Traditional Thai Massage


Thai Massage is one of the fastest growing kind of massages in the US and now can be found nearly everywhere. In recent years, there has been what could be called an “explosion” of Thai-Massage, and today there probably isn’t a single country in the world that does not have Thai-Massage services.

Thai-Massage is NOT a sexual service, even though it is often used to disguise prostitution. It’s a sad fact, but for many women sex is still the easiest way to make a decent amount of money. However, if you look at a website of a massage practice and don’t see women in short skirts smiling at you, it is most likely that you are at a serious, non-sexual massage practice.

I even have recieved massages in places where they offer both thai-massage and “special thai-massage”. And I have to say that sometimes very skilled masseuses work there and it is a shame that they are abusing their talent by prostituting themselves. However, I don’t recommend you go to these places, because SOMETIMES very skilled masseuses work there, but most of the time THEY DON’T!

Thai-Massage has more than 2,500 years of history, and the “sexual connotation” is just a recent development of the past fourty years, specially after American soldiers were being sent there if they needed a break from the Vietnam war. This rest-and-recreation for US-soldiers in Thailand was probably the first really substantial “foreign direct investment” in Thailands economy – specially for the sex-workers industry. Guys fighting in the jungle don’t necessary behave the way they behave at home and being a warrior does certain things to the hormone levels of a man. So this is where the sexual connotation of “Thai-Massage” comes from mainly.

The founder of Thai-Massage is called Jivaka Khumar Bhaccha*, and he was a personal friend of the Buddha. He even treated the sangha, the order of monks that formed around the Buddha. He’s even mentioned in the Tipitaka, which is the oldest collection of buddhist texts in the world, and is revered to with honorable titles. So he was quite an influential physician and was doctor of the King of Maghada, a mighty ruler in what is now called India.

The theoretical background of Thai-Massage is based on the flow of energy through the body. There are ten main energy lines, called the “sip-sen”. By applying pressure on specific energy points along these energy-lines the energy is re-balanced and it has a very harmonizing effect. There are still old inscriptions in stone embedded in the walls of the Wat Po temple in Bangkok, Thailand. These are reconstructions of yet older drawings, that were destroyed when Burmese warriors invaded Ayuttaya, the former capital of Siam (Siam was the old name for Thailand). Stretching and compression techniques are applied, and Thai-Massage is also called “yoga for lazy people” or “the yoga done for you”. I personally disagree with that title, but it might be true for some northern styles that are very much influenced by yoga traditions. This is also a good thing, because you there are some positions that one cannot achieve themselves through ones own muscular effort, but if you have somebody who “arranges” your body for you, it’s easy, it feels good and it is good for you. But generally speaking, thai-massage is very different from yoga. It’s like saying sitting on the floor with your legs crossed and drinking green tea is meditation, or buddhism. It is not. You often see pictures of somebody sitting on the floor with legs crossed and it creates a meditative ambience, but it is not meditation unless somebody actually meditates. So don’t be too much confused by outer appearance.

Most Thaimassages are performed with clothes on (some comfortable cotton clothing general), so it is not like a oil massage where you undress. Nowadays you can also often get a thaimassage on the beach, and of course then you wear only your bathing clothes. But usually, you really get a pair of loose comfortable trousers and a shirt. This is mainly due to cultural reasons, because Thai people in general are very polite by cultural conditioning.

Thai massage has been developed and practiced by buddhist monks in buddhist temples (Wats) for large part of it’s history, so there is a strong spiritual element in it. Buddhist monks used to practice Thai-Massage on lay people for medical purposes and also on other monks in order to faciliate deeper states of meditation and to compensate the body for the sometimes strict sitting of long meditational settings. The buddhist concept of Loving Kindness, Compassion, Vicarious Joy, and Equanimity are still important parts of Thai-Massage today.

Nowadays it is often practiced without this spiritual element, but you will find many practitioners who pray before giving a massage and generally every really good thaimassage therapist I know of is practicing meditation (even when they are christian or muslim, it’s not only buddhists who meditate). In Thai-Massage, a masseur not only uses his hands or fingers to massage, but also his feet, his ellbow, his knee, his forearm and his heel. Specially in the villages in southern Thailand there is also a tradition of applying oil directly on the skin and working that way too. In the cities or in northern Thailand, oil is not traditionally applied when giving thaimassage, but nowadays many facilities offer oil massages as well. Herbal massages are also very popular, which is where hot compresses are applied on the body. They contain some herbs with medical properties that are being absorbed by the body due to the heat. However, the most important element of these herbal compresses is the heat since it helps to soften and relax muscles. Only very very few places can be found, where a herbal compress is really done by somebody who applies it specifically for an individual patient. So don’t be overly impressed by the exotic smell and feeling of these compresses. Of course if you are somebody who likes aromatherapy or incense then hot compresses might be just right for you to make it a yet more pleasurable or profound experience. But anyone charging much more for a herbal compress massage than for a normal thai massage is kind of ripping of clients with his customers. Of course it’s natural to charge a bit more, because you have some extra effort. But be wary of claims of wonderherbs inside those herbal compresses. I go into so much detail here, because I have seen some people advertise with “Exclusive medical herbal compress treatments” and charging shameful amounts of money for it.

