Go Beyond the Glitz to the Thai Spirit
Thailand evokes images of spicy food, sultry nights, sparkling beaches, sordid nightlife. It lives up to its reputation, but there is more to the Land of Smiles than holiday-making. To understand the spirit of the Thais, I looked beyond the glitz and glitter of Bangkok and the white sandy beaches of the South and enrolled myself at a Thai massage school.
The root of Thai massage actually lies in India and is based on the belief that “sen” or energy lines and acupressure points influence the body’s functioning. Thai massage removes blockages from these lines and thus improves health. The practice is also known as yoga massage because of all the stretching involved; some describe it as “applied yoga.” For the last 2,000 years, Buddhist monks have practiced this healing art for the Thai communities they serve and today massage schools abound in Thailand.
There are two styles of Thai massage: the Southern Style is considered more vigorous and rough while the Northern Style is described as gentle. By nature, Thai massage is tough, but not punishing. The Northern Style, which I learned, is the way villagers keep their farmers healthy and happy.
In 10 days, with 60 hours of instruction and practice, I learned over 100 Thai massage postures and techniques and how acupressure points relieve ailments like headache, insomnia, arthritis, and more. I learned how to use my feet, hands, elbows, knees, thumbs, and body weight to work the muscles and energy lines of the other students in the class. It’s fun to give a Thai massage, but it’s also a workout. I was constantly on my knees or squatting, flowing from one position to another while balancing on my toes. The best part about the course was that I got a daily massage for two weeks; students practice on each other, with close supervision, for at least 4 of the 6 hours of class each day. I returned to my guesthouse each night feeling invigorated, and after several days I became as flexible as pretzel dough.
In Thailand, a 2-hour massage costs $5. In the States it runs between $60 and $120. I can't legally practice Thai massage back home so I won't be making big bucks as a Thai masseur. But no matter: according to the “rules of a good Thai masseur,” I am not to hope for “any gains…material profit nor glory or fame.” And in the process of learning Thai massage I have come closer to understanding the culture, history, and people.
There are many courses and each school has its own philosophy and methods of teaching. Search online before deciding on one that fits your needs. Here are two favorites:
(Southern Style, Bangkok)
The Sunshine Massage School
(Northern Style, Chiang Mai)
Published in Transitions Abroad Magazine — 2005