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Chicken Skin or Elephant Skin?

Last February, Kate and I received 8 days of “super training” with Chris Ray and Kate Lewandowski. If you don’t know Chris check him out here: http://thaimassagebodywork.com/about-2/
Chris definitely has his own style; but he and Kate have studied for extensively with Pichest Boonthumme in Chang Mai. (for more on Pichest, start with: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o_gD5p7lxpw )

During our training, Chris reminded us of something Pichest would say about a client’s pain sensitivity. If they were sensitive to pressure, he said “chicken skin”. If they were neutral or positive about pressure on a muscle, he said “elephant skin” .
Chris’ instruction was/is that if a client is  jumping around, then the muscle isn’t going to relax. And, if the muscle doesn’t relax there’s less chance for a release. So, when I work on Kate M’s feet, I have to go in very slowly and gently. When Kate M. works on my neck, it’s the same thing – very slow, adding little bits of pressure at a time, trying different angles and techniques on the same muscle group. It’s as if the target muscles have to build trust first.
Alternately, for elephant skin – I recently reviewed a video of Chris working on my back in side line. He’s got both knees along the lower erector spinae and he’s pulling his torso upright on a strap so most of his body weight in the target muscles. He then moves his knees (and weight) to the upper erector spinae saying “… there aren’t many people who can tolerate this…”. So, perhaps I have more fascia, more fat, more “mass” or more thickness and that somehow lowers my jumpiness to intense pressure or a long compression. In any event, when Chris did that for me, I was in heaven. It was a single long release of chronic muscle tension. Elephant skin.

The goal of bodywork

So, it seems that there is “good pain” – it’s tolerable (sometimes right on the edge) that facilitates a deep release of muscle tension. A good therapist can communicate with you about that pain and the edge that is right for you. I recently read an article by Paul Ingraham: https://www.painscience.com/articles/pressure-question.php.  This quote stands out for me: “That is, regardless of all other considerations, a massage therapist must talk to you about pressure, respect your preferences (they are more important than any treatment ideology), and be careful about stumbling into areas that need much less pressure (for comfort) or much more pressure (for satisfaction).”  So, the challenge is to maintain a balance between comfort and results (or satisfaction).

In Thailand, nuad boran is intended to clear energy pathways.  Indeed, a body isn’t regarded as healthy unless there are no energy blockages.  The nuad boarn teachers are largely focused on removing blockages and helping energy to flow (out the hands, feet and head).  Many of us have experienced the intensity of removing the energy blockage.   Concern about pain as the release occurs is very secondary to many of these teachers.  Of course, nothing is static – there are certainly many teachers in North America and Europe who teach the opposite.  And, their approach may require more sessions in order to open the pathways.

Our Approach

We have concluded that this should be a topic of very open discussion at the beginning of each session.  And, during the session we want to check in to make certain that the energy paths have a sufficient opportunity to “clear” given the client’s inclination towards chicken skin or elephant skin.