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Pilates COREterly

Summer 2010

From the Studio

Pilates and Massage: One Informs the Other

by Rachael Maddalena

I’d been a Pilates instructor for seven years when I discovered Thai massage. After answering an ad in the newspaper on a whim, it soon became a part of my regular health regimen. After my sessions, I felt energized and had the greatest workouts afterwards. This was something I wanted my Pilates clients to feel too, so I went to school to become a Thai massage therapist.

Just what is Thai massage?

Like Western massage, Thai massage calms the nervous system and stretches, stimulates and relaxes the muscular system. But they differ in several ways. There is no oil or kneading of the muscles, and the client is fully clothed, because the therapist manually moves the body into a series of stretches and positions in multiple planes, making it active for both client and therapist. In fact, the therapist can get quite a workout during a session! It aims to loosen the muscles and surrounding structures. These movement sequences of the limbs and joints release the muscle chains and increase the body’s proprioceptive awareness. It acts as a giant eraser for the muscular structure, erasing, or at least deintensifying, the body’s overused kinetic pathways. It’s kind of a “cleansing of the palate” before activating the local muscle groups in a Pilates session.

Why it’s useful with Pilates

A big benefit from integrating massage into my practice was being able to gather more detailed information about each client’s physical state. I can easily identify weak, overstretched areas, recognize constricted breathing habits, assess joint mobility, what areas are “tightly strung” or “loosely strung,” and take that information to help benefit the client’s Pilates workout. For example, I can recognize, during a Thai massage session, that my client may have greater back extension than the muscles are demonstrating to me during a Pilates session. I can feel more confident in challenging that client in our next session because of what I have learned. It also can reveal imbalances that I may not have previously noticed. One former client was a forest firefighter whose strains and pains were limited to his lower body. Visually, his movements seemed symmetrical and his frame appeared balanced. But during his Thai massage session, I could feel the extreme differences between his flexible upper-body, and his tight lower-body. In our next Pilates session, I integrated more exercises to address that imbalance.

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How it can benefit your studio

Offering massage in my studio was a boost for business. My regular Pilates clients would become massage clients too. Massage clients, who had never taken Pilates before, would leave with a Theraband® and directions to stretch out their tight IT bands. Soon they would be curious about what Pilates could do for them. About 15% of my Thai massage clients added Pilates two times a month, and 40% of my Pilates clients added Thai Massage at least two times per month. I have created a hybrid Thai Massage and Pilates technique session for clients who were benefiting from these two vocabularies: 20 minutes for a basic Thai Massage sequence, and 40 minutes for a Pilates session. And yes, to the surprise of the first-timer, the Thai Massage comes first.

How to market the two

Marketing a hybrid Thai Massage/Pilates session was a tricky idea to articulate. My first marketing angle focused on baby boomers. They suffered aches and pains, and also needed core strengthening. It was easier for them to see how one would benefit from the other. Convincing some of my other clients was a little trickier. I had to “hook” them from one vocabulary to the other. At the end of a Pilates workout or Thai Massage session I would incorporate one of the other. For a Thai Massage client, I might say, “Your psoas seems tight – you may want to try this Pilates exercise,” or to a Pilates client, “Lengthening your spine feels like this,” while gently giving traction to the spine from a simple Thai Massage form. This was an effective way to at least get them thinking about the other modality.

I have always appreciated how one movement vocabulary informs another. Just as our clients can be visual, kinetic, or audio learners, so are we as teachers. The faster we can garner movement information from our clients, the better we can help them in their Pilates goals. With Thai massage, I’ve found a great complement to Pilates.

Rachael Maddalena is a Pilates instructor and Thai Massage therapist. She was certified in Pilates technique and dance conditioning from Orange Coast College and holds a certification from Infinite Dynamics Pilates and Gyrotonic Studio. Rachael studied Thai Holistic Bodywork at the Ayodha Center in Pomona California, and The Bamboo Garden School of Massage in Fort Bragg, California. She is currently writing a vocabulary that integrates Thai Massage and Pilates to aid in injury recovery.