How long is a Thai-Massage?

Generally, a thaimassage is about 2 hours. Among practitioners of Thaimassage there is sometimes a religious kind of debate about how long a thai-massage must be in order to qualify as a “real” thai-massage. But to me, that is nonse. I have recieved good 20-minute-thaimassages and I have recieved 2 1/2 treatments. Me personally, I really prefer two-hour treatments (or 2 1/2h) and I know that a lot of practitioners prefer two hours as well. But really, it’s up to the individual giving and the individual recieving.

Generally Thai-Massage is being performed on the floor. I never got a thaimassage on a massage-table and I never heard of any reasonable practitioner doing it. It’s just not thai-massage anymore, since a table really limits the amount of movements that are possible. Except you have a very stable table and are a professional acrobat who can perform tricks while standing on the table giving massage to customers, don’t do thaimassage on a table. It just won’t work and it’s really the line you draw when you want to paint the “borders” of thaimassage: anything that takes place on a table is not thaimassage anymore.

Now you know already that Thai-Massage is developed by buddhist monks. And it got inspirations from ayurvedic traditions of India and traditional chinese medicine and original siamese practices and spiritual techniques.

There are two main styles of Thai massage: the northern and the southern. The northern is being taught in Chiang Mai and the biggest and oldest school there is the Old Medicine Hospital. It was one of the first schools that taught Thai massage in English to foreigners and in the 1980’s some highly-skilled teachers worked there. The southern style is being taught to foreigners in the Wat Po Temple in Bangkok.

Now there are some outstanding people in the recent past that contributed a lot to the development of Thai massage. Harald Brust, a German who took the name Asokananda, is definitely on of them. He studied Thai massage long before it got popular in the west and was the first to write a book in a foreign language (that is, a book about Thai massage that was not written in Thai). His efforts to educate and promote the traditional practice of Thai massage really started the “boom” of Thai massage which we witness today. If it wasn’t for Asokananda, maybe today we would not be able to find Thai massage in places all over the world. He recieved teachings from Pichest Boonthume and Chayuth, who are well-known teachers of the northern style in Chiang Mai. Asokananda founded the Sunshine Network and taught many students before he passed away in June 2005.

Pichest Boonthume was one of the teachers who worked in the Old Medicine Hospital in Chiang Mai in the 1980’s and then moved on to open his own school in 1991, which is located 20 minutes outside of Chiang Mai in a village called Hang Dong.

Chayuth was another great teacher of the northern style that passed away in 2005.

In Chiang Mai another big school is the ITM (International Training Massage). It was founded by Chongkrol in the late 1980’s and teaches the same sequence as the Old Medicine Hospital. The courses are a bit longer than at the Old Medicine Hospital, but that’s because there is an daily hour of Thai Yoga being practiced in the beginning, and every day there are only four hours of training (while a course in the Old Medicine Hospital is eight hours daily). Some people think that the ITM has too many students in their classes and have the feeling that it is “too commercial” and that the spirit of Thai massage is getting lost there. I have never trained at the ITM, but from what I heard I’m a bit biased and would rather suggest having a look at the Old Medicine Hospital before going to the ITM.

