When people think about Thai Massage, they often think about Thai Yoga Massage, whereby the recipient is stretched and pulled in various directions by the Thai massage therapist. Thai Yoga Massage takes place on a mat (which is placed directly onto the floor), and does not involve oil, and hence the recipient can remain fully clothed. Thai Yoga Massage also involved the application of pressure to certain muscles in an attempt to reduce muscle tension. A Thai Yoga Massage therapist generally uses their knees, elbows and feet, more than their hands, to apply the required pressure.
Thai Yoga Massage is the most common massage technique in the Kingdom of Thailand. However, as Thai Massage has been imported on a large scale to the West (especially Western Europe and North America) it has been adapted to the preferences of people in these regions. In the West, people are accustomed to being massaged on a table and generally prefer oils to be applied to their skin and muscles to ease the pain of the treatment. Also, massage recipients in the West generally prefer to be treated in a private room. In Thailand, on the other hand, large rooms are generally just split into separate bays using curtains.
Hence, the Thai Massage therapists who have come to work in the West, have learnt to use massage tables (as an alternative to the floor) and have become skilled in the use of massage oils. This also requires much greater use of the hands than Thai Yoga Massage. Businesses offering Thai Massage to customers in the West must be aware of the local preferences. It is very important, for example, to have separate private rooms for individual clients, rather than one big room for all clients.
Another nuance is that, due to Thailand's popularity as a tourist destination for Western people, much of the demand for Thai massage in the West is spurred by people who have experienced Thai Yoga Massage in Thailand. For this reason, it is important for Thai Massage practitioners (and businesses) in the West to be able to cater to customers who do want a Thai Yoga Massage (on a mat on the floor). Interestingly, many providers of Thai Massage in Thailand are now having to adapt their techniques and business practices to cater for Westerners who have come to expect a Thai Massage to be on a massage table, in a private room, with the use of massage oil.
Thai Massage normally involves quite strong pressure being applied to the recipient's muscles, especially where the therapist identifies areas of muscles tension. Thai Massage nearly always involves some client participation and movement, as Thai Massage (unlike most other massage techniques) involved a lot of stretching. Also, even when using a massage table, Thai Massage therapists often find ways to use their elbows, knees and feet to achieve the greater intensity and pressure required to alleviate muscle tension. Despite these generalisations, Thai Massage techniques in practice now vary widely and hence it is not possible to provide a clear definition of Thai Massage.
The non-conformity of Thai Massage techniques internationally is not surprising when one considers the history of Thai Massage. It is said to have started by a Buddhist physician over 2500 years ago, although Thai massage, like Traditional Thai Medicine more generally, is actually a combination of influences from Indian, Chinese, Southeast Asian cultural spheres and traditions of medicine. Even today, there is considerable variation in Thai Massage technique from region to region across Thailand.
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