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Why Are There Different Styles of Thai Massage?

Why are there many styles of Thai Massage?

Thai Massage has developed into many styles. What are the differences, and which one is right for you? And where do you get the information to decide?

When we talk about Thai Massage, that’s not necessarily a clear definition. It’s somewhat like talking about “Christianity”. Well – are you talking about Catholics, Protestants, Mormons, Methodists, Born-agains…?

It is similar with Thai Massage training and courses. There is a northern style, a southern style, a royal style, a strictly traditional style, and a whole number of styles that have been mixed with other Asian healing arts, or with yoga, or with energy work, and others.

Why are there so many different Thai Massage styles?

Why are there all these styles? Why not just one? There is a saying that “variety is the spice of life”, and this is quite true in this case.

Just imagine for a moment that there was only one type of car in the world, or only one mobile phone – don’t you agree that it is much more interesting to have many choices?

Henry Ford once famously said, talking about his Model T: “People can have any color car they want, as long as it’s black”. This marketing strategy would not work anymore nowadays.

Just like you can match a car to your preferences, you can also match a massage style to your body and your likes.

Some people like strong massage, and some would rather have a gentle one. Some like stretching, some prefer oil (Swedish/deep tissue/sports) massage, and some love rocking massage.

And then there are people who love foot massage, or maybe abdominal work, while others are head massage fans. 

Most of these variations can be found within the highly versatile Thai Massage system.

Creativity in Thai Massage should not be restricted

Once a therapist  becomes seasoned and experienced, he or she does not want to merely follow the routine which they learned in massage school. That would get boring and uninspiring.

Thai Massage is a creative, intuitive, graceful, flowing art, not a mechanical system of pressing or rubbing on certain points or muscles. Therefore it is natural that therapists express their creativity by developing their own styles.

Traditions versus innovation in the healing arts

This leads to a continuing and progressive evolution of massage techniques. Without that there would be no growth, no spontaneity, no improvement.

Granted, there are traditionalists who believe that everything should be done just how it had always been done for hundreds or even thousands of years (in the case of Thai Massage). And the truth is that this can be a good thing, as you will see.

In this way a core style can be preserved and maintained as a bench mark against which newer styles can be measured. And some traditional systems are very good the way they are.

At some point in time every single massage style has been invented and developed by someone. These persons were the innovators of the healing arts world.
Innovators create, and traditionalists maintain. There is a place for both.

The world would certainly be quite a boring place without innovation, without any new creative ideas, and without new styles and techniques in the massage and healing arts arena. The same applies to any other field.

Thai Massage has developed differently outside of Thailand

Many Massage Styles

Often Thai Massage is not practiced in the same way in western countries as it is done in Thailand. There is a reason for that.

Western therapists, unlike their counterparts from Thailand, have much more access and exposure to other massage styles. Therefore they have a tendency to mix and blend and combine techniques.

Therapists in Thailand have typically never been exposed to anything but the traditional style of working. That’s why you find very little blending and changing in Thailand.

Also therapists in the western world have generally started out learning massage – mostly Swedish massage – on a table. Therefore many of them have converted Thai Massage to the table, because that’s what they are used to.

Traditionally it is practiced on the floor. Moving it onto a table changes it somewhat, of course. And quite a few therapists blend Thai Massage with Swedish massage.

Personally I have studied Thai Massage in Thailand with several excellent and well known teachers. They all had their own style and their own unique techniques.

And that’s without blending Thai Massage with any other modalities. In the process of practicing and teaching Thai Massage for over 20 years, I have developed my own style as well.

Which Thai Massage style is best for you?

So what style should you choose as an aspiring Thai Massage practitioner? This depends on mostly 4 factors:

  • What style do you most enjoy receiving? You will do best giving what you like to receive.
  • Which teacher do you resonate with? You will be most inspired if your teacher can bring the techniques alive for you.
  • Which style works for you and your body? For example, if you study a very rigid style which relies on a lot of thumb pressure work, but your thumbs cannot handle it, then this is not the best choice for you.

    You would do better with a softer style. Or if you study a style which uses a lot of difficult stretches, but you are 5 foot  tall and weigh 95 pounds, then this might be difficult for you. So make sure that you study a style that works for your body.
  • What is your objective? Do you just want to learn a few good moves to spice up your primary western modality? Or do you want to learn and practice Thai Massage as a complete stand-alone system? In this case it is much more important that you pick a style that really suits you.

Is there such a thing as a better style?

Comparing Thai Massage styles can be confusing. One is not really better than another. It all depends on what you feel comfortable with, what suits you, and what your objectives are.

