Are Thai Herbal Compresses Massage Essentials?

Health, Thai, Thai Herbal -

Are Thai Herbal Compresses Massage Essentials?

The Thai herbal compress ball has never really been given the recognition it really should deserve, especially as we now have the modern massage creams, lotions, and oils it has easily been ignored. These white cloth compress balls must have considerable value for they have been in traditional use for hundreds of years and are still common place and used widely through all of Thailand today.

There are different blends of the plants and herbs that go into these compress balls, varies and depends on the traditional practice and herb lore of the provinces. There also seems to be a wider variation in the herb formulations between the Northern tribal types and the Southern types from coastal areas. These very versatile tools can be used in any combination of ways to bring about the desired effect on the body.

Traditionally they are heated in the top of a special pot which has a fire made of coconut husks below, with a bowl for the compress and water above. While the energetic quality of having the fire is first class, it is very impractical for the modern practitioner to do this and very few Thai's use this method these days. If your massage practice includes using heated stones then it is a very easy process to just place the compress into your stone heater. The compress balls should be soaked first but not completely drowned and plenty of time given for the heat to penetrate the herbs.

The aroma of the herbs is also part of the treatment, inhalation of the steam is as beneficial to the body, as the contact with the skin. It is best practice to check the level of heat on the soft part of your arm but also make sure with the customer as everyone's tolerance level is different. A well prepared and applied compress can feel amazing, a poorly heated and prepared will feel like a soggy dish cloth and the client may not return after such an experience. Most traditional practitioners work using two compresses balls in conjunction. Usually one herbal compress is heating while they are massaging using the other, keeping a constant rhythm and temperature throughout the session.

Many practitioners like to give traditional massage first to open the energy channels (sen) and point locations ( jap sen) this opens the body system making it more receptive to the herbs. Some work using a combination using Thai massage to open the sen on a leg or arm before they apply the herbal compress. Some practitioners even apply traditional balms on stubborn areas when they feel it necessary. The stimulation from the herbal compress and herbs helps to move blood, lymph and toxins, also promoting the movement of stagnant energy, this helps with general wellbeing and rejuvenation of the life sphere.

How long the herbal compress lasts depends on how it is stored and used. If you use the herbal compress on the bare skin then it can only be used for that person and you can store it in a sealed bag in the refrigerator. If they are a regular client then this is an ideal situation especially as the herbal compress can be used for more than one session. If the customer does not come often then this can work out to be an expensive way of doing things. A great cost saving alternative is that the compress can be wrapped in a cloth or towel. I have discovered that one of the best things for doing this is a Japanese cloth called a tenugui, you can wrap the herbal compress in the cloth to solve the hygiene problem. The herbal infusion and heat pass nicely through the thin tenugui material and the herbal compress does not make contact with the skin. You can easily wash the cloth and store the compress to use again. Some makers advise using them ten times but I would suggest you use them no more than five or six, which is still very good value for money.

The small herbal compresses are excellent for application to the neck and head as well as the shoulders and can be used at the base of the neck, on the cranial sutures and applied the face and eyes. Using the herbal compress on the TMJ is a superb way of relieving tension as an awful lot of people clench their jaw.(Are you doing that whilst reading this?) This also helps with free movement of the sphenoid bone which can influence changes in endocrine function and relieves a lot of tension from the meninges creating change within the life sphere.

Traditional practitioners have been using herbal compresses, leaf and tofu bandages as well as moxa and ginger as an everyday part of their practice. Many of these simple applications can be easily transferred into modern massage, adding a new dimension that will benefit both the practitioner and their clients. Please be sure to take care when heating and using compresses talk to the client to ensure the temperature is correct. Remember to cool is just as bad as to hot.


The herbs in these compresses work on an energetic level and microwaves completely negate this function. Remind your customers that to get the best from the compress application they should avoid showering or bathing for an hour or two after application, this gives enough time for the herbs to do their job.

Clive Merrick is a Bodywork practitioner and Shiatsu Shin Tai Teacher specialising in structural correction. These articles are written to help and encourage those wishing to learn more about massage and bodywork techniques.

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