The history and roots of Thai Massage as told by Noelle Noble
The earliest historical reference to Thai Massage is an appointment to the royal Thai M massage department by King Barommatrikolokkanat. Though this appointment wasn’t made until 1455 AD, scholars believe the true origins of Thai massage may go back as much as 3-4,000 years. Many artifacts and historical documentation were lost in the nearly 300 years of war between Thailand and Burma?
With deep roots in southern China, especially the GuanGxi area, the Thai people migrated to what is now Thailand. The many commonalities between Thai Massage and Chinese Massage are due to the many centuries of contact and interaction between the two countries. Likewise, Thai Massage shares many names and concepts with Indian Vedic practices--most likely due to influence through religion and trade.
However, traditional Thai medicine consists of four branches:
Traditional Thai Medicine = Doctor (think Traditional Chinese Medicine)
Therapeutic Thai Massage
Thai way of life and methods of healing were intertwined with Buddhism, a sense of spirituality, as well as individual well-being.
“Buddhist teachings in relation to traditional Thai Massage are well documented in buddhist canon. Lord Buddha implemented roles and or remedies for treatments based on the presentation of the monks or by giving his own orders. These later became the rules and prescriptions for treating sick monks and afterwards they spread to communities (lay people).
One interaction was documented between Lord Buddha and Dr. Jiwaka Komaraphat, who is revered as the founder of Thai Massage and Buddha’s physician. Buddha sent a disciple to Komaraphat to ask for a prescription for a 30-day cleanse. Lomaraphat obliged and filled 3 lotus stems with herbal remedies. The cleanse was successful, and Komaraphat earned the Buddha blessing and title of exceptional Buddhist.”
What is Thai Massage?
The focus of Thai Massage is to awaken and restore balance to the body. This is done by applying pressure with the thumbs, palms, feet, knees, or elbows to specific massage lines. Passive stretching techniques and compressions complete this ancient healing form to increase range of motion, relieve tension and aches, and promote circulation.
Thai Massage is performed on a cushioned mat on the floor while fully dressed in loose comfortable clothing.
Thai Massage is based on two theories:
1) The four elements of life: earth, water, wind, and fire. This theory is the main principle of traditional Thai Medicine. Thai Massage affects the earth element (muscles, bones, ligaments) through stretching, range of motion exercises, and compressions. It stimulates the water element (blood, lymph, mucus, sweat, synovial fluid) to flow through the entire body and help maintain healthy function of the organs. It helps direct the wind element (breath, blood circulation, prana) to flow in the right direction to benefit the body. Lastly, Thai Massage improves circulation and helps maintain the right temperature for the body, thus benefiting the fire element. A balanced union of the four elements of life is key to maintaining good health.
2) The Sen Sib or Ten Lines. This theory is the core of Thai Massage. The ancient royal tradition Thai Medicine text indicates 72,000 energy lines in the body. All 72,000 channels originate in the abdominal cavity and spread throughout the body via the Sen Sib, or ten fundamental lines. A blockage of energy on one of these lines may cause discomfort or illness. These main channels need regular maintenance to avoid blockages or stagnation.
A practitioner should work with the pressure points along the whole Sen to promote proper circulation and fully flush away any stagnant energy. Accompanying passive stretching completes this modality by assisting in wind and water flow, balancing fire and helping to realign strengthen, stretch and ease the earth element.
Thai Massage Revival Project
In 1985 AD The Thai government supported a social task force named the TMRP, which was made up of 12 organizations representing various fields: alternative medicine, public health, Thai Massage associations, The traditional medicine organizations, health offices, medical doctors, foundations and temples famous for their therapeutic massage. The aim of this project was to revive the reputation of Thai Massage following the Viet Nam war, and to streamline the benefits of Royal Thai Massage and common Thai Massage. [there is also northern and southern which have small differences]
They tested and agreed upon the most effective, polite, safe, and hospitable techniques from Royal and Common Thai Massage and brought them together with the nationwide support of hospitals and health care providers. In accordance with these findings, the TMRP also came to the conclusion that acupressure was more effective than stretching. Hence official Thai Massage training involves both passive stretching and acupressure; but with emphasis on the pressure points along the Sen Sib.
Western understanding of Thai Massage tends to focus on the spectacle of assisted stretching. While this can be very relaxing and restorative, in Thailand, this is not considered a complete therapy. It is not a complete therapy according to Thai official guidelines. Massage without the inclusion of acupressure is often called Thai Yoga, or “lazy-man’s yoga” or Thai Yoga Massage (which does not actually include Yoga Asanas).
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