Thai massage from its origins until today
The fine art of Thai massage
Thai massage is an ancient healing art of Thailand. Today It is recognized amongst the international medical profession as one of the best alternative and complementary medical therapies.
Thai massage therapy really shines brighter than most other massage cultures. Not to forget, its amazing healing impact.
Massage is one of the four practices of traditional Thai medicine, and it's been part of the Thai culture and its daily life since ever. Therefore a wide variety of modalities have been developed by masters all over Thailand since ancient times.
This page is in 2 parts. It includes:
- A brief view of the history of Thai massage
- Recent studies on medical Thai massage
1. History of Thai Massage
The Buddhist History of Thai Traditional Massage
Thai Traditional Massage, or Nuad Boran, is generally translated as Traditional or Ancient Massage, but could perhaps be best translated as Ancient Healthful Touch as it is far more than just a massage. Indeed Thai Traditional Massage as a Buddhist practice is more about transmitting Life Force than working on muscles and tendons. In this respect, Thai Traditional Massage reaches far back in both time and space.
When it comes to Thai Massage there is one name inevitably coming up: Jivaka Komarabhacca, also known as Doctor Shivago. The Founder:
Jivaka Kumarabhacca and Ancient Massage
Jivaka (or Shivago) is regarded as the Father of Medicine, a source of knowledge about the healing powers of plant, mineral, massage and so forth. His teachings travelled to Thailand at the same time as Buddhism. Definitively a central figure in the Buddhist medical system, he is legitimately regarded as the aspiration for all practitioners of Ancient Massage.
Mantra prayer to Jivaka Kumarabhacca
Om Namo Shivago Silasa Ahang Karuniko Sapasatanang
Osata Tipamantang Papaso Suriyajantang
Komalapato Pagasesi Wantami Bandito
Sumetaso A-Loka Sumanahomi (3 times)
Piyo-Tewa Manusanang Piyo-Proma Namutamo
Piyo-Naka Supananang Pinisiyong Namamihang
Namoputaya Navon-Navean Nasatit-Nasatean
A-Himama Navean-Nawe Napitang-Vean Naveanmahako
A-Himama Piyongmama Namoputaya (1 time)
Na-A Nawa Loka Payati Winasanti (3 times)
Translation of this Pali prayer:
Homage to you, Shivago, who established the rules and precepts.
I pray that kindness, wealth, medicine—everything comes to you.
I pray to you who brings light to everyone just as the sun and moon do,
Who has perfect wisdom and who knows everything.
We honor you who are without defilement,
Who are near to Enlightenment, having entered the stream three times.
We come to honor you. Honor to you. Honor to the Buddha.
I pray that with your help all sickness and disease will be released from those whom I touch. (Trans. Ms. Ananda Apfelbaum)
Characteristics of a traditional Thai Massage Therapist
A typical healer prays to Shivago for help in healing work, and patients often pray for a cure. Shivago is said to benevolently intercede on a patient’s behalf, and is also said to transmit healing “through” the hands of the traditional Thai healer, who is seen as a channel for this energy. While most massage therapists put stock in the knowledge they possess and the techniques they perform, they put much more faith in the ability of the Father Doctor to guide their hands during the massage. Healers kneel at their clients’ feet with folded hands and closed eyes and pray to Shivago for guidance in order to prepare themselves before each massage. Most practitioners feel themselves to be channels for the healing energy of the Father Doctor rather than healers in their own right. For the true master, every movement of the massage is an exercise in meditation and piety.
The practice of traditional Thai Yoga Massage in present-day is still deeply connected with Buddhism and should be applied with "Metta", the Buddhist term for "Loving Kindness" or "Empathy". The masters of Thai Massage are mostly religious
people and are working in a state of attentiveness, equanimity, compassion and shared happiness.
"Most of the spiritual side of Thai massage is difficult for the Westerner to truly understand due to the language and cultural barriers that exist for the average tourist.
