A brief history of Thai MassageThe Traditional Medical Massage of Thailand, more commonly known as Thai Massage, is one of the world's oldest healing modalities. It originated in India during the Buddha's lifetime, over 2500 years ago, and was brought to this world by a saint, the "Father Doctor Shivago Komarpahj", a contemporary of the Buddha and some say his personal physician and the physician to the King of India.
As Buddhism spread out from India, this healing medicine spread with it. Early in its development it found its way to Southeast Asia where, for centuries, it was performed by monks as one element of indigenous Thai medicine. The Thai people, like many others in the orient, saw illness as an imbalance in the body/mind/spirit and they would seek help at the local temple. They were treated with the four elements of traditional Thai medicine:
• Nutritional counseling (focusing on diet) • Herbs (given both internally and externally) • Spiritual counseling (primarily meditation and the Buddhist principles) • Thai Massage (which formed the backbone of the physical treatment).
While its evolution is clouded by the passage of time and the lack of written records, one can see that it is greatly influenced by yoga, Ayurvedic medicine, and traditional Chinese medicine from the movements (which often mimic the asanas of yoga) and attention to pressure points (similar to the nadis of Ayurveda and meridians of Chinese medicine).
Thailand is situated along the great trade route between India and China. Its history and culture, along with its medicine, is affected by its location. While Thai massage appears to have its roots in both Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, there has been some research which suggests the terminology used is more closely akin to Ayurveda, possibly indicating a closer alliance with India. However, many scholars believe India to be the root source of Chinese medicine also, so it is possible the Thais simply had a greater familiarity with the Indian language, particularly since this tradition was handed down along with the sacred Buddhist teachings, often inscrolled in the Indian languages of Pali or Sanskrit.
Traditional Thai massage today still retains elements of this strong spiritual connection. Practitioners start their work day with a prayer to the Father Doctor, which is recited in the original Pali language, and are remined of the Four Divine States of Mind of the Buddhist teachings: compassion, loving kindness, joy, and balance. For one must begin with compassion - for self as well as for others - and from that compassion springs forth loving kindness - or simply the wish for well - which leads to a feeling of vicarious joy which enables one to find balance or equanimity in life.
Thai massage has undergone a subtle shift as a result of western influences, which greatly increased in the 1950's and continue to this day. Traditionally practiced in Buddhist temples by monks specializing in this "manual manipulation", the work in Thailand today is no longer limited to the temple setting. When western medicine came into vogue, traditional medicine suffered a downswing. It went somewhat underground, and re-emerged years later after western medicine was no longer viewed as always superior. There was undoubtedly always a "folk" element, being the massages given by family members to each other within their villages, particularly as women were not allowed into the temples and so could not receive Thai massage from the monks. Now Thai massage is practiced throughout Thailand., offering astounding treatments by masters of this blend of stretching, acupressure, meditation, and healing art.
There is still much to be learned from the traditional practitioners within Thailand.
(Acknowledgement to the Institute of Thai Massage)