Universal Touch: Thailand

Getty Images

Thai massage is used for relaxation and meditation as well as for therapeutic reasons. Paul Fowler, co-founder of Blue Lotus Thai Massage School in Chicago, remembers his early introduction to Thai massage, in which he witnessed a neighbor performing Thai massage on a man who’d just injured his knee. “He began to jump on him and sit on him and I said, ‘What is going on here?’ and the neighbor replied, ‘Oh, Thai massage. It’s good—it’s helping.’ ” Fowler added that this was a good example of how, in a Thai community, a neighbor could come over and perform the necessary stretching and pulling and compressing of muscles to help out someone else, thus creating a trusting and healing environment.

Nuad (massage) boran (ancient) is part of the traditional Thai medicine framework, but it’s a kind of a lineage of touch practice, and there’s very little written about it. “The historical legend is that the practice came from India and then the Buddhists traveled east,” Fowler explained. “Today, massage is as much a part of the culture as eating, drinking and sleeping. It is enmeshed in everyday life, at least much more than here in the States.” Fowler said.

Publically performed Thai massages are traditionally performed in an informal and friendly atmosphere, with anywhere from three to 20 practitioners who are also “giving and receiving massages, on the phone and joking with each other,” Fowler said. Clients are generally dressed in loose clothing and the practice is done on a mat on the floor.

Outside of Thai massage, the culture is very modest, without a lot of public displays of affection. “They tend to greet each other with a ‘wai’ —hands together in prayer position, and there is no touch involved.”