I'm on a futon, my nose pressed against my knees, my legs and arms pointing toward the ceiling. My hamstrings are past the point of feeling the burn; I'm worried that they'll burst into flame. The only part of me that isn't airborne? My butt. No, I'm not auditioning for Cirque du Soleil -- I'm having a Thai massage. And I'm loving every minute of it.
That's what one session will do to you. New Age types wax rhapsodic about the practice's positive effect on "energy lines," but trendy as it's become, Thai massage is no spa craze du jour.
The treatment (a sort of assisted yoga in which the therapist uses her hands, knees, feet and legs to manipulate you into a series of postures) is believed to have originated in India more than 2,500 years ago. It then made its way to Thailand, where it was adopted by Buddhist monks as part of their yogic practice.
It's easy to see why this tradition has stood the test of time: Though the technique differs greatly from what you'd experience during a classic rubdown, all of that gentle, steady pressure (based on ayurvedic principles and Chinese medicine) works wonders to improve flexibility, release toxins and unravel your gnarliest knots. When it's over, you'll feel really, really good -- in a revved-up, high-on-life kind of way. The only thing to consider before booking your first appointment? This treatment tends to be rigorous rather than relaxing, so you won't be stealing any zzz's. Most fans, however, consider this a small price to pay for the kind of deep-down stretch that hurts so good.
What to Expect: While it's always nice to be kneaded, Thai massage is more active than your basic pummel-and-rub. Traditionally, it's performed on a padded floor mat instead of on a table; the client stays fully dressed and no oil is used. The practitioner adjusts to your level of flexibility and fitness.
What to Bring: Loose, comfortable clothing.
Cost: $65 to $135, depending on the length of the session (while in Thailand they can last up to four hours, here they typically range from 60 to 90 minutes).
Notes: Thai massage is not appropriate for pregnant women or people with certain medical conditions, such as serious back or knee injuries.
Where to Work It Out
The Institute of Thai Massage (www.thai-massage.org) lists certified practitioners worldwide. These spots are also worth a look:
The Body Politic. 1111 Spring St., Suite 201, Silver Spring. 301-346-5716. www.thebodypolitic.net. Andrea Caplan, certified through the Omega Institute in New York, offers a 60-minute session for $75 and a 90-minute session for $110.
D.C. Massage Therapies. 4545 42nd St. NW, Suite 207. 202-253-9877. www.dcmassagetherapies.com. Licensed massage therapist Steven Brown's homey office is an oasis of calm. He offers a 60-minute massage for $80 and a 90-minute session for $105.
Four Seasons Fitness Club and Spa. 2800 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. 202-944-2022. www.fourseasons.com. Feeling swanky? Head to this spa, where the treatments are as luxe as they come and you can bask in a eucalyptus-scented steam room afterward. $135 for 60 minutes.
Touch of Asia. 45665 W. Church Rd., Sterling. 571-344-3333. www.greatmassageva.com. David and Tukta Roylance are Thai massage gurus: This fall, they plan to give classes to help wannabe therapists learn the ropes. They also offer a choice of 60-, 90- or 120-minute massages for $65, $95 or $125, respectively.
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