Traditional Thai massage (TTM) is the fruit of an old tradition dating back over 2500 years to the time of Buddha in India. It was Dr. Shivaga Komarpaj who introduced this old Indian massage into Thailand where it evolved into TTM. Today, Dr. Shivaga is still considered to be the father of traditional medicine in Thailand due to his considerable knowledge of surgical techniques and medicinal plants.
As massage in India evolved hand in hand with Ayurvedic traditional medicine, so too the massage introduced by Dr. Shivaga in Thailand developed over centuries into a technique that is specifically Thai. Despite these different evolutionary paths, it is still possible to see similarities between the two traditions and to note the resemblance between certain positions in TTM and certain yogic asanas/postures.
TTM is integrated within the Buddhist tradition and up until not long ago was still taught in Buddhist temples. The philosophy is that in taking care of the body the spirit can be liberated. TTM has also become an important component of popular Thai culture and massage is practiced in the family setting to alleviate the stresses and tensions of everyday life.
To give TTM requires a compassionate attitude and is considered to be Metta (good-will and altruistic loving kindness as conceived by Theravada Buddhism). At the beginning of a massage session, the Thai masseur invokes the spirit of Dr. Shivaga or another revered spirit so he/she can be guided and assisted during the session. A serious masseur will work in a meditative state that makes him/her receptive to the needs of the "receiver".
TTM is given on a mattress or the floor. The "receiver" dressed in comfortable and loose-fitting clothes moves through four successive positions: lying on the back, on the side, on the front and finally sitting. The TTM masseur has many different techniques at his/her disposal: pressure from the palm of the hand relaxes the muscles and prepares the body for the more precise thumb work that follows the meridians (Sen in Thai) along which energy (Lom, the wind) travels and circulates. It is also possible for the masseur to use his/her elbows, knees and feet during the massage.
However, the Thai masseur does not stop there. He/she will also articulate the joints, massage the tendons and stretch the muscles. For specific therapeutic massages acupressure points are also stimulated. It is believed that a massage lasting 1 and 1/2 hours is the minimum time needed and it is not uncommon for massages to last three hours or more.
The body is viewed holistically and in its totality and TTM works to balance the four elements found in nature: earth (solid structure of the body such as bones, tendons, and muscles), water (blood, lymph etc), fire (digestive organs) and air (respiratory organs). TTM is therefore a complete technique for body, mind and spiritual well-being, increasing vitality and removing energy blockages thus ensuring that some diseases and ailments are prevented from taking a foot hold in the body.