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Thai Massage And Partner Yoga – What Is The Difference?

Thai Massage or partner yoga?

How to separate Thai Massage from yoga

Is this a Thai Massage technique or is it Partner Yoga? How do the two systems work together? When should you use such techniques? Find out all the answers below.

Let me tell you a story about the position in the photo above. Once I was observing some of the training of the ‘advanced class’ in a Thai Massage school in Chiang Mai, Thailand. This technique was part of the class.

Something came to my mind right away when I was watching this: Your average massage client in the Western world (i.e. possibly stiff, overweight, large, etc) will either not be able to get into this position or will not feel comfortable in it.

Realistically you have to be a yogi or at least quite flexible to do this. You might have some clients like this, but they will most likely be in the minority.

Fancy Thai Massage techniques are often not very practical

Then I talked to one of the teachers/therapists in this school and asked her if she ever uses this technique in her regular sessions. She said no, never.

Personally, I have been living in Thailand for 20 years and have had countless Thai Massages. No therapist ever did this technique on me.

So then why is it being taught? According to the teacher in this school, they wanted to put some material in their advanced classes which looks fancy, even if it is not really practical or useful in your everyday Thai Massage practice.

The position above is really more of a partner yoga technique. In Thailand, partner yoga has never been practiced.

However many Western therapists have extensive backgrounds in yoga, partner yoga, or Acro yoga, and some of them combine these skills with Thai Massage.

When to use or not to use certain techniques

fancy Thai Massage technique

This is one of those techniques which look rather impressive. But it is difficult to execute:

  • If the client resists even a little bit or stiffens up, this can turn into a fiasco.
  • If you don’t get the foot position exactly right on your knees, it can feel really wobbly and unstable.
  • It is also difficult to do on large or heavy clients, especially when the therapist is small.

Another factor is that your average massage client will probably not feel very comfortable with this technique.

In regards to the benefits of this technique, it can be compared to the shoulder stand in yoga.

However, there are easier ways to do this in Thai Massage. This is one of those positions which is not very practical for the majority of clients.

You won’t put anyone into a blissful trance with this type of technique. But it might work very well on yogi-type clients who are comfortable with partner yoga-style techniques.

Using partner yoga techniques in Thai Massage depends on the client type

Partner yoga
This is partner yoga, not Thai Massage

The partner yoga elements have been added to the traditional Thai Massage system by Westerners.

Those kinds of techniques work well if you are offering Thai Massage sessions to your yoga class students, for example. They might love them.

But if you have normal non-yogi clients, then these partner yoga techniques will not work well at all.

For such a clientele you will get much better results if you use Thai Massage as a passive system where the therapist is doing all the work and the client doesn’t have to do anything.

That rules out many fancy, difficult, or non-stable techniques. They look great on a magazine cover or in the manual of the advanced class in a Thai Massage school. They even work great on yogi-type clients.

But they will not work well with your average Thai Massage clients. Actually, they might scare people off from receiving or trying Thai Massage.

What works well, and what doesn’t

Walking on the back in Thai Massage

This is an example of a difficult, non-stable technique. Here is why:

1. It requires excellent balance on the part of the therapist which not everyone has. If you lose your balance, it feels downright scary for the client.

2. It’s what I call an ‘all-or-nothing position‘. Your full weight is on the client’s body. If it feels too heavy for the client, you have no way to reduce your weight unless you have ropes or bars to assist you.

3. This technique doesn’t lend itself to being integrated into a nice flow in a Thai Massage session. It can feel scary or oppressive to clients. It is better to use techniques that you can easily control and adjust.

Promo pictures versus the reality of Thai Massage and Yoga

not your every day yoga position
Not your everyday yoga position

Fancy Thai Massage positions share a similarity with yoga.

The fancy poses that look great as cover photos for yoga articles are generally not the ones that the average yoga practitioner can actually do.

It’s still a good idea for Thai Massage therapists to have some of those fancy partner yoga techniques in their repertoire. They might come in handy for those yogi clients.

However if you want to build a successful Thai Massage practice with regular clients you will probably find that you will not use fancy techniques a lot.

Often techniques that don’t look fancy at all will give you the best results.

Fancy thai massage spinal twist

Here is another example of a Thai Massage technique which is often shown in pictures.

It’s a neck stretch and spinal twist, and it looks really cool – or even amazing.

But the truth is that it is not a very practical technique for several reasons:

  • The client has to be able to comfortably sit cross-legged and with a straight back. That excludes the majority of Western clients right there.
  • The client’s back is totally unsupported, making this one of the least comfortable techniques for the client.
  • The client’s hand tends to easily slip from the temple. This is about as far from a passive technique as you can get. This kind of technique fits better into a partner yoga session than into an easy, passive, relaxing Thai Massage session.

Your average client will be more comfortable and at ease with a passive massage without tricked-out positions or partner yoga moves, and will be more likely to return for more sessions.

But you never know when you will get a client who loves some of those fancy positions. For those people, you can pull out all the stops.

