THAI YOGA MASSAGEKam Thye Chow September 1, 2003
Sacred Healing — The Art of Thai Yoga Massage
In the temples of Thailand many centuries ago, a unique bodywork therapy based on yoga and the martial arts was born: Thai massage has its roots in the ancient tradition of Ayurveda. The origins of traditional Thai massage can be traced back 2,500 years to India and the spread of Buddhism in the East. In this dynamic bodywork therapy the Thai massage practitioner guides the recipient through a series of yoga postures while palming and thumbing along the body’s energy lines and pressure points. Together, these actions result in a comprehensive full-body massage that stretches and tonifies the muscles, relieves muscular tension and spasm, improves circulation, helps expedite metabolism, boosts the immune system, and balances the body energetically.
Performed on the floor in loose and comfortable clothing, Thai Yoga Massage is a partnered yoga practice, it creates a harmonious and therapeutic “dance” that leads to a physical well-being, grace, and spiritual energy that is unique to that achieved by either massage or yoga alone.
Thai Yoga Massage was first developed in the 5th century B.C. by Jivaka Kumarbhaccha, a celebrated yogi and a doctor in the ancient Indian healing tradition of Ayurveda. His unusual skill as a physician and surgeon was so well-known that he was called upon to treat kings and princes. But of all the people Jivaka attended to, the most distinguished was the Buddha. Today, Jivaka is not only venerated as the founder of traditional Thai massage, he is also honoured as the source of Ayurvedic practices within Thailand.
While traditional Thai massage is a culturally integrated tradition in Thailand, it is difficult to talk about a standard form of Thai massage — various masters have cultivated their own distinct methods of practice.
After studying Thai Yoga Massage for many years in North Thailand, I decided in 1995 to move to North America, and founded the Lotus Palm School of Thai Yoga Massage. With a foundation in traditional Thai massage concepts, the Lotus Palm method incorporates Ayurvedic principles, the Buddhist attention to centeredness, the alignment and dynamic stretching of Hatha yoga, with manipulation of the sen; the Thai energy line system. Lotus Palm focuses on creating a flowing dance that is characteristic of tai chi, benefiting both the practitioner and receiver.
When explaining the Lotus Palm method of Thai Yoga Massage, I like to use the image of the tango. Linked together in a graceful dance, the principal dancer (the practitioner) and the follower (the recipient) perform a series of yoga positions. The practitioner use her hands, feet, arms, and legs to gently guide the recipient into various yoga postures, while remaining focused and centered. The more skillful and fluid the practitioner, the more the recipient is able to relax and trust her as the principal dancer. As the dance becomes more beautiful and harmonious, it also becomes more healing ad beneficial to the receiver.
Perhaps the most important element in the practice of Thai Yoga Massage is meditation and metta, or unconditional love and compassion. Because Thai massage was originally performed in the Buddhist temples, the masseur approached his job as an extension of his spiritual practice. In this way, the work of Thai Yoga Massage is a physical application of metta. In Thailand today many masseurs work with full awareness, mindfulness, and concentration, and include meditation as part of the daily routine. The role of meditation in Thai Yoga Massage is to assist the practitioner in honing the art of listening and thus to effectively connect to the recipient and her needs. When there is mindfulness in massage and a spiritual awareness, a sacred healing space is created.
Without some form of spiritual awareness Thai Yoga Massage could become hollow and lose much of its healing power. My goal as a Thai Yoga Massage teacher is not to have the most famous school, but to spread the dharma, the duty, of unconditional love and compassion.