- 200 Hour
- Study in Thailand
- Book a Session
It’s Elemental: Doctor “Ta” and Dry Sen
This post is the first of I’m sure many that will expound on Thai element theory and other aspects of Thai medicine that get short shrift here in the west (in Thailand too it turns out).
Let’s get some understanding about element theory first and then I’ll show how this actually worked in an experience I had recently. Call these next few paragraphs a crash course in Thai element theory.
Most traditional Thai doctors work with five elements – Earth, water, fire, wind and space. That being said, people who focus on the bodywork aspect of Thai medicine tend to work with four elements – earth, water, fire and wind. All things can be looked at through the lens of these elements. Take a tree for example. As you stand next to the tree, you touch the bark. There is a proponderence of earth element as you feel its hardness and solidity. As you peel the bark back, you will probably feel some moistness. Water element. You may notice some warmth. Fire element. And though you may not see it, if it is a living tree, there is an upward movement of nutrients and water to nourish the leaves. This moment, or any movement for that matter, is labeled wind.
To help our understanding, we can divide these elements into two categories. Think of anatomy and physiology. Earth and water – anatomy. Fire and wind – physiology. So if you think of a human body, you have the heavy stuff – the skin and bones and organs – things you can touch. And you have other pretty heavy stuff which is the liquids in the body – saliva, sweat, blood, urine – things you can also touch. Then you have the animating force of fire which will express itself as heat. The fire from fever, the fire from digestion, that sort of thing. And then there’s movement in the body. Movement of a limb, movement of blood, movement of peristalsis, and even movement of thoughts. When a traditional Thai doctor treats someone, they will assess the symptoms with these elements in mind, see where they are out of balance, and provide therapies to help bring them back into balance. Boom. Thai element theory in a very small (coco)nutshell.
Here’s a quick example of an experience I had on this particular Thailand trip – of which I am still hanging onto by the skin of my chinny chin chin. This year, as usual, we saw one of our teachers in Thailand, Mor Ta (doctor Ta). Mor Ta is a traditional doctor (mor boran) living outside of Chiang Mai in the middle of a bunch of rice fields and banana plantations. He worked on me for a couple hours treating me for some issues I’m having with numbness in my feet. He does the nerve flicking / activation massage that we sometimes call Jap Sen. He is a guy who truly works with the sen. I’ll address sen specifically in the next email I send to you. In the meantime, for the sake of understanding, let’s think of sen as physical structures (earth) in the body where movement (wind) occurs. Like nerves or blood vessels or even deep tendons and ligaments.
By using his thumbs and fingers, he digs deep in the trenches (spaces between the muscles) to get at and create movement in the sen. He flicks tendons, nerves, ligaments and works deep in the body where blood vessels and veins are. His work is great for paralysis, circulation issues and nerve issues because he is working to create movement in the sen. Anyways, after Mor Ta worked on me he said I have “dry sen”. By saying this, it was a give away that he was working from a Thai element perspective. When Mor Ta says my sen are dry, what he means is that the nerves, tendons, ligaments and blood vessels don’t have the juicy, spongy quality of water. And when they are dry like that, movement of blood, nerves, etc is impeded. Think of how lube helps create ease of movement (I’m talking transmissions here people, jeez). So the intention of his work was to help bring on more water and heat to the organs of internal movement you might say, so that it would free up the wind (ie. create more movement) to bring about healing. Since that treatment, I have been using warming oil and working these sen nearly every day. There is no question that some of the issues in my feet have gotten better.
Just so you know, Mor Ta used a warming balm, he did almost no stretching and he basically just sat under my knee and worked his thumbs deeply in my body to stimulate movement in my sen. This is Thai massage. This is Thai medicine. Don’t get me wrong, you don’t have to practice like Mor Ta to do Thai massage, but working with Thai element theory as a basis for your practice will open up new ways of working and will put you more in line with the traditional art of Thai medicine, for those of you who would like to go there. And if you want, I’ll take you there. Thai element theory is not well understood in the west and it is rarely taught.
Join me and Randy Cummins on the first week of April for a five day class that is all about Thai element theory. It will give you more ways to help your clients and it will surely breathe some fresh air into your practice. This class will change the way you work, the way you see bodies and indeed the way you see the world. Join the Revolution!
With Metta from Koh Lanta Thailand (where my sen are getting freaking juicy!),