Thai massage, also known as Nuad Bo-Rarn in its traditional form, is a type of Oriental bodywork therapy that is based on the treatment of the human body, mind, and spirit. The therapy includes treating the electromagnetic or energetic field which surrounds, infuses and brings the body to life through pressure and/or manipulative massage.
The origins of traditional Thai massage reportedly began over 2,000 years ago along with the introduction of Buddhism. It is one of four branches of traditional medicine in Thailand, the others being herbs, nutrition, and spiritual practice. The legendary historical creator of Thai medicine is Dr. Jivaka Kumar Bhaccha, known as Shivago Komarpaj in Thailand. Bhaccha was from the north of India and said to be a close associate of the Buddha and chief to the original community gathered around the Buddha. The movement of medicine into Thailand accompanied migration of monks from India to Thailand, possibly around the second century B.C.E. Thai medicine developed within the context of Buddhist monasteries and temples, where Thai have traditionally sought relief from all kinds of suffering.
While the recorded history of Thai massage was lost during the Burmese attack on the royal capital of Ayutthia in 1767, the surviving records are now inscribed in stone and can be found at the Sala Moh Nuat (massage pavilion) within the temple of Pra Chetuphon in Bangkok, known as Wat Po, the temple of the reclining Buddha. Its spiritual aspect also remains as teachers of the therapy begin classes with the practice of waikru, a series of prayers and recitations dedicated to Shivago Komarpaj, the father of Thai massage and the Goddess of Healing, and teachers of the tradition through the centuries.
The benefits of Thai massage are numerous, with the most predominant being the maintenance of good health and the ability to treat a wide spectrum of health concerns. Traditional Thai massage is known for its ability to clear the energy pathways.
The following are some of the benefits of traditional Thai massage.
- increases flexibility and range of movement
- eliminates muscle pain and muscle spasms
- improves postural alignment
- calms the nervous system and promotes a deep sense of relaxation with an increased energy level
- allows for a significant release of deep, emotional distress
- stimulates blood circulation and lymph drainage
- stimulates internal organs
- relieves fatigue, swollen limbs, painful joints, and headaches
Thai massage looks like a cross between acupressure, yoga, and zen shiatsu and is inspired by Buddhist teachings. The actual massage consists of slow, rhythmic compressions and stretches along the body's energy lines, also called sen in Thai. Over 70,000 sen are said to exist within the body, and Thai massage concentrates on applying pressure along 10 of the most important sen, using the palms of the hands, thumbs, elbows, and feet. The effort from the practitioner works to free tension within the body. Practitioners also position the body into yoga-like poses and gently rock the body to open the joints and facilitate limbering.
A thorough Thai massage includes the following four basic positions:
- from the front with the client lying supine
- from the side with the client alternately lying on either side
- from the back with the client lying prone
- in a sitting position
One of the most important principles of Thai massage is the continuous flow of sequential movements that
prepares the client for the next step in the massage. The practitioner is always aware of his position so that an uninterrupted slow rhythm is maintained. Deep, sustained pressure ensures that the myofascia, or the muscle's connective tissue, soften and relax in order to release the flow of energy along the sen, and to prepare the client for the large-scale stretches that follow.
There are two styles of practice, Northern (Chiangmai) and Southern (Bangkok). The former is considered gentler. The latter is faster and sometimes more intense. The Southern style is more widely used in Thailand, while the Northern style has become popular in the United States.
The preparation needed before receiving a Thai massage is minimal. A Thai massage is typically performed on a floor mat-enabling practitioners to use their body weight and to incorporate the many movements that would not be possible with a massage table. Normally, the client remains fully clothed, and lubricant for the skin is rarely used. A Thai massage usually lasts one to two hours, but may be three hours or more if needed.
While some of the pressure techniques used in Thai massage may seem too penetrating to many, most can adjust to it quickly. For those who are frail or stiff, a skilled practitioner will be able to adjust all of the soft tissue and manipulation work to their level of comfort.
Research & general acceptance
The practice of Thai massage is multinational. While a unique modality, Thai massage is slowly spreading into the western world. Knowledge of therapeutic benefits comes from anecdotal evidence rather than research in the Western scientific mode.
Training & certification
Thai massage can be strenuous for the practitioner. To become a Thai master, it is said that the best place to learn is where the therapy originates. The well known school at Wat Po in Bangkok and in Chiang Mai, The Institute of Thai Massage, both in Thailand, are famous for their teaching of the ancient art. It is also possible to receive
Practitioners of Thai massage are taught the most important aspects of the meditative spirit—awareness, mindfulness, and concentration. Correct body positioning and posture control while giving a massage are of vital importance to the practitioner in order to avoid injury, especially to the back.
Kallenbach, Laurel. "In Good Hands: Five hands-on therapies offer a combination of energy, reduced tension and a healing touch." Delicious! Your magazine of Natural Living (January 31, 2000).
Mercati, Maria. "The Healing Benefits of Oriental Massage." Positive Health (May 31, 1999).
Simpson, Ian. "Traditional Thai Massage." Journal of the Australian Traditional-Medical Society (June 30, 1998).
American Oriental Bodywork Therapy Association. http://www.aobta.org.