From acupuncture to feng shui, the western hemisphere has adopted many Asiatic traditions over the last couple hundred years; healing arts and therapies that go back thousands of years. Thai Herbal Compress Ball massage is one of those healing arts that is just now making its way to the western world and taking spas by storm!
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It goes by many names. You have probably heard it referred to as herbal ball therapy or herbal steam massage. Way back in ancient Thailand, it was called “luk pra kob.” Regardless, more and more you are starting to see this treatment popping up in massage studios and spas all over the country as a way to relieve pain and heal illnesses.
Simply put, a Thai Herbal Compress ball is a bundle of herbs (specific herbs used in ancient luk pra kob) that are packed into a muslin cloth, heated and then applied to the pressure points in the body. Like hot stone therapy or acupuncture, the pleasure comes with a bit of pain. It’s supposed to be hot enough that your therapist can barely hold it in their hands comfortably and then it’s pressed onto your bare flesh!
If you live in Thailand, you’ll find some places offering Thai Herbal Compress ball massage anywhere you go; in the U.S., not so much. As popular as this therapy has been in Thailand over millennia, you will have to put a little effort into finding this treatment offered here in America – but that is quickly changing.
So what is the appeal of the herbal compress ball? It is multiple therapies in one. You have aromatherapy from the scent of the steamed herbs inside the ball. You get natural healing properties from the herbs which are believed to heal the common cold among many other things, and you have the application of heat and pressure therapy.
It’s the Swiss army knife of massage therapy! Here’s the long and short of it all in this ultimate guide to the Thai herbal compress ball massage!
History of Thai Herbal Compress Ball Massage
There are few things that we can reasonably document going back to over 2,000 years B.C. but Thai herbal compress ball massage is one of those things, although, there is a bit of mystery about where it started and who actually started the practice. In fact, some believe that this massage therapy actually originated in India.
Like folklore and ancient recipes, this particular practice was not necessarily written down anywhere. The knowledge of herbal healing and heat therapy was something that was handed down in private family homes as well as in palaces and armies.
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That’s one theory. Others believe that Thai herbal compress ball massage did originate in Thailand but only about 2,200 years ago, brought to Thailand from India by Buddhist monks. Those scholars believe that this therapy was something that you had to hear about through word-of-mouth like a folk tale.
It was and remains so popular because you didn’t have to be rich to make a Thai herbal compress ball. The herbs are easy to find. On top of that, it’s not like when someone got sick back then they could just pop over to the ER. Herbal compress ball therapy was considered a cure-all for all kinds of ailments using massage therapy to balance chi – humans’ “vital life force.”
Just like in acupuncture, compression therapy using herbal compress balls follows those invisible pathways of energy known as meridians in traditional Chinese medicine. In Thailand, these invisible energy paths are called sen. Yoga, acupuncture, and yes, Thai herbal compress ball massage all seek to restore and revive your body’s overall health by balancing the energy flowing through your body and clearing anything blocking those pathways.
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How Thai Herbal Compress Ball Massage is Applied
Now that you know all of that, what can you expect when and if you find a spa offering this treatment? Well, as you can imagine, we’ve kind of started Americanizing this ancient therapy. For example, ancient compress ball massage used only hot therapy. In the U.S. some spas have added a new component – cold compress therapy.
There are several different ways that Thai herbal compress ball massage is applied depending on where you choose to get this treatment. In ancient times, the muslin ball of herbs was heated up to steaming using heat and bamboo. Now there are spas that use bamboo steamers or electric steamers to heat the compress.
Keeping the compress warm is important for the therapy to work so there will usually be two herbal compress balls used; the one being applied and the one steaming on a heat source. When one loses steam, it is swapped out for the other to keep a consistent heat on the body.
Once the ball is heated it is then gently placed on the skin and pressed in circular motions around the body. It can be a particular area, say a lower back pain where the pressure and heat is focused, or it can be applied generally all over to release blockages along sen paths.
Some places use Thai herbal compression as an intro to their massage session. You may go in for a Swedish massage but begin with a Thai herbal compress ball massage to loosen your muscles first. Of course that’s just one of the ways western practices are experimenting with this type of treatment.
Cold Thai herbal compress ball massages are new and are used to treat acute pains from injuries. If you have a sprain, muscle strain, or internal bruising, cold compress helps to alleviate swelling and provides pain relief. The compress is still heated to release the herbal aroma but then it is frozen for several minutes before being applied.
