Thailand Thai Massage

Traditional Thai Massage
Like many aspects of Thai culture, traditional Thai massage derives its origins from ancient India, and arrived in Thailand through Buddhist missionary monks who were also trained as healers. Along with the spread of Buddhist faith, the traditional massage techniques gained popularity for their abilities to relieve ailments like backaches, headaches, tension, and fevers.
First time recipients are often amazed at its rejuvenating abilities, especially after a cramped, long-haul plane ride or a tense day hunched over their computers at work. Many people may think of massages as self-indulgent pampering, but Thai massage's surprising rejuvenating abilities come from the fact that it is actually a holistic therapy with ancient roots in traditional medicine and has been practiced over the centuries as a form of healing.

Thai massage technique is based on the concept of invisible energy lines running along our bodies. It is linked to the ancient Indian yoga philosophy that our life energy is supplied to our bodies along 72,000 lines that run along our bodies. That's why some of the stretching poses of Thai massage resemble the stretching poses of yoga - to give the body the same holistic benefits. Thai massage focuses on ten key energy lines along our bodies and uses pressure techniques to release the blocked energy along those lines.

Along with releasing blocked energy, there's a spiritual element to Thai massage as well. It's believed that the masseuse is healing the recipient by giving love to the patient through his or her hands. Back in ancient times, the masseuse would say a prayer to centre the mind in a meditative mood before performing a healing massage. This meditative awareness gives the masseuse the power to sense the energy flow and blockages in the recipient's body so that the ailing parts can be healed. When done properly, the masseuse should feel as relaxed as the recipient, because Thai massage is supposed to be a spiritual act that nourishes both the giver and the recipient.

Thai massage is very different from other types of massage. Unlike western massages, Thai massage doesn't use oils and you remain fully clothed. A pair of clean, loose-fitting cotton pyjamas is always supplied for you to change into at the start of the Thai massage. The masseuse uses pressure and stretching techniques, done in a rhythmic, rocking motion. A Thai massage session usually lasts two hours; for the most part, you are lying prone on your back or stomach, but the massage ends with a series of stretches in which the masseuse twists and flips your body sideways, backwards and forwards.

Instead of the standard massage table, Thai massage is done on a mattress on the floor. The masseuse uses her thumbs, arms, elbows, knees and feet, so expect her to climb all over your body and even walk on your back. Don't be alarmed or embarrassed if you find the masseuse suddenly on top of you straddling your groin area - its all part of the traditional technique. Like most Thai people, Thai masseuses are usually quite friendly and may chat or giggle to put you at ease, but there's no need to strike up a conversation with the masseuse, nor is it expected. The best way to enjoy the experience is to simply lie back, close your eyes, relax and let the masseuse do her work. At some point you may actually fall into a snooze as y our aches and tensions get kneaded away.

After a Thai massage, it is normal to find your body aching in places that didn't ache before. That's because some people may suffer from repressed stress or tension that has made their muscles tense unconsciously. This muscle tension may be so subtle that it's unnoticeable by the sufferer, but these tensed up muscles are the cause of energy blockages in the body. These energy blockages are released during Thai massage, which causes the resulting discomfort. A few more massage sessions usually relieves this type of ache.

History of Thai Massage
The Traditional Medical Massage of Thailand, more commonly known as Thai Massage, is one of the world's oldest healing modalities. It originated in India during the Buddha's lifetime, over 2500 years ago, and was brought to this world by a saint, the "Father Doctor Shivago Komarpahj", a contemporary of the Buddha and some say his personal physician and the physician to the King of India.

As Buddhism spread out from India, this healing medicine spread with it. Early in its development it found its way to Southeast Asia where, for centuries, it was performed by monks as one element of indigenous Thai medicine. The Thai people, like many others in the orient, saw illness as an imbalance in the body/mind/spirit and they would seek help at the local temple. They were treated with the four elements of traditional Thai medicine:

  • nutritional counseling (focusing on diet)
  • herbs (given both internally and externally)
  • spiritual counseling (primarily meditation and the Buddhist principles)
  • and Thai Massage (which formed the backbone of the physical treatment).

While its evolution is clouded by the passage of time and the lack of written records, one can see that it is greatly influenced by yoga, Ayurvedic medicine, and traditional Chinese medicine from the movements (which often mimic the asanas of yoga) and attention to pressure points (similar to the nadis of Ayurveda and meridians of Chinese medicine).

Thailand is situated along the great trade route between India and China. Its history and culture, along with its medicine, is affected by its location. While Thai massage appears to have its roots in both Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, there has been some research* which suggests the terminology used is more closely akin to Ayurveda, possibly indicating a closer alliance with India. However, many scholars believe India to be the root source of Chinese medicine also, so it is possible the Thais simply had a greater familiarity with the Indian language, particularly since this tradition was handed down along with the sacred Buddhist teachings, often inscrolled in the Indian languages of Pali or Sanskrit.

Traditional Thai massage today still retains elements of this strong spiritual connection. Practitioners start their work day with a prayer to the Father Doctor, which is recited in the original Pali language, and are remined of the Four Divine States of Mind of the Buddhist teachings: compassion, loving kindness, joy, and balance. For one must begin with compassion - for self as well as for others - and from that compassion springs forth loving kindness - or simply the wish for well - which leads to a feeling of vicarious joy which enables one to find balance or equanimity in life.

Thai massage has undergone a subtle shift as a result of western influences, which greatly increased in the 1950's and continue to this day. Traditionally practiced in Buddhist temples by monks specializing in this "manual manipulation", the work in Thailand today is no longer limited to the temple setting. When western medicine came into vogue, traditional medicine suffered a downswing. It went somewhat underground, and re-emerged years later after western medicine was no longer viewed as always superior. There was undoubtedly always a "folk" element, being the massages given by family members to each other within their villages, particularly as women were not allowed into the temples and so could not receive Thai massage from the monks. Now Thai massage is practiced throughout Thailand, at massage schools, old traditional hospitals, in hotels catering to westerners, on the beaches, and seemingly around every street corner where there is an enterprising Thai! Some of these venues are not legitimate, particularly within Bangkok, and many therapists have received only minimal training. Yet other venues offer astounding treatments by masters of this blend of stretching, acupressure, meditation, and healing art. There is still much to be learned from the traditional practitioners within Thailand.

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