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Thai Massage Versus Ayurvedic Massage – How Do They Compare?

Ayurvedic sauna
Ayurvedic table sauna

How does Thai Massage compare
to Ayurvedic massage?

They are members of the same family, but there are major differences. Here is my real life experience with both.

Recently I had my first Ayurvedic massage in Kandy, Sri Lanka. Here are my impressions.

I need to clarify that I am just talking about my Ayurvedic massage experience – not about the entire Ayurvedic system. Also I am just reporting my personal experience and preferences. Others might perceive it differently.

Ayurvedic massage is just one part of the Ayurvedic system of natural medicine. The same goes for Thai Massage which is only one part of the entire system of Thai natural medicine.

In this article I am just comparing one kind of Ayurvedic massage with the style of Thai Massage which I am teaching.

I am not comparing the entire Ayurvedic system with the Thai system of natural medicine. That would be an entirely different discussion.

Ayurvedic mud treatment
Ayurvedic mud treatment

Back to my Ayurvedic massage session…

The actual massage was not very different from a good Swedish massage. But here is a major difference:

  • In Swedish massage, the oil is primarily a tool to facilitate sliding on the skin.
  • In Ayurvedic massage, the oil is part of the therapy and is at least as important as the massage itself, if not more so.

Actually there is not just one type of oil used, but a combination of several oils with specific healing and therapeutic properties.

After the massage I was sent into a steam sauna for 10 minutes to open the pores in order to facilitate the penetration of the oil into the body.

After that I was given a towel to rub off the excess oil, but I was told that I wasn’t supposed to take a shower for at least 2 hours to allow the oils to do their work.

There were several treatments available, however I opted for a straightforward massage. The implementation differs from Swedish massage:

  • Part of the session was done while I was sitting on a stool
  • The therapist rubbed oil all over my head and started with a vigorous head massage
  • The table, as you can see in the picture, was a very basic, non-adjustable wood frame with no face cradle. And they don’t have the neat tricks which I am teaching how to simulate a face cradle with pillows. So lying prone with the head turned sideways was stressful for my neck.
Ayurvedic massage table in Sri Lanka
Ayurvedic massage table in Sri Lanka

Comparison with Thai Massage

1. Therapist friendliness:

The therapist worked exclusively with his hands and clearly had to use quite some muscle effort. Thai Massage is MUCH MORE therapist friendly since you can work mostly with body weight without much muscle effort.

Besides your hands you can use forearms, elbows, knees and feet. On this count Thai Massage clearly wins.

2. Ease of implementation

Thai Massage is much easier to implement since it can be done fully dressed, without a massage table, without oil, and without a private room. On this count Thai Massage also clearly wins.

Thai Massage in public
Thai Massage can be conveniently done in private or public places

3. Availability of treatment options

Ayurvedic massage includes more treatment options than Thai Massage. Both systems offer full body massage, foot massage, and hot herbal ball massage. However Ayurvedic massage offers much more in terms of oil applications.

Thai Massage shops in Thailand almost always offer oil massage along with the non-oil Thai Massage. But the oil is generally either just coconut oil or some kind of cheap oil without any medicinal value.

The quality of oil massage in Thailand is often not very high. So on this count Ayurvedic massage has an edge.

4. Effectiveness

Ayurvedic massage has the additional benefit of therapeutic oils which does not exist in Thai Massage. That gives it an edge. But Thai Massage has all those body manipulations and stretches which do not exist in Ayurvedic massage. This also gives it an edge.

Since effectiveness of any massage depends more on the therapist than on the system, it is not possible to determine which of the two systems is more effective. In general Thai Massage dominates in the body manipulation and Ayurvedic massage dominates in the oil massage.

5. Similarities

Thai Massage has its roots in the Indian yoga system. So we can say that Ayurvedic massage and Thai Massage are members of the same family, although they are quite different in application.

Both systems are part of a greater system of natural medicine – Ayurveda and Thai natural medicine.

6. Cost

Ayurvedic massage requires a massage table, good quality oils, a private treatment room, a sauna, sheets and towels. Thai Massage requires nothing more than a blanket, a mat or a carpet.

