Heat, Pressure and Healing Herbs – A Review of the Herbal Ball Massage

This review is an add on to my Thai Massage Review therefore I haven’t gone into depths about the Thai Massage itself, please click here to see this review.

I had the Herbal Ball Massage at The Wat Po Thai Traditional Medical and Massage School, which was opened in 1955 and was the first to be approved by the Thai Ministry of Education – in my opinion it really sets the standard for Thai Massages. The Training School follows the strict high standards and the consistency of the massage but as they masseuses are students the prices are half those of within Wat Po, it’s also in the very accessible area of Sukhumvit Soi 39.

I usually go here for a two hour massage, however this time I decided to try a Herbal Ball massage which consists of 75 minutes Thai Massage and 45 minutes Herbal Ball Massage. Thai Massage itself can be quite intense and involves stretching and back cracking, if you’ve never had one before I would recommend trying a one hour session to start off with.

My review is set into three parts – description of the session, how I felt directly before and after the treatment, my overall review.

The Session – Herbal Ball Massage

Usually for a Thai Massage at Wat Po, they ask that the client change into a cotton t-shirt and loose cotton trousers (a bit like pyjamas), however for the Herbal Ball massage I was asked to change into a loose sleeveless top and shorts. The massage room also had a steamer which had the Herbal Balls in and it was occasionally letting off steam which smelt of green tea, lemongrass and something menthol, possible Eucalyptus. When I was changed the Therapist came back into the room and asked me to lie down on my back while she covered my body with a light weight towel.

The Massuse then proceeded to give me a 75 minute Thai Massage, then when I was lying face down she began massaging me with the Herbal Ball. She asked me to remove my loose fitting top while she covered me up with the towel and then began to pad my back with a hot ball of wrapped up herbs. The smell of the steam coming off the ball was very strong, firstly with notes of green tea but instead of the bitterness that usually follows this, I could smell menthol herbs or possibly something similar to Tiger Balm, either way the dynamic smells were very pleasing to me.

She dabbed my upper back and then proceeded to move down my spine and then up again. She then moved over to my arms, pressing firmly on areas such as underneath my armpits and my triceps. At first the ball was very hot so she dabbed very lightly, however as the ball began to lose it’s heat she pressed down harder and for longer periods of time to give my muscles the benefit of the warmth. After my upper body had been worked on, she covered me back up with the towel and asked me to remove my shorts, again covering me with the towel for my modesty. At this point the ball was cooling down, so she swapped it with the other one in the steamer, she proceeded to do this throughout the massage as one ball cooled down to a certain temperature.

The Therapist worked on one leg at a time, leaving the rest of my body covered up with the towel. She applied more firm pressure on the meatier parts of my legs, especially my thighs and also took care to be light on the more delicate areas such as behind my knees. As she dabbed the ball she moved in a rolling motion so as not to shock me by applying the pressure of the whole ball all at once, instead she move it as though she were using an ink stamp. Her movement was also very consistent and predictable which aided to my relaxation. When she reached the soles of my feet she pressed the ball down for a long period of time and the warmth and pressure of the ball felt very soothing.

Then she asked me to turn over while she held the towel up to cover me, once turned she pulled back the towel whilst placing a small light fabric across my breasts to cover them. Then she proceeded to press the ball on the front of my chest, starting at the shoulders, then the armpits and then my breasts, taking care not to be intrusive or actually press the ball on my actual breasts – instead she worked on my pecks where the tendons can be quite tight. She then moved over to my arms, pressing firmly again on the armpit area and as she worked her way down my arms she pressed firmly and for a longer period of time on the palms of my hands. After this she moved to my stomach but again worked lightly. This was a very calming sensation and it made me think that it actually be a very nice delicate kind of massage if I was experiencing period pains. She then moved on to the fronts of my legs, right down to my feet again and then asked me to sit up in a crossed legs position.

Once up, she gave me both of the Herbal Balls to hold on to and motioned to me to dab my own legs while she turned off the steamer and removed it from the room. Once she came back she took the hottest Herbal Ball and worked it on my shoulders very firmly and still in the same rolling motion. She worked again on my upper back, shoulder, triceps and up and down my spine before she tapped the ball lightly on my back and then said that she had finished.

