Origins of Thai Massage
Thai Massage and yoga are part of the same family. According to legend, Thai Massage was introduced in Thailand about 2500 years ago by an Indian physician, a contemporary of Buddha, and he brought with him his knowledge of yoga and yoga therapy.
Therefore the term Thai Yoga Massage is quite appropriate, although this term is not used at all in Thailand, but only by western practitioners.
The original Thai yoga never became popular in Thailand
There actually is a form of Thai yoga in Thailand, but it is not widely known and hardly practiced by anyone. So Thai Massage arrived along with the yoga, but the massage flourished and the yoga disappeared into oblivion.
Although this is the commonly accepted version of events in Thailand, it is based on legend, and obviously nobody knows for sure if this is how it actually happened.
However if the timeline of historical events is accurate or not doesn’t really matter. The connection between yoga and Thai Massage is so obvious that it just lends itself to integrate aspect of the two systems.
The Indian yoga system is catching on in Thailand
Nowadays there are quite a number of yoga schools in Thailand’s tourist areas, but almost all of them are run by foreigners for foreign students.
Only in the last few years have the Thais started to take an interest in the Indian version of yoga, and now there are also yoga schools for Thais.
However the foreigners and the Thais don’t mix in the schools. One reason is the language barrier. The other reason is that the Thais approach yoga as well as life in general in a more relaxed, easy going way, whereas westerners take their yoga practice very seriously.
The Thais feel that western yoga classes tend to be more competitive rather than more relaxed, social events.
Who popularized Thai Massage recently?
For hundreds of years massage and herbal medicine were standard and effective treatments in Thailand until modern medicine appeared on the scene.
At that time Thai Massage lost some of its popularity. It was resurrected by foreigners who were fascinated by this unique healing art. They began to write books about it, they produced Thai Massage videos, and started Thai Massage schools.
On one side the growing popularity of Thai Massage resulted in a degeneration of the quality of this healing art. Most Thai Massage was either done on a tourist level or it often became a thinly disguised come-on for sexual services.
However at the same time western therapists started to take it very seriously as a massage therapy.
They reintroduced yoga principles, and created a huge demand by westerners for Thai Massage education and treatments in Thailand. There are countless Thai Massage schools in Thailand, and most of them are catering primarily to foreigners.
The Thai government has been making a serious effort to raise the standard of Thai Massage by setting up training facilities for Thais, licencing therapists and schools, issuing official certificates, and promoting higher standards.
Thai Massage and yoga – the ideal combination
Externally Thai Massage seems to be a sequence of stretches and pressure points, a mechanical bodywork system. But when it is integrated with yoga principles and energy aspects, it is elevated to a true healing art.
Mindfulness, awareness of one’s own body and the client’s body, working from one’s “hara”, the energetic center right behind the navel, awareness of one’s breath, conscious channeling of healing energy, and an increased sensitivity of touch all greatly increase the quality and effectiveness of the treatment.
Thai Massage can be much more than a technique. The combination of yoga principles with Thai bodywork is not only an ideal combination, but it brings Thai Massage back to its roots of yoga. After all, they are part of the same family.
The author, Shama Kern, is the founder and director of Thai Healing Massage Academy and the creator of 20 online training programs for Thai Massage. He has been practicing and teaching Thai Massage for 16 years.