Bridging The Gap Between Western Massage and Thai Massage
As a practitioner of both Western Massage Therapy and Thai Massage Therapy, I am often asked the difference between the two modalities. My enthused response ordinarily satiates general curiosity but I am usually left with a feeling of unfinished business. My “Go to” answer is to speak on the obvious distinct style of each. But truthfully, I need two hours listening time by a willing participant or the creation of an article discussing the very unique approach of both modalities effectively reaching their common goal, health and well-being. Now I am satisfied.
I like to passionately get to the “Meat” of the situation and not merely pick at the “Bones”. To really understand the comparison of Eastern vs. Western healing practices, digging deep into the vault of days past would be in order. In my own massage practice I often meander through my own library collection of materials on culture, philosophy and history to marry my own style with indigenous medicine that I have studied or that has been passed down through my own indigenous cultural roots.
Through ancient history both Eastern and Western massage has been used as a kind of “Medicine” to treat the body. To compare Eastern Massage philosophy; treatment of the mind, body and spirit to Western Massage philosophy; concentration on tangible anatomical or physiological aspects of the body, can seem paradoxical. Both styles clearly have their niche.
Thai Massage can be traced back to the Yogis of India. All of the Thai Yogic postures and 72,000 energy lines clearly echo Ayurvedic medicinal practices so much that Thai Massage schools profess the root of their healing art derives from an Indian doctor named Dr. Javako. The doctor is revered as the personal physician of Buddha and evidence of his work can be seen at the sacred Buddhist temples in Bangkok. Wat Pho in Bangkok is one of the most famous places to learn or receive massage and its temples house beautiful pictorial instruction of Thai Sen Lines (Energy Lines) with Acupressure points. Though, “Lazy Man” Northern style Thai Yoga takes root in Northern Thailand and Southern Style Thai Yoga takes root in Bangkok, much of Dr. Javakos teachings were lost or vandalized in war torn Thailand.
Western Massage practices can be traced to the Greek philosopher Hippocrates who was considered the father of Western Medicine. Later, Western Massage was adopted by Galen a Roman doctor and philosopher. Galen is said to be the personal physician to the gladiators and he wrote volumes detailing massage techniques to cure disease and injury. Western Massage was lost for a period of time during the dark ages and later emerged in the early 1800's in Sweden, giving a new name to techniques like Swedish Massage.
When we compare philosophical origin, we can start to understand the affect philosophy has on both the style and manner in which massage is administered. Traditional Thai Massage is practiced on a floor mat, while Western Massage is practiced on a massage table. Western Massage commonly has a practitioner who actively stimulates or stills the body through various massage stokes on a client passively receiving massage on a massage table. In Comparison, Thai Massage can be active for both participants through passively positioning and stretching the massage client, making it assisted Yoga. Both massage styles stimulate blood flow, the lymphatic system and the endocrine system while promoting relaxation through the parasympathetic nervous system.
As Massage Therapy is seeing a resurgence, we are now experiencing a melding of both East and West. Both styles converging to create new techniques that honor both philosophies that can co-exist; truly treating the mind, body and spirit. Integration of all types of massage therapy, not only seems to be the sign of exciting times in holistic healthcare practices but is reminiscent of indigenous practices that place massage in a respectful, rightful place amongst the healthcare professions.
Wat Pho Temple Walls
Monique C. Ortega