I remember I once had a client who went by the nickname of “Stretch”. He was a middle-aged man and had never practiced yoga in his life.

But somehow he loved to be stretched to the extreme. His only reason for getting my Thai Massage sessions was to experience the most extreme stretches I could come up with.

But he was a unique case and certainly did not represent my average clients.

The “golden rule” for Thai Massage therapists

golden rule

Here is a useful rule for your Thai Massage practice.

For your average client, you want to make your sessions as easy, passive, and comfortable as you can. Thai Massage is already a somewhat challenging modality.

If you want to keep and attract clients, you don’t need to make it harder than necessary by using lots of fancy, difficult, unstable, or unsupported techniques. Better use techniques that can be easily controlled and adjusted.

But if you work with a yogi type, someone who is not just looking for a passive relaxing massage, then you can use some of those fancy and partner yoga-like techniques and turn your client into a pretzel.

The secret is to know the difference between those two styles and recognize which one your client belongs to.

Ideally, you as the Thai Massage therapist should be able to accommodate both types of clients and have an extensive repertoire of techniques in your repertoire.

But even if you don’t know any fancy partner yoga techniques you can still be an excellent Thai Massage therapist. After all, in Thailand, the homeland of Thai Massage, partner yoga moves are never used.

In conclusion: It might be useful and fun to know some really fancy techniques, but it is not necessary.

If you want to learn advanced Thai Massage, its variations, therapeutic applications, and match your client’s needs precisely, you will learn all that and much more in Thai Healing Massage Academy’s training programs.

To learn or improve your Thai Massage skills with refined elements like good body mechanics, good communication skills, a developed intuition, and a great touch, check out our convenient online training:

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image of Shama Kern

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 creator of 20 Thai Massage online training programs.

Related Reading
The 11 Healing Arts Systems Of Thailand
The No-Pain-No-Gain Myth in Thai Massage
Which One Is Better – Thai Massage Or Yoga?

10 thoughts on “Thai Massage And Partner Yoga – What Is The Difference?”

  1. Wonderful article and THANK YOU for writing it! I too have often seen these type pictures on the web and videos on YouTube which seem more like Chinese acrobatics and yogis showing off than actual yoga or the so-called Thai Massage that they claim and certainly not resembling a relaxing therapeutic massage. Typically these feature an average sized male with a petite woman too which is backward because in the West the massage industry is overwhelmingly made up of female MT’s with a 90% male clientele esp. for relaxation vs therapeutic. Here in the West there is even a new version of “yoga” where the individuals suspend themselves using fabric sheets/curtains? exactly like those acts you see at a circus and claim to be able to meditate like that,talk about overkill. Glad to know I’m not alone in my thinking that these acrobatics are basically over-the-top and unnecessary. Keep up the good work Shama!

    • Thanks Debbie, we are thinking along the same lines here. For me any massage, and that includes Thai Massage, should be something I can relax into and enjoy, not an acrobatic workout session. However not everyone feels like that.

      Here in Chiang Mai the city park is full of western Thai Massage students every day who are practicing their flying yoga and acro yoga and partner yoga. Well, to each their own…

  2. Hello Shama, hope all is well in Chiang Mai, wish I was there enjoying the wonderful hot weather that you are having, I will be there next winter, Gluay will have her PR by then and I’m free to go. Back to your article, I totally agree with you, these extreme techniques are not practical and like you said can be very dangerous, if you use them make sure you have an excellent insurance coverage for your biz, we have many moves to use in Thai massage without going over board that are impressive enough and bring great results, we have some pics on our wall and we tell people that in due time they may be able to achieve these stretches as they get more flexible, a good reason to keep coming back to us. Repeat clients are great when the healing process is taking place and you have a good rapport with them. When they fully trust you and understand what you are doing, because you are explaining your process, you become magical to them. Thank you Shama

    • Good to hear from you Coco. I have spent most of my Thai Massage career without doing super fancy stuff, and this has served me well. I don’t teach a lot of acrobatic fancy techniques in my courses either. Instead I focus on what really works for your average massage client when you are doing Thai Massage as a full time business.

      Well, there have been times when I did indulge with some yogi type client or friend, but that was more the exception than the rule.

  3. I am a yoga teacher (and trained with Dru Yoga). I really enjoyed the article – the challenging yoga poses on the front of magazines aren’t for most people either and they cause serious problems for me as it puts many students who would benefit from yoga off booking classes!

    Both Thai Yoga Massage and yoga practice are about relaxing, gently mobilising and strengthening the body and achieving the union of mind, body and subtle energy which is so disrupted by the demands of modern life. They are not about showing off, or getting into postures which can cause injury or pain!

    • I totally agree with you, Sarah. The fancy Thai Massage poses also put people off from trying Thai Massage since they think that there is no way that they can handle such things. And just like in yoga, extreme Thai Yoga Massage techniques can cause injury as well.

      I am speaking from personal experience since I have been injured twice by such overenthusiastic therapists. A gentle, gradual, conscious approach is definitely the better way to go.


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