There are various schools and lineages of Thai massage. “It’s like a deck of cards,” says Roylance, “and the deck is shuffled based on each Thai master’s knowledge. And it can be customized to the client’s need.” He explains some of the basic principles: “We start with the feet and work toward the head. We go from the outside of the body inward. What we do on one side, we always do on the other. We work on the sen lines, the vessels that move lom, or life energy, through the body. We work on joint mobilization and stretching.”
The numerous massage styles emerged from different regions in Thailand and are influenced by those regions’ proximity to other countries, such as India and China. For instance, the mountain people of Thailand developed a style that uses acupressure points similar to those in Traditional Chinese Medicine, says Janice Vitavec, founder of Spirit Winds School of Thai Massage & International Healing Center in Nevada City, California. The Northern Thai style, developed in the city of Chiang Mai, uses palm pressure more than deep tissue and a rhythmic flow devoid of abrupt moves, to promote a meditative state.
“Thai massage always incorporates a mantra and a spiritual aspect. That’s how the medicine comes through,” Vitavec says. Spirit Winds also offers training in a specific style developed to serve people with mobility impairment and paralysis (visit nervetouch.com for more information). “We can modify Thai massage for any level of flexibility, health or age,” she says. “That’s where more advanced training comes in.”
One traditional enhancement is the use of steamed herbal compresses placed onto painful or bruised
joints. Techniques such as back walking and having the therapist hanging from a rope allow for precise pressure variation and accessibility. “Some therapists even use orthopedic walkers to support their weight,” says Roylance.
There are also combination massages that incorporate elements of Thai and European styles. Performed on a table, these massages can be a starting point for spas in terms of training and guest comfort. However, Roylance cautions against straying too far from true technique. “Recognize that this is a healing art,” he advises. “Honor and respect it by doing it in a traditional way and don’t water it down. Guests will have a better experience when it is authentic.”