Therefore you can find Thai Massage sessions in Thailand for a fraction of what you pay for an Ayurvedic massage. This makes it much more accessible to people who don’t have much money.

7. The impact of the therapist

Auyrvedic massage is quite harmless. Even if the therapist is not so good, nothing bad happens. Thai Massage however can be a painful and/or unpleasant experience if it is done by an insensitive or not well trained therapist. Therefore the choice of therapist is more essential in Thai Massage.

In Ayurvedic massage you can argue that the therapeutic oils will always have a beneficial effect even if the massage itself is not so good.

In Thai Massage however it depends 100 percent on the skill and sensitivity and experience of the therapist.

Thai Massage hip stretch in side position
Thai Massage requires a lot of skill for body manipulation

Conclusion

Personally, I like the fact that I can get a Thai Massage instantly in many places in Thailand – in an actual massage shop, in a market, or at the entrance of a mall. It requires next to no planning and it can be had for very little money.

Ayurvedic massage is much more involved, more expensive, and cannot be had anywhere in public places. However, it can be a pleasant and beneficial experience if you don’t mind investing some more time and money compared to Thai Massage.

Both can be very healing and effective, provided you find a good therapist, which makes all the difference. However for me, all those amazing body manipulations of Thai Massage are something I really like and value.

I am also not a fan of having oil and its odor on me for a few hours after a massage (I know – it’s good for you). That’s just my personal preference though. I like the convenience of Thai Massage and the fact that I can keep my clothes on – again just my preference.

I did enjoy my Ayurvedic massage in Sri Lanka. However, I can also get a good oil massage in Thailand. Granted, there you don’t get all those therapeutic oils which Ayurveda is famous for.

If I had to choose, my vote goes to the convenience, effectiveness and low cost of Thai Massage. Luckily I don’t have to choose since where I live, I can get both.

You can learn Thai Massage through Thai Healing Massage Academy’s convenient and effective online training program:

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author's pictureThe author, Shama Kern, is the founder and director of Thai Healing Massage Academy. He has been practicing and teaching Thai Massage for over 18 years, and he is the creator of 20 online Thai Massage training courses.

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Thai Massage Versus Yoga – Which One is Better?
How The West Rescued Thai Massage And Yoga

16 thoughts on “Thai Massage Versus Ayurvedic Massage – How Do They Compare?”

  1. Thai Massage vs Ayurvedic Massage (Abhyanga)… nice one Shama! Haha. I learnt and experienced them both. I had some good Ayurvedic massages and some I thought is this it? The same for the Thai Massage. I think they both have beautiful healing qualities when they are given with an intention full of love and kindness. So it is very subjective and the most obvious question is oil or no oil? However I prefer giving a Thai Massage as I like to be a bit more active and to make sort of a dance from the massage. Ow and I benefit from it too which is pretty nice ;).

    • I also prefer doing Thai Massage for the same reason as you. You are right, it has a lot to do with oil versus no oil. Normally when I get an oil massage I scrub myself right after the massage. However this was a new one for me that I was not supposed to wash the oil off after the Ayurvedic massage.

  2. I love both! I offer Ayurvedic body treatments using the portable steamy wonder that attaches to my massage table. I really enjoy the oils and the heat. the different oil and herb combinations allow you to treat a lot of different conditions, including inflammation& detoxification. I was trained to have the client leave the oils on for at least two hours. Check out ” the steamy wonder” online

    • Steamy Wonder is a terrific add-on to your massages! I met “Mr Steamy” as one of my client calls it four years ago and she comes in twice a year for her herbal detox treatment!

