There is Thai Massage. But this by itself is not sufficient to clarify what we are talking about. It is somewhat like saying “There is Christianity”. Well – are you talking about Catholics, Protestants, Mormons, Born Agains… It is similar with Thai Massage. There is a northern style, a southern style, a royal style, the strictly traditional style and a whole number of styles that have been mixed with other Asian healing arts or with yoga therapy or energy work.
Why are there so many different Thai Massage styles? Why not just one? There is the saying “variety is the spice of life”, and this is very true. Imagine if there was only one car, or one mobile phone – wouldn’t you agree that it is much more fun if you have many choices? Just like you can match a car to your preferences, so can you match a massage style to your body and your likes.
Some people like strong massage, some soft, some like stretching, some prefer oil massage, and some love rocking massage. And then some people love foot work, some love abdominal work, others love head massage. I think I made my case why it is an advantage to have many massage styles and variations.
Here is another good reason. Once a therapist becomes seasoned and experienced, he or she does not want to just follow the routine which they learned in massage school. Massage is a creative, intuitive, graceful, flowing art, not a mechanical system of pressing or rubbing on predetermined points. Therefore it is natural that therapists express their creativity by developing their own styles.
This leads to an ever developing evolution of massage techniques. Without that there would be no growth, no spontaneity, no improvement. Of course there are traditionalists who believe that everything should be done like it has been done for hundreds or thousands of years. And that can also be a good thing. In this way a core style can be preserved and maintained as a bench mark against which newer styles can be measured. And some traditional systems are very good the way they are.
At some point every single massage system has been invented and developed by someone. And those persons were innovators. Innovators create, and traditionalists maintain. There is a place for both. The world would be a boring place without innovation, new creative ideas, and new styles and techniques in the massage and healing arts arena or any other field.
Thai Massage is often not practiced the same way in western countries as it is done in Thailand. The reason for that is that western therapists, unlike their Thai counterparts, have much more access and exposure to other massage styles. Therefore there is always a tendency to mix and blend and combine techniques. Therapists in Thailand have generally never been exposed to anything but the traditional way of working, and therefore you don’t find much blending and changing in Thailand.
Also western therapists have often started out learning massage, and mostly Swedish massage, on a table. Therefore many of them have adapted Thai Massage to the table which of course changes it somewhat, and many blend Thai Massage with Swedish massage.
Personally I have studied Thai Massage in Thailand with several excellent and well known teachers. They all had their own style and their own unique techniques. And that is without blending Thai Massage with any other modalities.
So what style should you choose as an aspiring Thai Massage practitioner? This depends on 4 factors mostly:
1. What style do you most enjoy receiving? You will do best giving what you like to receive.
2. Which teacher do you resonate with? You will be most inspired if your teacher can bring the technique alive for you.
3. Which style works for you and your body? For example, if you study a very rigid style which relies on a lot of thumb pressure work, but your thumbs cannot handle it, then this is not the best choice for you. You will do better with a softer style. Or if you study a style which uses a lot of difficult stretches, but you are 5 foot tall, then this might be difficult for you. So make sure that you study a style that works for your body.
4. What is your objective? Do you just want to learn a few good moves to spice up your main style? Or do you want to learn and practice Thai Massage as a complete system? In the latter case it is much more important that you pick a style that suits you.
The best way to find out what works for you is to receive Thai Massage sessions from a variety of practitioners. In addition to getting general full body treatments, ask for specific therapeutic work and get a feeling for how they are being handled by various therapists.