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Traditional Thai Massage

by Christine Townley(more info)

listed in thai yoga massage and bodywork, originally published in issue 87 - April 2003


This unique form of oriental bodywork dates back to ancient times over 2,500 years ago. 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 1776 some of the ancient texts of Thai massage were destroyed. King Rama III had the surviving texts inscribed into the walls of the Phra Chetaphon Temple in Bangkok, which can still be seen today.

The teaching had always been passed down orally. The legendary founder is Jivaka Kuma Bhaccha, a doctor from Northern India and a friend of the Buddha. He is respected and honoured by the people of Thailand as the Father of Medicine. There is a spiritual element to Thai massage and the practitioner recites a short prayer, known as Wai Khru ceremony, in Pali (the ancient Buddhist language) silently before commencing the massage to honour the Father Doctor and wish the client good health and release from all illnesses. It is carried out in a meditative mood, enabling the practitioner to concentrate on the client's energy flow, which benefits the client as well as the practitioner. Working with awareness creates the intuition to energy balancing and sympathetic sensitivity for the client's needs.

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 in Thailand. Nuad Bo Rarn as it is known in Thailand means Ancient Thai Massage and reflects the 'Four Divine States of Mind' of Buddhist teaching. These are loving kindness, compassion, vicarious joy and equanimity. It is important to be aware of these and incorporate them into the massage. This powerful bodywork is originally from India, and many of the Thai stretches resemble the Indian yoga asanas. It also has Chinese influences such as acupressure. It works along the energy lines throughout the body known as 'sen' lines in Thai, which are similar to the Chinese meridians. In the last ten years, Thai massage has evolved enormously and is becoming increasingly popular worldwide.

There are a vast array of techniques including gentle muscle stretching similar to applied yoga, which is energizing and thumbing techniques similar to acupressure, which are stimulating. Soothing massage techniques are also incorporated. Patterns of gentle rocking and rhythmic palm pressure ease the body into a deeply relaxed state. Pressing various points along the sen lines stimulates and restores the free flow of energy around the body, creating harmony between body, mind and spirit. This free flow of energy is known as Chi in China and Prana in India. When there is stagnation or imbalance of this energy flow, illness may arise. Palm pressure is followed by deep, slow moving thumb pressure along specific lines and points.

Traditional Thai Massage has numerous slow stretching movements and practitioners use their hands, thumbs, fingers, feet, legs, knees and elbows to free the tension held within the body. The client is placed into various postures similar to Yoga asanas to increase flexibility, relax tense muscles, mobilize and open joints thus energizing the whole body. The pressure and stretching is measured and matched to the client's physical ability and needs. It is a continuous flow of techniques carried out in a slow rhythmic pace. The stretching movements affect the entire body by releasing both deep and superficial tension, re-educating the client into a new and improved posture. The result is an opening of the body, which leaves the recipient feeling both relaxed and energized at the same time.

Thai Massage is also used for regular health maintenance. The unique, dynamic flowing sequence of the stretches untie the physical and emotional knots inflicted by a modern busy lifestyle, benefiting the mind body and spirit.


* Increases flexibility and mobilizes and opens joints;
* Improves posture and realigns the body;
* Stimulates and improves energy levels;
* Improves circulation of blood and lymph;
* Relieves aches and pains;
* Releases deeply held emotions, physical tension and soothes the nervous system;
* Relieves stress, anxiety and depression;
* Deeply relaxing, induces a feeling of calmness;
* Releases points of tension in the body which block the natural flow of energy;
* Stimulates internal organs and the immune system;
* Releases deeply held emotions, physical tension and soothes the nervous system;
* Stimulates and balances all the systems of the body;
* Accelerates disposal of toxins through the lymphatic system;
* Re-balances and increases flow of energy;
* Improves range and freedom of movement and co-ordination;
* Harmonizes physical and emotional well-being, restoring inner balance and maintains health;
* Alleviates back, neck and shoulder pain.

