Massage Traditions Unveiled at Mandara Spa

By Noel Pietsch Shaw

AS A TEENAGER IN NORTHERN THAILAND, Piccione remembers the exact moment she realized the importance of massage. One evening, her mother asked her to massage her aching legs. Unfamiliar with the techniques of Thai massage, she eluded her mother’s plea. The following morning her mother couldn’t get out of bed. Deeply concerned, Piccione spent the next few days rubbing and massaging her mother’s legs. In a matter of days, circulation returned; with a healing touch, she was back on her feet shortly thereafter. The experience inspired Piccione to commit her life to traditional Thai massage.

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In stark comparison to relaxation-based Swedish and Hawaiian Lomi Lomi massage, the Thai method uses pressure and body manipulation to stimulate natural healing abilities by releasing blocked energy to restore circulation. The end result leaves your body rejuvenated and “calmly energized” for days following the treatment.

Now, after much training, Piccione shares her passion for the Thai technique with clients at the Mandara Spa in Honolulu.

Following his first traditional Thai massage (during a business trip to its country of origin), Darryll Leiman, vice president of resort operations at Hilton Hawaiian Village-where Mandara is located-was instantly convinced to meld the offering into the program at Mandara.

“Thai massage can be used to treat certain injuries or conditions. In a traditional sense, Thai therapists are trained to work in a clinical setting,” says Leiman. “For a spa setting, the treatment has been slightly adapted to focus on overall body rejuvenation.”

Having experienced several massages in Thailand, I thought I knew exactly what I was getting into. However, just a few minutes into my hour-long treatment at Mandara, I quickly realized that my Southern Thailand experience had been heavily edited to appeal to westerners.

Be warned: Piccione’s treatment is more of an intense workout than a relaxing therapy treatment. Starting with my feet, she uses her incredibly strong hands to stretch and press the build-up of toxins, blockages and stress out of their resting points in my body. She pulls my legs and twists my arms, as I continuously take deep breaths to keep my mind calm.

As the session progresses, and she works through my legs, arms, shoulders and neck, I find myself slowly relaxing-in a manner completely foreign to the massages I’m used to. My muscles melting like butter, I feel the amazing euphoria Thai massage is so popularly know for.

The grand finale includes the cracking of my spine, from top to bottom like xylophone, as Piccione gently manipulates my body left, then right.

A custom treatment room has been constructed around this experience. Instead of a raised massage table, patrons lie on a soft mattress on the floor and remain fully clothed. Surrounded by candles, flowers and relaxing music, the practitioner begins the massage with a puja-a meditative, Buddhist offering.

“A Thai massage … is almost like hard work, in a way. I describe it like yoga being done to you. It stretches and pulls you in the most unusual positions and leaves you feeling indescribably amazing,” adds Leiman.

Piccione warns that the most common misconception about Thai

massage is that it hurts. “While Thai massage is a lot of stretching to circulate the blood through the body, it should never hurt. If anyone has had a Thai massage that caused them pain, their practitioner was not properly trained and was pushing their body too far,” she explains.

According to Leiman and Piccione, if you are willing to push through the treatment, you will reap the ultimate reward of feeling refreshed, rejuvenated, and as though you have taken years off your body-the ultimate luxury.