Thai Massage is Yoga! Let me say this to you with emphasis Thai Massage is not LIKE Yoga, it IS Yoga!

The type of Thai traditional therapy that most people will be directly exposed to is ráksãa thaang nûat (healing massage treatment). This is what is more commonly known as the Nuat Thai or Nuad Boran styles of Thai Yoga therapy or the spiritual massage, healing work of Thailand. Please note: for clarity although in common English we use the word "massage" we do not mean it in the same context as the typical western usage. In the west "Massage" means something like a "Rub Down" for money and is primarily referring to systems derived from Swedish Massage and Massage Therapy. "Thai Yoga and or Thai Massage" (Phaen Boran Ráksãa Thaang Nûat) is completely unrelated! It is a healing art of the Theravada Buddhism and Buddhist medicine. It is not required that one become a practicing Buddhist to practice this healing art (but it helps!). Although it would be more accurate to call this medicine either by its traditional names or "Ancient or Old Thai Way of Healing with The Hands", the slang form is used and as long as this is so there will be some understandable confusion.

The primary outcomes associated with the practice are called ProMiiWihan Sii" or Four Divine, Boundless or States of mind without limitation. They are Love, Compassion, Joy and Equanimity. As long as these four qualities are transmitted and exemplified during a session , we say it was good and successful. For this reason it is possible to have a Thai Massage session with little or even no actual touching!

The secondary outcomes, of lessor importance share characteristics similar or common to many forms of western massage as well, such as efflurage (stroking and kneading the muscles), Manipulation (manipulating or moving/ aligning osseous or skeletal parts) and pressure point or acupressure style technique (applying deep, consistent pressure to specific nerves, tendons, or ligaments and acupoints or Lom) in order to balance the functions of the four body elements (thâat tháng sìi). It incorporates elements of mindfulness, gentle rocking, deep stretching and rhythmic compression to create a singular healing experience. However, as we said previously the applications of physical pressure are intended primarily to convey the Primary intentions of ProMiiwihan Sii. Much like a hug can convey care and consideration and love with physical pressure. The only difference is the level of sophistication in exchanging this love with pressure.

The four Thai Primary Ayurvedic Elements are: earth (din-solid parts of the body, including nerves, skeleton, muscles, blood vessels, tendons and ligaments); water (náam-blood and bodily secretions); fire (fai-digestion and metabolism); and air (lom-respiration, and circulation). Borrowing from India's Ayurvedic tradition, some practitioners employ Pali-Sanskrit terms for the four bodily elements: pathavidhatu, apodhatu, tecodhatu and vayodhatu. The book "Lines, Wheels, Points and Specific Remedies covers this theory in detail. Thai Massage is Yoga!

From the Ayudthaya period until early this century, the Thai government's Department of Health included an official massage division (phanâek mãw nûat). Under the influence of international medicine and modern hospital development responsibility for the national propagation/maintenance of Thai massage was eventually transferred to Phra Wat Chetaphon (Wat Pho) in Bangkok, where it remains today. Traditional massage therapy has persisted most in the provinces. However, Thai Massage has recently enjoyed a resurgence of popularity throughout the country. The Wat Po system is divided into two completely separate and distinctive categories: A) the tourist massage pavilion and Tourist massage school, (Ronrian Sala Thaang Nuaat) and the School for traditional Medicine for training and certification of Maw Nuad (Massage Doctors).

There are huge differences in the term and quality of training. For example a tourist may receive an introductory massage certificate in as little as 10 days, where the full program for Maw Nuad is 12 to 14 semester's or a full four years!

In the states we also have many different levels of recognitions for Certified Thai Massage Practitioners. The SomaVeda™ Thai Yoga based Holistic Health Provider (SV-HHP) program is a two year program which qualifies graduates to sit for the Traditional Naturopathic National Boards. A traditional western Naturopath is considered by many to be the top of the holistic pyramid. We now have established programs to educate Naturopaths in the tradtional healing methods of Thai Yoga!

In the north of Thailand as it is closer to mainland China, you see more Chinese and Laotian influenced massage technique. For example a well known Teacher and practitioner in Chiangmai, Mama Lek Chaiya and her family teach what is called nûat jàp sên (nerve-touch massage), a Chinese-style massage technique that works with the body's nerve meridians much like acupuncture. Some of the plucking techniques are reminicient of Tuina and can be quite unpleasent. However, the ultimate aim of balancing the chi takes precedence over comfort!

Within the traditional Thai medical context, a massage therapist (mãw nûat, literally, 'massage doctor') usually applies Thai massage together with pharmacological (herbal) and/or psycho-spiritual treatments as prescribed for a specific problem or specific imbalance of the Dosha or winds and humors of the body, mind, spirit. It is becoming quite popular for many Thais to also use traditional massage as a tool for relaxation and disease prevention, rather than for a specific medical problem. However, once you leave the big city and move into the country you begin to see more reliance on the application as energy based medicine.

Thai Yoga and or Thai Massage is not the same as "Massage, Massage Therapy", and or "bodywork" as commonly defined in so called "Massage Laws". The term "Thai Massage" is western slang, mostly promoted by tourist in Thailand. Although the use of the term is now common, it still is misunderstood and mis-used by the un and/or mis-informed. It is easy to be confused as similar words used, such as "Massage" but legally there are distinctions and differences in definitions... In law specific words may have different meaning and weights than those same words commonly associated by ordinary "Non-legal" or in lay speech/ speak. For example: "Massage and Massage Therapy" definitions are based on the general practice of what is term "Swedish massage". So called "Swedish Massage" is new (less than 100 years), Western (Europe and America) and defined legally as "the application of a system of structured touch, pressure, movement and holding to the soft tissues of the human body with the purpose of positively affecting the health and well being of the client. The practice includes the external application of water, heat, cold, lubricants, salt scrubs and other topical preparations and devices that mimic or enhance the actions of the hands."

