What’s Thai Massage?

What is today called “Thai massage” or “Thai yoga massage” is an ancient healing system combining acupressure, Indian Ayurvedic principles, and assisted yoga postures? The founding father of Thai massage was an Ayurvedic doctor named Jivaka Kumar Bhacca, who is revered still in Thailand as the “father of medicine”. Born in India during the time of the Buddha, he is noted in ancient documents for his extraordinary medical skills, his knowledge of herbal medicine, and for having treated important people of his day, including the Buddha himself.

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”), through its formal name is merely nuat thai (Thai: นวดไทย, lit. Thai massage). The art form is also commonly known as “yoga massage” or “Thai yoga massage”, as the practice is essentially a form of assisted yoga performed by the giver, with the receiver completely passive throughout.

The massage generally follows designated lines (“sen”) in the body. The legs and feet of the giver can be used to position the body or limbs of the recipient. In other positions, hands fix the body, while the feet do the massaging. 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 knuckles, walking on the recipient’s back, and moving the recipient’s body into many different positions. There are a standard procedure and rhythm to the massage, which the giver will adjust to fit the receiver.