Tag Archives: Thai yoga massage

The “Elemental Diet” – a brief look at the approach to nutrition for optimum health from a Traditional Thai Medicine Theory point of view

I hate doing cardio at the gym. This much I have in common with 95% of my clients. However, in the ultimate effort of turning a negative situation (cardio) into a positive one, when I really think about it, the time that I am forcing myself to spend sweating on a pushbike going nowhere is actually one of the few opportunities that I have to read a book without stealing precious time away from other Reading a book at the gym while doing cardioimportant tasks. Apart from the rower most other cardio machines are great for this purpose: plonk the book or tablet (as in my case) on the little ledge at the front of the settings screen and you are ready to go.

By the way, this tactic works better when doing steady cardio, if you are doing HIIT it’s unlikely to work as most of your resources will be devoted towards completing the sprints in a safe and efficient manner and you won’t be able to concentrate on the book.

One of the books that I managed to read in this way is “Seven Peppercorns” which has nothing to do with Fitness Makeovers™ but contains some surprising gems of knowledge with regards to nutrition for optimum health from the point of view of Traditional Thai Medicine. As a Thai Yoga Massage practitioner I couldn’t resist buying it as it provides answers to the many questions I had about my chosen style of holistic treatments and it helped me understand better the framework from within which Thai Massage evolved into the beautiful healing art that it is today. Even after reading the book I am still scratching the surface and, in fact, have more questions, but at least I know a little bit more.

SUPER QUICK INTRO TO THAI ELEMENTAL MEDICINE

Cover of "Seven Peppercorns" - click to buy on Amazon

Click the image to purchase this book on Amazon

Quoting directly from the book: “Traditional Thai Medicine has five different roots: Medicinal Sciences, Physical Therapies, Spirit Medicine, Divinatory Sciences, and Buddhism (which can be seen as the mental health root). These roots are bound together by two common threads: Buddhist concepts and view, and Thai element theory. (…) it is the basis upon which all traditional Thai medical diagnosis and treatments are founded”.

According to this theory there are 5 elements that make up everything in our world: our bodies, the trees, the earth, the sea and our thoughts. These elements are: Earth, Water, Fire, Wind and Space. It’s believed that ‘it is the balance, or imbalance of these elements that is the root cause of all health and disease’.

In a nutshell, according to Traditional Thai Medicine (but other cultures have also similar theories) the 5 elements that make up our bodies are:

  • Earth represents solidity and its qualities are that it’s hard, stable and heavy. Earth is tangible, it has mass. The function of the Earth element is to provide support like a skeleton or a building. In our bodies Earth is everything that has mass, like bones, the organs, the skin and the nails. The element of Earth is closely linked with the element of Water without which it would crumble.
  • Water is also a tangible element. It literally represents everything that has fluidity within us: blood, sweat, tears, synovial fluids. Water brings cohesion to our bodies and keeps us supple and moist.
  • Fire is heat or the lack of. It’s bright, reactive but it’s also dry, rough, mobile, causes aging, emotions and fever among others. It’s associated with the sense of sight, with digestion and with the urge to move as well as with the articulation of ideas. For those of you who are into numerology it is associated with the number 4. Whereas the previous two elements are tangible Fire is more similar to a metabolic process rather than a physical part.
  • Wind is movement. This includes breathing, speaking, running, gesticulating, and so on. It’s light and dry, cool, abrasive, subtle. Like Fire, Wind is also considered to be a metabolic process more than a physical element although it’s associated with the sense of touch. It’s the lightest of all the elements and it’s therefore the easiest to throw out of balance.
  • Space is the hardest element to grasp: it’s emptiness, it’s the atmosphere but also the empty spaces within our bodies. Its nature is to be expansive and it can be used to relate to our minds: are the open and ready to receive or are they full of thoughts, feelings and ideas? The element of Space relates to our bodies via the orifices by providing the gateway between the environment inside and outside of the body.

CORE ELEMENTAL CONSTITUTION AND DIET

Now that we have set the scene we can get to the juicy bits leading to the “Elemental Diet”. Please remember that this is just a “curiosity exercise” for fun and it’s not meant to be the next fad diet or fitness program. Got it? OK, here we go…

When it comes to physical appearance and diet we only look at the first 4 elements listed above: Earth, Water, Fire and Wind. Each one of us tends to have a constitution that expresses one or two of these elements more than the others. This “core elemental constitution” affects us in every respect: physical appearance, predisposition towards certain diseases and even character traits. Depending on which element is dominant within us we can follow some basic nutrition principles that will serve us best.

