Thai Massage Is Not All About the Stretching

Thai massage uses acupressure to stimulate the sen, with passive stretching that opens up the body even more for additional acupressure.

Traditional Thai massage is most often associated with stretching in the Western world. Most pictures or videos demonstrating Thai massage show a practitioner performing fantastic stretches, almost like acro-yoga. And many schools and clinics advertise Thai massage as Thai Yoga Massage.

When I researched Thai massage to decide whether to leave my IT job and travel to Thailand to learn this discipline, most online Thai massage videos emphasized yoga-like stretching. So when I travelled to Thailand to study Thai massage in 2018, I fully expected to learn and receive lots of Thai massage stretching. But this was not the reality of Thai massage in Chiang Mai.

I remember how surprised my fellow students and I were by how few stretches the school taught us. Over the first five weeks of training, we learned common stretches like the Cobra, the Cross-Legged Half Stretch and the Half Moon Back Swing, but none of the acro-yoga-like fancy techniques I had seen on YouTube. Instead, the Thai massage I experienced in clinics and the Thai massage the school taught us predominantly focused on acupressure.

Being Westerners who thought we knew more than the school, about half of my class started to take courses at other schools or private training after the first two weeks of our program. I myself began taking private lessons from Mr. Nat, a respected Thai massage therapist. But as it turned out, he practiced and taught the Southern Thai massage with even less stretching.

When I returned to Canada and opened my clinic, I soon realized that while acupressure works on all clients, stretches work only according to the mobility of my clients. In Thailand, every student in my class practiced yoga or was very active, so moving them around in a stretch was always easy. But the majority of my clients are not light-bodied hyperflexible yoga practitioners. And the less mobile or flexible a client is, the less I can do anything except the most basic stretches. But acupressure always works, and it is essential for getting my clients to the next level, where we can slowly add more stretches. So despite my initial excitement to do the fantastic stretches that I used to watch, the core of my practice is acupressure.

Acupressure vs Stretching in Thai Massage

What styles of Thai massage include stretching? How did Western schools and clinics become so fixated on stretching? Is Thai massage related to yoga?

Practicing a complex Thai massage stretch at Sirius Health.
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