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Thai Massage versus Thai Yoga Massage – what’s in a name?

Thai Yoga Massage is basically another name for Thai Massage. There are variations and adaptations and different styles of therapists, but we are talking about the same family of bodywork.

The term ‘Thai Yoga Massage‘ has been coined by western practitioners. It is quite an appropriate name since it does reflect the fact that Thai Massage has its roots in the yoga tradition of India.

In Thailand this term is never used and Thai therapists are generally not very familiar with yoga. Their western colleagues are often not only more familiar with yoga but are yoga practitioners or teachers as well.

The trend in the West is to add more elements of yoga to Thai Massage which is not only a good idea but also brings it back around to its original roots.

Thai Yoga versus Indian Yoga

There actually is a Thai Yoga system which is quite similar to India’s yoga system. It was brought from India to Thailand about 2500 years ago by the same person along with the Thai Massage system.

The massage became very popular, but the yoga system never caught on much in Thailand and is only known by very few people.

Ironically now the Indian yoga system is gradually becoming more popular in Thailand, whereas the Thai Yoga system continues to languish in oblivion.

The difference between Thai Yoga Massage and Yoga

image of yoga bridge

Now we know that Thai Yoga Massage and Yoga are members of the same family. What are the differences between the two systems and is one better than the other?

I have met yoga teachers who swear that yoga can cure all, fix all and do all. It is a well known fact that accomplished yogis can do amazing feats.

There are also amazing Thai Massage therapists how have a high degree of intuition and remarkable powers of healing. Such individuals, however, are rare in both categories.

When is Thai Massage or Yoga healing?

If Thai Massage is done by a highly skilled, intuitive, experienced, or even shamanic practitioner, it can produce dramatic results. However, if it is done by an average therapist who just wants to earn a living, has no passion for it and has no feeling for energy, there is little healing power in it.

The same goes for yoga. Highly skilled yoga practitioners who connect their practice with breath, consciousness and a sense of subtle energy can accomplish impressive healing results.

But if yoga is primarily used as an exercise program to lose weight or to keep your joints from rusting without any higher awareness, there won’t be much healing happening.

When to use Thai Massage and when to use Yoga?

For the purposes of this article I am referring to the physically active yoga which is commonly known as hatha yoga, not to karma, jnana or bhakti yoga.

In Thai Massage, the receiver is passive, whereas in yoga, the practitioner is active. There is no passive element in yoga. This gives us a clue already. Let’s look at some scenarios where Thai Massage is the better choice:

  • Let’s say there is a sick, hurting or partially disabled person. In this case Thai Massage is the right choice. Clients do not need their own strength, they do not need to know the yoga system. They don’t have to do anything except rely on the expertise of the therapist.
  • Yoga is a long term system. I is not a quick fix solution. Thai Massage however can deliver instant results and is better for relieving acute conditions.
  • Yoga takes determination and commitment, and some people just don’t have that. Thai Massage is sometimes called ‘lazy man’s yoga’ since all the receiver has to do is lie down and receive the benefits of passive yoga.
  • Yoga takes time, regular practice and a good amount of skill in order to reap the benefits. Thai Massage is a passive system and does not require any skills (for the receiver).
  • Even clients who have no sensitivity to energy, no understanding of higher awareness, no time for regular yoga practice, and no understanding of their condition can benefit greatly from an experienced Thai Massage therapist.

When is yoga the right choice?

There are several scenarios where yoga is a more appropriate or practical choice than Thai Massage:

  • Thai Massage, at least in the western world, can be quite expensive. Many people cannot afford regular and frequent sessions. Yoga, however, once learned, can be practiced at home absolutely free for the rest of one’s life.
  • Yoga, if learned correctly, will generate more results than just physical improvement. It will lead to the development of higher awareness. This is not necessarily the case for Thai Massage clients, unless the therapist is able to introduce yogic concepts to them as part of the treatment.
  • You might live in an area where good Thai Massage is not available. Yoga classes however are widely available in most areas in the western world.
  • Ideally Thai Massage clients should supplement their bodywork sessions with yoga practice. Since Thai Massage is a passive system, clients can benefit greatly by taking advantage of the active nature of yoga practice in order to take on more responsibility for their own health. I have often given my clients yoga exercises as homework.

The interplay between Thai Massage and Yoga

There are scenarios where Thai Massage is a better choice, and there are circumstances where yoga is the better choice. But this is not a black and white matter. The two systems are highly compatible and there is a lot of overlap:

  • Since Thai Massage is traditionally done on a floor mat, the therapist has to have good physical flexibility to be able to move around the client and perform the techniques. Therefore it is ideal if the therapist practices yoga.
  • Therapists who practice yoga can apply additional elements to their Thai Massage like better breathing, more understanding of energy principles and a higher degree of awareness.
  • Therapists who have a good understanding of yoga can greatly extend the benefits of the massage session for their clients by giving them simple follow up yoga exercises as homework.
  • Thai Massage Therapists sometimes have clients who would definitely benefit from regular sessions but cannot afford them. In such cases it can be very beneficial to encourage clients to take up yoga as a substitute for the bodywork.
  • Yoga teachers can enhance their sessions by including some elements of Thai Massage.
  • Thai Massage teachers can start their classes with some yoga warm up exercises.
  • Yoga teachers can offer Thai Yoga Massage sessions to their students, a perfect match.

Thai Yoga Massage and Yoga – a perfect match

Thai Massage and yoga are not mutually exclusive systems. They are members of the same family and they complement each other in many cases. Therapists who know yoga have a clear advantage over those who do not.

Ideally both systems should harmoniously work together in order to produce the best results.

My own Thai Massage practice has always been closely interwoven with yoga and yoga principles. For me this has been an ideal combination.

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author's pictureThe author, Shama Kern, has been practicing and teaching Thai Massage for 16 years. He is the founder and director of Thai Healing Massage Academy and the creator of 20 online Thai Massage video training courses.

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