My Thai Massage: A Lesson In Pain
It started with pain. With each cracking sound of my back I grew more concerned and within 5 minutes of the hour long torture session which, for some reason, I was paying for, I questioned exactly what I had said that brought me to this point and to the discomfort I wasn’t positive was going to end.
I’m sure I pointed to, and asked for, the neck, back and shoulder massage with coconut oil NOT the traditional Thai massage which was advertised with terrifying photos of women being held in ridiculously uncomfortable looking positions. But maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t clear.
Crack, crack-crack-crack. I hear the masseuse giggle at the constant noises coming from what I assume is the joints of my ribs and spine. “It’s a good pain, yes?” she asks after noticing the grimace on my sideways-turned face. I attempt a smile and close my eyes praying this is just the prelude to a relaxing back rub. It wasn’t.
I thought back to the naive me of 10 minutes prior, walking through the curtains separating the front area from the four massage tables clustered to one side. That ‘me of the past’ was excited to be getting a back massage after months of riding on the back of a scooter, curling up in airplane seats and stiffening up during long bus rides.
Added to the body punishing travel, each place we stayed had a different version of what a comfortable bed should feel like, with very few matching my own. So it was only natural that I would be eager to get some of the knots worked out and for $13 per hour I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity.
As the masseuse climbed on the table and hovered above me I was brought back to the present. The smell of the menthol oil, the thin sheets above and below me, the silence from my friend receiving a massage on the table beside me. Wait! Surely she should be experiencing a similarly painful massage? But there were no noises that would indicate any torturous activity was occurring and certainly no giggles from her masseuse in response.
Positioned over top, leaning all her weight onto her hands as they pressed down on my back, the masseuse pushed harder forcing my rib cage walls together, leaving my breath to escape in a whoosh-like sound.
A few more cracks of my back with the whole of her weight pressing down and she steps down from the table and starts a more gentle exploration of the numerous knots around my upper back. It was in that moment that I found some hope that the massage was turning tide and would morph into the relaxing event I had in mind when I stepped into this den of pain.
Unfortunately, that was just before I felt her elbow dig its way underneath my shoulder blade.
Started From the Bottom… Cracking the Joints
Photo credit/model: Sophie Oliver
Needless to say, the remainder of the back massage was as painful as it started and when she asked me to flip over I no longer held on to any false hope of gentleness to come. This time every crack was intentional as she endeavoured to workout each joint in my body from my little toe to my neck, the latter being the most horrifying and unexpected part of the entire procedure.
The quick snap of my head to one side had me letting out a yelp of surprise and fear. Laughing at me again, the masseuse told me to relax and not to tense – as if having one’s head rapidly snapped to one side is a commonplace occurrence not warranting the extreme fear that was now coursing through my body. Slowly twisting my head to the other side, she patted my shoulder and I tried to relax for what was to come, knowing that it could not be good to be braced tight. With one final motion she had cracked the other side of my neck leaving me wondering if paralysis was instant or if I could expect it to kick in at any moment.
I didn’t have too long to contemplate as what followed was a series of stretches even more uncomfortable and awkward than the aforementioned photos of the advertised Thai massage had portrayed. Legs, back, arms – no joint was left un-cracked, no muscle un-stretched, and all the while my tormentor was obviously enjoying the gasps of surprise and grunts of pain as she went.
An hour after it began, cracked, twisted and stretched, I was informed that the massage was over and I was allowed to dress in relative privacy as I attempted to regain my composure and keep my mind off of the unpleasant sensations now distributed, fairly equally, throughout my body.
As I left the curtained-off area, I was offered a seat, given some hot tea and told that since I had so many knots in my back, and she had to work them out so much, that I would most certainly feel pain the next day and concluded that I would benefit from one more session before I left the island. Luckily I was leaving the next day so that wasn’t even an option.
Leaving the spa with my friend, who looked far more relaxed and comfortable than I did, I debated whether it was the massage itself that was painful or my obviously knotted and apparently decrepit body that was the real source of the pain. Never in my life had a massage given me so much discomfort or so much fear and I reminded myself that I had paid for it. Sure, only $13, but perhaps that was the going rate for a session of torture?
As this was my first massage in Thailand, I’m certain it isn’t representative as the vast majority of people with whom I spoke, claim only good things. Perhaps the massage was beneficial, perhaps the pain served purpose but for the next few days I definitely felt the pain she spoke of and unfortunately was left to try and ease the discomfort on a 3 hour ferry ride, followed by a 2 hour bus ride, a 5 hour wait at a train station, the 11 hour train ride to Malaysia and the hour or so it took by ferry and foot to get to our hotel where I could finally lie down straight.
If there is a next time, I’ll make sure it’s not before a long day of travel and should I smell menthol oil wafting my way, I’ll probably decide to make a mad dash out the door.