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In the Thai language it is usually called nuat phaen thai (Thai: นวดแผนไทย; lit. Thai-style massage) or nuat phaen boran (Thai: นวดแผนโบราณ, IPA: [nûət pʰɛ̌ːn boːraːn]; lit. ancient-style massage), though its formal name is merely nuat thai (Thai: นวดไทย, lit. Thai massage) according to the Traditional Thai Medical Professions Act, BE 2556 (2013).
The massage recipient changes into loose, comfortable clothes and lies on a mat or firm mattress on the floor. It can be done solo or in a group of a dozen or so patients in the same large room. The receiver may be positioned in a variety of yoga-like positions during the course of the massage, but deep static and rhythmic pressures form the core of the massage.
The massage practitioner leans on the recipient's body using hands and usually straight forearms locked at the elbow to apply firm rhythmic pressure. The massage generally follows designated lines (Sen) in the body. Legs and feet of the giver can be used to fixate the body or limbs of the recipient. In other positions, hands fixate the body, while the feet do the massaging action. A full Thai massage session typically lasts two hours or more, and includes rhythmic pressing and stretching of the entire body; this may include pulling fingers, toes, ears, cracking the knuckles, walking on the recipient's back, and manipulating the recipients body into many different positions. There is a standard procedure and rhythm to the massage, which the practitioner will adjust to fit each individual client.
The founder of Thai massage and medicine is said to have been Shivago Komarpaj (ชีวกโกมารภัจจ์ Jīvaka Komarabhācca), who is said in the Pāli Buddhist Canon to have been the Buddha's physician over 2,500 years ago. In fact, the history of Thai massage is more complex than this legend of a single founder would suggest. Thai massage, like TTM more generally, is a combination of influences from Indian, Chinese, Southeast Asian cultural spheres and traditions of medicine, and the art as it is practiced today is likely to be the product of a 19th-century synthesis of various healing traditions from all over the kingdom. Even today, there is considerable variation from region to region across Thailand, and no single routine or theoretical framework that is universally accepted among healers.
There are various different styles of Thai Massage with clear distinctions. The royal style (Rajasamnak) is historically only used to treat the aristocracy and Royal family. It is a very codified style involving acupressure on specific points and a clear distinction between giver and receiver. The Popular style (Chalosiak) with its many regional variations, is what is commonly known as Thai Massage. There is also the Traditional Regional Medicine Style, which differs in content and practice, and is what would have been practiced by traditional Doctors outside Bangkok in the past. Today, Thai massage is one of the branches of Thai traditional medicine (TTM), now recognized and regulated by the government, and is widely considered to be a medical discipline used for the treatment of a wide variety of ailments. On the other hand, Thai massage is also practiced and taught by a number of non-medical massage technicians in the spa and tourism industries. In North America and Europe, an increasing number of practitioners and teachers of Thai massage have emerged since the 1990s, most of them teaching the simplified officially sanctioned interpretation as found in the courses available to foreigners in Thailand. In Europe and the United States, Thai massage is a growing modality among clients of massage clinics and massage therapists seeking continuing education.
The claimed benefits of Thai massage include relief from asthma, migraines, sprains, bruises, anxiety, relief of physical and emotional tension, improved sleep, improved flexibility, greater awareness of body and mind, and a release of blocked energy.
While Swedish massage permits the recipient to zone out and relax, Thai massage encourages the recipient to become more engaged and energized, for increased mindfulness.
Wat Pho, being the center of Thai medicine and massage for centuries, opened the Wat Pho Thai Traditional Medical and Massage School in 1955 on the temple grounds, the first such school approved by the Thai Ministry of Education. Wat Pho offers four basic courses of Thai medicine: Thai Massage, Thai Midwife Nurse, Thai Pharmacy, and Thai medical practice.
The Ministry of Education and The Ministry of Public Health of Thailand have approved numerous massage schools throughout the Kingdom, most of which include Thai Foot Massage – or foot reflexology – in their curricula.
"Nuat boran" is the Thai name for a type of body work native to Thailand (nuat = massage, boran = traditional). Thai massage is also known as northern-style Thai massage, "nuad paan bulan", "nuat thai", Buntautuk style, Old Medicine Hospital Style, traditional Thai massage, Traditional Thai Medical Massage, Ancient Massage, Thai Yoga, Thai Yoga Massage, Yoga Massage, Thai Classical Massage, and Thai Bodywork.
Proposed mechanism of action
Generally speaking, practitioners of modern Thai massage operate on the hypothesis that the body is permeated with "lom", or "air", which is inhaled into the lungs and subsequently travels throughout the body along 72,000 pathways called "sen", which the therapists manipulate manually. This is the commonly accepted hypothesis, mostly likely originating in Indian Yoga, promoted by the Government and the Schools, the Sen being understood as either physical or non physical structures depending on the interpretation. Traditional regional medicine however follows a different, more comprehensive theoretical system, which involves massage as being the manipulation of the 5 body layers (Skin, Tissue, Channels, Bone, Organs) to influence the relationship of the 4 body elements (Earth, Water, Wind, Fire), within this system, the Sen are defined as tendons, ligaments, nerves and blood vessels, and the element "lom" or "wind" is understood as the property of movement. This understanding derives from Buddhist Medicine which has its roots in ancient Indian Medicine.
- Cowen, Virginia S.; Burkett, Lee; Bredimus, Joshua; Evans, Daniel R.; Lamey, Sandra; Neuhauser, Theresa; Shojaee, Lawdan (2006). "A comparative study of Thai massage and Swedish massage relative to physiological and psychological measures". Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies 10 (4): 266–275. doi:10.1016/j.jbmt.2005.08.006. ISSN 1360-8592. "The origins of Thai massage (TM) can be traced to oriental medicine and yoga."
- Traditional Thai Medical Professions Act, BE 2556 (2013).
- Salguero, Pierce (2007). Traditional Thai Medicine: Buddhism, Animism, Ayurveda. Forres, Scotland: Hohm Press.