Moreover, Thai massage schools for tourists are unfortunately not noted for their theoretical or spiritual teachings. To be fair, however, some of the most important practices in this art form are impossible to explain or learn verbally. The true practice of the art of healing—be it nuad boran or any other type of medicine—is in the compassionate intent of the healer. The spiritual practices associated with Thai medicine, specifically the acts of piety and prayer, are Buddhist methods of building humility, awareness, and concentration in the healer and are designed to bring the practitioner to a deeper level of awareness of himself and the client. This compassionate state of mind is called metta, or "loving kindness."
More interestingly, the cultivation of metta is fully compatible with any spiritual tradition. The most important lesson Thai Buddhism has to offer us is that it is universally desirable to make a sincere attempt to live honestly, humbly, and compassionately. Any spiritual practice that emphasizes these virtues will benefit from the practice of a healing tradition by developing the intent to heal through touch.
Metta, coupled with proper understanding of techniques, will in most cases guide the healer in performing the steps correctly, with the correct amount of intensity, and these actions will always be positive and helpful. However, if the mind is wandering or otherwise engaged, if the attention is not given to the client, or the compassionate intent to do good is absent, the massage will be nothing more than a series of empty physical movements. While these motions may have some benefit on their own, what benefit they have increases multiple times when the touch is infused with the will to heal.
It is for this reason more than any other that the Thai massage therapist begins his or her massage with a prayer to Shivago. In our Western context, a prayer, a short chant, or any other way of taking a moment to center ourselves, clear our minds, and focus on our clients, will work wonders for our practice and for our clients’ well-being." (From The Encyclopedia of Thai Massage, by Pierce Salguero)
Thai traditional massage and herbal medicine have been the main practices to maintain health and wellbeing used throughout the country by monks and villagers, until very recently. Indeed it is only since the late 1990s that allopathic medicine has taken up the torch (with all the limitations and second effects that it offers). Meanwhile, Thai authorities have made every effort to formalize Thai traditional massage and medicine.
Obviously the indigenous knowledge of Thai traditional medicine has been transmitted orally from generation to generation. It has been a long and meticulous labor for the health national authorities to gather, classify and formalize the different techniques used throughout the country by so many practitioners. Therefore they have been able to classify them relatively roughly and only partially. We could speculate that masters were not willing to unveil the secrets of their art so easily to the bureaucrats. In any case, today it makes no doubt that the gems of authentic Thai healing techniques have been kept intact in the hands of the few remaining masters and their students.
Traditional Thai Massage in the modern world
In Thailand, Thai massage is one of the branches of Traditional Thai Medicine (TTM), recognized and regulated by the government since the 1980s, and is widely considered to be a medical discipline used for the treatment of a wide variety of ailments. On the other hand, Thai massage is also practiced and taught by a number of non-medical massage technicians in the spa and tourism industries.
In North America and Europe, an increasing number of practitioners and teachers of Thai massage have emerged since the 1990s. In Europe and the United States, Thai massage is a growing modality among clients of massage clinics.
Although Traditional Thai Massage is mainly used in the West as a relaxation modality, it is first of all an essential therapeutic method.
2. Studies on the efficiency and benefits of Therapeutic Thai Massage
Hereafter some of the illnesses treated by Thai traditional massage (By Dr. Pennapa Subcharoen, M.D., Director, the National Institute of Thai Traditional Medicine)
1. Facial paralysis: inability to close one’s eyelids, inability to raise the eyebrows, twisted mouth
2. Inability to close jaw
3. Inflamed jaw: inability to open mouth
4. Buzzing in the ears
5. Headache and shoulder pain
6. Stiff neck and sore with pain when turning the face
7. Stiff shoulder with pain
8. Elbow discomfort
9. Wrist sprain
10. Swollen wrist
11. Inflamed fingers
12. Dislocated fingers
13. Bent and twisted backbone
14. Hips trouble
15. Sniff legs
16. Hips trouble
17. Stiff legs
18. Articular rheumatism
19. Inability to stretch legs
20. Kneecaps pain
21. Sprained ankles
22. Broken arms and legs
23. Muscle pain
Other sources indicate that Traditional Thai Massage:
- Aid detoxification of the body and boost the immune system
- Increase blood circulation, help to lower blood pressure
- Increase muscle flexibility and mobility
- Improve breathing and respiration
- Improves posture, balance, and body alignment
- Dissolves energy blockages
- Help arthritis and back pain
- Help strengthen joints, including chronic joint problems
- Combats illness and alleviates degenerative diseases
- Help with concentration and creativity/ Mind and body concentration
- Clears and calms your mind
- Help you gain mental clarity
- Reduces and relieves stress and anxiety
- Help boost inner energy levels
- Develops discipline and self-control
- Increases overall health and vitality.