  3. One of the similarities between Thai and Ayurvedic massage is the intention and focus on working with the energy channels of the body. In Ayurvedic massage marma points can be used, similar to those in Shiatsu although different techniques. The benefit of warm oil is a soothing and nourishing soaking to the skin, lymph, blood and nervous system. It is able to shift toxins from positions of weakness in the body where they naturally gather. It is able to ground and support the emotional state. It is able to support the natural lubrication systems of the body. I always find after a warm self massage in the morning that I have more flexibility when doing my yoga and less prone to injury. My skin can recover from dryness if I self massage, one of the major principles of ayurvedic routines is warm oil all over the body on a daily basis to stay healthy on all levels. I agree with you shama, that Ayurvedic massage is not as accessible for the busy person. I agree that the intention and heart of the therapist is of paramount importance to both types of massage. I agree that for busy people with a schedule that to get on to a floor mattress, fully clothed and receive energy stimulation, muscle and fascia stretching is convenient and desirable. I also believe that for those suffering from anxiety, depression, injury and trauma, Ayurvedic massage done with warm black sesame oil or complex formulations of herbal oils will benefit in a significant therapeutic improvement of mental and physical well being. It is also a lot more costly, needless to say the Ayurvedic herbal oils are expensive, but for those who need them, well worth the spend. Ayurvedic massage is tailored to different body types and different ailments so can be targeted and more specific to a persons needs.
    I love both forms, they are very valuable in their own right and it is a shame that these two wonderful modalities have to played off against each other for a winner.

    Ayurvedic massage is often in conjunction with other therapies although it stands alone as a treatment. Ayurveda is a holistic approach to living and well being and massage is only a part of following the science of life.

    • Thanks, Lynne, for your input. I am glad to have someone comment who has a good understanding of Ayurvedic massage. It seems that we pretty much agree on the points of my analysis, so my impressions here in Sri Lanka must be fairly representative.

      It’s not that one is being played off against the other. Both clearly have their place as well established modalities, as history has proven. As I mentioned in the article, I am just stating my personal preferences. So the “winner” is nothing more than my personal taste for a particular massage. 🙂

  4. I have recently discovered essential oils. I will be using them more on clients. Thai massage I imagine is wonderful. I can see benefits from both. However I will incorporate oils as I have witnessed their healing power.

    • I like essential oils as well. They are not used in Thai Massage for the simple reason that people are fully clothed and no oil is used at all. However I am sure you can come up with creative ways to incorporate essential oils into your work.

      I personally love using essential oils on myself both internally and externally, and some of them are remedies which I use for various conditions successfully.

  5. Good Morning, Dear Massage Masters,
    I took a Full Body Oil Massage at Nigambo in Srilanka during May 2012 after Climbing many Spiritual Mountains in South India in hot summer and my skin was peeling off in India, after the Oil Massage, in the Evening and a good Dinner and a Perfect warm Shower before bed, and I let the windows and Doors of my balcony of the Sea side open, made me to forget that I was on Planet Earth in the morning with Lots of Birds noice and sea waves. (Sri Lanka the Land of GODS).

    I took a full Body Oil Massage at Pattaya in Thailand during April 2016 after having 3 times Para – Gliding in the Sea and after climbing the Hill in the Island of Ko Lan and meditating in Temple on top of KO LAN Island and watching and enjoying the Cool Breez and View of the two small Islands beside Ko Lan, on a Hot Humid Summer day, that Night after a shower in the PullMan Hotel, I went to Good Massage Center took a Full Body Oil Massage for 3 full Hours, forgot that I was on Planet Earth because the service was full of Bliss they paid full attention on the Job and It was 100% Body-Soul Communication for me, I was Totally Lost. ( ThaiLand – GODS Living Land )
    As an Indian and my experience on Massage – Medicine – treatments, I have no difference,
    It all depends on the Place where you are from and the Experience of the Person who works on You,
    Your Need of the Service,
    Your Budget, Your Mood, Your Life Style,
    Enjoy the Gift of Life you Have at Present without Differentiating Anything-Anyone. Live Healthy-Happy-Prosperous Life.

  6. Great post and comments! I have to say that both modalities are great! It also depends on the practitioner and if they are in tune with your body. I personally LOVE Thai massage! I have pain in my arms and hands after doing massage sessions for many clients. A Thai massage opens up the channels in my body and Im running in tune again! If I wait too long the pain comes back!Thai massage on a regular basis us what works for me ! 🙂

    • Thanks for sharing Melissa. It’s true, after a good Thai Massage it feels like the energy in the body is flowing again much better. Love that feeling!

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