An Ancient Tradition Comes to the West
Traditional Thai Massage can look back at a long history of therapeutic healing. If one traces the evolution of the techniques of healing massage practiced in Thailand, one discovers the astonishing fact that the earliest roots of Thai massage lie not in Thailand, but in India. The legendary founder of the art is believed to have been a doctor from Northern India known as Jivaka Kumar Bhaccha, who was a contemporary of the Buddha and Personal Physician to the Magadha King of Bimbisara, over 2500 years ago.
In Thailand this unique therapy has been handed down from teacher to pupil since the third century BC. Until recently it was always given in a temple and seen as a spiritual practice; "The physical application of loving kindness"(i)
The theoretical foundation of Thai massage is based on the concept of energy lines running through the body. Ten of these lines are especially important in Thai massage. Massaging these points, it is claimed, makes it possible to treat certain diseases or to relieve pain.
The ten main energy lines are sufficient to conduct practical treatment for the whole body and its internal organs. Disturbances in the flow of energy result in an insufficient supply of energy, which practitioners believe will in turn lead to sickness. Working on the energy lines with massage can break the blockades, stimulate the flow of energy and help to restore general well-being.
Thai massage differs from Swedish massage, which is the most widespread technique of massage in the West. The kneading of muscles, which dominates in Swedish massage, is absent from Thai massage - energy points are pressed or general pressure is used instead. There is a lot of stretching involved and many exercises might well be described as applied hatha yoga or 'applied physical yoga'.
The therapist uses hands, feet and elbows to apply pressure to important points along these lines in combination with yoga-based stretches.
The treatment is both relaxing and energising. The yoga positions and stretching makes it ideal for sports people and dancers, whilst the energy line work out is especially beneficial during pregnancy and after giving birth. Physiotherapy and chiropractic in the West are closer to Thai massage than is Swedish massage, but these techniques also ignore manipulating the energy points and the flow of the body and their theoretical foundations are based on the anatomical structure of the body. A search for massage theories and techniques in the West which are more closely parallel to Thai massage brings to mind reflexology, where a workout on energy line points is done as well.
Treatment is applied through loose comfortable clothing and is beneficial for people of all ages and flexibility. No one is taken beyond his or her own personal limit.
(i) Asokananda (Harold Brust), The Art of Traditional Thai Massage, 1990, Editions Duang Kamol.
By Mario Constantine
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