“Thai massage for [insert population sub-group here]“. “Thai Massage & [insert other modality of movement/body/energy work]“.
Have you seen or heard of this on the wonderful world wide web? I’ve come across it many times in recent years, and what’s concerning is not the blending, but the reaction to it.
There’s an interesting trend right now (and perhaps there has been for a while?) about this idea of sticking to a “traditional” practice, and that any blending or alterations to what you were taught are somehow outside the realms of what we should (ethically) term Thai Massage. So passionate are some, that there have been numerous instances of public shaming on “social” media platforms, essentially degrading the blending of any other practice with Thai Massage, along with the practitioners that perform it. One great example, more recently has been “Ashi-Thai”, a combination of Ashiatsu and Thai Massage.
Entirely disregarding the idea of “tradition” (that’s a whole can of worms unto itself). Let’s look at the idea of adapting and blending the practice of Thai massage to suit the people you’re working with or to create something that shows people the gifts of Thai massage in a setting that they are familiar with. I’m essentially about to show you why it’s an ill-founded (and a poorly researched) idea to think that some techniques are outside the realms of Thai massage. No offense, just honesty.
The first piece of this puzzle that we have to understand is that Thai Massage is an umbrella term that has and will always include almost every possible technique of tissue manipulation possible. Created for therapy, there were no boundaries with what was acceptable for inclusion in a treatment. If a technique was useful, it was used. To give you a glimpse of this, some of the touch techniques that have been used throughout the documented history of this form of medicine include, but are not limited to: acupressure, static pressure, friction strokes, tapping, plucking, percussion, cupping, stretching and mobilizing. Simply understanding this alone should emphasize that a huge range of techniques can fall well within the realms of Thai massage, and even within the realms of what some would refer to as a traditional practice.
Then let’s look at a few other elements of this form of bodywork/energy-work that have been well documented and persist to this day: therapists have been known to use no oils, and to use many oils, to have clients/patients fully clothed, and to be completely unclothed, to use herbal compresses only, and to use hands only, and to use wooden mallets for tapping only, or to use all areas of their body to apply any of the above techniques, to strictly focus on Sen lines for work, and to apply more general strokes that encompass more of the anatomy. You can see that our wonderful practice encompasses both ends of a seemingly opposing spectrum. This should also highlight the incredible degree of adaptability of Thai massage.
Even more than the above lists of the huge variety found within a Thai massage practice, is the idea of this being an holistic and intuitive practice. If you’re still reading, then answer me this: what does intuition mean to you? Does it mean sticking to only the techniques you’ve formally been taught? Or the sequence you learned in the classroom for the sake of teaching a group? I hope not. Doesn’t the very essence of intuition suggest adaptability? Doesn’t it promote the idea of sensing and responding to the needs of the person in front of you?
So then, what would happen if you’ve never learned any other forms but you adapt and use something you think will work? And what if later on you find out that the technique you used is commonly taught in a Swedish massage style of practice, or a Fascial Stretch technique? Does that mean you’ve been blending and creating something that shouldn’t be called Thai Massage? No, I don’t think so. It falls well within the above lists of historical techniques and modes of Thai Massage.
But then what happens if you have had other education? Is it disingenuous to blend the schools of practice? Again, no. If you’re practicing Thai Massage as a therapeutic modality (which I hope you are), then you’re essentially using the tools you have to achieve the greatest possible therapeutic outcome for your patient. And it’s more than likely (in fact, almost certain) that the techniques you used from your other learnings have also been practiced and taught at some point in time within Thailand.
So the next time you see someone “blending”, give them a pat on the back and know that they are in fact pulling from the history of Thai massage practice, even if they haven’t been formally taught it.