How Can Thai Massage Alleviate Back Pain?

Thai massage can alleviate muscular skeletal problems especially back pain, neck and shoulder pain, joint stiffness, as well as general aches and pain. Pain in the lower back may be caused by stress, poor posture and weak abdominal muscles, which can lead to undue pressure on the spine. The powerful stretching movements of Thai massage help to improve posture and alleviate back pain. The shoulders and upper back are another commonplace where tension may be stored creating pain in the neck and shoulder regions. Various Thai massage techniques can be applied to ease this tension.

Stimulating the energy flow either side of the spine along the sen lines will strengthen and lengthen the spine and alleviate muscle imbalance, a common cause of back problems. A healthy spine will make an enormous difference to alleviating back pain. There are also a wide range of single leg stretches, which stretch the hamstrings, and increase mobility in the hips. These help to loosen the muscles of the lower back.

The key is to stretch and lengthen muscles all over the body. By working the sen lines of the legs, this will aid circulation throughout the body. There are various spinal twists, performed slowly and gently, which can release tension and untie those knots, increasing suppleness in the spine. There are key pressure points similar to acupressure to press on the feet, gluteal muscles and either side of the spine. A thorough stomach massage can also alleviate tension in the back. These techniques create length and stretch the spine, easing joint stiffness. Clients feel taller, looser and lighter.


Although Thai massage is suitable for most people irrespective of their age or level of flexibility, many yoga practitioners have found it easier to enter or hold a pose when assisted by a teacher. With the Yogic influenced stretches in Thai massage, people are able to go deeper into these, enhancing their flexibility and encouraging deeper relaxation in each pose. It is like a yoga dance, the practitioner also getting stretched whilst giving the session. This passive form of Yoga becomes very meditative for the client and along with acupressure, massage techniques create a very unique healing art, which the Thais often refer to as 'energy medicine'. It is more than passive yoga with a profound effect, and this Thai bodywork has many more ingredients than just a yoga workout.

How Thai Massage is Performed

Thai massage is performed on a futon mattress with the client wearing loose clothing. It is a very thorough treatment of the whole body lasting for 11/2 hours or 2 hours, the latter being more thorough and being able to address more specific problems. There is a range of techniques suitable and appropriate for each client and practitioners are able to choose and adapt various techniques to suit their client's varying needs and abilities. Students will learn up to 31/2 hours of techniques. Overall the massage is very intuitive.

The client will lie on their back (prone) position and, before commencing, the practitioner recites a short prayer silently to focus their mind and energy, offering thanks to the Father Doctor and wishing their client good health. Relaxation techniques of palm press walking are then applied to the feet and legs, allowing both practitioner and client to become acquainted with each others' energies and to establish a rhythm which creates a key foundation to the massage. This rhythm is very important for soothing the client's nervous system.

Various thumb presses similar to Reflexology are used on the feet to ground and balance the client's energy before commencing to work on the energy lines of the legs. Palming techniques are then followed by slow moving thumb pressure to release blocked energy along the sen lines. A series of slow powerful stretching movements are performed on one leg to stretch the hamstrings, to create mobility in the hips, elongate the muscles and improve circulation throughout the body. This is repeated on the other leg. The practitioner then uses more stretches on both legs together. A relaxing abdominal massage is then carried out massaging the stomach and internal organs.

The practitioner then works the energy lines of the arms, moving on to the chest, with maybe some shoulder stretches in this prone position. A soothing face massage may be performed in this position, or at the end in the sitting position. The client will then turn onto their side and the practitioner may further open the shoulder and pelvic area with some more stretching movements. This is repeated on the other side. Techniques will then be performed with the client lying on their stomach (supine), various leg stretches and palming and thumbing the energy lines of the back. The client is then placed into sitting position, which focuses mainly on the spine, shoulders and posture. Each movement is carried out in a continuous movement and flow.


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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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