The answer is yes, Thai Massage really is a massage…AND it is so much more. It is an entire healing arts system that combines many elements. Let’s look at the specifics.
Typical Western massage definition
Most people reading this will be from Western countries where massage is generally defined like this:
Someone is lying undressed on a massage table, and a therapist is using oil directly on the skin to apply kneading or stroking techniques.
How does Thai Massage compare?
Compared to this scenario, Thai Massage doesn’t really look like a massage since it is done fully dressed, on a floor mat, and without any oil.
In addition, some jurisdictions, both in the US and in Europe, treat Thai Massage differently along with other Asian modalities like Shiatsu, Tui Na, or yoga therapy.
For proof or an example of this statement, you can read the massage law of the US state of Massachusetts here. You really only need to read the last paragraph.
If you don’t want to read all this legalese, here is the one sentence in the Massachusetts law which confirms what I have been saying:
“Asian Bodywork Therapy does not constitute massage as defined in this chapter.”
What does Thai Massage consist of?
So what makes Thai Massage so different? Actually, it contains many elements which are clearly massage, even by Western standards, like kneading, rolling, or pressing muscles.
However, in addition to those massage elements, it contains several other elements which are what makes it unique.
The best-known ones are the many stretches which Thai Massage is famous for, and which are shown in most pictures of this modality.
Many people are even under the impression that Thai Massage consists only of stretches. But this is not true.
It is possible to do a session that contains mostly stretches, but it is just as possible to do a session that contains hardly any or even no stretches at all.
The elements of Thai Massage
If you closely watch a session, you will find many elements in it:
- Massage (kneading, pressing)
- Yoga (applied stretches)
- Acupressure (there are specific pressure points in Thai Massage as well)
- Chiropractic (several spinal twist techniques produce releases that are similar to Chiropractic releases, however with less sophistication)
- Reflexology (most sessions start with foot massage, and there is a Thai reflexology system as well)
- Energy work (Thai Massage along with most Asian healing art systems is based on the concept of balancing and improving energy flow in the body)
- Trager (some Thai Massage practitioners, like myself, use rocking motions that are similar to the ones which are used in Trager)
- Physical Therapy (Thai Massage uses many body manipulations which are similar to the ones that are used by physical therapists to rehabilitate movement restrictions and increase range of motion)
As you can see, “massage”, as defined in the Western world, is only one element in the Thai Massage system. There is a lot more to it.
Can Thai Massage be labeled correctly?
“Thai bodywork” would be a limiting description, since bodywork doesn’t include energy work.
Even “Thai Yoga” is a limiting description since this implies that the passive stretches are the main element which is not correct.
So what’s the correct or best name? There is no agreement. Some people call it Thai Massage, some Thai Yoga Massage, some Thai Yoga Therapy, some stick with the Thai name of Nuad Borarn, and some created their own names like Soma Veda Thai Yoga.
What is Thai Massage?
It is massage, and so much more. It is an ancient healing arts system that has been used in Thailand for hundreds of years to help people with their various ailments.
It is hard to pin it down to one name which correctly describes what it is, especially since it has been modified and adapted in many ways in the Western world.
In the end it depends on the practitioner. Some therapists use primarily the massage elements, others use mostly the yoga elements, others emphasize the energetic aspects, and some combine it all in a balanced way.
Thai Massage in the western world
There is no one right or wrong way. This is an ancient system, but it is still evolving, especially since its introduction to the Western world. There it has been:
Which one is the right way? The way that makes clients feel better and that helps improve dis-ease conditions.
Yes, Thai Massage is a massage…and so much more.
How to learn Thai Massage in a convenient, effective way
Thai Healing Massage Academy specializes in providing professional online training courses for all levels. We also provide certification and CEUs.
The author, Shama Kern, is the founder of Thai Healing Massage Academy. He has been practicing and teaching Thai Massage for over two decades, and he is the author of 20 Thai Massage online training courses.