History of Thai Massage

I am still awed by the history behind Thai massage.  It is one of the world's oldest healing modalities and can be traced back to Jivaka Kumar Bhaccha, known as “Father Doctor”, a contemporary and personal physician to Guatama Buddha, and the physician to Magadha King Bimbisara of India, who founded the techniques over 2,500 years ago in India.  Bhaccha's work consisted of manipulative techniques as well as instruction in proper diet, herbology and occult practices.

As Bhaccha's teachings evolved with the Sangha (Buddha’s teachings) and the Buddhism monasteries, it became codified as part of the Buddhist doctrines, while giving rise to the monk-healers.  When Buddhism began to spread to other parts of Asia, the medical practices of the monasteries went along as an integral part of the religious system.  Bhaccha’s teachings are said to have reached Thailand along with Buddhism in the 2nd or 3rd century BC.  The Thai people, like many others in the orient, saw illness as an imbalance in the body/mind/spirit and their temples were built with adjacent dispensaries and medical schools.  These schools treated illness using the four elements of traditional Thai medicine:

  • nutritional counseling (focusing on diet)

  • herbs (given both internally and externally)

  • spiritual counseling (primarily meditation and the Buddhist principles)

  • Thai Massage (which formed the backbone of the physical treatment)

Over the years, the monks and nuns most likely intergraded other beneficial medical systems to the one brought from India. Since Thailand is situated along the great trade route between India and China, its history and culture, along with its medicine, was affected by its location.  The influence from China and other surrounding countries may have played a significant role in enriching Thai massage as it appears to be greatly influenced by yoga, Ayurvedic medicine, and traditional Chinese medicine with its movements and attention to pressure points.

As to where and when Thai Massage originated precisely, it is difficult to ascertain for sure.  A long time has past and many historical evidences have disappeared or been destroyed, for example at the time of the destructive Muslim invasion of Northern India and also at the time of the Burmese invasion of the capital of Ayutthaya in 1767.  Only fragments of the existing precious medical texts survived the Burmese invasion… a destruction I witnessed during my trip.  I was told, sixty years after the capital city was destroyed, the King brought together fragmented memories and documents from all over Thailand in an effort to record what was left of their medical knowledge.  We have no idea how much knowledge was lost, but the remaining knowledge was brought to the temples of Wat Pho in Bangkok where King Rama III used the remaining knowledge to create a set of famous epigraphs in the hopes of preserving the art for centuries to come.  

Though I have not seen a great amount of Thai massage in the States, the practitioners I've talked to or read about still retain the elements of its strong connection to the Four States of Mind from the Buddhist teachings: compassion, loving kindness, joy, and balance. “For one must begin with compassion - for self as well as for others - and from that compassion springs forth loving kindness - or simply the wish for well - which leads to a feeling of vicarious joy which enables one to find balance or equanimity in life”.

I am honored to continue a tradition that was kept alive against great odds by a civilization who's primary goal is the education and exploration of how to harmonize ones mind, body, and soul. 






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