Why I Plan to Only Study Thai Massage

While there are many types of massage that I could learn, I choose to make an effort to try and learn the authentic tradition

Clients often ask me if I plan to learn other types of massage to add to my skill set. The answer is no. I have no issue with massage therapists combining various massage methods in their practice, but I plan to stick with pure Thai massage for three reasons.

As an Advanced Registered Thai Therapist, I am acutely aware that I am very privileged to learn and practice Thai massage. Thai massage is one small part of Traditional Thai Medicine. Still, it is so important to Thai culture that UNESCO inscribed it on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2019. As a Westerner, I am very thankful for the honour of being taught something that is so important to Thailand, so it is my responsibility to practice Thai massage as authentically as possible.

As a Registered Instructor, teaching Thai massage without any non-Thai modifications is essential. The analogy I use is that if I am making a recipe for the first time and the recipe calls for turmeric, I want my spice rack to have pure turmeric. If I don’t know what this new recipe is supposed to taste like, I will never know if my turmeric is mixed with ginger or any other spice. Likewise, as a teacher, if a student comes to learn Thai massage, I fully intend to teach them authentic Thai massage. What they decide to do with that knowledge is their decision, but it would be a disservice to teach them a style that is not authentic.

The most important reason, however, is that Thai massage is not just one thing. There is a saying in Thailand, ‘Same same but different.’ Not only are there many modalities of Thai massage to learn, such as Herbal Compress and Tok Sen, but every school has a different style of the same thing. I have studied Traditional Thai massage at four schools in Chiang Mai and learned four different ways of doing the same Thai massage. My current style has elements from each of these schools; essentially, what works best for my body and my North American clients.

I had to study at the larger certified schools to gain my Thai Healing Alliance International credentials. But I have a list of other teachers and schools in Chiang Mai who are Traditional healers. Rather than attend a school, they offer Westerners the opportunity to join them in their clinic for on-the-job training. If and when I have a chance to return to Thailand, I plan to spend one or two months with one of these traditional healers and take my practice to the next level. I can’t wait.

Is Practicing Thai Massage Cultural Appropriation?

What are the implications of non-Thais practicing Thai massage? How can Westerners honour the tradition and make a livelihood of Thai massage? What are the ethics of cross-cultural encounters?

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