I have an ancient Thai bodywork protocol that will soothe and nourish them, help switch their nervous system to a parasympathetic response of resting and repairing. This will automatically change their chemistry, balance their digestive system and hormones and generally restore them to a feeling of connection and ease in themselves again.
The therapy I choose in this instance is the Spinal Nerve Treatment. When someone’s energy and vitality is low or when someone is anxious, not sleeping well this is a deeply effective and long-lasting therapy. The massage works directly on the back with a special medicinal liniment. It treats their core, affects the central nervous system, whilst also working indirectly on their vital organs.
It may come as a surprise to hear that Traditional Thai Massage does include the use of herbal oils and is not always performed on a clothed recipient and stretching is certainly not always included in any one session. Moving someone around a lot who is anxious is agitating not calming, so this is an example of when not to use stretching.
In fact, as a traditional Thai massage practitioner, my hands-on practice is hugely varied. I use fire cups, scarves, herbs, neuromuscular release points, visceral massage and also spoons to scrape the skin. This is not me mixing western, Ayurveda or Chinese theories in with my practice but folklore northern Thai/ Lanna medicine.
Once a year I make a big batch of nerve oil. This is an old recipe that has been handed down to me and is one that a village doctor might use. To make it is a painstakingly long process, but one that I love. There is something very rewarding knowing that I am making my own, safe and natural products to use with my clients. These old recipes have stood the test of time and I am constantly amazed by their effectiveness. I can use this oil in many ways but it is generally grounding and nurturing, especially if Wind element is out of balance (in Thai medicine there are 5 elements and Wind is one of them).
For this recipe herbs need to be crushed one by one in a pestle and mortar then oil added and turned and left for 15 days in a warm room or out in the sun. The quantity of herbs used is surprisingly big compared to the small amount that is left after straining. But the smell is wonderful in a quiet and non-invasive way.
The treatment involves repeating many techniques over and over, the direction of strokes such as ironing, pressing, gliding, knuckle walking are very important. As with all Thai treatments that honour ancient teaching every single technique is performed for a reason and with purpose. The direction and the specific nerve oil recipe is fundamental to the efficacy of the work.
Having used the nerve oil/spinal nerve treatment countless times in my clinic with a vast and diverse number of clients I have observed that the response is always the same – calmer, more energy, feeling like oneself again, rested and able to sleep in the coming weeks, regulated bowel movements, relaxed muscles and a general feeling of re-connection with oneself.
Natasha de Grunwald is the founder and lead educator with London Institute of Thai Yoga Massage. She currently teaches courses from beginners to advanced in London, Europe and beyond. She sees clients in Brighton, where she lives and London.