Thailand is the land of massage. It’s everywhere. You don’t have to look for it. It will find you. The easy and very affordable access to massage in Thailand is one of the pleasures of living here.
Like everywhere in the world, the quality of massage varies greatly. I have received many wonderful Thai Massage sessions in Thailand, but I also had some rather bizarre experiences. The silver lining of those sub-standard massages was that they helped me to develop an approach to finding good therapists.
One story sticks out in my mind which in hindsight seems quite funny, but when it actually happened, I wasn’t laughing. That was the point when I decided that I needed a better method for finding good Thai Massage. Read the rest of this story
Thai Massage has its origins in India’s yoga system. According to legend, an Indian physician came to Thailand and introduced what is now called “Thai Massage”. His name is a tongue breaker – Shivaka Komarpaj -and nobody agrees on the spelling. I always called him “Dr. Shivago” for simplicity’s sake which is fairly close to how his first name is actually pronounced.
He is still revered as the founder of Thai Massage and many massage schools display his picture or statue. He was a contemporary of Buddha, which makes Thai Massage about 2500 years old. Many Thai therapists begin their sessions with a prayer to him.
Yoga back stretch
Thai Massage Back Stetch
Asian massage therapy focuses on the concept of energy flow whereas its western counterparts tend to be more clinically oriented. Thai Massage recognizes an invisible energy flow in the body through “sen lines”.
This energy is called “lom” in Thailand which corresponds to “prana” in the yogic tradition and can be mapped and localized. Skilled practitioners know how to influence the flow of this energy for healing purposes.
Thai Massage Cobra
Western massage therapies do not recognize this energy since it cannot be physically seen or scientifically verified.
But if you think about it, emotions like love or joy or sorrow cannot be seen or dissected either, but everyone knows that they exist, because we all feel them. Feeling is a valid way of perception, albeit non-scientific. A skilled Thai Massage practitioner can feel and manipulate energy, although it has to be said that only few have developed this skill very highly.
Just as yoga can be practiced as an exercise regimen or as a spiritual practice, so can Thai Massage be used as bodywork or as a true healing art. It depends on the intention, skill level and awareness of the practitioner.
The purpose of Yoga and Thai Massage
Energy flelds and lines
The goal of yoga is not to be able to stand on your head or twist yourself into a pretzel, but to activate an energy in your body that opens up higher levels of consciousness.
Similarly the goal of Thai Massage is not just to stretch muscles, but to facilitate an unobstructed flow of life energy through the body which allows healing to take place.
In India yoga was mostly practiced by saints and yogis. The spread of yoga to a popular, openly available and widely practiced discipline by anyone and everyone is only a fairly recent development that took place over the last few decades.
Thai Massage was traditionally practiced and taught in temples as a discipline that was closely related to Buddhist teachings. Only in the last two decades has Thai Massage become a popular and widely practiced massage style.
Yoga upper back and neck stretch
Thai Massage upper back and neck stretch
Both yoga and Thai massage have only fairly recently come out of the closet and become available to everyone. Both yoga and Thai Massage were traditionally practiced by spiritually oriented monks and yogis.
The recent popularity for both has resulted in great opportunities for new skills and personal development, but also in a watering down of the original spiritual principles. Yoga is now often practiced as a mere physical exercise routine, and Thai Massage is often done as just another body work style.
Although there are yoga disciplines that do not use physical exercises like bhakti yoga or jnana yoga, for the sake of this discussion we will use the physical disciplines like hatha yoga as a means of comparison to Thai Massage. Yoga uses physical stretches and manipulations to open up the body. Many of these stretches are very similar to Thai Massage positions.
Active versus passive practice
The main difference is that yoga can be practiced by oneself whereas Thai Massage is done by a therapist to a client. Yoga requires schooling, knowledge, skill and experience to practice whereas a recipient of Thai Massage does not have to know anything about it and can still experience many benefits of yoga. That is why Thai Massage is often called “applied yoga”.
I am not saying that a recipient of Thai Massage is practicing yoga. The potential for personal development of a yogi is clearly much greater than for a recipient of Thai Massage. On the other hand a Thai Massage can provide many of the benefits of yoga without having to know or practice yoga. For that reason Thai Massage is sometimes called “lazy man’s yoga”.
Consistent yoga practice has great benefits, but it requires time, study, discipline and dedication. Regular Thai Massage also has great benefits similar to yoga and can be experienced by people who do not have the ability or inclination to practice yoga.
Yoga Sitting Spinal Twist
Thai Massage Sitting Spinal Twist
The best of both worlds for clients
During my personal practice of Thai Massage I have come to the conclusion that the best of both worlds is a combination of both disciplines.
I often tell my clients that they have three choices. They can come to me for the rest of their lives and get regular Thai Massage sessions and pay me a lot of money, or they can learn yoga and do it for themselves for free.
Even better, they can get Thai Massage for the sheer enjoyment of receiving a blissful and beneficial session, and then they can practice yoga at home. This is the best of both worlds.
