Traditional Thai massage is a healing art and a spiritual practice. While variations of Thai massage have become popular in the West, the traditional Nuad Phaen Boran is one part of the traditional Thai medical system and it was once practiced mainly in temples and hospitals. Today it is still used in Thailand to treat and prevent illnesses.
What is Thai Traditional Massage?
It is believed that Nuad Phaen Boran originated in India approximately 2500 years ago. Its founder, Shivaga Komarpaj (Jivaka Kumarabhacca) was a contemporary to the Buddha and reputedly his personal physician. The massage probably arrived in Thailand together with Buddhism.
Thai massage is based on the idea that a network of energy lines (sen) run through the body, just like the meridians in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Blockages in the energy flow are believed to cause physical, mental or emotional illnesses. The job of the massage therapist is to remove blockages and stimulate energy flow in the body. The therapist uses a variety of techniques: pressure on specific points along the energy lines, manipulations and assisted stretching. The stretches have often been compared to yoga stretches, and there are many similarities between the assisted stretches in Thai massage and certain yoga postures.
In traditional Nuad Phaen Boran, the recipient is always fully clothed and usually lies on a mat on the floor. The therapist uses his or her hands, elbows, forearms and even feet to manipulate, to stretch and to apply deep pressure along the energy channels.
The Benefits of Traditional Thai Massage
According to Jan Chaithavuthi and Kanchanoo Muangsiri: Thai Massage the Thai Way (Thai Massage Book Press, 2005), this healing practice can
- relieve muscle tension
- relieve pain, sprains and inflammation in muscles, tendons and joints
- increase muscle strength
- increase joint flexibility, reduce stiffness and improve mobility
- remove toxins from muscles
- strengthen the immune system
- prevent or relieve headaches
- prevent or relieve menstrual cramps
- improve blood circulation
- improve lymph flow and reduce swelling
- stimulate and improve the nervous system
- improve the function of internal organs
- prevent or relieve constipation and indigestion
- prevent or relieve stress
- encourage deep breathing
- encourage relaxation
- maintain the health and wellness of the recipient
- balance life energy
A genuine Thai full body massage can last three hours – a completely different experience from the 30-minute or one hour massages you sometimes see advertised in the West and in Thailand. If you ever have an opportunity to get a 3-hour Thai massage, take it: there are few treatments that are so deeply relaxing and that work on so many levels.
Photo: Marcin Bober