It pays to be fairly fit to get the best out of this form of ancient yoga massage
With twisting, stretching and pulling, Thai yoga massage is perhaps the only relaxation therapy where the recipient has to be "reasonably fit".
Thai massage teacher Nucharee Weerawan, who has practised the art since 1981, said the yoga-like stretches help to stimulate and move air through the body.
"Every vital part of the human body, from the heart to the lungs, needs good air flow to function well, and Thai massage is aimed at stimulating these air vessels in the body," said Nucharee Weerawan, an Auckland-based Thai massage teacher.
Known also as "nuat phaen boran", literally translated to mean "ancient massage", Thai yoga massage is believed to have first been performed more than 2500 years ago.
Practitioners use their hands, elbows, knees and even feet while performing the massage.
Fingers, toes, ears are pulled, knuckles are cracked and sometimes even the back is walked upon.
"People have to be reasonably fit in order to get the full benefit of Thai massage, because it involves a lot of movements," said Ms Weerawan, who runs Hadtawach Thai Massage clinics in Newmarket and Ponsonby.
Clients are provided with comfortable shorts and top and asked to move into different yoga-like positions.
The theory of Thai massage is that the body is permeated with "lom" or air, which is inhaled into the lungs and travels along 72,000 pathways, or "sens".
The stretches and massage are intended to stimulate the sens and move the lom through the body via a pumping action.
Although Thai massage has been available in Auckland for several years, Ms Weerawan said it has only recently gained popularity.
"When I first started giving Thai massage, clients would sometimes ask 'what do you think you are doing?'," she said.
"But thankfully, many Kiwis have been to Thailand ... so many who come now know what to expect."
- Lincoln Tan
How to enjoy a beating from a masseuse ... eventually
It is at the point where I'm being bent backwards by a diminutive Thai woman standing on the back of my thighs that I wonder what I've got myself in for.
Traditional Thai massage is a firm full body massage that targets your pressure points, but it often feels a lot like you're at the wrong end of an elaborate wrestling manoeuvre.
After a quick warm-water foot-scrub, I put on Thai pyjamas.
Masseuse Angie Lakasul asks "Strong or gentle?" I immediately regret saying "strong" as she straddles me on the massage table and jabs her knuckles behind my knees, producing my first wince of the one-hour session.
My reporter's posture over my keyboard all day means I have a myriad knots in my upper back, which attacks with a combination of elbows and pressed palms.
Angie bends my arm behind my back as if she were about to arrest me, then pushes with the bottom of her palm into my shoulder blade.
And then, while I'm lying on my back, she lifts up one of my legs and tries to pull it towards my face. Thankfully the massage finishes with a more soothing head rub.
And all the brutal pulling and pummelling leaves me feeling ready to take on the world.
- Isaac Davison
TRADITIONAL THAI MASSAGE
Hadtawach, 442e Khyber Pass Rd, Newmarket. 60 mins $65, 90 mins $85.
Tuesday: Greek leech therapy
Wednesday: Korean jjimjilbang
Today: Indian ayurveda
Tomorrow: Thai yoga massage
Saturday: Japanese ganbanyoku