Yoga for Thai Massage practitioners
I always advise my Thai Massage students to practice yoga for several reasons. First, to do Thai Massage requires flexibility, the ability to move around a body on the floor, to sit on one’s knees or cross-legged. It is very hard to do good Thai Massage without being in good shape oneself.
Second, the practice of yoga will enhance a Thai Massage practitioner’s state of energy and awareness which is a very important part of Thai Massage. Third, Thai Massage practitioners can help their clients by recommending certain yoga exercises as “homework” after a Thai Massage session in order to increase and prolong benefits.
Thai Massage for Yoga teachers
As far as yoga teachers are concerned, the practice of Thai Massage can help them to improve the quality of their touch. It can enable them to deal with yoga related injuries like overstretching.
It can help them to apply some complementary and matching massage moves as part of their teaching sessions. This can enhance the experience of their students and add to the uniqueness of their classes.
Thai Massage and yoga are a perfect marriage. I have used them both in my practice and in my teaching and I would not want to miss either of them in my repertoire. Yoga and Thai Massage work on the physical body and on the energy body. Both use similar techniques, both open and improve energy flow, both are originally based on spiritual principles, and both have tremendous benefits.
The author, Shama Kern, is a long time resident of Thailand and the founder and director of Thai Healing Massage Academy.
He lives with his Thai wife in Chiang Mai, which is the city with the highest concentration of Thai Massage schools in the world.
Tourists are lining up to pose with the soldiers in Chiang Mai’s Sunday Market
I have lived through two military coup d’etats here in Thailand. They were both very uniquely Thai style affairs. Normally we associate coups with violence, shooting, arrests, and political prisons, in other words very unpleasant events.
However Thailand has come up with what I call “velvet coups”. I remember the first one in 2006. The army rolled out tanks in the streets of Bangkok. But instead of creating an atmosphere of terror among the citizens, many Thais took it as a fun event.
They climbed up on the tanks, handed flowers to the soldiers and had their pictures taken while posing on the tanks with the soldiers. No shots were fired and nobody got hurt. Read the rest of this story
Would you believe that you are looking at a house? Yes, you are – the Crazy House in Dalat, Vietnam.
I went to the Crazy House today here in the city of Dalat in Vietnam. No, not to the loony bin – I did not go crazy.
The truth is that there are no crazy people in the Crazy House at all. But there are plenty of tourists who are happy to pay the entrance fee to see this really unique house. Actually it is several houses, not one. Read the rest of this story
Wherever you look in Ho Chi Minh City, there is always an overwhelming number of scooters around you
Ho Chi Minh City used to be known as Saigon. Many locals are still using the previous old name which rolls off the tongue much better than the new name. And the one area where I am staying is officially called Saigon, a district within Ho Chi Minh City.
So what brought me to Vietnam? I actually live in Chiang Mai, Thailand. That’s a great city with one BIG exception. During March and April the weather is extremely hot. And at the same time there is lots of agricultural burning going on during that time. The result of this is extremely high air pollution which is dangerous for your health. Read the rest of this story
Motorbike parking at the mall in Chiang Mai, Thailand
There are lots of motorcycles in Thailand. Most of them are of the variety which we would call a moped or a scooter. They have small engines, between 100cc and 125cc in general, and they cost somewhere in the neighborhood of US $1000-$1300. They are easy to drive, easy to park and they are very maneuverable. And surprisingly they can carry quite a lot of weight despite their small size.
The Thais have been quite ingenious in coming up with lots of methods to use them. I have identified 8 methods how I have seen them used, but this list is by no means exhaustive. Read the rest of this story
Here in Thailand there is a kind of visa which requires that you leave the country once every three months, even if only for 5 minutes. It’s called a non-immigrant visa, and like thousands of other foreigners I have to make a “visa run” to the Burmese border (The country is called Burma or Myanmar) to get my new stamp. Read the rest of this story
What if I told you that I live in a place where the year is 2557? No, I am not schizophrenic, I did not watch too many science fiction movies, and I do not live on another planet. But I do live in Thailand, and the year is 2557 for the simple reason that they use the Buddhist calendar instead of the Christian one.
The Christian (Gregorian) calendar starts with the birth of Jesus, 2014 years ago. The Buddhist calendar starts with the birth of Buddha, 2557 years ago. Most dates in Thailand are written with the Buddhist year which tends to be very confusing for westerners. The trick is to subtract 543 years and you are right back to 2014. Read the rest of this story
The elephant has always been one of the the most important animals in Thailand. They were used for warfare, for doing heavy work like logging, and they were a symbol of power, wealth and prestige. To this day the king of Thailand keeps a stable of white elephants which are very rare and considered highly auspicious. Well, they are not exactly snow white, but they are much more light skinned that the usually very dark skinned animals.
However training elephants to become domesticated work animals can be a traumatic and painful experience for the animals since it takes quite a lot to break the will and the sense of freedom of those giants. Read the rest of this story