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Are There Different Styles of Thai Massage?

There is Thai Massage. But that’s not a very good definition. It is somewhat like saying “There is Christianity”. Well – are you talking about Catholics, Protestants, Mormons, Born Agains…

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

Why are there so many different Thai Massage styles?

So what’s the point of having all those styles? Why not just one? There is the saying “variety is the spice of life”, and this is very true.

Imagine if there was only one car, or one mobile phone – wouldn’t you agree that it is much more fun if you have many choices? Just like you can match a car to your preferences, so can you match a massage style to your body and your likes.

Some people like strong massage, some soft, some like stretching, some prefer oil massage, and some love rocking massage. And then some people love foot work, some love abdominal work, others love head massage. 

All the above mentioned variations can be found within the Thai Massage system.

Creativity in Thai Massage does not want to be limited

Once a therapist  becomes seasoned and experienced, he or she does not want to just follow the routine which they learned in massage school.

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

Traditions versus innovation in healing arts

This leads to an ever developing evolution of massage techniques. Without that there would be no growth, no spontaneity, no improvement.

Of course there are traditionalists who believe that everything should be done like it has been done for hundreds or thousands of years. And that can also be a good thing.

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 every single massage system has been invented and developed by someone. And those persons were innovators. Innovators create, and traditionalists maintain. There is a place for both.

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

Thai Massage has developed differently outside of Thailand

Thai Massage is often not practiced the same way in western countries as it is done in Thailand. The reason for that is that western therapists, unlike their Thai counterparts, have much more access and exposure to other massage styles. Therefore there is a tendency to mix and blend and combine techniques.

Therapists in Thailand have generally never been exposed to anything but the traditional way of working, and therefore you don’t  find much blending and changing in Thailand.

Also western therapists have generally started out learning massage – mostly Swedish massage – on a table. Therefore many of them have adapted Thai Massage to the table which of course changes it somewhat. Some 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 is without blending Thai Massage with any other modalities. Today, after practicing and teaching Thai Massage for over 17 years, I have developed my own style as well.

What 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 will 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, 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 main style? Or do you want to learn and practice Thai Massage as a complete system? In the latter case it is much more important that you pick a style that suits you.

If you want some exposure and a good introduction to Thai Massage to help you decide what works best for you, you can watch Thai Healing Massage Academy’s free video course.

Click For Free Introductory Thai Massage video course

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author's pictureThe author, Shama Kern, has been practicing and teaching Thai Massage for 17 years. He is the founder and director of Thai Healing Massage Academy and the creator of 20 online Thai Massage video training courses.

 

7 thoughts on “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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