Thai Massage and related styles
Thai Massage has its roots in India’s yoga tradition.
According to legend, about 2,500 years ago, during the time of Buddha, an Indian physician came to Thailand and brought what is now known as Thai Massage with him.
The similarities between the two systems are quite obvious. Thai Massage is often called “Thai yoga massage” or “lazy man’s yoga” since it is somewhat like yoga being done to you. The therapist is applying a series of yoga-like stretches to the client.
Normally yoga is done by individual practitioners who perform stretching techniques on themselves. But there are also styles where two yoga practitioners work together.
Thai Massage, Partner Yoga, and Acro Yoga
One is called partner yoga, and another one is Acro yoga. These are quite acrobatic styles and contain many quite involved positions and stretches.
When I first started to learn Thai Massage, many of us students were also yoga practitioners.
Sometimes we did partner yoga techniques just for fun as a complement to our classes.
This often happened when there were students in the class who were really good at acro or “flying” yoga, and of course we all wanted to participate and learn some new techniques.
I even had one Thai teacher who sometimes showed us techniques that were clearly more partner yoga than Thai Massage.
So there is clearly some overlap between Thai Massage, Acro yoga and partner yoga. Sometimes I see YouTube videos that are labeled as Thai Massage, but the techniques are really more in the partner yoga arena.
When is it massage and when is it yoga?
So what is the difference between those techniques? What are the boundaries or definitions of Thai Massage techniques? Where do you draw the line between massage and yoga?
I have lived in Thailand for many years and have studied, practiced and taught Thai Massage right here in its home country. I have also studied yoga. So I am in a good position to distinguish between the two systems:
- During Thai Massage sessions, clients are totally passive. They are not expected to do anything themselves. All manipulations are done by the therapist to the client. Regardless of how fancy the technique is, the client does not participate in its execution.
- Thai massage sessions are not just a series of stretches. There are many massage elements like muscle manipulations, kneading, pressure points – actually it is possible to do an entire Thai Massage session with hardly any stretches.
- In Partner yoga both partners are active and mostly all techniques are stretches. It has nothing to do with massage.
- In Acro yoga generally one partner is manipulating the other up in the air. Most techniques are quite involved and although one partner may be on the receiving end, it has nothing to do with a traditional massage where the client is lying on a mat and often falls asleep during the session.
- Thai Massage contains many yoga-like stretches along with other massage techniques. The therapist is active and the client is passive.
- Partner yoga and Acro yoga contain mostly physical manipulations and stretches, but they contain hardly any massage elements and no partner can be totally passive or fall asleep.
All three system can overlap and can be combined
There can be quite some overlap between the three systems we discussed.
There are many western practitioners who have studied more than one system, and some of them mix styles in very creative ways.
However in Thailand there is no mixing going on. Thai Massage is taught in a traditional way and very few teachers combine elements of other styles with it.
All combinations have happened outside of Thailand
In Thailand, almost exclusively only the original traditional system is practiced and taught. There are slightly different styles and some modifications, but the differences are minor.
This has changed outside of Thailand. In the western world many practitioners have changed, modified or adapted Thai Massage in sometimes major ways. They blend it with partner yoga, Shiatsu, or other modalities, and the result can be something quite different from the original traditional style.
It is quite easy to distinguish traditional Thai Massage as it is done in Thailand from partner yoga or acro yoga. But those distinctions are often blurred when Thai Massage is practiced in western countries.
I have seen YouTube “Thai Massage” videos that would not be recognized as Thai Massage by the actual Thai practitioners in Thailand. So there are many shifts and changes and innovations that have happened outside of Thailand.
The purpose this article is to outline the differences between the three systems from a traditional, more defined point of view, where the styles are not mixed.
If you disregard the traditional model, you can create any combinations you can imagine. You can give them any names you like, and you can mix as many styles as you know.
You could call it “Thai Massage potpourri“, or “Flying Thai yoga sensation” or “Amazing Thai yoga flex massage“.
But for those readers who want to stick with a more traditional mode, this article should provide some useful guidelines how to distinguish between Thai Massage, partner yoga and acro yoga.
Some schools outside of Thailand are trying to follow the traditional Thai model, whereas others do away with traditions. There really is no right or wrong here – it’s just a matter of preference.
There is something to be said about following an established and proven tradition, but no tradition would have ever been established in the first place unless some creative minds first innovated those concepts.
Learning Thai Massage
However when you want to learn Thai Massage, then you need to understand these differences so that you can decide what kind of a system is right for you.
For example, if you are a massage therapist, you would probably want to learn a more traditional approach to Thai Massage which includes many massage elements.
But if you are a yoga teacher and want to spice up your classes, you might be better off studying Thai Massage courses which are more focused on the stretching elements.
To learn Thai Massage or to improve your existing Thai Massage skills, check out Thai Healing Massage Academy’s extensive online training library:
The author, Shama Kern, has been practicing and teaching Thai Massage for two decades. He is the founder and director of Thai Healing Massage Academy and the author of 20 Thai Massage online training courses.