If the thought of a stranger pummelling your back with a wooden mallet while you lie half naked on a bed doesn’t quite sound like your cup of tea, you’re not alone. Prior to visiting Seaham Hall’s Serenity Spa for our ‘Tok Sen’ massage – a traditional, deep muscular treatment from Thailand involving a small hammer-like device to knock your knots out of the park – we were a little apprehensive too. Little did we know that it’d end up being one of the most effective – and soothing (yes, you read that right) – body treatments we’ve ever tried. Not convinced? Here us out…
The treatment is one of a handful of new additions to Seaham Hall’s exclusive range of Ytsara therapies – all of which you won’t find anywhere else in the North of England. Translating to ‘freedom’ in Thai, Ytsara is a dreamy spa brand indeed, aiming to deliver not only radiant skin, but a healthy mind, body and soul post-treatment. All of Ytsara products (which are put to good use during the treatments and available to buy at the in-spa shop) are 100 per cent natural and delicately blended to ensure maximum potency. This is skincare and body care that really packs a punch.
Things start off the way any good spa experience should – with a gentle, fragrant foot soak. Our advanced therapist, who just so happens to be Thai, is a master with her hands (what is it about a bit of ankle stroking that turns your muscles to jelly?) and talks us through the treatment.
We learn that the ancient ‘Tok Sen’ technique has been around for at least 500 years – some say it was originally prescribed by wives to their husbands after a hard day’s work in the fields. They’d lie their men on hard tables and tap along the back muscles with wooden sticks to help ease aches and pains.
Today, therapists use the technique as part of full body massages, allowing the vibrations to work along and deep inside the muscles – deeper than any hand or machine alone could – and help release ‘blocked’ energy from our bodies. Many practitioners believe that we store negative energy and emotions in our muscles – particularly in our backs and in our chests – and the idea is that this treatment will banish it all. What’s more, the rhythm of the tapping is said to be incredibly relaxing – almost hypnotising – and can even help you doze off, or enter a meditative state, during the treatment.
To start, the massage is performed while we lie under warm towels. Pressure is light, but focused, as our therapist aims to gently loosen up any initial stiffness – especially in the legs and bum. Once the towels are off, it’s time for a slick of essential oils (which smell incredible) and a proper rub-down, with special attention paid to any problem areas.
This is as traditional as it gets, so don’t be alarmed when your therapist hops on the table for a minute or two to really work your muscles. Thai massage, as we’ve learned, really is an art and you’ll be surprised at how many wonders a bit of on-the-table time can do for your sore spots. After a lot of clicking and crunching around and between our shoulder blades, it felt like a weight had been lifted – proof that putting yourself under a bit of pressure can sometimes be a very good thing indeed.
Plenty of poultice action follows – something we really enjoyed, not only for the gorgeous aroma it gives off, but for the warm and comforting vibes it never fails to deliver. The combination of heat, steamed therapeutic herbs and oils (things like tangerine, pink grapefruit and rosemary to help rid the body of toxins) and rainforest clove (a rare essential oil known for its ability to suppress pain) is overwhelmingly calming and genuinely makes a difference when pressed into tight muscles. Ours was applied to the feet, up the legs and along the spine – a real toasty treat.
The ‘Tok Sen’ portion is surprisingly wonderful. If, like us, you suffer with painful muscles, we know you’ll leave with the same opinion. Yes, the tools may look a little scary and unfamiliar, but it’s important to note that hammering your back to the point of no return is not the aim of the game here. The pressure is actually spot on – not too hard, but not too soft – and once you get past the first teeth-chattering strikes, it’s actually very relaxing.
Our therapist focuses on our upper back (which is always sore), moving up the ‘energy’ lines (or ‘sen lines’ as the Thai folk call them) and causing gentle vibrations as she goes. It’s a technique that helps with pinched nerves, numbness and blood circulation, so if any of those are a cause of concern for you, then this is definitely a treatment worth considering.
Check out the video below to see the ‘Tok Sen’ technique in action. Our muscles felt brand new when we left – all loose and lovely – and boy did we sleep well that night. Who knew a hammer to the back could cause so much comfort? Try it for yourselves.
Ultimate Deep Pressure Massage, 90 minutes, £130. Visit seaham-hall.co.uk for more info, or to book, call (0191) 516 1400