Earth, Wind, Fire and Water

As a general rule, it is recommended to always eat quality unprocessed foods preferably organic, seasonal and whole foods, home cooked whenever possible. It’s best to eat when you are hungry and before you become famished and stop when you feel satisfied but before you are full. Food should be well cooked and warm as raw and cold foods can be hard on the digestive system. You could make some distinctions based on the weather: when it’s hot eat sweet, bitter and astringent foods, when it’s cold choose hot pungent, sour and astringent foods and when it’s rainy or stormy go for aromatic and warming foods (things like cinnamon). Don’t eat after 7pm. Good sleep is always recommended as is exercise although not the intense cardiovascular variant as it’s seen as being too strenuous on the heart. Truth is that’s exactly one of the reasons why we do it, to train the heart but hey, on bad days I’ll go all Thai from now on and skip cardio! Now let’s take a look at each element and see what specific advice is available for them.

Earth element

“Earth people” in Thai tradition are very similar in physical appearance to what we would call endomorphs, i.e. strong and muscular or heavy set, big boned and will have a squareness of shape. Mentally, “Earth people” tend to be grounded, resistant to change, not keen on travel but with a balanced and compassionate disposition.

Earth people will do well on a balanced diet with plenty of organic produce that is nourishing and well cooked. As long as they follow the general rules they will be fine.

Water element

“Water people” tend to have a voluptuous figure and healthy complexion. Like the Earth people they also tend to have a large frame, with a steady stride. They can have a tendency to being overweight but they are usually known for their beauty. Water people can have slow digestion and when injured they are also slow to heal. This general slowness in the movement of fluids leads them to retain toxins for longer and therefore be prone to illnesses. Mentally, water people “tend to be easy-going and flexible with an inner sweetness. They are often intuitive” and have a natural talent for the arts. Very emotional they can find it difficult to embrace new ideas quickly.

Coffee is a big no-no for Water people who should also avoid having cold foods like fruit and yogurts for breakfast and concentrate on warm foods instead. Raw foods are also not good for them as is consuming meat and sweets. The best foods are cooked vegetables, rice and pungent spices. Engaging in active exercise with lots of big movements will be beneficial.

Fire element

“Fire people” tend to have slightly reddish or tan complexions. Red heads will undoubtedly have fire as their dominant element. Physically they are average build but strong and athletic, their eyes are clear and sharp. Mentally they can be very intelligent and articulate, driven, good leaders even when they lean towards being selfish. They can also be short tempered and aggressive.

Spicy foods are not that good for fiery people who should lean towards eating cooling foods. Three large meals are better than smaller ones as long as their digestive system is firing on all cylinders. Black coffee is best avoided as is alcohol. Bitter foods such as rucola, radicchio and mustard greens are great. Moderate exercise in cool surroundings is beneficial.

Wind element

“Wind people” tend to be similar in appearance to what we refer to as “Endomorphs”: with light thin bodies that can be either very tall or very short. They also tend to have dark complexion, smaller eyes and find it difficult to stay warm. Like their Fiery counterparts, they can be very intelligent especially academically and quick learners, however their communications can be superficial and “flighty” quickly jumping from one subject to the next. They can be anxious, nervous, creative but also overstimulated.

The best foods for Wind people are those that are highly nutritious and with aromatic spices. Plenty of oils and healthy fats are good, as well as good quality dairy products. It’s best to eat several smaller meals throughout the day than just two or three larger ones. Food should be either steamed or otherwise well cooked. They should avoid raw foods as well as engaging in extreme dietary restrictions.


What surprised me the most as I read the book was that it actually included a whole section about nutrition and exercise. I bought it because I wanted to learn more about the philosophy behind Thai Yoga Massage as a bodywork art and discovered just how “wholistic” this medicinal system is not focusing on symptoms of disease but instead taking care that all the “systems” within the body are in balance and what to do to keep them that way. Fascinating.

None of the above classifies as “new and revolutionary” information but it provides perhaps an additional framework from which we can review our eating and exercising habits when we don’t seem to achieve results in a timely manner. Could it be that by making a few simple changes according to what we think (there is no testing as such involved, it’s more down to intuition) is our core elemental constitution we will see a difference?

