Stylistic variations of Thai healing traditions

Despite its popular name, traditional Thai massage is not like massage as it is known in the West. Sessions are carried out on a floor mat in comfortable, loose clothing, and no oils or lotions are used. There is constant body contact between the practitioner and client, but instead of rubbing on muscles, the body is slowly and firmly moved and compressed to relieve tension and to clear energy blockages. The practitioner uses thumbs, palms, hands, elbows, knees, forearms, feet and toes to create a dance of movement and rocking movements on the body of his client. In this process, energy blockages are freed, internal organs are toned, and energy is balanced.

Traditional massage in ancient Siam was carried out in village society and also in the royal court. During its evolution, some styles focused on using only certain parts of the body to achieve the desired effect. Today in Thailand, however, most massage practitioners use hands, feet, elbows, knees and forearms to manipulate the bodies of their recipients. The Southern style, with its renowned learning center at Wat Po in Bangkok, is characterized by point pressure along the energy lines and a deep “plucking” with the thumbs and fingers in order to stimulate energy flow. In Northern style Thai massage, practiced in and around Chiang Mai, the therapist often exerts gradual pressure on the energy lines, gentle rocking movements and deep stretching postures to achieve the desired effect.

In many areas throughout Thailand, additional relief is achieved through the use of hot herbal compresses which are applied to the body prior to, or during the course of a treatment session. The compresses are made from a variety of fresh and dried herbs such as lemongrass, eucalyptus, galangal, ginger, kaffir lime, turmeric and other medicinal herbs. Other herbs and roots may be used to address the specific condition of each patient. The compresses are made by combining the materials into a bundle of cloth, a small canvass packet, or even an old sock. They are then steamed in hot water until the desired temperature is attained, and applied to the patients body, generally tracing the paths of the major energy lines.

This article (c) 2006 Thai Healing Alliance International. For more information, visit

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