Traditional Thai Massage

Traditional Thai massage is a wonderful and effective healing therapy that can be enjoyed on many levels by a wide variety of people. These days,  yoga practitioners borrow assisted stretches from the Thai tradition and use them in their practice and teaching; Western massage therapists increasingly integrate Thai techniques into their table massage work; and the general public enjoys giving and receiving Thai techniques that may be learned in short courses and workshops. The study of this discipline for professional purposes, however, is a serious undertaking, and it should not be treated lightly or superficially. More information about professional study and practice is available in other sections of the THAI website, and in the online library.


General information

The Thai healing art known in Thai language as nuad boran (ancient massage) probably began to evolve around one thousand years ago in present day Thailand. Many uninformed sources claim that Thai massage is 2,500 years old, or that it was invented by an Indian physician named Jivaka. The ancestor spirit of traditional Thai medicine is indeed an Ayurvedic doctor named Jivaka Kumarabhaccha who is revered to this day throughout Thailand. He is held in high esteem because he personally knew the Buddha, and because he donated land to build a monastery for the first order of Buddhist monks. But Jivaka almost certainly did not invent, practice or teach Thai massage, nor did he travel to Thailand from India over 2,500 years ago.


The theoretical basis for traditional Thai healing is rooted in the belief that all forms of life are sustained by a vital force (lom) that is carried along lines (sen) that run through our bodies. This force is extracted from air, water and food, and it is believed that disease and dysfunction come about when blockages occur along these pathways. The goal is to free this trapped energy, to stimulate the natural flow of life-force, and to maintain a general balance of wellness.


Treatments combine elements of yoga, assisted stretching, compression, stimulation of energy lines, and meditation to provide a unique and powerful therapeutic experience. This differs greatly from Western table massage in several important ways. Sessions take place on a comfortable floor mat, not on a massage table or massage chair. The muscle-rubbing and kneading techniques found in Western massage are entirely absent in Thai therapy; creams and oils are not used; and the work is performed in loose-fitting clothing. Practitioners may use their feet, knees, elbows, forearms, hands or fingers during a therapeutic session to stimulate energy in the body and to encourage the free flow of wind element. Although the client’s physical body is moved, stretched and manipulated, the ultimate goal of this therapy is to bring balance and harmony to the energy body and to the mind of the receiver, and to encourage a process of self-healing.


Focused acupressure is sometimes used to treat blocked areas on the body, and this stimulates the flow of wind (lom) along the sen lines. Broad pressure relaxes muscles and allows the body to unwind. Through assisted yoga, the body is able to be moved in ways that are difficult to attain through normal exercise and individual yoga practice. Relaxed, deep breathing helps to bring about proper balance and a peaceful state of mind. Finally, the practice is also a spiritual discipline since it incorporates the Buddhist principles of mindfulness (breath awareness) and loving kindness (focused compassion.) The benefits of all these techniques, when shared by skilled practitioner and a willing client, help to bring a treatment to a focused and profound level. The result of a full-body Thai session is often an exciting and powerful mind/body experience, bringing both the receiver and the giver to greater states of physical and mental well-being.


Individualized holistic treatment is at the heart of Thai healing arts, and the work should be administered in this way in order to be fully effective. Accomplished Thai therapists continually practice and study with a variety of teachers throughout their entire careers. They “listen” to the body of each client as they work; they learn to sense energy flow and blockages; and they rely on intuition, sensitivity and stillness to guide them through each treatment.


In Thailand, massage (nuad) belongs to one of the branches of Thai medicine. Its roots extend back to Indian Ayurvedic medicine and ancient Buddhist medicine, and it evolved in Thailand where stillness and compassion are important cultural and spiritual norms. Thai massage can sometimes be deep, but a true therapist knows how to work deeply without causing pain or distress to the receiver. If you have received a Thai massage where you experienced pain or you were hurt, your therapist was probably not skilled or adequately trained. Traditional Thai therapies have been treating and helping people to improve their physical and spiritual well-being for a very long time. There is every indication to believe that they will continue on this path well into the future.


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