Beside the physical movements, the complete Nuat Boran combines what we would call “energy work” on meridians which Thais call sen. Thais think of these sen as wind channels. In many ways they are similar to the meridians used in Chinese medicine and Shiatsu, but the origin of Nuat Boran goes back to ancient India in the Ayurvedic tradition rather than to Chinese tradition.
Accordingly Thais speak of replacing “bad air” with “good air” in these channels, and there are specific ways the practitioner can breath while treating the sen that facilitate this exchange. Working the sen gives as much therapeutic benefit as the stretches. The two techniques go together. I show the basic principles for working the sen in my Level 1 course and go more into the technique and identification of the sen and their uses in the Level 2 course. This combination of extensive stretching and movement with meridian work is unique among modalities of bodywork: the best of yoga and energy work in one treatment!
Also unique is the protocol that the treatment be done in four positions: supine, side-lying, prone, and sitting and that a session takes around two hours. The combination of stretching and meridian work and the treatment in all four positions gives the client an experience of a complete workout. I often hear comments from clients about how they feel their whole being has been treated and they feel taller, expanded, balanced, and looser and the treatment put them in a new and different place.
Besides being therapeutic for most common complaints of muscular pain in low back, shoulders, and legs, receiving Nuat Boran is (re-)educational for the client. Experiencing most of one’s joints and muscles being mobilized makes one more aware of ones whole body, especially where one is tense or holding. Then it teaches one about letting go, which one must do to fully allow passive movement of one’s limbs. Letting go sounds easy, but most people have a natural tendency to hold, protect, resist, tense, and assist.
Clients often discover that the pain they are used to lessens or doesn’t happen when they fully let go. On the practitioner’s side, working on the floor with the client clothed, using one’s whole body in leverage feels more interactive and intimate. The client feels the close contact as supportive. Furthermore, the practitioner’s thumbs get a relief with the Thai techniques using elbows, knees, feet, stretching and range of motion. In the villages in Thailand, the maw nuat, the “bodywork doctor,” was the main healer: the medical doctor, chiropractor, and herbalist all in one, functioning more like a doctor of acupuncture or osteopath – doing much more than we massage therapists are licensed to do here.
The complete Nuat Boran treatment would include herbal compresses during the bodywork session and herbal concoctions to ingest afterward and possibly an herbal sauna. This was the way it was when I was first living and working in Thailand as a school teacher over 30 years ago. My first treatments, which were in a temple in Chiang Mai, included herbs that were as effective as the bodywork at alleviating my ailments. I was so impressed that I begged to study. They were skeptical that a westerner could learn or do Nuat Boran, but since I spoke Thai and knew the temple customs they agreed. The man showed me his herb garden and how he made some concoctions, and the woman showed me the bodywork and let me watch her treat people. I got the bodywork but unfortunately not the herbal part.