Pre-session sense check (5th March 2016, 6pm –  1 hour before treatment)

Physically – My muscles were tired today (even though I had a two hour massage yesterday). I think that it’s stress from spending two weeks in an emotionally testing state a week earlier, because this week has been spent in a negative mindset with tears. My left side is tight as usual and I generally feel quite lethargic, even though I’ve done nothing tiring all day.

Emotionally – I’ve been feeling a little bit lost and a little bit negative this week and it’s been a challenge to snap out of it – so I’ve spent the week trying to immerse myself in things that make me feel positive. This has left me feeling emotionally exhausted. There’s still a sense of emptiness and general deflated-ness which sometimes finds me in the days since my Dad died.

Post-session sense check (5th March 2016, 10pm – 1 hour after treatment)

Physically – I feel very relaxed and the warmth sensation of the Herbal Ball remains on my skin in memory and it feels really nourishing. It’s a very comforting feeling that I’m trying to hold on to even though the massage has finished, the same way you try to hold on to a hug from a loved one. My muscles feel less tense than they did before the massage and my body generally feels more loose and flexible.

Emotionally – My head seems to be a whole lot clearer now that I’ve had the massage, this could be because I had two hours to lie down and relax or it could be because of the herbs or the massage. Generally my mindset is a lot more positive now and I feel mellow, even rejuvenated – I’m definitely looking at the World through a different lens this evening. I feel calm and collected in myself too, which is refreshing as it’s a rare feeling to have in the days of post trauma.

Overall Review

I found this massage to be very dynamic because it couples together a very interactive stretching and pulling massage which can actually be a little bit hair raising (for those who aren’t used to Thai Massage) with a deeply warming and relaxing massage. Personally I really enjoyed it because even though some parts of the Thai Massage were necessarily uncomfortable as my muscles were stretched I could smell the steam of the Herbal Ball and this presence helped me relax into the intensities of the stretches further.

There is also something deeply therapeutic about the Herbal Ball. At first I wondered if it could just be because of the heat of the ball which in itself is a very nice feeling – the sensation of specific heated attention being given to a secluded place on my body. However after remembering back to a hot stone massage I don’t think it was just the heat, I think it was also the herbs. There’s a lot of research into essential oils and the effect that they have on the body by being absorbed into the blood stream through respiration and the skin and I believe that the infusion of the herbs would have had the same kind of effect. After looking around Bangkok for the Herbal Balls I did actually find a stall that had a variety of different herb concoctions to aid different ailments. After studying Aromatherapy and Reflexology it makes perfect sense to me that herbs can not only be absorbed through this manner but also have beneficial results on the body and mind.

I want to create a world of greater wellbeing for ourselves and the planet that we live on. That’s why I’m starting an honest conversation about wellbeing; encompassing self care, emotional intelligence, body and mind awareness, personal development, and authenticity. If you want to learn more about these subjects then then head over to www.shereensoliman.com to find out more about the packages I offer.

Sending self care vibes,

Shereen x

Find Out Why So Many People Rave About Thai Massages

I’ve had a lot of Thai massages in Thailand and the ones at Wat Po  are, by far, the best. The Wat Po Thai Traditional Medical and Massage School was opened in 1955 and were the first to be approved by the Thai Ministry of Education and in my opinion, it really sets the standard for Thai Massages. The Training School follows the strict high standards and the consistency of the massage but as they masseuses are students the prices are half those of within Wat Po, it’s also in the very accessible area of Sukhumvit Soi 39. To aid me with this review, however, I’ve called in a Thai Masseuse friend of mine to give me some of the theory behind the massage – Thank you Siska Vergauwe.

I usually go for a two-hour Thai massage, however, it can be quite intense and involves stretching and back cracking, so if you’ve never had one before I would recommend trying a one-hour session to start off with.

My review is set into three parts – description of the session, how I felt directly before and after the treatment, my overall review.

