Massage in Lao, as in other south eastern countries, is used in everyday life for relaxing and treating aches and pains. It is usually practised in the family circle, and the tradition is taught from generation to generation. Depending on the problem, the massage focuses on one part or the other of the body.
It always starts on the back, following the energy lines, looking for blockages and working on them with deep pressures, manipulation techniques and tendon flicking (with a thumb contact, passing rapidly over a tendon makes it flick which acts directly on the muscle spindles, making the muscle relax). Then the massage therapist attends to the lower limbs, one at a time, starting with the left foot first (as in Thai) and working up the leg. Then the same is repeated on the right.
After that, the person lies on their back, and the massage continues on the feet and legs, left then right.
This is where Lao massage differs (according to my short experience in the country) from others, as the thoracic and abdominal parts are not treated at all. The arms are next, starting with the left hand and working up, then the same on the right.
The therapist sits cross-legged behind the head of the patient and cradles the head to work on the neck, scalp and face. This is completely taboo in Thailand, as no one must ever sit behind the head, not point feet in the direction of it!
The last position is the sitting one, where neck and head are the main focus. The last move is a double handed clapping technique, which vibrates through the spine and the skull.
There are very few stretching techniques, and from the masssages I received, the techniques are very (very) pleasant. The therapist takes care to not hurt the patient, or work sensitively and with consideration on the painful areas (whereas the Thais and Chinese just go for it!!)
I have thoroughly enjoyed the Lao massage, but unfortunately the schools that specialize in teaching it are rare. It is a family tradition, and foreigners are not expected to want to learn this way of treating. I have heard of schools in the capital city, Ventiane, but I will not have time to visit them on this trip. I choose to focus on Thai techniques, as I am starting to get a good basic knowledge. My next courses of “Advanced Therapy” and “Abdominal Thai treatment” start November 10th.