Dating back around 2500 years, Thai massage (also known as ‘the practical expression of loving kindness’, as well as ‘lazy yoga’!) is known to most of us in the Western world as a relaxation aid. However, the original aim of this traditional ancient art was to heal and cure through its combinatory process of meditative rocking, acupressure, reflexology and yogic stretching. It has evolved over the years from the practice and knowledge of both Yoga and Ayurveda.
The technique is based upon the energy lines in and along the body, known as ‘sen’ in Thai (which also means noodle!). These energy lines are responsible for powering up all the physical, mental and emotional processes in the body (with a total of 10 – known as ‘sib sen’ – being of particular importance).
Having all these points in your entire musculoskeletal system (from the tips of your toes to the top of your head) correctly massaged – and be warned, this is not always relaxing! – with the palms, feet, elbow, and sometimes even the knees of the practitioner assists in helping to allow the energy to flow properly again. This is said to cure many diseases, ailments or malfunctions (both physical and mental) which will have been manifested by an imbalance or blockages between the energy lines.
The treatment might also include what is known as ‘trigger point therapy’, during which sustained pressure may be applied and then released, boosting your circulation and flow of blood.
Any yoga aficionados amongst you will no doubt recognise this as the aim of many Hatha yoga postures, which (as opposed to more dynamic flow yoga practices, such as Ashtanga) require you to hold each pose for up to 30 seconds (and sometimes more). This both massages and restricts the blood flow to the organs, so when you finally release, you allow gallons of fresh, oxygenated blood to flow in to energise and rejuvenate every cell of that body part!
It’s agreed that Traditional Thai Medical Massage (as it was then known – or ‘nuat phaen boran thai’ – literal meaning: ‘the old Thai way of healing with the hands’), was founded in India by a man called Jivaka Komarabhacca (also known as Shivago, or ‘Father Doctor’). He was said to have been a friend and practitioner to the Buddha and cultivated the practice in order to help monks and nuns ease their sore muscles after hours of sitting in the very rigid lotus meditation pose.
The teachings, seen as a natural, holistic approach to health and well-being, were honoured and preserved by the monks and nuns, and passed down from one master to the next, developing over hundreds of years alongside instruction on nutrition, yoga and medicinal herbs.
The knowledge made it to Thailand along with Buddhism in around the second or third century BC, and was immediately accepted and recognised as an integral part of the religion: as a result, new monastic temples were built near medical buildings so that the monks could be taught this healing technique.
All of this was greatly supported by Thai royalty – in fact, King Rama III ordered that the teachings be carved in stone for preservations purposes. These can still be seen today within the walls of the Wat Pho temple in Bangkok.
Since those days, of course, many influences (from neighbouring countries such as China, Burma, and Tibet) have been introduced to the practice – widely considered to be one of the most important ancient pearls of wisdom of Thailand – which has resulted in a variety of styles used today.
The fundamental principles, however, remain the same, and in many instances, are passed down simply in families from generation to generation, particularly within the tribes, who use Thai massage to relieve the muscular pain from the daily toil of physical labour in the fields.
Sometimes painful, a good Thai massage should nonetheless induce comfort, and, in many cases, a meditative state of calm. Our tip? Have a hot shower or a bath beforehand (to warm up those muscles), then when you’re done… crawl straight into bed. Bliss!
Traditional Thai Massage: The Benefits
It does wonders for your nervous system: it will invigorate as much as relax you, free any blockages in your energy flow, and balance your mind, body and spirit.
Your awareness will be heightened, and your chakras opened (giving you a feeling of serenity and peace of mind).
Your body will be strengthened and rejuvenated.
Got any pain, or tightness in your muscles? A Thai massage is guaranteed to relieve the tension, while the passive yoga postures you’ll be placed into during the session will also help increase your flexibility.
It bestows little miracles to your organs, blood, lymph nodes and digestive system – improving your circulation, helping you to absorb nutrients, and also (perhaps most importantly!) to eliminate waste and toxic debris resulting from any physical and/or emotional stress and overload.
Thai massage also energizes the giver, bestowing joy, peace and a sense of enlightenment to both parties.
It’s particularly known for being able to assist in the relief of the following ailments: Headaches, migraines, arthritis, whiplash, paralysis, numbness, sciatica, back pain (and many other conditions).
Regular sessions will keep you feeling recharged, aligned and healthy.
How much? Depending on which type of spa you go to Thai massages can range from 150 baht – 450 Thai baht/hour. Yes, that’s around $5-$10 USD for a one hour massage! An oil massage will cost from 300-600 baht… and a foot massage can be as cheap as 150 baht on the street! After all that exploring the streets – what could be better?
Learn Thai Massage / Take a Thai Massage Course:
Many backpackers like to take courses while they are in Thailand, particularly in Chiang Mai, the cultural north of Thailand, which is renowned for its enthusiasm for ancient Thai traditions. Other good places to learn include Bangkok, Koh Phangan and Phuket.
The Sunshine Massage School – Chiang Mai
We’ve heard excellent things about Sunshine Massage School, where travellers can even learn Thai massage with the Lahu Hill Tribe people of the northern mountains. However, there are many spas and yoga centres within the walls of the city which offer massage courses by the day, or week. For example, a beginners massage course for 2 weeks starts at 8,500 baht with Sunshine Massage School.
The International Massage School – Chiang Mai
Other more traditional schools are ITM (The International Massage School), where many Thai people learn the art of Thai massage. Also, the Thai Massage School of Chiang Mai offers courses to locals and foreigners.
TTC Spa School – Chiang Mai
The TTC Spa School offers courses in Traditional Thai Massage, lymphatic drainage massage, oil massage and body scrubbing, foot reflexology, facial massage and Tok Sen massage, an ancient massage form originating from the Lan Na district of northern Thailand. Check out course schedule and prices on their website.
Suai Thai Massage Training Center – Phuket
Located in Kathu, Phuket, Suai Thai Massage Training Center is a popular option for backpackers looking to learn Thai massage. They offer a range of different options, starting with their basic Thai massage course. This 30 hour course takes place over 5 days and costs 7,500THB (approx $238USD). Book your basic Thai massage course at Suai Thai Massage Training Center here.
Wat Pho Massage School – Bangkok
Wat Pho Massage School in Bangkok is famous for its excellent traditional training. They teach everything from foot massage, to herbal compress and facial massages. A 5-day massage course costs 10,500 baht.
Siam Healing Centre – Koh Phangan
As a hub for healing, yoga and holistic therapy, Koh Phangan is also a place where people often learn the art of Thai Massage. Siam Healing Centre offers courses in Traditional Thai massage for 8,000 baht (30 hours). They also offer oil massage and foot reflexology courses, as well as Reiki and Theta courses if you’re interested in that too!
Chantima Massage – Koh Phangan
Chantima Massage in Koh Phangan is also a popular place to learn massage. You can do a short one-day course for 2,500 baht or a longer 5-day course (30 hours) for 10,000 baht.