Wat Po Training School

The Session – Thai Massage

To begin the Thai Massage the Therapist asked me to remove my shoes and she washed my feet, downstairs in the foot washing basin. I was then asked to slip on some comfy fabric slippers and we proceeded upstairs in the lift to the massage cubicle rooms (rooms that are divided into private spaces with a mattress on the floor), where I was asked to change into the clothes laid out on the mattress – a cotton t-shirt and loose fitting trousers (like pyjamas). When I was changed the Therapist came back into the room and asked me to lie down on my back while she covered my body with a lightweight towel.

The start of the massage began with the Therapist crossing one foot on top of the other and pressing down and then by doing the opposite on the other foot, she then bent both my feet in a forward curl, then pushed back against the bottom of them, flexing them back. She then proceeded to press firmly up and down both legs with her palms. When she got to the top of my legs she pressed down on the inside of my hips firmly for a few second, stopping the blood flow into my legs. When she released them I could feel the warm rush of blood into my thighs and then right down to my feet.

She pulled back the towel from my left leg, leaving the rest of my body covered and began pressing up my leg from my ankle firmly with her palm. Then she came back to my foot and massaged it with her fingers, pressing quite deeply on the instep. She worked her way up and down my leg a series of times whilst pressing with her palm on the more meaty muscles and then pressing in more intensely with her fingers and thumb on the thinner muscles alongside my shin. She also used her knees on my upper leg muscles and used her body weight to press more firmly into the stronger muscles in my legs. Then came the stretches – Thai Massages include movement and stretches, almost like the Masseuse is doing yoga on you, and it feels very therapeutic. To do this the Therapist opened my left leg into a 90-degree angle on the mattress. She pressed down on it first, then folded it against me, across me against her while she massaged all around my leg including my glutes (my butt muscles). After completing the massage on my left leg, she lay it down and covered it back with the towel before performing the same sequence on the right leg.

Once both legs were massaged she moved on to my right arm, starting off by stretching my arm out and pressing into my armpits, similar as she had done with my hips to stop the blood flow for a few seconds. Then she proceeded to massage up and down my arm, again using her palms in a pressing motion and her fingers and thumb in a squeezing and sharper pressing motion. This finished when she stretched my hand backwards to touch just behind my shoulder, whilst she pounded my triceps with her fist. She then did this on my left arm before she asked me to turn over.

Once turned over she started to massage my shoulders, again using a pressing motion with her palms and also by using a squeezing motion. As my shoulders are usually really tense I asked her to do the back and shoulder massage very hard and wow, she did and she was pretty damn strong. She concentrated on the muscle that runs beneath the scapula to the rib cage and this area gets particular knotty for me so she worked hard to press on and flick the muscle where the knots were. Sometimes this was a little painful, but I know that it’s beneficial in the end so I persisted. She also worked on the area behind my armpits where the tendons connect to the shoulder blade, which is another area of tension for me. She worked up and down my spine and the muscles that support it then came back to my shoulders before using her body weight to massage me. By that, I mean she stood on me. I know that for some people, this is something that can be quite scary but I’ve learnt to embrace it in Thai massage because I’ve found that if I can relax into it then I can get the best out of this movement. The Masseuse tends to stand on my buttocks and massage them slightly by rocking from side to side then she will leave one foot standing on, say, the left buttock, while she moves her right leg in a pressing motion up and down the right side of my body. Seen as the massage takes place in a cubicle the Therapist tends to use the sides of the walls to counter balance her weight, however in this case I’m quite sure that she had her whole weight on me. I was confident that she knew what she was doing because she had thoroughly massaged my back and had a good idea of how strong it was and how tense it was – I guess it needed her whole weight… working on yachts gives me a pretty strong back. She then swapped legs and did the same action on the left side of my back.

