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The Richness of Thai Massage

by Christine Townley(more info)

listed in thai yoga massage and bodywork, originally published in issue 115 - September 2005

Thai Massage is known as Nuad Bo Rarn in Thailand. Nuad means to touch and Bo Rarn means ancient or sacred. It reflects the 'Four Divine States of Mind' of Buddhist teaching. These are loving kindness, compassion, vicarious joy and equanimity. In Buddhist philosophy Mettha meaning loving kindness is a core component of a Buddhist's daily life. A Thai Massage should be given with loving kindness rather than in a mechanical or forceful way. This clothed bodywork is originally from India and many of the Thai stretches resemble the Indian yoga postures. It also combines thumb pressure similar to acupressure, which originates in China, and soothing massage techniques. This blend and fusion of exquisite Asian techniques create a powerful healing massage, increasing vitality, flexibility and tranquility.

Thai Squat. Eases upper back and shoulder tension
Thai Squat. Eases upper back and shoulder tension

The legendary founder of Thai Massage was Jivaka Kuma Bhacca, a doctor from Northern India and a friend of Buddha. He is respected and honoured by the people of Thailand as the Father of Medicine. With its origins deep within the traditions of Buddhist culture, another spiritual element to Thai Massage is a prayer known as Wai Khru ceremony. Students recite a prayer at the beginning and end of each day at many Thai Massage Schools in Pali (the ancient Buddhist language). This is to honour the Father Doctor and wish the client good health and release from all illnesses. Buddhist monks traditionally performed this dynamic massage in temples known as Wats in Thailand as a means of invigorating the mind and body. When Thailand was overrun by Burma in 1767 the capital Ayutthia was destroyed, some of the ancient texts on Thai Massage were lost and destroyed. King Rama III had the surviving texts inscribed into the walls of the Phra Chetaphon Temple, also known as Wat Pho, in Bangkok.

Thai Massage is part of traditional Thai medicine which, in Thailand, can include herbal compresses, meditation and nutrition, although it is more common that just the massage is used these days.


Thai Massage helps to alleviate pain, relieve stress and stress-related disorders. It is also used for regular health maintenance as well as helping to release trapped energy, thereby unlocking tension and improving the energy flow throughout the body. It soothes the nervous system, calming the mind and producing a powerful feeling of wellbeing, restoring inner balance and equilibrium. It also helps to increase flexibility, joint mobility and improve posture. It stimulates the circulation of blood and lymph, the internal organs and immune system, relieves aches, pain and stiffness, stimulates and improves range and freedom of movement and co-ordination, balances the systems of the body and accelerates the disposal of toxins.

Thai Massage aims to increase energy levels and induce deep relaxation. It works very deeply on an emotional and physical level. It is very powerful for alleviating back, neck and shoulder tension.


With Thai Massage being very closely linked with the Indian yoga tradition, it is often referred to as Thai Yoga Massage. Many yoga postures are included in a Thai Massage treatment. Forward bends, backward bends, cobra, spinal twists, locust positions and plough are all used in Thai Massage. Yoga practitioners have found it easier to hold a pose when assisted by a yoga teacher. With the yogic influenced stretches in Thai Massage, clients are able to go deeper into a posture when assisted by a Thai Massage practitioner, enhancing their flexibility and encouraging deep relaxation in each pose. It is like a yoga dance, with the practitioner also benefiting and getting stretched whilst giving the massage. It is essential for the practitioner to have a certain amount of flexibility and to practise yoga on a regular basis. The flowing sequences of Ashtanga Yoga are very effective for the Thai Massage practitioner. Learning this type of yoga can greatly improve the flow and rhythm of a Thai Massage. Regular stretching, such as Iyengar yoga, can help practitioners to feel for themselves the degree of stretching necessary and their own pain threshold.

Although also referred to as yoga for lazy people, Thai Massage treatment is more than passive yoga and has more ingredients than a yoga workout, as it combines the soothing massage techniques and acupressure, which make this a very unique healing art and therapy. The numerous slow stretching movements free the tension held within the body, increase flexibility, relax tense muscles, mobilize and open joints, thus energizing the whole body and allowing the energy to flow freely around the body. This free flow of energy is known as Prana in Indian and Chi in China. The pressure and stretching is measured and matched to the client's physical ability and needs. A practitioner will learn to feel how far to take a client into a stretch. This is indeed an art, working slowly with mindfulness will help the practitioner to feel the point of resistance and maximum stretch for the limbs. Be very careful not to overstretch or injure your client. It is a continuous flow of techniques carried out in a slow rhythmic pace with mindfulness. The stretching yogic movements affect the entire body by releasing both deep and superficial tension and re-educating the client into a new and improved posture. The result is an opening of the body, which leaves one feeling both relaxed and energized at the same time.

Breathing in harmony with your client is essential for a good Thai Massage. Clients should be exhaling when being stretched. Normal relaxed breathing, flowing with the rhythm of the massage. With practice, one movement will flow effortlessly onto the next creating lovely flowing dynamic sequences.


