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Thai Yoga Massage Versus Yoga - Which One Is Better?

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Thai Massage versus Thai Yoga Massage – what’s in a name?

Thai Yoga Massage is basically another name for Thai Massage. There are variations and adaptations and different styles of therapists, but we are talking about the same family of bodywork. The term ‘Thai Yoga Massage’ has been coined by western practitioners. It is quite an appropriate name since it does reflect the fact that Thai Massage has its roots in the yoga tradition of India.

In Thailand this term is never used and Thai therapists are generally not very familiar with yoga. Their western colleagues are often not only more familiar with yoga but are yoga practitioners or teachers as well. The trend in the West is to add more elements of yoga to Thai Massage which is not only a good idea but also brings it back around to its original roots.

Thai Yoga versus Indian Yoga

There actually is a Thai Yoga system which is quite similar to India’s yoga system. It was brought from India to Thailand about 2500 years ago by the same person along with the Thai Massage system. The massage became very popular, but the yoga system never caught on much in Thailand and is only known by very few people.

Ironically now the Indian yoga system is gradually becoming more popular in Thailand, whereas the Thai Yoga system continues to languish in oblivion.

image of yoga bridgeWhat is the difference between Thai Yoga Massage and Yoga?

Now we know that Thai Yoga Massage and Yoga are members of the same family. What are the differences between the two systems and is one better than the other?

I have met yoga teachers who swear that yoga can cure all, fix all and do all. It is a well known fact that accomplished yogis can do amazing feats. There are also amazing Thai Massage therapists how have a high degree of intuition and remarkable powers of healing. Such individuals, however, are rare in both categories.

When is Thai Massage or Yoga healing?

If Thai Massage is done by a highly skilled, intuitive, experienced, or even shamanic practitioner, it can produce dramatic results. However, if it is done by an average therapist who just wants to earn a living, has no passion for it and has no feeling for energy, there is little healing power in it.

The same goes for yoga. Highly skilled yoga practitioners who connect their practice with breath, consciousness and a sense of subtle energy can accomplish impressive healing results. But if yoga is primarily used as an exercise program to lose weight or to keep your joints from rusting without any higher awareness, there won’t be much healing happening.

When to use Thai Massage and when to use Yoga?

For the purposes of this article I am referring to the physically active yoga which is commonly known as hatha yoga, not to karma, jnana or bhakti yoga.

In Thai Massage, the receiver is passive, whereas a yoga practitioner is active. This gives us a clue already. Let’s look at some scenarios where Thai Massage is the better choice:

  • Let’s say there is a sick, hurting or partially disabled person. In this case Thai Massage is the right choice. Clients do not need their own strength, they do not need to know the yoga system. They don’t have to do anything except rely on the expertise of the therapist.
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  • Yoga is a long term system. I is not a quick fix solution. Thai Massage however can deliver instant results and is better for relieving acute conditions.
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  • Yoga takes determination and commitment, and some people just don’t have that. Thai Massage is sometimes called ‘lazy man’s yoga’ since all the receiver has to do is lie down and receive the benefits of passive yoga.
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  • Yoga takes time, regular practice and a good amount of skill in order to reap the benefits. Thai Massage is a passive system and does not require any skills (for the receiver). Even clients who have no sensitivity to energy, no understanding of higher awareness, no time for regular yoga practice, and no understanding of their condition can benefit greatly from an experienced Thai Massage therapist.

When is yoga the right choice?

There are several scenarios where yoga is a more appropriate or practical choice than Thai Massage:

  • Thai Massage, at least in the western world, can be quite expensive. Many people cannot afford regular and frequent sessions. Yoga, however, once learned, can be practiced at home absolutely free for the rest of one’s life.
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  • Yoga, if learned correctly, will generate more results than just physical improvement. It will lead to the development of higher awareness. This is not necessarily the case for Thai Massage clients, unless the therapist is able to introduce yogic concepts to them as part of the treatment.
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  • You might live in an area where good Thai Massage is not available. Yoga classes however are widely available in most areas in the western world.
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  • Ideally Thai Massage clients should supplement their bodywork sessions with yoga practice. Since Thai Massage is a passive system, clients can benefit greatly by taking advantage of the active nature of yoga practice in order to take on more responsibility for their own health. I have often given my clients yoga exercises as homework.

