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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The author, Shama Kern, is the founder and director of Thai Healing Massage Academy. He has been practicing and teaching Thai Massage for over 16 years and has been living in Thailand for well over a decade.