Thai Massage Art
I grew up in a Thai/French family, where massage was a normal way to relax tired muscles and to give and receive metta; meaning compassion in Thai. Then I got into researching on Thai Massage. These are the things I learned:
The foundation of Thai Massage begins with mindfulness; the seed of beginning and being.
The importance of mindfulness allows one to bring awareness of what they are giving and receiving in the world. Compassion is the ultimate goal in Thai Massage. To give without judgement - in the end we are all human souls who need to heal. Good, bad, guilty, innocent, spontaneous, or addicted; we all need each other to heal.
From this basis, we move into the 5 precepts or “training rules” of the Thai Massage Practitioner, taken from Thai Yoga Massage Lotus Palm, Kam Thye Chow, ppg. 31-36, 2009:
1. “To undertake the training to avoid taking the life of beings.” This means recognizing all beings have a right to life and respect.
2. “To undertake the training to avoid taking things not given.” The practitioner deals with this through observing their daily actions, whether through interacting with others or what they eat.
3. “To undertake the training to avoid sensual misconduct.” This not only covers any misconduct of a sexual nature, but any over indulgence to the senses such as gluttony.
4. “To undertake the training to refrain from false speech.” This means honoring our spiritual growth and to always be engaged in actions that promote metta.
5. “To undertake the training to abstain from substances which cause intoxication and heedlessness.” This means to not indulge in substances that can cause one to the break the other precepts.
A Thai Massage Practitioner not only tries to embody these precepts through daily observations but also through physical training, such as daily yoga, meditation, tai chi and exercise. The physical health is important because the quality of energy comes from the practitioner and if one doesn't uphold their health and intentions, the person receiving bodywork may not get the utmost good energy. The practitioner also has to be aware of the energy they give and take. This is why yoga, meditation and Tai Chi are really important training tools. It helps develop mindfulness.
What one eats is also important because it has a direct effect on how we process life and energy. The precepts and physical activity are the roots to a healthy mind of metta.
“In Buddhism, there is much talk of a skilled mind. A mind that is skilful avoids actions that are likely to cause suffering or remorse.” Kam Thye Chow, founder of Lotus Palm
Wat Pho - Bangkok, Thailand
Would you believe me if I told you a form of Thai massage has existed since the beginning of the Hindu culture? It has been documented in ancient script as old as the Rig Vedas (“rig”praise, verse; “Vedas” knowledge). This text was composed around 1700-1100 BC.
It wasn’t until the time of the famous Buddha, Siddharta Gautama, yogic massage became known as Thai massage. It was the Buddha’s most revered physician, Jivaka Kumarbhaccha, who blended the simplistic Ayurvedic science (see Metabodyworks: Thai Massage and Ayurvedic Medicine- June 2013) with yoga and massage.
The Ayurvedic system uses body types to diagnose conditions, whereby they would prescribe a self-care plan. Its main focus is preventative care. Massage became the main healing tool in these traditional “clinics”, where there was no need to cut through skin, allowing the body to heal naturally rather than aggressively.
The Thai Buddhist temples (wat) plays a major role in the development of Thai Massage. It became the central healing center for Thais. The most famous institution today is in Bangkok, Wat Pho, it is the leading researcher and practice of Thai massage.
There are 2 schools of Thai massage in Thailand: the North (The Old Medical Hospital- Chiang Mai) and the South (Wat Pho- Bangkok). They can be seen as the Yang and the Yin. The north school is more dynamic using mainly palming and thumbing techniques, where the practitioner’s bodyweight moves through the arms and gradually the weight goes into the recipient. This detoxifies the recipient’s energy lines (nerve pathways).
The south’s yin style uses a plucking motion. The fingers are used in a strumming fashion to stimulate the nerves along the energy lines. Today, you can find many schools teaching a combination of both styles.
“Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.”
What is Ayurvedic medicine? It is a medical system that has been practiced in India for several centuries. It dates back as far as 3000 BCE and found in the Rig Veda (old Hindu Scripture). “Ayur” means life, and “veda” means science. Therefore, Ayurveda means “the science of life”. In India, it is considered a preventative health practice and long-term wellness based on different body types. Ayurveda has evolved today in Thailand as a distinctive folk medicine.
