Thai Massage versus Thai Yoga Massage – what’s in a name?
Thai Yoga Massage is basically another name for Thai Massage. There are variations and different styles of therapists, but we are talking about the same family of bodywork.
The term ‘Thai Yoga Massage‘ has been coined by Western practitioners. It can be an appropriate name since it does reflect the fact that Thai Massage has its roots in the yoga tradition of India.
However in Thailand, this term is never used, and Thai Massage therapists are generally not very familiar with yoga. Their Western colleagues are often not only more familiar with yoga but are yoga practitioners or teachers as well.
The trend in the West is to add more elements from yoga to Thai Massage. This can be a good thing because it brings it back around to its original roots.
On the other hand, this is sometimes taken to an extreme where Thai Yoga Massage is not really a massage anymore, but more like an assisted yoga or stretch session.
Thai Yoga versus Indian Yoga
There actually is a Thai Yoga system that is quite similar to India’s yoga system. According to legend, it was brought from India to Thailand about 2500 years ago by the same person along with the Thai Massage system.
The Thai Massage became very popular, but the Thai yoga system never caught on much in Thailand and is only known by very few people.
Ironically now the Indian yoga system is gradually becoming more popular in Thailand, whereas the Thai Yoga system continues to languish in oblivion.
The difference between Thai Yoga Massage and Yoga
Now we know that Thai Yoga Massage and Yoga are members of the same family. So what are the differences between the two systems and is one better than the other?
Some yoga teachers swear that yoga can cure all, fix all, and do all. It is a well-known fact that accomplished yogis can do amazing feats.
There are also highly skilled Thai Massage therapists who have a high degree of intuition and remarkable powers of healing. Such individuals, however, are rare in both categories.
How Healing Are Thai Massage or Yoga?
It’s not really the particular style or method which is healing, but it is the practitioner who is doing it.
If Thai Massage is done by a highly skilled, intuitive, experienced, or even shamanic practitioner, it can produce amazing results.
However, if it is done by an average therapist who just wants to earn a living, has no passion for it, and has no feeling for energy, there is little healing power in it.
The same goes for yoga. Highly skilled yoga or yoga therapy practitioners who connect their practice with breath, consciousness, and a sense of subtle energy can accomplish impressive healing results.
But if yoga is mainly used as an exercise program to lose weight or to keep your joints from rusting without any higher awareness, there won’t be much healing happening on a deeper level.
When to use Thai Massage and when to use Yoga?
For the purposes of this article, we are referring to the physically active yoga which is commonly known as hatha yoga, not to other yoga styles like karma, jnana, or bhakti yoga.
In Thai Massage, there are two people involved: The receiver who is passive, and the therapist who is active and does all the work.
In yoga, there is only one person, the practitioner, who is active and does all the work. There is no passive element in yoga. This gives us a clue already.
When is Thai Massage a good choice?
Let’s look at some scenarios when Thai Massage could be the better choice:
- If someone has a condition that causes discomfort or pain, or has limited range of motion which makes it hard for them to do much on their own, then Thai Massage would be a better choice.
That’s because clients do not have to make any effort, and they do not need to know the yoga system. They don’t have to do anything except rely on the expertise of the therapist.
- Thai Massage can deliver quick and sometimes instant results and is better for relieving acute conditions. In comparison, yoga is a long-term system. It is not a quick-fix solution.
- Thai Massage is sometimes called ‘lazy man’s yoga’ since all the receiver has to do is lie down and receive the benefits of passive yoga.
In contrast, yoga takes determination and commitment, and some people don’t have that or are just not interested in doing yoga.
- Thai Massage is easy for the receiver because it is a passive system and does not require any skills from the receiver. Yoga, however, takes time, regular practice, and a good amount of skill in order to reap the benefits.
- Even clients who have no sensitivity to energy, no understanding of higher awareness, no time for regular yoga practice, and no understanding of their condition can benefit greatly from an experienced Thai Massage therapist.
When is yoga a good choice?
There are several scenarios where yoga could be a more appropriate or practical choice than Thai Massage:
- Thai Massage, at least in the Western world, can be quite expensive. Many people cannot afford regular or frequent sessions. Yoga, however, once learned, can be practiced at home absolutely free for the rest of one’s life.
- Yoga, if learned on a profound level, will generate more results than just physical improvement. It can lead to the development of higher awareness. This is generally not the case for Thai Massage clients.
- You might live in an area where good Thai Massage is not available. Yoga classes however are widely available in most areas of the Western world.
- Yoga can be an ideal supplement to Thai Massage. For many persistent conditions, Thai Massage clients would ideally supplement their bodywork sessions with yoga practice.
Since Thai Massage is a passive system, clients can benefit greatly by taking advantage of the active nature of yoga practice in order to take on more responsibility for their own health. I have often given my clients a few yoga exercises as ‘homework’.
The interplay between Thai Massage and Yoga
There are scenarios where Thai Massage is a better choice, and there are circumstances where yoga is the better choice. But this is not a black-and-white matter. The two systems are highly compatible and there is a lot of overlap:
- Since Thai Massage is traditionally done on a floor mat, the therapist has to have good physical flexibility to be able to move around the client and perform the techniques. Therefore it is ideal if the therapist practices yoga.
- Therapists who practice yoga can apply additional elements to their Thai Massage like better breathing, more understanding of energy principles, and a higher degree of awareness.
- Therapists who have a good understanding of yoga can greatly extend the benefits of the massage session for their clients by giving them simple follow-up yoga exercises as homework.
- Thai Massage therapists sometimes have clients who would definitely benefit from regular sessions but cannot afford them. In such cases, it can be very beneficial to encourage clients to take up yoga as a substitute for the bodywork.
- Yoga teachers can enhance their sessions by including some elements of Thai Massage.
- Thai Massage teachers can start their classes with some yoga warm-up exercises.
- Yoga teachers can offer Thai Yoga Massage sessions to their students – an excellent combination.
Thai Yoga Massage and Yoga – a perfect match
Thai Massage and yoga are not mutually exclusive systems. They are members of the same family and they complement each other in many cases. Therapists who know yoga have an advantage over those who do not.
Ideally, both systems should harmoniously work together in order to produce the best results.
My own Thai Massage practice has always been closely interwoven with yoga and yoga principles. For me, this has been an ideal combination.
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The author, Shama Kern, has been practicing and teaching Thai Massage for over two decades. He is the founder of Thai Healing Massage Academy and the creator of 20 online Thai Massage training courses.