History of Thai Massage

An ancient art with a long history of therapeutic healing.

Ayutthaya, Thailand's old capital cityThai massage has roots in Indian and Chinese medicine and Buddhism. It is believed to have begun in Northern India by a Doctor called Jivaka Kumar Bhaccha (also known as Shivago Kommarabacca), a contemporary of the Buddha.

Energy flows throughout the body through the invisible channels of the sen lines. The idea of energy channels is common throughout Asia; traditional Chinese medicine works with Qi and Meridian channels and Indian Ayuvedic medicine with prana. There are lots of similarities. Centuries of experience have shown that bodywork along the energy lines can be beneficial to health and well-being.

The teaching of Thai massage has mostly been an oral tradition. Historical texts are very rare. Many sacred texts were destroyed during the Burmese invasion of the old capital, Ayutthaya, in 1767. The lack of recorded instruction may also be in part due to the nature of massage being a form of experiential learning.

The decline of Thai medicine

  • Late 19th century: the use of traditional Thai medicine reduced significantly.
  • 1888: the first western hospital opened in Thailand where traditional Thai medicine was taught alongside western approaches.
  • 1916: Thai medicine stopped being taught altogether due to the conflict with scientific methods of the west.
  • 1936: Thai medicine practitioners then needed a license following the ‘Control of the Practice of the Art of Healing Act’, which further impacted on the availability of traditional healing.

The renewal of Thai medicine

  • 1978: the World Health Organisation sparked a change in attitudes towards non-western medicine so that support and training for Thai medicine began to increase.

Thai massage has since become recognised and valued as an alternative, complementary therapy internationally and in Thailand there has been significant growth recently.

  • 1990: “The Art of Traditional Thai Massage” (the first publication on Thai massage in any language other than Thai) was published by Asokananda (Harald Brust) in Bangkok. Asokananda also founded The Sunshine Network, with partners in New Zealand, Thailand, India, Austria, Croatia, England, Germany, Greece, Italy, Japan, Spain, and Switzerland dedicated to the combined teaching and practice of Thai massage, Yoga, Tai Chi Chuan and meditation.

Asokananda, a native German, was arguably the leading western teacher of traditional Thai yoga massage. He researched and taught Thai massage, yoga and vipassana meditation for more than 15 years. He personally trained and authorised some of the most established teachers of Thai massage in the West. Asokananda passed away on the 24th June 2005 after a sudden illness. The Sunshine Network teachers carry on the dedication that Asokananda devoted to Thai massage.