It may be the hot new thing in Western spas, but traditional Thai massage has been a trusted modality for more than two millennia. This dynamic bodywork technique uses stretches and acupressure to relax muscles and promote well-being. Whether you just want a few new techniques to try or want to pursue mastery, Thai massage can be a unique and lucrative addition to your practice.
What Is Thai Massage?
Thai massage, or thai yoga massage, is an ancient technique that combines massage, acupressure, assisted yoga and Ayurvedic principles. Instead of kneading muscles, Thai massage therapists use stretches and compression to improve blood flow and muscle mobility.
Unlike Western massage, Thai massage is performed on a floor mat with the client fully clothed. No oil or lotion is used. A combination of static and rhythmic stretches, compressions and rocking motions are performed along set lines visualized on the body. These lines, called “sen” lines, are similar to Traditional Chinese energy meridians.
A Thai massage session is in-depth, running between 90 and 120 minutes long on average. During a session, the client is moved into different positions to facilitate stretching. The therapist then applies pressure or pulls the client into a passive stretch. It’s not uncommon for the therapist to use their feet to apply pressure, stabilize the body or provide resistance during a stretch.
There are two primary styles of Thai massage:
- Southern style, also called “Wat Po” style, puts greater emphasis on acupressure and uses a firmer hand.
- Northern style, which is more common in the United States, is slower, gentler and emphasizes assisted yoga techniques.
As with any massage modality, Thai massage therapists must be licensed. It’s a physically involved technique that demands an understanding of the body, contraindications, and massage ethics. Some businesses may advertise “Thai yoga therapy” or “Thai bodywork” instead of Thai massage. Note that these practitioners may not be licensed massage therapists.
History of Thai Massage
Traditional Thai massage is a culmination of Thai, Indian, Chinese and Southeast Asian influences. Its roots are said to trace back to India over 2,500 years ago. Its founder, Jivaka Kumar Bhaccha, was a revered physician to the Indian royal family and to the Buddha himself. His Ayurvedic and yogic teachings are still apparent in Thai massage today.
Jivaka’s teachings traveled to Thailand with the Buddhist religion. The Thai people gave Jivaka the title Shivago Komarpaj, or “Father Teacher.” His teachings were passed orally from monk to monk, villager to villager, and family member to family member. Because the Thai people were descended from China, aspects of Traditional Chinese Medicine became interwoven in the practice.
While these traditions were eventually written down, many of the records were lost when the Thai capitol was invaded in 1792. It wasn’t until 1832 that King Rama III recognized the importance of preserving the tradition. He ordered key pieces of the remaining texts engraved in stone. The stones were set into the walls of Wat Po temple in Bangkok, and the king decreed that Wat Po would be the first university and school of medicine in Thailand. Over 60 stone texts are still on display there today!
Benefits of Thai Massage
In addition to providing all the benefits of a traditional massage, Thai massage helps the body stretch and move into positions that you might not be able to achieve on your own. This can engage and relax certain problematic muscles more readily than a traditional massage. In fact, studies indicate that Thai massage can be a useful modality for people suffering from chronic pain and tension headaches.
Thai massage benefits include:
• Increased flexibility
• Improved muscle tone
• Improved mobility
• Enhanced “body awareness”
• Relief from chronic stiffness and spasms
• Relief from muscle aches and chronic pain
• Improved circulation
• Increased feelings of relaxation and well-being
First-time clients are often surprised at how active Thai massage sessions can be. Many people report feeling not only relaxed but also invigorated and ready to be productive after their sessions. It’s especially popular with athletes and other people with active lifestyles.
Thai Massage Training
Most Thai massage practitioners in the United States learn their craft as part of continuing education. Thai massage CEU classes will teach you key Thai massage techniques like essential poses, how to use your body as a tool and acupressure skills. You’ll learn about the Sen energy lines and how to apply your knowledge to different areas of the body. Some courses may also integrate breathing techniques and Ayurvedic principles. Most courses have small class sizes and hands-on instruction time.
In addition to basic Thai massage training, there are also a variety of smaller Thai modalities to explore. Thai foot massage, or Thai reflexology, follows an easy-to-learn, fixed routine along the Sen lines of the feet. There are also Thai oil massage modalities and a hot herbal compress that can be combined with any massage modality.
You can find Thai massage schools both inside the US and internationally. You can even attend classes at Wat Po Thai Massage School, the first school to formally teach the technique. Keep in mind that not all schools offer NCBTMB-approved Thai massage CEU classes, and not all classes in Thailand are taught in English. Wat Po, for instance, has a bilingual website but only has English courses at a dedicated campus. Research any school extensively before committing to a course, and make sure you enroll in the right course for you.
Upcoming Ashiatsu Massage Classes
Introduction to Thai Yoga Massage Level 1 – September 7, 2019 – Seattle, Washington – Eric Spivack
Thai Massage 3-Day Intensive – September 27, 2019 – Nashville, Tennessee – Marijean Rue
Thai Massage 3-Day Intensive – September 27, 2019 – Raleigh, North Carolina – Jill Burynski
Thai Massage 3-Day Intensive – October 18, 2019 – Cornelius, North Carolina – Jill Burynski
Thai Foot Massage – October 25, 2019 – Cornelius, North Carolina – Jess Barnwell
Thai Massage for the Table – October 26, 2019 – Cornelius, North Carolina – Jess Barnwell
Integrated Thai Table Massage – November 2, 2019 – Seattle, Washington – Eric Spivack
Thai Massage Weekend Immersion – November 8, 2019 – Asheville, North Carolina – Jill Burynski
Thai Massage Immersion – November 8, 2019 – Asheville, North Carolina – Jill Burynski
Thai Herbal Compress Intensive – November 10, 2019 – Knoxville, Tennessee – Charlene Gaffney
Adding Thai massage to your repertoire can change the way you think about massage and your body’s potential as a tool in your sessions. Even a brief introductory course will teach you techniques you can use for the rest of your career.