Currently the Ministry of Public Health is setting up a network of licenced schools with hundreds of hours of training before certification, which might help to improve the standard-level of Thai massage being practiced. However, one should be aware that a certification can never be a guarantee of quality and in the end one should decide for himself if he trusts a practitioner enough to let him work with his body and manipulate the energy flow. I know that lots of people get massages and even though they feel uncomfortable they just let the massage practitioner continue. This is not just for Thai massage but for any kind of bodywork. I had lots of clients who told me something like: “I was at this one massage practitioner and it really felt wrong, and afterwards I felt bad. But I did not wanted to be impolite and interrupt his massage.” If somebody is working with you and it doesn’t feel right, you should tell him right away. If it doesn’t get better afterwards, just stop the massage. A massage should help you to feel better, and if it doesn’t then there’s no need to continue getting it. You don’t need to be rude or impolite, you can just say something like: “I’m sorry, I don’t feel like continuing this massage.” And if it’s somebody who is sincere with his practice, you can even tell him what’s wrong because if he doesn’t get feedback he will not learn. I really think this is important, because I meet so many people that tell me about their bad experiences with massages and to me it just seems weird that you let somebody touch you and work with you when you don’t want to. So in the end, if you want to find out how good a massage is, you should just allow yourself to feel what effects it had on you, on your body, your mind, your emotions. Massage is one of the oldest and most natural means we humans have to promote health and well-being, and we should honour and enjoy what has been passed down through the generations.


sipsen(The ten main energy-lines of Thai-Massage. Klick here for more detailed pictures.)

  • Sen Ittha
  • Sen Pingkhala
  • Sen Sumana
  • Sen Kalathari
  • Sen Thawari
  • Sen Sahatsarangsi
  • Sen Ulangka
  • Sen Lawusang
  • Sen Nanthakrawat
  • Sen Khitcha

Effects of Thai-Massage:

  • deep relaxation (physical and mental)
  • decreases stress
  • increases energy
  • can promote development of body awareness
  • can reduce risk of joint sprain or muscle sprain
  • can reduce risk of back problems
  • can reduce muscle soreness
  • can reduce the severity of painful menstruation (dysmenorrhea) for female
  • can reduce muscle tension
  • increases range of movement of joints
  • assists posture and alignment
  • improves circulation
  • relieves pain
  • restores vitality
  • changes body and time perceptions
  • strengthens internal organs
  • revitalizes the chakras/endocrine system
  • resets the rhythms of the body
  • reharmonizes the internal and external experiences
  • reconnects the energy of the body, mind and spirit
  • creates a lasting feeling of well-being
  • reduce stress
  • reduce pain
  • reduce swelling
  • increase blood circulation
  • increase lymphatic circulation
  • faciliate the removal of toxins
  • increase joint mobility
  • improve flexibility
  • improve body symmetry
  • increase energy flow
  • faciliate contact with unconscious memories
  • faciliate the release of emotional pain

Prayer before Thai-Massage:

This prayer is commonly spoken by practitioners of Thai-Massage. It is a way of honoring the achievements of Jivaka Khumar Bhacca and asking him to help the practitioner to help his client.

Om Namo


Silasa Ahang














Thai-Massage is also known as:

  • Nuad Bo’Rarn (Nuadbo’rarn)
  • Nuad Boran (Nuat Boran, Nuadboran)
  • Nuad Phaen Boran (Nuat Phaen Boran, Nuatphaenboran, Nuadphaenboran)
  • Nuad Bo-Rarn (Nuat Bo-Rarn, Nuatborarn)
  • Ráksãa Thaang Nûat (Raksaa-Thang-Nuat, raksaathangnuat, Phaen Boran Ráksãa Thaang Nûat)
  • Thai Yoga Massage (Thaiyoga Massage, thaiyogamassage)
  • Yogic Thai-Massage (yogicthaimassage)
  • Thai Ayurveda Massage (ayurvedic thaimassage, thai-ayurveda)
  • Thai Herbal Massage (Herbal Thai Massage, thaiherbal massage, thai-herbal-massage, herbal thai-massage)
  • Thai Compress Massage (thai hot compress massage, thaicompress massage)
  • Thai Oil Massage (Thai Oil-Massage, Thai-Oil-Massage)
  • Watpo-Massage (Wat-Po-Massage, Wat Po Massage, Wat Poh Massage, Wat Pho Massage, Watpho-Massage, Watpoh-Massage)
  • Buddhist Massage (Buddhistmassage, Buddhistic Massage, Buddhisticmassage, Buddha Massage, Buddhamassage)
  • Theraveda Massage (Theraveda-Buddhist-Massage, theravedabuddhist massage)
  • Thai Medical Massage (thaimedical massage, thai-medical-massage, thaimedicine, thai-medicine, medical thaimassage)
  • Ancient Massage (Ancient Thaimassage, Ancientmassage, Ancient-Massage, thai ancient massage)

Nuad is a thai word that means “to heal by touch”. Boran is a word that is derived from Pali, a dialect of Sanskrit. It means something that is ancient and honorable.

