Traditional Thai Massage
Thai massage is a system of manipulation developed in Thailand, and influenced primarily by the traditional medicine systems of India, including yoga, and Ayurveda. It may have been influenced by other countries such as China and other SouthEast Asian cultures.
Thai massage is said to have developed by the personal physician to Buddha. He is known as the Father/Doctor. If this is true it means Thai Massage is over 2500 years old. By any standards it is a very ancient style of massage.
One day I was practicing at Wat Po, one of the most prestigious Thai Massage schools in Thailand. A Western man came in to get a massage. He told me that he had been all over India searching for high level bodywork, and said that he could find nothing that compared to what was being practiced here in Thailand.
I like to think that Traditional Thai Massage, named Nuat Ben Bo Ran, or Nuat Thai, is a fairly accurate snapshot of ancient India, that has been passed down for many generations. It remains one of the most effective forms of body therapy available anywhere.
The Practice of Thai Massage
The person receiving the massage typically lies on a platform bed with a thin mattress. The massage is performed through loose clothes, which actually takes more skill. Frequently a massage clinic has a bunch of these platform beds lined up together, separated only by a cloth barrier that can be pulled to create a false sense of privacy. You can still hear all the other people coming and going and getting treatment, yet the experience remains extraordinarily relaxing and personal.
The Classic form of Thai Massage entails positioning the recipient in various positions. One can expect to be face up, on their back, lying on their stomach, sides, and sitting. Each of these positions may be considered as a “form” in itself, as the therapist spends a considerable time in each position. Each position offers a different variation of treatment and can be useful or advantageous in certain situations.
For example if one is pregnant and can’t lay on their stomach, a complete treatment can be performed on the sides. If someone hurts themselves hiking in the mountains, the therapist can use the sitting form. To complete the entire form takes at least 2/ 1/2 hours so another reason to confine treatment to one or more “forms” is time.
The Thai Massage therapist uses compression, acupressure and puts the client in yoga positions. The compression and acupressure is performed in a rhythmic cadence being throughout the session. This lulls the body/mind into deep states of relaxation.
Thai massage is so effective because one gets a remarkably comprehensive treatment. A lot of time is spent on the acupuncture meridians (called Sen in Thai) of the legs, arms, back and stomach. With the attention to the hands, feet, head, and stomach, the patient gets a fairly decent reflexology treatment.
For stubborn problems or to generally improve the health, herbs, wrapped in a bolus and heated in a rice cooker, are applied to the skin, or even through the clothes.
Healing Vs a Great Massage
In Thailand, just as everywhere else, there is a vast distinction between those who can perform a great massage, and those who can heal acute and chronic problems with bodywork. To heal, one must be adept at pulling out specialized tools from their tool bag of techniques and use them to fix a problem. This skill comes through experience: being in the trenches with pain patients and learning how to solve their conditions.
Many Thai therapists specialize in internal organ massage, tendon and ligament rolling, manipulating the flow of blood in the arteries, and manipulating the joints, much like a chiropractor. Some Thai Massage healers will even perform esoteric, shamanic like practices.