Rich History of Thai Yoga

Everyday I am asked, “What makes Thai Yoga Bodywork/massage different then a regular swedish or sports massage?” This is a great question that I think deserves a very thorough answer. In the next few posts I will attempt to answer this question.

I have an equal respect for practitioners of every massage tradition.  You may ask my massage therapist, I typically enjoy a weekly Swedish or Sports massage.  I have chosen to take the path of  a Thai Yoga Bodyworker because its tradition is rooted in yoga, meditation, Ayurvedic medicine, and the Buddhist precept of Metta (loving kindness).  To gain an understanding of the uniqueness of the theory and practice of Thai Yoga Bodywork/Massage I will take you back several thousands of years to Thailand.

Traditional Thai Massage is a form of Indian Ayurvedic therapeutic healing that came to Thailand by the way of Ayurvedic doctors and Buddhist monks about 2500-2000 years ago.  The founding father of Thai bodywork/massage and Thai Ayurveda is a Ayurvedic doctor and celebrated yogi, Jivaka Kumar Bhaccha.

Jivaka Kumar Bhaccha

Jivaka Kumar Bhaccha was very well known for his skill as a surgeon and healer.  He was often called upon to treat kings and princes.  This most well distinguished patient was the Buddha himself.

Thai Yoga Bodywork/massage developed over centuries within the environment of the Buddhist temples.  Even today the Thai temples, or wat, operates as centers for the health care of the common people.  Traditionally and today when a person finds themselves ill, they first visit their local wat for treatment by a Thai Yoga practitioner.  It must be understood that Thai Yoga is not only used for people that are ill.  It is a part of the daily life of someone living in Thailand.  The practice of the massage is very engrained in the culture and it is common after a long day of working in the fields that one trades massage with a coworker or family member to relieve overworked muscles.

One of the most well known centers for healing in traditional Thai yoga is the Wat Pho in Bangkok.   In the 1800’s King Rama II installed sculptures on the temple grounds and illustrations on the temple walls demonstrating the theoretical foundations of Thai Yoga bodywork/massage.  Unfortunately, most of the statues have been destroyed.  Only one remaining statue depicts a Thai Yoga asana.  The accompanying inscription to the below picture says that this is a cure for testicular hydrocephaly.

Because Thai Yoga is a major part of the Thailand culture and various masters have cultivated their own distinct methods of practice, there is not a standard form of Thai Yoga Bodywork/massage.  Since its inception, the healing practice was taught and passed down orally.  In Thailand there are two major distinct schools of theory and practice.  The northern, the more active – yang – version is the one that has influenced my particular practice.  The focus is on active thumbing and palming of the Sen “energy” lines.  The southern school of thought is more passive, where the practitioner flicks the energy lines.  Over time, these once two distinct forms of practice have blended.  In the last few decades there have been many westerners who have studied Thai Yoga in Thailand have returned to the West to practice.  Thus, even more outside influences melt together to create a Thai Yoga Bodywork that is rooted in the ancient past and very relevent to today’s culture.

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