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The Value Of Learning Thai Massage The Traditional Way

traditional versus western thai massage

Traditional Thai Massage Versus Westernized Thai Massage

There are many schools teaching Thai Massage both in Thailand and in the Western world. Their approach can be quite different, and it is important to understand what these differences are. They can have a big impact on what kind of therapist you will turn out to be.

The two main differences are that you can learn Thai Massage in the traditional Thai style, or you can learn it in a Westernized version.

There is a tendency among Western therapists to force Thai Massage into the Western model of massage therapy. Here are a few examples of what this changes compared to the traditional style:

Moving away from a floor mat onto a table
Explaining Thai Massage in purely anatomical and scientific terms
Starting Thai Massage sessions in the prone (face down) position
Using Thai Massage primarily as a system of stretches

Let’s look at all these scenarios in detail:

The mat versus table issue:

Thai Massage hip stretch in side position

Sure, Thai Massage can be done on a table. But working on the floor gives you distinct advantages, like better ergonomics, better use of your body weight, and application of ALL techniques which is not possible on a table.

Many Western Thai Massage practitioners ‘prefer’ the table – mostly because that’s what they are used to.

However, this is not necessarily an advantage for practicing Thai Massage in a way that is best for both the client and the practitioner.

There are some good reasons for doing Thai Massage on a table, but in general, and if possible, it is a good idea to at least try practicing it on a floor mat.

Most therapists who have done that confirm that it gives them an edge over table work.

The anatomy versus energy line issue in Thai Massage:


Yes, you can explain this healing art in terms of anatomy and science, but this does away with the original concept upon which it is based – the energy line therapy system.

Thai Massage is much more than a way to work on someone’s anatomical parts, like muscle, tissue, and tendons.

It is a holistic healing art that looks at the body and its energy as an interconnected system.

The starting position issue in Thai Massage:

thai massage in supine position

You can start a session in the prone position as is typically done in Swedish/Western massage styles. But there are good reasons why it is better to start in the supine position. Let’s look at this more closely.

In Thailand, sessions always start in the supine position. In my 20 years in Thailand, every single Thai Massage I have ever received started in supine.

Why is that? There are three good reasons for that.

  1. The supine position is the easiest position for the client, and it also allows the client to see what is going on. This helps build better rapport and trust with clients, especially if they are new to Thai Massage.

    It makes it easier for the client to communicate with you if something doesn’t feel right for them or causes discomfort.

    In addition, in the early stages of a session, clients are more likely to tell you what’s going on with them, and what their issues are. This is best done when they can look at you.
  2. There are many more leg techniques and stretches available in the supine position. They are best done in the beginning, working your way up from the feet to the head, and allowing for the best flow of the session.
  3. The supine position is much more comfortable for clients. They can lie face-up for a long time, but they can’t lie face-down as easily for a long time.

So it makes sense to do a lot of work in supine first, because you might find out that a particular client has trouble with lying face down, and that’s not a good way to start out with a session.

So it’s safer, more comfortable, and more practical to start sessions in the supine/face-up position.

Thai Massage as a holistic healing art versus a system of stretches

holistic thai massage

Just like yoga was used in India as a system to improve body, mind, and spirit, so Thai Massage was designed as a holistic system that works not just with the body but also its energy.

Stretches are just one part of the entire system. Another aspect is the sen line therapy (energy work).

Then there are many massage elements that have nothing to do with stretches like pressure, rolling, rocking, squeezing, traction, and percussion.

All these elements, in the hands of a skillful therapist, address the human being as a holistic entity. This contrasts with the Western focus on science which tends to see human beings as a collection of anatomical parts.

Thai Massage is not just a system of stretches. It is a holistic therapy where the goal is not just to fix a trouble spot in the body but to balance the energy of the entire body.

The value of tradition in Thai Massage

tradition in thai massage

This healing art is often called ‘traditional Thai Massage’. This is not just a figure of speech. It refers to how it is typically done in Thailand.

There is a reason why the traditional way has an advantage. Those traditional methods have been tried and tested for hundreds of years, and they work well. In some cases, they represent the essential character of Thai Massage.

That’s why here at Thai Healing Massage Academy, we have chosen to remain fairly close to the traditional system.

Tradition and innovation or creativity are not mutually exclusive

Tradition is not a set of rigid rules that restrict the practice of Thai Massage. There is room for improvement, modification, and creativity. In fact, these are the skills of good therapists.

There is a difference between creativity and changing the essence of the entire system. You can make Thai Massage your own. You can develop your own style and still retain its original traditional spirit, its holistic nature, and its focus on energy along with the techniques.

There is a value in the traditional style. Eliminating or reducing this in favor of a Westernized, more mechanical approach would mean a loss of its essence, its time-tested therapeutic value, and its beauty.

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Here at Thai Healing Massage Academy, we have developed a unique style of Thai Massage that incorporates its best elements and adds some additional ones from yoga and other holistic healing practices.

We have taken great care to maintain the traditional elements that preserve its essence or soul.

If you want to learn the entire system of Thai Massage, your best choice would be our Complete Thai Massage online training system:

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If you want to expand your Thai Massage skills, improve your therapeutic skills, and become more specialized, you have 20 courses to choose from.

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Shama Kern, founder of Thai Healing Massage Academy

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 online Thai Massage training courses.

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