Let’s say you are a yoga teacher and want to integrate Thai Yoga Massage with your yoga teaching. In this case you would most likely prefer a style or a teacher that uses plenty of stretches, including some fancy ones that resemble partner yoga

On the other hand, if you are a massage therapist with an average clientele that is on the older side, you would most likely drive your clients away if you try to twist them into a pretzel with all kinds of fancy stretches.

In this case you would be better off with a gentler version which uses more techniques like compression and rocking.

Of course ideally you would be able to accommodate both types of clients. That means that you need quite a large repertoire of techniques, and the sensitivity and creativity to adapt it to the needs of your clients.

What Thai Massage ‘styles’ to avoid

There are schools which only teach predefined sequences and give you the impression that Thai Massage is just a mechanical system of fixed routines which you do in every session on every client.

That will stifle your enthusiasm and creativity and can lead to uninspired work and even boredom. Sequences have their place. They are great for the initial learning process and can be useful for regular sessions.

But unless you learn how to go beyond them, they will hinder your progress in the long run. They will get in your way for doing creative, individualized, intuitive therapeutic work.

Another style which you should avoid is one that uses lots of thumbing work. This can lead to burning out your thumbs and hands. Thai Massage uses thumbing along the energy (sen) lines, but you can also use other body parts to reduce stress on your hands.

If your school or teacher does not present variations that don’t stress the thumbs, you might not last long in this career. Thai Massage is extremely flexible and adaptable, so make sure you learn it in this way, and not in a strictly mechanical way.

Conclusion

It is not important what the name of the Thai Massage style is, or how traditional it is. What is important is that it fits you, your body, your clientele, your circumstances, and your objectives.

Naturally in the beginning it will not be so easy to decide what is really right for you. Here at Thai Healing Massage Academy we can help you with this.

Resources

We have lots of free material – articles and videos about Thai Massage training – which will help you with this decision making process. You can watch our introductory video series, our Youtube videos, read lots of informative articles, and join our facebook group.

This will give you an excellent basis for making the best decision about learning Thai Massage. You can do that by signing up for our free introductory video series in the box below this article.

If you are ready to start learning Thai Massage, take a look at Thai Healing Massage Academy’s Complete Thai Massage online learning course and see if that fits you:


If you are already practicing Thai Massage and are ready to get more in-depth and more advanced training, check out our Thai Massage online training library with 20 training courses for all your educational requirements – from beginner to highly advanced material.

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author's picture

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

7 thoughts on “Why Are There Different Styles of Thai Massage?”

  1. I have often wondered what the differences are between the northern and southern style are and you don’t answer that question in your blog. As much as you write about “different styles of Thai Massage?” I was hoping you would at least have one paragraph on the differences. I’ve been to Thailand many times in both the north and south and haven’t noticed much of a difference.

  2. Hi Steve,

    unless you are really into studying Thai Massage you would not really notice the difference between the northern and southern style. Actually in order to be totally correct, I should say the ‘northern style’ and the ‘Bangkok style’.

    The Bangkok style is taught and preserved under the auspices of the Thai government in the famous temple ‘Wat Pho’. This is where the remnants of what was left of the Thai Massage writings was carved into the walls of the temple after the Burmese had sacked the old Thai capital of Ayuttaya and destroyed most of the evidence of the original Thai Massage system.

    So Wat Pho became the place that preserved the tradition, and they have their own style of teaching. However for all practical purposes there is not a major difference between their style and the northern style which has its headquarters in Chiang Mai and has been preserved primarily by the ‘Old Medicine Hospital’.

    Also today there is a lot of mixing going on. For example one of the biggest Thai Massage schools in Chiang Mai, TMC, teaches the Bangkok style. So the differences are getting smaller with this mixing and blending.

    Some Thai Massage therapists in Chiang Mai have studied in Bangkok and spent time there. Then there is a growing trend that Bangkok residents are moving to Chiang Mai which is a more pleasant place to be. So the Thai Massage scene is becoming more fluid as well.

    There are purists around who strictly refer to the northern or Bangkok style. And yes, there are some differences. But for the average person who gets a Thai Massage it won’t be noticeable.

    I intentionally don’t go into the technical details between the two similar Thai Massage styles since the differences are just not major enough to warrant a discussion. That is, unless you subscribe to one of the purist camps who emphasize those differences.

    My style of Thai Massage is not exclusively northern or southern, but uses many elements of yoga, Qigong, energy work, and even Shiatsu and Breema along with Thai Massage.

  3. Yes, Shama, you are absolutely right about the Thai Therapy between Northern style and Bangkok style……………

    You are really know exactly to teach Thai Massage..
    You are the ONE

  4. Thank you Shama. These are really great tips when it comes to choosing a Thai massage style. This blog post helps me find a massage school which best suits me.

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