Traditional Thai Massage

Traditional Thai Massage
“Nuat phaen boran” is Thai that literally translates to “the ancient-manner massage”. Traditional Thai massage is still alive and well in Thailand – which is good news for holidaymakers who want to experience all the benefits of this ancient practice.

The History of Thai Massage

Thai massage has an esteemed history. The founder of Thai massage, Shivago Komarpaj, is said to be none other than the Buddha's own personal physician over 2,500 years ago. Handed down from generation to generation of Buddhist monks, even today the most famous learning institutions for Thai medicine are located within Buddhist monasteries.

The current practice of Thai massage, however, is thought to be a mixture of these ancient practices together with a nineteenth century movement to combine various Thai healing traditions. Influenced by other forms of traditional Asian medicine, including Aryuvedic medicine from India and Chinese medicine, Thai massage combines the wisdom of various traditions of ancient Asia to create its own unique blend of movement, pressure, and stretching to rejuvenate the human body.

The Theory Behind Thai Massage

As in other systems of Asian medicine, Thai medicine believes in 72,000 distinct pathways in the body that carry the body's energy. Referred to as “meridians” in other forms of Asian medicine (such as acupuncture), in Thai massage these pathways are called “sen” and are said to carry the body's “lom”, or air. Traditional Thai massage therapists focus on manipulating the sen lines by applying pressure to various points along those lines so that the lom once again flows freely. Pressure is combined with yoga-like stretches designed to stimulate the sen and pump the lom throughout the body.

As such, Thai massage doesn't always look like what most westerners think of as massage. There are no oils, no lotion, and sometimes no soft massage table while passively allowing the massage therapist to work on your body. Instead, while you get your traditional Thai massage, you can expect massage techniques to also include assisted stretching and a few yoga-like postures. Sessions can take a while – sometimes more than two hours – as you and your massage therapist work together to restore your body.

Where to Find a Traditional Thai Massage

Thailand, of course, is the best place to go for a traditional Thai massage. The Buddhist Temple WatPo, also known as the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, is a great place to go to receive a traditional Thai massage or to study the ancient Thai massage techniques. A royal monastery since 1782, WatPo has served as the center of Thai medicine since the medical and massage school opened there in 1955. Another well-known spa for traditional Thai massage in Bangkok is Marble House.

If you're after a genuine Thai massage then watch out for Bangkok's “massage parlours”, which are more often associated with sexual services than with any kind of traditional Thai massage. Also be wary of flashy, upmarket massage parlours which claim to offer “traditional” Thai massage, but actually aren't that much different than the massage you would find at a western spa. Devoid of the traditional stretches of Thai massage, and adding things like oils and reflexology, these new massage studios cater only to a western audience and, though pleasant, have lost the traditional elements that make traditional Thai massage unique.

For a traditional massage, expect to pay 300 Baht (£5), plus a tip of at least 100 Baht (under £2). At a place like WatPo, you pay more (but get what you pay for). Expect to pay 500 – 1,000 Baht (£9 - 18).

Considering how low the prices are, you're only cheating yourself if you don't drop in to a spa for a traditional Thai massage while visiting Thailand. Get to WatPo if you can, but if you can't, ask around for a reputable Thai masseuse who knows what she (it's almost always a she) is doing.

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