As a final thought, I found all the comments about eating whole and unprocessed foods preferably organic rather interesting. I am sure this part is heavily influenced by modern times as I doubt very much there were things such as glyphosate at the time of the Buddha, however it’s funny that in the XXI century we spend so much time reading and discussing the virtues of organic food as if it was a novelty when it really was the only way of life for so many thousands of years.

Oh! And what about the “Seven Peppercorns”? Well, apparently if we swallow 7 black fat juicy peppercorns first thing in the morning we will enjoy better digestion, less wind and less stressful thoughts during the day.

I think my primary elemental constitution is predominantly fire with some wind and a splash of water. What’s yours? Let me know in the comments below. 🙂

I ♥ Thai Yoga Massage

"ShenZhen FongTin" by WiNG - Own work at Wikimedia Commons

“ShenZhen FongTin” by WiNG – Own work at Wikimedia Commons

The first time I went to Hong Kong to study Kung Fu I spent a few weeks out there with my martial arts instructor and a few fellow senior students. We would spend our days learning and practicing and occasionally, as a treat for all the hardwork we would be accompanied across the border at Shenzhen for an overnight stay at the local massage parlour.

I guess the place was the equivalent of one of our Spas and, although it looked a bit dodgy to me, it was in fact respectable. At least the part where female clients were being treated and accommodated for the night…

It was here that I had my first experience of Thai Yoga Massage. Although not strictly the traditional version and not carried out by Thai masseuses it was bloody good and completely different from the other styles of massage I had experienced up to that point. Despite our communication challenges being of monumental proportions through a lot of gesticulating (comes natural to me) we managed to ask for a 2 hour treatment.

Even now that I have been a qualified Thai Yoga Massage practitioner for some time I am still amazed at how skilled these girls were in the art of throwing clients around the room while taking them through amazing stretches. All this action was of course occasionally interrupted by gently, gently, softly, softly working of the soft tissues but it didn’t last long and I was soon being bashed all over the place… all over the place!

When I woke up the next day I felt like a completely different person and I was in love with the treatment. Because the girls took my body through a whole sequence of deep stretches, every single joint in my skeleton was duly lubricated and able to experience its full range of motion. Not only that, a lot of the emotional tension I was carrying with me everywhere at the time was gone. Suddenly I was a bit more ninja like in my kung fu moves too as I was generally more relaxed and therefore able to move quicker.

We went there again towards the end of our stay and after some sightseeing around Beijing and Foshan to retrace the steps of the forefathers and mothers of Wing Chun Kung Fu. This time I was determined to find out just how much I could put up with and booked a 3 hr treatment. My female travel companion at the time opted for a kinder Japanese style treatment which lasted just about an hour which meant that her masseuse was over and done with by the time I was getting warmed up and ready to go. It was at that point that I really should have kept my big mouth shut but no, I had to ask in really awful Chinese, why they had bars on the ceiling. I sealed my fate. After lots of gesticulating and giggling the two masseuses teamed up, giggled some more, flipped me over the bed as if I was a pancake, pushed my face through a hole, giggled even more and then grabbed a towel each.

What happened next will never be erased from my mind. Ever. They took turns in flipping the towels over the rails, levitated on top of the bed and after grabbing the towels they proceeded to jump up and down my back digging their big toes in between each vertebrae until they popped. Unfortunately not all of them wanted to pop straight away but I was too much in shock to do or say anything about it and I just remember hearing my travel companion laughing like crazy while I was mumbling something along to lines of “pop you mother*****r, just pop!”. I am not sure what happened during the rest of my treatment, I think I passed out… but I must have been flipped again on my back because I woke up in the morning face up. I was terrified that my spine was in no fit state to carry me around all day but, surprise, for the first time in some time I was able to bend and twist like a pretzel and again I felt very lighthearted and zen like. Magic!

It was at that point that I decided to learn more about Thai Yoga Massage and have since discovered that there are two broad styles of treatment: the Northern (what I do) and the Southern (which they did) with the former believed to be more dynamic but less brutal. It took me ages to find somewhere to learn in the UK but eventually I did and was privileged to be able to learn from one of the best teachers in the Country on an almost one-to-one basis (there were two of us in the course).

A lot of people who approached me in the past have asked me what the treatment consists of and how it relates to other similar styles of energy based treatments. I did some research as part of my diploma and have briefly compared Thai Massage with Reiki and Acupuncture. You can read my ramblings here.

I love doing the treatments and I love spending some extraordinarily quality time with my lovely clients, but sometimes I wonder if I got this whole thing backwards and whether I should have tricked my other half to learn it so I could have been the guinea pig!