Thai massage is a healing system that aims to maintain the
body's physical condition throughout life and to balance and
tranquillize the emotions. Many of the problems of a Western
lifestyle call out for the sort of help that this therapy
Even the most stressed and pressurised individual can emerge
from this kind of massage with a feeling of lightness like
floating on air.
During much of its history, Thai traditional massage had
a strong religious significance, representing "The giving
of loving care", so important in Buddhist philosophy.
Jivaka Bhaccha, physician to the Buddha, is credited with
having developed it some 2,500 years ago.
It was traditionally practised only in temples by the monks.
Not until 1832 was a text written to describe this unique
massage. By order of King Rama 111 the writtings were carved
in stone and can be seen at Wat Pho in Bangkok.
The phenomenal growth in popularity of this form of massage
is due to the vast number of tourists who visit Thailand every
year returning home with tales of massage bliss at the hands
of some Thai master. It should not be confused with what goes
on in the sex parlours of Bangkok or out on the beach. Thai
traditional massage is serious stuff.
Thai traditional massage is performed on the clothed body
on the floor and is rather like applied yoga. It is famous
for the wonderful stretches that it imposes on the receiver.
Everyone who experiences it at the hands of an expert emerges
with feelings of wholeness and an ability of being able to
almost float on air. It is unsurpassed in its ability to induce
mental and emotional relaxation with whole body flexibility.
The origins of this type of massage are vague. It has elements
of the Indian Ayurvedic and Yogic systems and hints of Chinese
Tui Na. This is not surprising since Thailand is situated
at what was an important trading crossroads between India
It has probably existed in roughly its present form for over
1.000 years. It is based on the body's energy channels called
SEN but far less precisely than those of Traditional Chinese
Medicine. Hands, elbows, knees and feet are used to massage
and manipulate the body into a bewildering number of different
Is it suitable for everyone?
All the usual contraindications apply. Additionally, it is
not suitable for anyone with artificial hip or knee joints,
or has undergone surgery during the last six months. All manipulations
involving the back should be avoided with those who have had
major surgery on the spine.
What does it do for you?
By moving joints through a range of movements that are all
just a little more than the receiver would be capable of unaided,
the body becomes supple and flexible. Intrinsic energies are
balanced to promote pain free, good health. The greatest benefits
from this unique type of massage come to those who are able
to relax to the point where they become putty in the hands
of the massager.
How does Thai massage differ from Western massage?
Thai massage involves the most complex physical interaction
between giver and receiver of any massage available today.
Even though the participants are fully clothed throughout,
Thai traditional massage is the ultimate non-sexual touch
Only a few massage techniques are used, most of the sequence
is based on large scale stretches and manipulations. The way
the masseur positions and balances himself and uses his weight
to achieve what looks like effortless leverage is just as
important as the details of the techniques he uses.
Quite often the receiver of Thai massage needs to co-operate
and work with the masseur to create the desired effects.(
see photo ) Western massage is a soft tissue treatment using
oil or talc on the bare skin and is rather static by comparison.
Even sports massage uses few manipulation techniques. Thai
massage contributes to high levels of flexibility in contrast
to Western massage which has little to offer in this respect.
What happens during a session of Thai massage?
You must wear light cotton clothes. A tracksuit is ideal
as the legs and arms should be covered. During the massage
your feet will be bare. The room will be set out with a massage
mat on the floor.
The therapist will also be wearing light cotton clothes and
will be barefoot. You will be asked some questions about the
condition of your health to make sure you have no problem
that could contraindicate this kind of treatment.
The massage begins with you lying in a relaxed position on
your back. The sequence starts at your feet. It is very thorough
and feels much like reflexology. However, this is only the
beginning. Each leg is now massaged in turn with lots of palming
and deep "thumb walking" along the energy lines.
Both legs are manipulated to affect hips and lower back.
Next, the abdomen, chest and arms are treated. As always the
pace is quite unhurried. Thai masseurs behave as if time is
of no importance.
At this point in the massage you will be asked to lie on
your side. The other side will be treated in turn. Every part
that is accessible in this position will now receive detailed
attention. With the changed position you may hardly recognise
that some of the massage techniques are repetitions of ones
When all the side techniques have been completed you will
change position again and lie face down on the mat. Everything
that is exposed-feet, legs, buttocks, back, arms and hands
will be pressed, kneaded, stretched and manipulated.
You will be reluctant to assume a sitting position when asked
to do so for the final section of the massage which treats
the neck, shoulders, head and face. The unique feature of
Thai massage is that every part of the body is massaged and
manipulated in as many different positions as it is physically
capable of adopting.
The greatest benefits from this unique type of massage come
to those who are able to relax to the point where they become
putty in the hands of the massager. At no time should the
receiver "assist" by actively helping any particular
movement that is being carried out.
What conditions does it treat?
Headaches, pain and tension in the neck, shoulders, back and
hips all respond to the Thai therapists touch. Many who receive
regular massage report improved sleep and sciatica sufferers
also enjoy relief from their pains. Joint mobility and muscle
tone are increased to improve posture. There is a general
calming effect at an emotional level.
Who will it help?
Almost anyone can benefit from receiving Thai Traditional
Massage. The main exceptions would be women in later pregnancy
and the very frail, particularly if suffering from osteoporosis.
The skilled therapist will always be able to adapt the massage
so that any physical disability is accommodated.
Does Thai Massage have a special role to play in today's
For maintaining the body in a youthful condition Thai massage
has few equals. It can be done easily almost anywhere since
it requires no special equipment. Its power to alleviate stress
is impressive and in this stress-ridden world its role must
Many people's idea of total bliss is to have one's own personal
Thai trainer (or should it be "maintainer") to help
achieve the nearest thing to eternal youth! For anyone who
wishes to make a regular investment in health and fitness,
Thai massage is an excellent choice.
What training should a therapist have?
A professional therapist should have a recognised diploma
with a thorough understanding of anatomy and physiology.
Thailand Holiday Tip
Real traditional Thai massage can be experienced at Wat Pho
in Bangkok and at the Hospital of Traditional Thai Massage
in Chiangmai. Most good hotels can provide a traditional masseur
but be sure to make clear your need for a traditional one.
Thai Traditional Massage has been practised in essentially
its modern form for over one thousand years. It is based on
yogic principles but unlike the Chinese system, lacks a sophisticated
theoretical background. Like Tui Na it is concerned with the
intrinsic energies and their balance.
- The Thai practitioner uses over 150 techniques to stimulate
energy flow in the channels which are called SEN. However,
both Chinese and Indian influences are apparent in Thai
massage, working as they do on the healing energy lines
of the body.
- Thai massage is a wonderfully flowing sequence of stretches
interspersed with pressure applied to various parts of the
clothed body. It teaches the subtle and complex physical
interaction between giver and receiver which are so important
at all levels.
- The exquisite stretches eliminate tension, improve flexibility,
enhance sports performance and maintain a pain-free healthy
- Thai massage is performed on the floor on the clothed
body and requires no special equipment other than a thick
blanket. Thai massage provides practitioners with an intensely
therapeutic and totally holistic tool to add to their repertoire.
- Thai massage is designed to stretch every accessible muscle
a little more than it normally would under the action of
strongly contracting antagonistic muscles.
Thai massage complements most types of bodywork treating
those parts of the body that they do not reach !
"THAI-ED AND GONE TO HEAVEN
Afterwards I felt I'd had a virtual reality workout exercised
to the nth degree without breaking into a sweat"
COSMOPOLITAN June 1998