Modernization of Thai Massage


Los Angeles has a large Thai population with Thai restaurants, grocery stores, and spas. When I tell angelinos that I practice Thai massage people usually think about that one experience they had at a Thai spa. I believe the Thai spa experience is more of a cultural experience than a therapeutic one. This more watered down form of Thai massage is a result of standardization and adopting a western model to learning and practicing traditional medicine that occured in Thailand in the 80’s, 90’s, and 2000’s. Thai massage molded to the Western world’s model, standardizing it as a “sequence” so that it might be taught through mass courses, lost many of its components like individualized treatments and physical therapies that might be considered dangerous or too difficult to learn.

Besides these issues of standardizing the practice of traditional healing arts, we also see problems arising with foreigners participating in Thai massage workshops and teaching what they’ve learned without knowing enough about the medical theory. With any traditional medicine, there comes a medical theory of what’s behind the approach and practice. The theory gives you the container of knowing what techniques to apply to what conditions. Chinese and Ayurveda are the most popular and known about eastern medicines accessible in the west. If we look at the non-Thai Thai massage world we see people teaching Thai massage moves and overlaying Ayurveda or Chinese medical theory. There are books and other published material that teach Thai massage in this way. This is largely due to the language barrier and not spending enough time searching for a traditional doctor to learn Thai medical theory. My first exposure to Thai massage was in fact a Thai Yoga version. While this was a great way to spark my interest, I felt like something was missing. It was like I have pieces to two different puzzles. It became clear to me when I met my Thai massage teacher, Nephyr Jacobsen, why I felt this way.

Traditional Thai medicine has much in common with Indian and Tibetian medicine, and even with ancient Greek medicine, and to a lesser degree, Chinese medicine. This said, one cannot simply insert Indian theory on top of Thai techniques and still call it Thai. Thai medicine does not use the chakra system, doshas are not exactly what is used in Thai element theory, and the stretches of Thai massage are not yoga poses; although some will look like it due to the fact that bodies stretch the same all over the world. The confluence of ideas that permeates medical knowledge across the globe is a sharing that I rejoice in, however it does not mean that we can substitute so easily one theory for another. Thai massage is a component part of the physical/orthopedic medicine root of Thai healing arts, and it is supported by a complex and ancient medical system of its own.
— Nephyr Jacobsen

 Teachers like Nephyr put a lot of effort educating students on Thai element theory, the roots of Thai medicine, and where Thai massage fits in the traditional Thai medical system. It is from these efforts that my clients and I benefit. Something Nephyr frequently reminds me of is "massage on a deeply therapeutic level was a part of the traditional medicine of Thailand and those who practiced it in this manner were considered massage doctors".  Remembering this keeps me studying and practicing as I wish to practice in a way that is deeply therapeutic and medicinal. This major component of studying and practicing with the knowledge of Thai element theory is what distinguishes me and the way I practice Thai massage. So you can expect the Thai massage you’ll receive from me to be deeply therapeutic and tailor-made. Some will be confused why I call what I do Thai massage, but to not call it Thai massage would do a disservice, to not represent the therapeutic applications of this amazing tradition that is slowly getting watered down and confused with other traditions.  

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