Thai Yoga Massage – An Ancient Healing System
“What is today called “Thai massage” or “Thai yoga massage” is an ancient healing system combining acupressure, Indian Ayurvedic principles, and assisted yoga postures. The founding father of Thai massage was an Ayurvedic doctor named Jivaka Kumar Bhacca, who is revered still in Thailand as the “father of medicine”. Born in India during the time of the Buddha, he is noted in ancient documents for his extraordinary medical skills, his knowledge of herbal medicine, and for having treated important people of his day, including the Buddha himself.
In the Thai language it is usually called nuat phaen thai (Thai: นวดแผนไทย; lit. “Thai-style massage”) or nuat phaen boran (Thai: นวดแผนโบราณ, IPA: [nûət pʰɛ̌ːn boːraːn]; lit. “ancient-style massage”), though its formal name is merely nuat thai (Thai: นวดไทย, lit. Thai massage) according to the Traditional Thai Medical Professions Act, BE 2556 (2013). The art form is also commonly known as “yoga massage” or “Thai yoga massage”, as the practice is essentially a form of assisted yoga performed by the giver, with the receiver completely passive throughout.
Traditional Thai massage uses no oils or lotions. The recipient remains clothed during a treatment. There is constant body contact between the giver and receiver, but rather than rubbing on muscles, the body is compressed, pulled, stretched and rocked.
The recipient of the massage wears loose, comfortable clothing and lies on a mat or firm mattress on the floor. In Thailand the massage is often given to a group of a dozen or so subjects receiving massage simultaneously in the same large room. The true ancient style of the massage requires that the massage be performed solo with just the giver and receiver. The receiver will be positioned in a variety of yoga-like positions during the course of the massage, that are also combined with deep static and rhythmic pressures.
The massage generally follows designated lines (“sen”) in the body. The legs and feet of the giver can be used to position the body or limbs of the recipient. In other positions, hands fix the body, while the feet do the massaging. A full Thai massage session typically lasts two hours or more, and includes rhythmic pressing and stretching of the entire body. This may include pulling fingers, toes, ears, cracking knuckles, walking on the recipient’s back, and moving the recipient’s body into many different positions. There is a standard procedure and rhythm to the massage, which the giver will adjust to fit the receiver.
Traditional Thai massage vs ancient Thai massage
There are two main variations of the healing art: a traditional form which can be found most prominently in Thailand, and an ancient form which can be found more readily in Nepal and northern India. Although to the uninitiated onlooker the two forms are perceived as the same, there are in fact many crucial differences that will be felt by the receiver. Ancient Thai massage always starts with meditation performed by both the giver and the receiver. The giver will then recite a special mantra.
The variations in the two styles can be attributed to the loss of ancient texts and teachings that occurred in Thailand during the numerous wars between Thailand and Burma, during the course of three centuries of the Burmese–Siamese wars. This loss of information gave rise to traditional Thai massage. The ancient style has no corresponding breaks in its historical linage.