Thailand has a rich legacy of healing arts that come from both ancient Chinese practices and India’s Ayurvedic healing methods. The Thai’s took what they learned from these traditions and over time, morphed them into something of their own. The result is what they call nuat Thai or Thai style massage.
The roots of Thai style massage are believed to lie in India, reaching as far back as 2,500 years ago. During the early years of Buddhism in India, Buddhist temples were centers of medical practice and theory. The techniques of those temples are thought to have arrived in Thailand at the same time as Buddhism, somewhere between the 3rd and 2nd century BCE. At that time, an Indian man named Jivaka Komarapatr was doctor to one of India’s royal families. Through his own research, he documented over 72,000 energy lines running through the human body. These lines, called sen in Thai, were condensed into 10 larger branches by later practitioners, and have become the focal points of nuat Thai.
There are two styles of traditional Thai massage, designated as Southern and Northern. The Southern style, called Jup Sen involves a practitioner applying thumb or finger pressure for five or more seconds on points that run along specific sen lines. The therapist taps into those lines to release tension while helping to cleanse the body of toxins. The Northern or nuad pan bo rarn style is more yogic in nature and involves limb stretching and manipulation in order to increase flexibility and enhance circulation. In most of Thailand today you can expect a Thai massage to include some of both techniques.
Unlike some western methods which concentrate on muscle relaxation, the art emphasizes healing the energy body through critical point massage, stretching and other techniques. Giving a Thai massage is thought to be akin to spiritual practice and therapists are encouraged to perform their task in a meditative state of mindful concentration.