There are scenarios where Thai Massage is a better choice, and there are circumstances where yoga is the better choice. But this is not a black and white matter. The two systems are highly compatible and there is a lot of overlap:

  • Since Thai Massage is traditionally done on a floor mat, the therapist has to have good physical flexibility to be able to move around the client and perform the techniques. Therefore it is ideal if the therapist practices yoga.
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  • Therapists who practice yoga can apply additional elements to their Thai Massage like better breathing, more understanding of energy principles and a higher degree of awareness.
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  • Therapists who have a good understanding of yoga can greatly extend the benefits of the massage session for their clients by giving them simple follow up yoga exercises as homework.
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  • Thai Massage Therapists sometimes have clients who would definitely benefit from regular sessions but cannot afford them. In such cases it can be very beneficial to encourage clients to take up yoga as a substitute for the bodywork.
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  • Yoga teachers can enhance their sessions by including some elements of Thai Massage.
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  • Thai Massage teachers can start their classes with some yoga warm up.
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  • Yoga teachers can offer Thai Yoga Massage sessions to their students, a perfect match.

Thai Yoga Massage and Yoga – a perfect match

Thai Massage and yoga are not mutually exclusive systems. They are members of the same family and they complement each other in many cases. Therapists who know yoga have a clear advantage over those who do not. Ideally both systems should harmoniously work together in order to produce the best results.

My own Thai Massage practice has always been closely interwoven with yoga and yoga principles. For me this has been an ideal combination.

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The author, Shama Kern.
The author, Shama Kern, is the
founder and director of
Thai Healing Massage Academy.
He can be reached at
[email protected]

 

12 comments to Thai Yoga Massage Versus Yoga – Which One Is Better?

  • Great article Shama! Thai Yoga masage is a brilliant complimentary healing mode to Yoga. As a Yoga Therapist if my clients have low energy levels, are recovering or have strained something from their own practice then I stick them on the mat and they are so very grateful for it. It means they dont totally have to lose the physical gains they have made from their work and can also just relax and heal mentally in a different way. It is very versatile and can be used in so many ways. I personally combine it with Yoga, acupressure, oil massage and sports stretching so most of the time they are just receiving a healing treatment unique to me in a sense. You can combine it with so many things which makes it unique as well as offering a more traditional treatment. Thank you for your article and great work.

  • Gabriel

    Nice.
    I teach this perspective that I discovered after a few years with pichest:
    Dr. kumar Baccha, also known as Dr. Shivago, was an Ayurvedic master and yoga practitioner.
    By the time he became the Buddha’s personal physician he saw that the inks were primarily practicing meditation.
    Realizing that the body also needs movement and that the Sangha was not doing neither (meditation or yoga) he devised a practice where the monks could serve the community (the Buddha taught that the way out of suffering is to serve someone else) but also one their body and open their energy channels much like yoga poses open up the energy of the body.
    He refined the Nadia into 10 sen lines, and developed nuad boran where both people would gget the magical benefit of yoga.
    Pichest often point out that this is Thai Yoga, where the practitioner heals their body if they work correctly. I the practitioner can go inside and feels their bodies much like a yogi goes inside and feels their body.
    There are ways to move that can either enhance your own energy (as a therapist) pr close it. Working with a distinct awareness of this becomes Thai Yoga.
    Pichest also points out that the pressure the body receives through Thai Yoga is one thing that makes Thai Yoga better than regular Yoga, though he always has students around to work on him, where for most of us, being worked on regularly is rare (regularly I mean every day).
    But working in the way pichest has taught, has been an incredible way of bridging Yoga and Thai Yoga.
    Thanks for the article!

    • Gabriel, thanks for this valuable input. I have a lot of respect for Pichest who was my most influential teacher for Thai Massage. And I know that you are doing great work with yoga and massage. I was just watching one of your videos yesterday:)

  • Nice detailed article and good comments. Can’t add much, you’ve said so much, Shama. But it’s easy to see the difference between someone doing Thai Massage who has a Hatha Yoga background versus someone who doesn’t. The body mechanics are just not nearly as good. I have a much harder time teaching Thai Massage to people who have only or mostly Massage therapist experience, versus teaching those with a Yoga practice. Mindfulness, using the breath while practicing and the 4 attitudes (compassion, loving-kindness, joy for others’ happiness and equanimity) also seem to come much easier to those with Yoga experience.

