A healing modality from the time of the Buddha
According to legend, the healing massage practised in Thailand was developed some 2500 years ago, in Northern India, by Shivago Komapaj, who was a contemporary, and according to some legends, a close friend of the Buddha. He was the personal physician of the King of Magadha, Bimbisara.
The teachings of Komarpaj probably arrived in the area of today’s Thailand together with Buddhism, in the 3rd or 4th century BCE. The first practitioners of the technique used minerals, herbs and special techniques for healing. Initially, the lore spread by word of mouth, usually in individual families. Later, he tradition was passed on in the monasteries, and eventually recorded on palm leaves. The first hospital using this healing modality was founded in Chiang Mai.
In the 18th century, the Burmese armies that occupied Thailand destroyed the majority of the written material. In 1832, the next king, Rama III, had all the remaining manuscripts collected and had a description of the technique carved into the walls of the Wat Pho Buddhist monastery in order to preserve the ancient knowledge for eternity. The 60 carvings depicting energy meridians and points, considered to be the core knowledge of Thai healing massage, can be viewed to this day on the walls of the monastery.
As the other pillar of the tradition, the first massage university was founded at the same location, the Wat Pho monastery, in 1836 – today, it is still considered the most authentic Thai massage school in the world.
In 1906, during the reign of the King Rama V the Great, the manuscripts preserved in various ancient languages were used to compile professional descriptions in modern Thai, which were published in a medical textbook. The book contains all the knowledge from that time, the energy meridians and points, a pharmacopoeia, and special massage techniques for various symptoms and illnesses.
Today, a foundation in Bangkok researches the knowledge of village healers, collecting the lore and also teaching it. Since 1997, the Thai government has recognised and supported the revitalisation and practice of therapeutic Thai massage.
Thai massage is sometimes called passive yoga, because receiving it is an experience like doing yoga exercises without exerting physical strength in conjunction with acupressure and reflexology treatment. The effect is at once relaxing and vitalising. Pressure on the pressure points increases vascular and lymphatic circulation, stimulates internal organs and improves their function and balances the energy system of the body; combined with the stretches, it reduces rigidity and stress in the muscles, improves the body’s flexibility and has a beneficial effect on the skeleton. After a massage, we feel flexible, find it easier to move, and muscle rigidity is eliminated.
The stress-reducing effect applies not only to the body but also to the mind: it is restful and relaxing. The ideal venue is a quiet, softly lit, pleasantly warm room, while the ideal condition for the recipient is to have sufficient time for resting, for relaxation, and for recharging the body and the soul.
Along with the physiological effects already mentioned, Thai massage also has a salutary effect on the vegetative nervous system, so it has a pain-reducing effect and can also be used for treating sleeping disorders. It is no accident that after a massage we feel palpably better in our skins, as the revitalised circulation has a positive effect on the skin: its tone and flexibility improve, and the pores are expanded. The massage helps the body get rid of toxins, an effect we can enhance by drinking plenty of water.
Something completely different
Traditional Thai massage is fundamentally different to the methods that have been developed and used in Europe: while in Europe, the main objective is loosening and kneading the muscles, Thai massage is based on the energetics of the body. The practitioner exerts gentle pressure on the acupuncture points along the energy meridians, using not only the hands but also the forearms, feet and knees. At times, the massage involves moves that are spectacular physical feats in themselves. Thai massage is essentially a dry massage: the client wears loose-fitting, light cotton garments, and the massage is delivered through the clothing. But it also has an oily, ‘Europeanised’ version, which is essentially the same as the traditional Thai version, with some elements left out. In exchange, the healing and relaxing effect of the oils enhances the massage even further.