I’ve tried various types of massage therapies — Swedish, sports and hot stones — but I was looking for something that offered more of a challenge than just lying flat. When I heard about Thai massage, an ancient practice that incorporates acupressure and yoga poses, I was eager to try it.
During a typical session, a therapist stretches and massages your muscles, occasionally moving your limbs into yoga poses, as you let yourself be manipulated. You’re an active participant, but they’re doing most of the work.
Finding someone who practiced Thai massage on the North Fork was a challenge until I heard of Dominique Fry.
Born in France and now living in Greenport, Fry is a certified massage therapist and yoga instructor.
“I received a massage from a friend and was really intrigued,” she said. “I signed up for the massage program at the Swedish institute of Health Services and loved it from the first day. I really think it was a calling for me.”
After graduating from The Swedish Institute, Fry pursued her interest in the eastern philosophy of Thai massage by taking an intensive workshop with instructor Ananda Apfelbaum in Rhinebeck, N.Y. She then traveled to Thailand to learn from the masters.
“I spent a month training in Thailand, where I got certified as a yoga teacher and worked in a hospital to train in Thai massage,” she said. “Thai massage is a combination of two different cultures — Chinese medicine and Indian ayurvedic medicine and yoga. Thai massage has been practiced in Buddist temples; it’s considered a medicine of the temples and spirituality is very important.”
According to Fry, the treatment offers both physical and mental benefits.
“There’s stress relief, increased blood flow and circulation, detoxing and realignment of one’s self,” she said. “The mental benefit is being more at peace with yourself. It’s the same as a good yoga session. You feel release. There’s a sense of wellbeing — at ease — as well as feeling energized.”
Could a massage make you feel energized rather than relaxed? According to Fry, yes.
“Thai massage is different due to the stretching. You get a lot more body manipulation,” she explained. “There’s a rhythmic flow; that’s the difference between [it and] other types of massage. There’s rocking, rhythmic movement. It’s like dancing in some ways around the client. If I have a good session, I feel energized myself.”
Some chiropractors have incorporated this approach into their practices, said Dr. Rick Hall, a chiropractor who has practiced in Southold for 35 years.
Hall just published his first book, “Healing with Ease,” about the history of chiropractic and its role in healing. He doesn’t use eastern massage in his own practice, but is an avid client of those who do.
“I get acupuncture once a month and I have a massage once a month,” Hall said. “Massage is a great tool for relieving stress. If you’ve read anything by Deepak Chopra, there really is no separation anymore between mind and body. We think and feel with every cell in our being. There’s so many reflexes and nerves that connect everything. Every cell in your body is connected to every other cell by way of the nervous system, so by doing massage, you are affecting the brain, the spinal cord and the whole being.”
I hoped my Thai massage would bring relief from a weekend of digging out from January’s blizzard and alleviate a stubborn stiffness in my hips from too much inactivity.
Fry had me wear leggings and a T-shirt for my session. Since Thai massage does not incorporate oils, light clothing is necessary to enable the therapist to move the client into various poses without friction.
“Thai massage is more about the massage than yoga, because someone is doing the work for you,” Fry said. “But the effect and technique is the same as yoga in the sense that you are stretching the lines of the body. I call them lines; in Thai they call them ‘Sen.’ Like meridians, it’s the same concept: You work from your core to the outside to re-establish that balanced alignment.”
I began my session lying on a padded mat on the floor. Fry placed a small, heated pillow on my stomach to bring much-needed warmth, plus a sense of comfort.
She began by massaging my feet with slow, firm and rhythmic movements. It was relaxing and set me at ease. From there she moved up to my ankles, rotating them slowly, then stretching the Achilles heel.
During each move Fry was careful to ask how I felt before proceeding. When something hurts or doesn’t feel right to the client, she will stop or ease the pressure.
Because I was on the floor, Fry could use the entire weight of her body to apply pressure to specific parts of mine. Along with her hands, she used her feet and legs to move me around. This was just as much of a workout for her as it was for me.
Fry moved up my legs, pressing specific pressure points along the insides of my calves, where she said my Sen lines are.
“Sen lines are like pathways of energy that run all the way through the body from head to foot” she explained.
Moving to my upper legs, she concentrated the pressure on my outer thighs to loosen my hips. As I lay on my back, she bent my left leg so the heel of my left foot rested against my right leg, like the tree pose in yoga. Keeping my hip near the floor, she pressed down, opening and stretching that area. It sounds painful, but it actually felt pretty good.
Once my hips were stretched, I rolled onto my left side so Fry could massage my lower back, spine and neck. Using firm, rhythmic movements, she stretched my arm over my head and then pulled it gently backward to open up my chest. Once my arm and shoulder were relaxed, Fry worked on the palms of my hands, pressing and rubbing specific pressure points before gently pulling and stretching each finger. It’s amazing how something so simple can feel so good.
When both sides were done, I lay on my stomach and Fry massaged the undersides of my feet. She did this using her own feet, stepping on the insides of my arches with slow, rhythmic movements.
Fry bent my legs at the knees to make a right angle so my feet were facing the ceiling. Then she had me reach back and grasp her forearms. As I did, she gripped my wrists and pulls me backward, arching my back while my torso was lifted off the mat. I could feel the stretch in my chest, arms, shoulders, back — even in my hips. We rocked gently and slowly; all the while Fry asked if I felt any pain or discomfort.
I was groaning, but it was from pleasure, not pain. Every muscle in my back, hips, arms and shoulders is being stretched and it feels wonderful. It was as though the air was surging back into my lungs after holding my breath. I lay back on my stomach and again Fry grasped my arms and pulled me up, my back arched and every muscle from my hips through my torso being stretched.
We ended the session with me sitting in the lotus pose as Fry gently judo-chopped my shoulders, her touch so light that I could barely feel it.
I was totally invigorated. My body felt great as I jumped up and got dressed. There was no slow wake-up time like with other massages. I was energized.
Dominique Fry’s studio is located at 190 Angler’s Road in Greenport. She also provides home services on the North Fork and the Hamptons. Her treatments include Thai massage, deep tissue work and hot stones therapy. She also gives private yoga lessons. For more information, visit dominiquefry.com.