Limitations of Thai traditional massage
1. High fever more than 38.5 C
2. Smallpox, chickenpox, herpes zoster, herpes hives
3. Skin diseases
4. Infectious disease such as tuberculosis
Research on Thai Traditional Massage (By Dr. Pennapa Subcharoen, M.D., Director, the National Institute of Thai Traditional Medicine)
1 .In 1981, Krungkrai Janepanich and Prasertsak Tuchinda, studying the efficacy of Thai massage to blood circular system in 45 healthy persons, 19-72 years old. Giving a massage on the front lower legs together with constantly pressing on the right upper leg for 1 minute known as "Opening wind channel", for 5 minutes while the volunteer was in lying position. It was found that Thai massage Thai massage was to increase temperature of both feet, to decrease the heart rate, to decrease the maximum point of blood pressure by statistic significantly in male. For female, there was not change in the maximum point of blood pressure.
2. In 1984, Prayotch Boonsinsuk et al. found that Thai massage by pressing on the pain point be able to reduce backache at the waist level.
3. In 1990 , Krungkrai Janepanich and Prasert Tuchinda, studying the efficacy of Thai massage on the neck and shoulder to the pulse rate and blood pressure. It was found that the pulse rate and blood pressure were significantly decreased. The symptoms of head: dizziness or headache, the symptoms of neck: stretch, strain, and neck pain , the symptoms of shoulders: tighten and stiff were relieved as well. All patients could bow, lift, turn left and turn right their head. In addition, all volunteers got well and they felt their brains, heads, hearts, and eyes better. They also breathed easily and felt soft at their shoulders and necks. It was concluded that they satisfied for Thai massage.
4. In 1992, Vichai Ungpinijpong et al, studying the efficacy of physiology on back pain patients causing from the vertebrae degeneration and back muscle inflammation for 38 patients. It was found that Thai massage was to increase the temperature on skin and trunk elastic, and to relieve pain.
5. In 1992 , Prayatch Boonsinsuk et al, studying the efficacy of Thai massage on the patients of 3 days muscle and joint pain. It was found that the physical temperature, pulse rate, maximum and minimum hypertension was not changed. The pain level was reduced about one level (from 6 levels) after giving a massage. The patients of muscle pain felt better than that of other pain. After the third massage, the pain symptom was approximately decreased 2 levels.
6. In 1994 , The Center of Thai Traditional Medicine, Prachinburi Province, studying the efficacy of applying royal Thai massage in public health care services. It was found the result of royal Thai massage was that the patients remained normal 60.16% , got better 28.98% , did not improve 10.86%.
7. In 1997, Pennapa Subcharoen et al, studying the application of Thai traditional medicine theory to give the patients service in 29 public health care services. It was found that 51.8% of health care services had Ayuraved doctors, Thai massage, herbal steam bath, herbal hot compress and herbal drug, as well as producing herbal drug.
8. In 1988 , Narumol Leelayuwat et al, studying the efficacy of physiology of Thai massage for relieving pain, muscle function and complication in 300 patients, 18-60 years old, having back pain at least 6 months and stopping taking drug at least 7 days. It was found that the efficacy of relieving pain was approximately reduced one level continuously at least 2 day and increased the flexibility of muscle. It was not found the complication or physical pathology. It had only short term effect such as tiredness , cool, pain, sore , tight, back pain, and numb. However, these symptoms would disappear after giving a massage.
9. In 1998, Yodchai Boonprakob et al., comparative studying the efficacy of the changing of flexibility in back and hips muscle between Thai massage by the masseur and massaging stick in 30 healthy volunteers and no physical pathology of back pain. It was found that both Thai massage by the masseur and massaging instrument were to increase the muscle in flexibility of back and hips.