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The Art of Thai Massage

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By Ariela Grodner

In Thailand, Thai Massage is known as Nuad Boran, which roughly translates as “ancient massage.” While being an accurate summation, this is not perhaps as appropriate as what we call it in English. It is because of the Thai people’s devotion to this art that has led to its lineage’s preservation over the passage of the eons, and the accompanying upheavals any society experiences over a long-enough timeline. In truth, such a practice’s survival, passed from teacher to student over many generations, is nothing short of miraculous. Such an art takes on a life of its own over time, organically growing and changing with the innovations and discoveries of its practitioners, manifesting as a sort of living consciousness that invests in us for a time, before moving on with a piece of us imbibed and incorporated, a smaller facet of the whole. To realize that we are part of such a process is awe inspiring to me at times.

Originally from India, Thai Massage was brought to Thailand by Buddhist monks who used it in the monasteries to maintain health and promote longevity according to the medical precepts set forth by Jivaka Kumar (the Buddha’s personal physician) and certainly was influenced by (as well as having influenced) the purely Thai medical system. Amazingly these techniques have survived with their essential characteristics unchanged, but still wholly applicable to our lives today. We can incorporate knowledge from long ago as we pursue lives that the discipline’s founder could scarcely have imagined.

My personal initiation into this art came from a man named Kam Thye Chow, who has spent many years reintegrating Ayurvedic medicine back into Thai massage, where it decidedly belongs. The two systems’ origins are intertwined but through the migratory nature of viral knowledge they became separated long ago, and have only recently been reunited by the intensive research, exploration, and experiential archeology of some of its more able teachers and practitioners, to whom we owe an enormous debt of gratitude. Watching my students mirror my own process of discovery reminded me forcefully of the extent of that debt. Without the Ayurvedic understanding informing the practice, any hands-on adjustments lack the depth and rootedness that knowledge allows. It is well known amongst Chinese martial arts practitioners that without an understanding of the internal energy process, their art has no weight (or gong). Bruce Lee referred to this as “flowery fists and embroidery kicks.” Thai Massage without Ayurveda has this same lack. It’s yoga without meditation, good for practitioner and recipient but still incomplete.

Having reached a certain level in my own practice (and observing it now in my students) where it seemed the technique was reaching completion but still felt under-informed in some indefinable way, the sudden awareness of the underlying structure that the techniques exist to facilitate was a profound revelation to me. Being a part of that gnosis, whether experientially or as a facilitator, is a joy almost incomparable to any other, and I’ve realized that it isn’t an experience limited to this modality or even to the healing arts.

Whenever we as people can so increase the range and depth of our knowledge in any area to such a degree that our entire perspective is drastically altered, the effect is almost religious in its intensity. I find everything drawn into sharper focus, my practices and disciplines flow rather than being forced, and my love for people is more profound and palpable to me and to them. My family, friends, clients, students and even random strangers all reflect my joy and the excitement I feel in the evolution we are all integrally a part of. I wish to thank you all for your part in this great experiment, and doing your part in perpetuating and furthering the disciplines we are stewards of. We are all brothers and sisters in the lineage of healers. It is our duty and privilege to help remind and inspire each other of this truth.

May all beings be happy!

Ariela Grodner is the founder and lead instructor and practitioner at the the Bodhi Sangha School of Thai Massage. She has developed over 300 hours of curriculum and has published nine books on the subject of Thai Massage, and travels nationally and internationally sharing her love of this art.