Jivaka Kumar Bhaccha is also known as:

  • Shivago Kommarabacca
  • Shivago Komparaj
  • Shivagakomarpaj
  • Bikkhu Jivaka Komarabhatt

Thai-Massage Links:

Tao Mountain Association of Traditional Thai Massage and Herbal Medicine

Wat Po Chetawan Massage School (english) (Wat Po is also known as Wat Phra Chetuphon or Wat Pra Chetaphon)

Wat Pho Chetawan Massage School (thai)

Old Medicine Hospital (The Buntautuk Northern Hill Tribes Medical Hospital, led by Aajan Sintorn)

The Institute of Thai Traditional Medicine

The Art of Traditional Thai Yoga Massage by Asokananda (The Sunshine Network)

Thai Healing Alliance International (THAI)

Thai-Massage Books:

The Art of Traditional Thai Massage, Asokananda (Harald Brust)

Thai Traditional Massage for Advanced Practitioners, Asokananda (Harald Brust)

Thai Traditional Massage In The Side Position, Asokananda (Harald Brust)

Thai Massage: Sacred Bodywork, Ananda Apfelbaum

Thai Massage: Knowing Where and How to Touch (Quality of Life, 1) by Beatrice Avraham

Thai Yoga Massage: How to use Traditional Thai Massage, Yoga, and Breathwork for Healing and Spiritual Harmony by Kira Balaskas

Traditional Herbal Medicine in Northern Thailand, Viggo Brun and Trond Schumacher

Thai Massage the Thai Way: in Theory and Practice, Jan Chaithavuthi and Kanchanoo Muangsiri

Nuad Thai: Traditional Thai Massage by Maneewan Chia; Max Chia

Thai Yoga Massage: A Dynamic Therapy for Physical Well-Being and Spiritual Energy by Kam Thye Chow

A comparative study of Thai massage and Swedish massage by Virginia Susan Cowen

Thai Massage : A Traditional Medical Technique, Richard Gold

An Anthropology of Curing in Multiethnic Thailand, Louis Golomb

Trance and Healing in Southeast Asia Today, Ruth-Inge Heinze

Medicinal Plants in Thailand Volume I & II – Faculty of Pharmacy, Mahidol University

Thai Massage by Niclaire Mann and Eleanor McKenzie

Thai Massage Manual: Natural Therapy for Flexibility, Relaxation, and Energy Balance, Maria Mercati

Thai Book of Genesis, Jean Mulholland

Medicine, Magic and Evil Spirits, Jean Mulholland

The Encyclopedia of Thai Massage, C. Pierce Salguero

A Thai Herbal, C. Pierce Salguero

The Spiritual Healing of Traditional Thailand, C. Pierce Salguero

The Dancing Meditation of Thai Traditional Massage by Maxine M. Shapiro and Yaron Gal

Thai Massage by Nicky Smith

Thai Traditional Massage Course at the Wat Po’s Thai Traditional Massage School by Preeda Tangtrongchitr

Thai Traditional Massage School by Preeda Tangtrongchitr

Readings in Thai Medicine, Tao Mountain Press

Traditional Thai Ayurveda, Tao Mountain Press

Thai Folk Healing, Tao Mountain Press

Traditional Thai massage by Sombat Tapanya

Medicine Across Cultures: History and Practice of Medicine in Non-Western Cultures (Science Across Cultures: the History of Non-Western Science) by Darko Vasiljevic, Hugh Shapiro, and Helaine Selin

Ayuttaya is also known as Ayudthaya, Ayutthaya, Ayudhia, Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya, พระนครศรีอยุธยา

last update: August 02, 2009 (8:46)

7 thoughts on “Traditional Thai Massage”

  1. Thank you for visiting my blog,, I had a look through your site Wow,, I think I like your site more than my own:) very informative and descriptive.. Are you Thai. I think you are:) anyway nice to meet you here on cyber world talking about Old Traditional Thai massage!!

  2. A good clean site. There is a good book in french by Charles Breger. I would appreciate more interviews with other Teachers, is there a reason why you only have Gabriel Azoulay? his point of view is certainly valid, but a balanced presentation requires variety.

  3. At the above line which reads: “he was quiet an influential physicia….” I think you meant “quite an influential” instead.

  4. hello, i’m Chinese,I plan to study thai massage in thailand, get many details and useful news from your text,thanks. I wanan know if you ever studied in Watpho Chetwan Masssage School,how about it ? or can you give me some suggestion how to choose school?

  5. Yes, I studied at Watpho Chetawan Massage School more than 10 years ago. It was great, I learned a lot. If you have a good connection with your teachers and they see that you want to learn more, they will help you to develop your skills very well.

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