The relationship between Ayurveda and Thai Massage goes as far back to Buddha’s time. Jivaka Kumarbhaccha, the founding father of Thai massage, was a revered physician to the Buddha. He combined the Ayurvedic system with Thai massage allowing him to perform medical feats and cures that can be read about in all Buddhist scripture.
We never think about the different ways we self-medicate ourselves. We plow through life without thinking about how our lifestyle, food and exercise affect our body, mind and soul. It is important that we acknowledge the imbalances that influence us, only then can we see how the integration of Thai massage and Ayurveda can help us achieve a higher state of harmony.
Since we are all different, we cannot apply the same conditions on everyone; we have an individual freedom of choice. In Ayurvedic theory, the elements (earth, water, fire, air, and ether) combine in our bodies to create our unique Ayurvedic “fingerprint”. They are seen as the human tendencies in our body and nature. Together, the elements mingle to form the three vital forces which exist in everything. In Sanskrit, they are called the “tridoshas”, meaning: the three doshas; vata, pitta, and kapha.
Each dosha has a combination of primary and secondary elements; it is analogous to a clay pot. The primary element is the content within the pot, and the secondary element is the container itself.
Vata (air + ether) = nervousness
Pitta (fire + water) = passion
Kapha (water + earth) = inactivity
Therefore, someone who is a “kapha” body type would generally have a large frame, stocky, with well-developed muscles, soft skin and wavy hair, and tend to be overweight. Their primary element is water which is reflected in their easygoing and fun loving personality. While their secondary element, earth is reflected in their heavy build relating to food and they also tend to be heavy sleepers (another earthy quality!).
Vata types air element is reflected in their physical thin, light frame and wiry build. Due to the lack of water in their constitution, they tend to have erratic appetites and irritable bowel syndrome. Vata are also sensitive in nature; they are prone to anxiety and emotional insecurity.
Pitta types are governed by fire. They have a fiery and passionate temperament. Professional athletes are great examples of pitta people. They can be aggressive and competitive, which can drive them to become workaholics and be overly ambitious. They are also prone to burnouts if they are not careful and can be easily angered.
How does this relate to Thai massage? Because of our different body types, we hold different forms of tension and it begins to accumulate in different areas of the body. Therefore, each type has a different massage “touch” approach and stretching.
Vata people would be approached with a light and gentle massage, with less pressure. Since they have a sensitive nature, a light touch helps to ground, calm and balance the body. Forward bends, inwardly directed postures and breathing exercises are best suited for this type.
Pitta people need moderate pressure. Because of their fire nature, they need something penetrating and cooling. Sitting and lying postures, squatting, and downward movement of the abdomen are best suited for this type.
Kapha people need strong pressure because of their “stuck” to earth nature. They would need something heavy, deep and fast. Opening and clearing of the energy is the main focus. Dynamic movements of raised hands/legs, and inverted poses are best suited for this type.
With this knowledge, a Thai Massage Practitioner can customize a massage routine based on your individual body type; making the healing process effective and balanced.
“You are not the elements that make up the body, you are that which makes use of the elements.” Buddha
One of the unique features of Thai Massage is the principle of Metta (compassion). When we do bodywork, it always comes from the heart. Good intentions always rest in this space. Practice in the art of healing lies in the compassionate intent of the healer. In Thai massage, this state of mind is called Metta, translated as “loving kindness”.
Anyone can cultivate this state of mind. It begins by developing a deeper level of awareness in oneself. Through acts of piety and prayer, these methods transcend into humility, awareness and concentration.
As a Thai massage Practitioner, Metta is the most important element. Unconditional love and compassion is the universal principle that is applicable to everyone, regardless of tradition or belief. Without this form of spiritual awareness, the power of healing cannot occur.
“Being in the present moment is integral to establishing a sacred healing space and being in harmony with the massage.” Kam Thye Chow, Thai Yoga Massage