The Thai Sib Sen or Thai Sen Energy Lines form an important theoretical and practical component of Traditional Thai Massage therapy.
In a general sense, Thai Sen theory implies that (physical) blockages and obstructions of the flow of “Life Energy” in our bodies lead to illnesses and discomforts. In the Orient, this Vital Life Energy is called Prana, Lom Pran, Ki, Chi, or Qi, among other terms, depending on the country and the traditional medical system used.
Naturally, a lot of focus in Thai Massage is directed at clearing the blockages of the Thai Sen Lines by using a variety of techniques, such as stretches, vibration, acupressure, percussion, and so on. Thus, by opening up the Sen Lines, Life Energy can flow unobstructed and promote healing and health.
A “disturbing” fact however is that we are told that the Thai Sen Energy Lines, just like the Indian Prana Nadis or Chinese TCM Meridians, cannot be seen. They are said to be invisible. For the Western intellectually inclined mind, such is highly inconvenient. We want to see, touch, designate, categorize, and prove things. Moreover, results of our actions need to be repeatable. It’s the Western way of doing science.
In the West, the idea of invisible channels, canals, or vessels that carry Life Energy is considered a kind of magic, a mystery, a belief, and a Western Thai Massage student has only two options: accept or reject the concept. In fact, Thai Massage works, and has results and health benefits, even without knowledge of the Sen Lines. As for this, there are plenty of healers in Thailand that have no actual knowledge of the Energy Lines, their trajectories and function, but still do excellent healing work.
But maybe there’s a third way of looking at both Life Energy and the Sen Lines, apart from blindly accepting or rejecting the theory. In fact, there are voices in the Thai Massage community, notably in the West, that describe the Sen Lines as the verifiable anatomical parts of our body and Life Energy as oxygen and nutrients which are transported by blood through our circulatory system (blood circulatory system or cardiovascular system).
And it’s true that when we look at the trajectories the Thai Sen Lines supposedly take, we must admit that there are quite a lot of similarities with both our circulatory system (arteries, veins, and lymphatic system) and our nervous system.
In traditional Thai (and Asian) medical theory it’s said that Prana, Lom, or Life Energy is absorbed by human beings by breathing, by the food we eat, through sunlight, and via barefoot contact with the Earth. From out a modern Western scientific point of view it would mean that Life Energy could — at the minimum — correspond with oxygen and nutrients. Certainly these two components are of vital importance, and our blood circulatory system is the key mechanism to distribute both oxygen and nutrients through our bodies.
So, this mysterious thing which is called Life Energy (Prana, Lom Pran, and so on) would then simply be oxygen and food, with that, taking away the invisible and mystic element. Now, to digest and burn food for the release of the energy that is stored in it, oxygen must reach the cells, and carbon dioxide (as a result of combustion) needs to be removed.
Our lungs, an intrinsic part of our blood circulatory system, take in oxygen for the combustion of food and they eliminate carbon dioxide from out our bodies. A healthy respiration and proper oxygen supply is fundamental for our health and fitness and if we exercise and eat properly, our bodies use oxygen and food efficiently.
Seeing things with Western eyes, opening the Sen Lines with Thai Massage would mean that we use Thai techniques trying to relax and de-contract knots, tangles, adhesions, tight and contracted muscles, and other tissues and cells of our body. By loosening up the cells that surround our blood, nervous, and lymphatic system we give space to an optimal working circulatory system, supplying the body everywhere, extensively, and deeply of oxygen and nutrients.
In fact, we all know that a poor blood circulation is detrimental to our health and much of our sports and other health activities (including massage) are based on trying to improve our blood circulation. For instance, if we have a wound somewhere in our body, blood needs to reach that area to supply nutrients, including anti-bodies to fight off infections, and so on. An optimal blood circulation is essential for our health.
Moreover, our nervous system (which is surrounded by cell tissues including muscles) needs to interpret the state of our bodies by sending signals to our brains or other parts in order to trigger the release of substances such as hormones or to initiate certain other physical actions. If nerves are squeezed, obstructed, or blocked (for instance, by tight muscles), they will work poorly (apart from the pain that it brings) and give or receive signals in a distorted fashion. This again makes clear that “opening up and unblocking” our muscles, cells, articulations, and so on, is of key importance.
In conclusion we might say that — seen with Western eyes — the Thai Sen Lines are an ancient way of describing the pathways of our blood, lymphatic, and nervous system including the muscles and other bodily tissues that surround and affect them. Thai Massage then, is a set of tools to keep the pathways open and unobstructed, in order to give space and ability of free movement and circulation of the vital supply of oxygen and nutrients, and support unhindered nerve activity.
In that sense, we also need to understand that Thai Massage in itself doesn’t heal. It just supports and (re)enables our incredibly ingenious bodies to function intelligently, adequately, and efficiently.