After this, she knelt down and massaged the backs of my legs with her knees in a pressing motion. She went back to massage my back and shoulders with her hands in the same sequence as previously then she asked me to sit up, cross-legged. This is another bit which isn’t for the squeamish – back cracking – but again, if you can relax into it then you can get the best out of it. At first, she placed my right hand behind my head so it was folded backwards and stretched my right triceps, then she did the same thing on my left arm. After this she asked me to place my hands behind my head and lock my fingers, then she threaded her arms through the gaps in my folded arms and proceeded to swing me from one side to another whilst she cracked my back. Usually, this doesn’t have too much of an effect on me because it takes a lot to loosen my back muscles, however, this time, my back cracked from the bottom of my spine up to the middle where the main twist took place. This happened on both sides and it felt pretty fantastic, I guess that she must have really loosened my muscles by applying so much pressure to my back when she stood on it. She unfolded her arms out of mine and then motioned for me to move my arms backwards and lock onto hers as she pulled my backwards in a bend across her knees, she did this bit by bit as she moved up my back and again each bit cracked, especially the top of my spine.

She finished by giving my shoulders a very intense massage using her elbows and forearms as she pressed down on my sat upright body from a standing position. Then she used her hands again to squeeze and press on my muscles. After this, she gave the temples on my head a massage and the muscles on my neck, especially the ones at the back where the tendons connect to the back of my skull. She squeezed the back of my head as she pulled her hands away, as though she was drawing some kind of energy away from my head, she did this a couple of times. Then to complete the massage she pounded my back and shoulders with her hands that were in a loose clap, placed her hands together in a ‘Namaste’ position and quietly whispered ‘finished’.

Pre-session sense check (7th March 2016, 3pm –  1 hour before treatment)

Physically – Sense checking my body today I can mostly feel the throbbing of my calf muscles, probably because I’ve been walking around Bangkok in flip-flops for most of the day. My left shoulder isn’t too sore today but I do have a subtle neck ache. I feel quite alert for a change, but the heat of the city is starting to tire me as the day goes on.

Emotionally – I feel quite neutral today, I think it’s because I’ve spent the morning working on a business idea so I’ve been quite focused and thus not dwelling on any present emotions, I am possibly numb and avoiding. There is a sense of background negativity in me which is usual these days (as in anyone experiencing grief) but it seems manageable today.

Post-session sense check (7th March 2016, 7pm –  1 hour after treatment)

Physically – My body feels refreshed and it was really gratifying feeling my back crack so many times – this is very rare for me. The massage felt more like a physiotherapy session when the cracking took place and as a result, I feel like I’m walking taller and in a better posture. My shoulders feel slightly sore because they were worked on quite intensively (which I asked for) and I know that not all the knots are gone (even though I’ve had a massage every day this week) but they are definitely looser and the cracking of my back demonstrated this.

Emotionally – Strangely I don’t feel that in touch with my emotions right now, or at least there isn’t anything noticeably positive or negative. I actually still feel neutral and generally unaffected emotionally by the massage but maybe this might change later.

Overall Review

Thai Massage remains one of my favourite massages. It’s a very interactive massage where the client is asked to move into certain positions, it involves stretches, cracking and a variety of techniques all working along the Meridian energy lines. This one was especially intense as I asked her to go very hard and because of this she was able to really push my muscles to loosen up, hence the cracking of my back. Most of the time my back doesn’t crack because the muscles are so tight around it and it takes a lot of manipulation or yoga to release this but this experienced masseuse was able to. The thing that I love most about the Wat Po Training School is that the Therapists are very skilled at what they do and they are all very intuitive. Although the language barrier can provide to be an issue sometimes, once you get to know the rhythm it’s easy to work with the Therapist and get into the positions. The reception area also has a help sheet with some Thai phrases on such as ‘A little harder please’ which is helpful.

I really appreciate the diversity of the Thai Massage as it doesn’t just rely on the Therapist to work on the muscles but the client also has to move around too. I also like that the client is moved into different positions in order to allow the therapist to use gravity to their advantage, simply because it means that the pressure of the massage doesn’t necessarily depend on just the strength of the therapist.

I want to create a world of greater wellbeing for ourselves and the planet that we live on. That’s why I’m starting an honest conversation about wellbeing; encompassing self care, emotional intelligence, body and mind awareness, personal development, and authenticity. If you want to learn more about these subjects then then head over to www.shereensoliman.com to find out more about the packages I offer.

Sending self care vibes,

Shereen x