Benefits of Thai Herbal Ball Massage
The benefits produced using Thai herbal ball massages are numerous. But what type of ailment you are trying to soothe matters. There is a traditional Thai herbal compress ball made of specific herbs that go back to the very beginnings of this practice. Those include a combination of:
- Cassia Siamea
- Kaffir Lime
Traditional herbal combinations like this one are designed to do several things. First and foremost, it’s used as an anti-inflammatory pain reliever. The aroma of these herbs, especially lemongrass and Kaffir lime leaves, are supposed to relax you and in doing so, can get rid of stiff muscles or even alleviate migraine headaches.
Skin Care and Digestion
Each herb produces a different effect. For instance, ginger is believed to help you with digestion. You’ll find different types of ginger in a traditional Thai herbal compress like plai and zedoary. Tamarind is believed to help soothe stomach issues but is also good for removing bacteria from your skin.
Some ingredients only come from Asia. For those herbs, if you are making your own Thai herbal compress ball, you’ll have to go to an Asian food market and see if they carry shikakai or cassia siamea. If you are using Thai herbal compress ball massage for skin care, you’ll want to add shikakai.
If you believe as some do that Cassia Siamea can cure cancer, it too comes from Asia. However, proof of it getting rid of your cancer is non-existent. There is however evidence that this herb does relieve pain and reduce swelling.
Aromatherapy and Muscle Relief
Some herbal compress balls are designed using non-traditional Thai ingredients to help cure other types of ailments. For instance, there is a type of herbal compress ball that is designed largely to alleviate muscle pain through aromatherapy or to calm anxiety and stress. These compresses contain very aromatic herbs like orange peel, patchouli, basil leaves, menthol, salt, and sage.
Common Cold and Sinus Problems
During cold and flu season, believers in this ancient art swear by certain combinations that relieve sinus congestion, can cure the common cold, and can make headaches go away. For those compresses, you’ll want a combination of things like peppermint, cloves, and eucalyptus. If you suffer from asthma, bronchitis or other respiratory ailments, this is the type of herbal compress that you need.
While the steamed herbs fill your nostrils with soothing aromas that relax you, the heat and pressure of the massage help to get your blood circulating, realigns your spine, and improves your posture. At the end of it all, you should feel full of energy, refreshed, and at the same time totally relaxed.
How to Make a Thai Herbal Compress Ball
Making your own Thai herbal compress ball is quite easy to do. It’s why peasants and emperors alike used this therapy in ancient times. The ingredients don’t cost a lot and you don’t need any particular skill set to make it. The materials you use and the herbs you use however are of vital importance to making it the right way.
We found an excellent site that shows you how to DIY a Thai herbal compress ball. For this, you’ll need the following herbs:
- Fresh Ginger
- Rice Powder
- And tumeric
Of course, you can use your own herbal combination for what ails you. You will also need a square (or two) of muslin or plain cloth that hasn’t been bleached. To tie the herbs into a ball, you’ll need some yarn.
First you want to mix all of your herbs together in a bowl. Next you open up the cloth and dump the herbs right in the center. Grab up all four corners of the cloth to make a ball – make it a tight ball too; you don’t want it falling apart in the middle of the massage!
Now that you have the ball made, take the yarn and wrap it really tight around the neck of the cloth to turn it into a little handle. Next you’re ready to steam the ball. You can use a rice steamer, a bamboo steamer, or an electric steamer. Once the water is boiling you just stick the ball in and let it heat for about a half an hour.
Before you begin rubbing it on your body, test it to make sure that it is not too hot. Rub your sore spots or let someone else rub you down with the ball for a half an hour, remembering to have one heating while you use the other to maintain the heat on your body.
The Best Thai Herbal Compresses (on Amazon)
Your homemade compress ball should last for about five treatments before the cloth gets too raggedy and the herbs lose their potency. You could also just buy one online. One tip to make sure that you have found a really good Thai herbal compress is to order it and then open the cloth to inspect the herbs.
When you do this, you are looking for three things: color, texture, and aroma. You can find some cheapo compress sellers that will cheat you by bundling up powdery, dull, herbs that are weak and useless. If you open the compress and the herbs are browning or the scent is too light or the leaves are ground down to a powder, send it back. You’re better off making your own!
Also, you want to have at least two compress balls so that you can keep one heating while the other is being used. That’s why, if you are buying online, we recommend the Thai Spa Herbal Hot Compress Massage Ball from Variety Etc.
This product is made in Thailand and promises to be a true, authentic luk pra kob. You can steam it or pop it in the microwave to heat it up. Inside you get a combination of camphor, salt, pimsen, and other herbs. What we love the most is that you get five compress balls with this product so that you have enough there to give yourself several Thai herbal compress ball massages before you have to buy (or make) a new one!
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