Palm Presses
Palm pressure is applied using both hands simultaneously. They are often used to open and close a movement and are usually followed by Palm Press Walking.
Palm Walking
Pressure is applied with the hands alternately. Lean with your bodyweight on to one side and then transfer your weight to the other side with a rocking side to side movement. Palm walking is often used to relax the client and in-between movements.
Palm Presses and Palm walking are used extensively on the feet, legs, arms and back.
Thumb Presses
Pressure is always applied with the ball of the thumb into the soft muscle (never with the point or tip). Ensure you keep the thumb joints straight rather than bent. Therefore, the ball of the thumb lies flat against the point being pressed. Initially, this may result in some strain and soreness in your thumbs but they will soon strengthen with practice. Observe facial reactions to help to determine the amount of pressure suitable for your client.
Thumb Walking
Pressure is applied with the thumbs alternately. This is used on the energy lines on the legs, arms and back. Working the energy lines known as sen lines in Thailand is the heart and soul of a good Thai Massage.
Thumb Circles
Gentle circular movements are applied with thumbs in a clockwise direction. This is a gentler technique than thumb press and is used on bones, fingers and toes and can be applied after pressing a point for relaxation. It can also be used to release tension around shoulders or other areas where there is congestion.
Finger Circles
Light pressure is applied with the pads of the three middle fingers in a circular movement. This is applied on the sternum and below the clavicle and to release tension in other parts of the body, i.e. around the shoulder.
Palm Circles
Circular movements are applied using the centre of the heel of the palm. This is used as a relaxation technique at the beginning and end of an abdominal massage in a continuous circle.
Elbow Press
Pressure is gently applied with the elbow, with the forearm up. Pressure is slowly released by bringing the forearm down. This technique is stronger than thumb pressure and must always be applied with mindfulness and observing facial reactions or asking for feedback.
Loose Fist Knock
This is applied with a loose fist and relaxed wrists and a slow knocking movement with the fingers, the contact being with the fingers below the joints. It is used on the back of legs.
Forearm Roll
Pressure is applied with the underside of the forearm pressing down and rolling the arm away. This is used on the top of shoulders and back of legs.
With hands together in prayer position and fingers apart, press the palms together so that the elbows point out and forearms are horizontal with fingers pointing up to face the ceiling. Rotate forearms from the elbow making rapid rotation movements of the arms so that the sides of the little fingers chop against the body. Chopping is a movement used on the legs, back and either side of the spine.

Learning Thai Massage

Thai Massage is usually taught in a sequence of over three hours of massage. The tutor demonstrates these movements in sections and then students practise them on each other. Students will then choose techniques, which are suitable and beneficial for their clients and themselves, and will condense the treatment down to 11/2 hours. Learning to be intuitive with ones choice is important. Ensure the massage is given with loving kindness and mindfulness.

Some Tips for Learning

  • Observe client's facial reactions and learn to listen to their body (If client is lying on the stomach ask for feedback, if you are not sure of the pressure);
  • Keep your back straight;
  • Keep your arms straight;
  • Use your bodyweight not your strength;
  • Work at a slow pace in a meditative and concentrated state of mind;
  • Never work directly on the knee;
  • Never press directly on the bone;
  • Client should allow two hours after eating before having a massage;
  • Ensure you take case history before commencing massage to check there are no contra-indications;
  • The depth of touch should be sufficient so that the pressure is felt, although it should not produce pain;
  • Observation and practice play an important part in learning Thai Massage as well as learning to think of moving with greater ease and freedom.

One of the core elements of learning Thai Massage is the flow of movement for the Practitioner, moving from one posture to another with the minimum amount of effort. It is this visual learning which is vital for the student, watching your teacher or someone with more experience move from one movement to the other. A dvd or video is an important tool for learning Thai Massage and applying proper body mechanics. Improper body mechanics can cause pain and possibly injury to the client and practitioner.

Training in Thai Massage

It is essential to choose an accredited course with case studies, preferably in the country you are intending to practice in. In England the International Guild of Professional Practitioners (now called Embody) regulate and accredit courses and set standards. These standards and regulations are getting stricter and more stringent to ensure practitioners in the UK are working to a safe and effective standard. It is essential to train in Anatomy and Physiology.

There are now many established schools in Bangkok and Chiang Mai and if you are thinking of training in Thailand you should first check if your certificate would be accepted for insurance purposes in England.

The principal schools of Thai Massage in Thailand are the Institute of Thai Massage and the Old Medicine Hospital. Both these schools are in Chiang Mai and teach northern-style Thai Massage. The Sussex Thai Massage School Course in Brighton is based upon both these schools, and is accredited to the International Guild of Professional Practitioners (Embody). Wat Po temple in Bangkok teaches southern-style Thai Massage. Southern Thai Massage is more invasive and vigorous. Northern Thai Massage is a more gentle version and movements create a repertoire which flow in an effective and logical sequence

Further Information

The Sussex Thai Massage School has recently produced a Step-by-Step complete Thai Massage DVD or Video with over three hours of massage. This DVD is invaluable for the qualified practitioner and for those learning Thai Massage. The contents are as follows: Introduction; History including Temples and Buddhas of Thailand; Contra-indications; Techniques and a continuous, complete Thai Massage for over three hours showing smooth flowing movements with voiceover. You can order on: or via


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About Christine Townley

Christine Townley, founder and director of the Sussex Thai Massage School,has over 10 years experience in Thai Massage. She has been practising Yoga since her late teens and qualified in Holistic Massage in 1991. In 1992 she spent time in Thailand training with experienced masters. Christine teaches Introductory Days and Professional Practitioners Diploma courses in Brighton, runs a private practice and along with her team of practitioners, offers a home visiting service in Brighton and Sussex. The course is accredited with the Guild of Complementary Practitioners and Affiliated to the Institute of Complementary Medicine. Class sizes are small at the Sussex Thai Massage School to enable students to receive individual attention from the tutor, and the courses are mainly hands on practical work. Christine teaches in a passionate and sympathetic style. Emphasis is placed on the students' body movements, rhythmic flow, effective use of bodyweight and great awareness and sympathy of clients' reactions. You may contact Christine on: Tel. 01273 380806;;

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