Thai Yoga and Massage sounds a bit similar at first glance , however, What is not mentioned in the preceding definition is that Thai Yoga and or Thai Massage is a system of movement education (Yoga). It is based entirely on principles of energy balancing (Sen, Tri-Dosha, Lom, Chakra etc.) and the actual touching, contact or soft tissue manipulation is incidental to, and not the central aim of the practice! As described above: The primary outcomes associated with the practice are called ProMiiWihan Sii" or Four Divine, Boundless or States of mind without limitation. They are Love, Compassion, Joy and Equanimity. As long as these four qualities are transmitted and exemplified during a session , we say it was good and successful. For this reason it is possible to have a Thai Massage session with little or even no actual touching! However, touching is good! Thai Yoga and Thai Massage incorporates elements of mindfulness, gentle rocking, deep stretching and rhythmic compression and focus to create a singular healing experience.

This work brings fundamental elements and energy into harmony and creates wholeness of mind, body and spirit. Thai Yoga and Massage is a Spiritually based Somatic technique and profession, a modality with standards established in the Buddhist holistic centers and temples thousands of years in the past. It has an established code of ethics known as the Buddha Dharma and the "Ten Rules of the Healer". There is an established educational criteria for education and professional practice for services which although at time similar on the surface but which were never intended to be or implied to be "Massage " or "Massage therapy".

There are actually quite a few different traditional "schools" of Thai Massage. They range from the big university driven or supported programs of Bangkok, to the "Family" style oral and traditional lineages of the Northern Hill Tribes people such as of the Karen, Lisu, Lahu and Akha People. Their influence is a growing factor in the modern expression of Thai Massage especially in the North. The most famous traditional school in the north is The Buntautuk Northern Hill Tribes Medical Hospital or "The Old Medicine Hospital" as it is more likely called. Under the auspices of Grand Master Aajan Sintorn Chaichagun (Transitioned November 2005) has become a national and international phenomenon. Teaching various levels of programs to Thai and falang (foreigner) alike.

Aajan Sintorn was also famous for his daily recitation of the Pali Om Namo Shivago prayer and invocation for blessing. Every day, twice a day he would lead the entire community in this rhythmic and beautiful traditional mantra for healing. In the north they say you don't know Thai Massage until you know this mantra!

Today the Wat Po Association of Traditional Doctors and members schools and Aachans or Master Instructors are bringing this work into the modern world. Famous schools and their head Masters such as Anantasuk Rongrian under Aachan Nantipa Anantasuk work with the King's Rajaprajanugroh projects to document completely the traditional medicine to preserve its rich heritage.

In the US today the traditional lineages of Thai Yoga and Thai Massage are passed on via the SomaVeda™ Institute in Talbotton, GA through the Mastery and teaching of Aachan Anthony B. James ND, MDAM. Aachan James, after 30 plus years of extensive devotion, practice and research brings several different and complimentary traditional lineages to life.

To learn more about the SomaVeda Institute and Thai Yoga Center please visit our website for details on Programs, Work Study and the founder Aachan Dr. Anthony James.

Be well and Namaste'
Aachan Dr. Anthony James CMT, ND, MDAM
SomaVeda Institute and Thai Yoga Center
Director of Education

Author's Bio: 

Aacharn, Dr. Anthony James was given the Instructor / Teacher and lineage holder of the Buddhai Sawan tradition by Grand Master Phaa Khruu Samaii Mesamarn, Nongkam, Thailand in 1984. Grand Master Samaii was the 36th generation Grand Master of the Buddhai Sawan School originally founded in Ayudthaya and a consultant to H.M. King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the current King of Thailand. Grand Master Samaii was honored by King Bhumibol several times during his life time for service to the royal family and the kingdom. Grand Master twice in his life received awards personally from King Bhumibol, the final award received only three years before Grand Master Samaii's passing.

Aacharn James authored the very first book ever published in the English language in 1981. First used as a manuscript in class for the first three years, it was formally published in 1984 after he was given teacher certification and recognition. It was used exclusively to teach privately in class until 1984 when it was released to the public and distributed world wide, beginning a tidal wave of interest which continues to the present day. This first influential book, and still one of the most often sourced and quoted books on Thai Massage, is titled "Nuat Thai, Traditional Thai Medical Massage" and is available at BeardedMedia.Com ("Nuat Thai, Traditional Thai Medical Massage", Meta Journal Press 1984: ISBN 1-886338-03-5).

Aachan James studied, taught and apprenticed under the former grandmaster Aacharn Sintorn Chaichagun at the Shivagakomarpaj Traditional Medicine Hospital in Chiang Mai Thailand from 1988 to 1995. He maintained a working relationship and adjunct faculty status with Grand Master Sintorn and "The Old Medicine Hospital" until Grand Master Sintorn's passing in 2005.

Aacharn James formally founded The International Thai Therapists Association in 1992 as an authorized representative and as a branch of both the Buddhai Sawan and Buntautuk Shivago lineages.

In 2006, he was granted Aacharn and Master Instructor status through the Anantasuk system, recognized by the Wat Po Association.

He specializes in Thai medical theory, Asian history, and Theravada Buddhism. View his in-depth Bio online.