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Is Thai Massage Best When It’s “Traditional”?

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Thailand is famous for its unique Thai Massage therapy system. Every year many thousands of people travel to Thailand to study there. Countless Thai Massage schools have sprung up all over the country in the last 15 years.

Most people assume that Thai Massage education must be best in its home country. The question is if this is really true.

Is “traditional” better than “non-traditional”?

Thais like to use the term “Thai Traditional Massage”, and it has become somewhat of a brand name. The idea is that ‘traditional’ is better than ‘non-traditional’.

At this point we need to take a closer look at the mentality of the Thai people. Thailand is a developing nation and few people have the means to travel to other countries.

The vast majority of Thai Massage practitioners and teachers here have had no exposure to any other therapy system than Thai Massage, and therefore no way of comparing it to anything else.

“Tradition” has its down sides

Their teaching style is based on their tradition with no outside influence. If the purpose is to preserve the tradition, this works well. But on the downside it also preserves the weak points of Thai Massage and prevents any further evolution of the system.

Thais in general do not have the inquisitive and intellectual mindset that is more typical in western countries.

It is quite common that western massage therapists have studied several massage systems and they often blend those styles. In the US for example massage therapists have to take continuing education classes every year and many pick courses from other therapeutic modalities.

In Thailand however there is no continuing education and no incentive for change or improvement.

Innovations by Western Thai Massage therapists

During my Thai Massage career of more than 16 years I have observed that many western therapists have taken Thai Massage to new levels by combining it with techniques from yoga therapy or Shiatsu or similar modalities.

Many have created their own styles by incorporating or inventing new techniques that have added a new dimension to Thai Massage.

Personally I have created my own style of Thai Massage by adding techniques from yoga therapy, Chi Nei Tsang abdominal work and rocking.

Most of the evolution of Thai Massage has occurred on the western side of the globe, whereas Thailand is remaining on the traditional side.  It is easy to see why considering the following reasons:

  • Western therapists have easy access to countless therapy systems
  • They are  financially more able to travel and study with several teachers
  • Westerners have a stronger sense of curiosity and inquisitiveness than the Thais
  • The western massage education system requires ongoing training
  • Most Westerners speak English which puts lots of educational material within reach

Tradition versus creativity

Thais do not have any of those advantages and therefore remain strictly on the traditional side. Although there are certainly many good Thai Massage teachers in Thailand, the western therapists have added the element of creativity to the system.

This has added a new dimension to Thai Massage. Some people consider this a healthy and beneficial evolution while the traditionalists disregard it as a corruption of the original system.

Regardless of such opinions, new adaptations and styles of Thai Massage are here to stay in the western world, similar to what happened with yoga styles which did not exist a few decades ago.

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The author, Shama KernThe author, Shama Kern, is the founder and director of Thai Healing Massage Academy and the creator of 20 Thai Massage online training courses. You can reach him at


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