    • I know what you mean, Deon. For a number of years I used to teach Thai Massage classes to students who had just completed a 4 month yoga teacher training. It was so easy to get them to understand the concepts properly.

      In contrast when I taught non-yogi massage therapists, it was sometimes very difficult to untrain them from unhealthy habits like muscling people and to get them to use their breath.

      Since Thai Massage is essentially a yogic system, it does not make much sense to use it without regards to yogic principles.

      Thanks for your contributions. I always appreciate them very much. I like your work and your energy, and your input does add of lot of value to my site.

  • Very nice article and so true. One can only benefit from Thai Massage and rely on the sessions to improve or to perpetuate one’s health if you can combine them with Yoga tradition training. As a yoga practitioner it is easy to understand the principles applied in Thai Massage and consequently be more effective.

    As you said, for one who is interested to discover and to awaken the inner self, Yoga is a good path to accomplish this. I have been doing Yoga for 18 years. For me it is like a life style which totally changes my perspective to look at life and the inner achievements which give meaning to my life and have solved so many questions for me.

    In my approach to the Thai Massage system now I find it so practical and easy to understand and practice, it is like a DejaVu. Having a level of achievement in the yoga system is a big advantage in order to practice the Thai massage positions correctly, especially if you have a great instructor like Shama to guide you through it. I am glad that I found him. It’s like that great saying “if the student is ready the master will appear.”

    • Thank you so much for your vote of confidence in me. I am so happy when I can help my students make real progress with my video courses, and you are obviously doing that. You are right, yoga practitioners have a real advantage when it comes to learning and understanding Thai Massage.

  • Guido

    Great essay, Shama, thank you! As practicioner of buddhist meditation and as a yoga instructor I always love the combination of metta and mindfulness, a daily routine according to ayurvedic priciples and a daily yoga practice. They really affect each other in a great way!

    Some years ago I started giving massages (mostly swedish style, but also Dorn/Breuss)inside the family circle, to friends and meanwhile the word is spreading…the feedback of those who received my massages was very positive so I continued looking for further inspiration, techniques in order to hone my skills and knowledge and to become somewhat “a healer”. Not in some spacy esoteric way, but something solid and serious, working with people and maybe show them also things they could include easily in their daily lives in order to make them feel a bit better, healthier, happier. It may sound strange, but in everything I did, meditation, yoga, massage, ayurveda etc. my wish has always been to create space for healing, let there be healing, some integral and complete state of health.
    And last year I dicovered thai massage!!! I felt as if I had found the missing piece to complete a puzzle.
    Now there is one element which helps me to get a deeper understanding and connection in my own yoga practice (I am trying to get at least one thai massage a month). Thai massage increases also the physical and mental “fitness” I need when I am giving yoga lessons or massage sessions. It also helps me to deal with pain (mine or other’s) and it gives me also an enormous toolbox which offers lots of remedies to people’s daily problems (like yoga does , too). I have started taking some hands-on courses (in Berlin, Germany) in order to learn the basics, but I have also found a lot of inspiration on your website, in your videos etc. I am sure that I will also use your ample experience in the field of thai massage in the future!!!

    Now I would like to come to the bottom line: The question “Yoga or Thai Massage?” According to my opinion there cannot be found a “versus” here! They offer both great opportunities when it comes to healing, health or just feeling good. But as a combination they are even greater!!!

    Sorry for my non native speaker English and a maybe sometimes chaotic writing style. Hope that my point of view and my experiences in this matter could have been useful and/or interesting for someone. :-)

    Greetings and namasté to all of you!!!

    • Well, I would have never known that you are not a native English speaker. Where are you from, by the way – Germany?
      Thanks for your in depth post and for sharing your experience with Thai Massage and yoga. You are correct – there really is no “versus”. The two systems are close family members, so to say, and as you say, a perfect combination.

      I am glad that you are finding inspiration on my site – that’s what I try to provide. Great to meet you here!

  • Really great article and comparison. I’m a massage therapist myself and many clients often ask about yoga and the difference between a Thai massage and Thai yoga. It’s great that you’ve found a happy medium between the two, it’s definitely something I would like to explore.

    I feature a Thai massage video on my website… I’d love it if you took a look and left some feedback. There are some short YouTube clips too. Let me know what you think! :)

  • Hi Jackie, I watched your YouTube clips, nice! Also your site has a good clean look to it. I hope that your DVD will be a success – I imagine that the content is very good.

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