According to legend, Jivaka Kumarbaccha, the Ayurvedic physician to the Buddha, developed the foundations for Thai massage in India over 2,500 years ago. Kumarbaccha, known to some as Chivok or Shivago, is reputed to have healed the Buddha through the use of Vedic medicine.
Unfortunately, no available evidence supports Kumar baccha as the official founder of Thai massage. One of the prominent theories as to why Shivago was known as the “Father of Thai Massage” is that he is the one of the only important figureheads in the Pali Buddhist texts associated with medicine.
It is believed that without him, the Vedic medical practices may not have spread from India to Thailand.
Thai massage certainly does owe its origins to Indian Buddhist philosophy and the medical practice of Ayurveda, but since that time it has been adapted and molded into a tradition that is uniquely Thai.
About 1,000 years ago, both Buddhism and the practice of Ayurveda traveled to Thailand, where the Thai people absorbed the concepts and philosophy of Vedic medicine. They went on to introduce touch as a way of implementing these philosophies, effectively creating the art of Thai massage.
The practice continues to evolve to this day, constantly spreading to other parts of the world and weaving itself into Western culture. Just as it has influenced many different forms of bodywork, so too have other traditions impacted the evolution of Thai massage.
East Meets West
Thai massage incorporates traditional massage techniques with personalized stretches and meditation, helping the receiver to achieve a state of true relaxation in both body and mind. Practitioners understand that different bodies have different needs, so no two messages are ever identical.
There are so many different techniques that can be incorporated into a Thai massage practice that many different styles and modes have developed out of the same art. It’s so versatile, in fact, that many wonder whether the art is indeed still evolving or if it’s already become all-encompassing.
Many traditional practices (beyond just Thai massage) are based in treating an individual holistically based on their needs and wants. While some will practice set protocols or adhere to certain sequencing based on their beliefs about what tradition dictates, others tap into a more intuitive practice that allows freedom from the confines of “rules.”
Because Western people experience stress in different ways and in different parts of their lives than people living in the East, a Thai massage received in the West should differ from one received in Thailand. One of the main benefits of this practice comes from its adaptability and fluidity.
At Navina, emphasis is placed on enhancing relaxation, uncovering the therapeutic applications of techniques, certifying safety and exploring the “why,” or the purpose for using each particular posture.
Unique to Navina is its dedication to training practitioners in Eastern wisdom, as well as the functional anatomy of the body and the empirical science that guides our knowledge of it.
Traditional Elements Worth Preserving
Reusi Dat Ton is an ancient ritual designed to prepare the body to perform massage. More than a fixed sequence, the idea of taking care of oneself on the physical, mental, and spiritual levels is of the utmost import to our practice — mindful movements such as Yoga, Tai Chi, and various other martial arts are also excellent ways to prepare the body and the mind.
Meditation and preparation ensure that practitioners experience less stress and have greater mental focus. These practices also offer a strengthened intuition and improved functional movements that have obvious benefits to everyday living.
Metta Bhavana — the cultivation of compassion, or loving kindness — is at the core of everything we do in Thai massage. This part of the tradition is crucial to understanding the what, why, how, and when behind our use of techniques.
Metta, along with a clear and focused mind, truly allows us to sense the deepest needs of our patients and respond accordingly. Without the need to follow defined rules, a practice rooted in Metta will allow you to serve the highest needs of your patient and yourselves.
Navina joins the world of empirical science with the philosophies of Eastern wisdom. By using modern physiology and an enhanced understanding of anatomy, we strive to make this tradition even more effective and to enhance our therapy with a deeper understanding of how the body moves.
Contrary to certain beliefs, understanding the anatomy, physiology, and biomechanics of the body actually fuels our intuition and gives it greater power. The two ideals of intuition and science are incredibly complementary.