Although it’s not a secret at all, it remains fairly unknown that (Indian) Yoga consists of four classic paths: Jnana Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Karma Yoga, and Raja Yoga. In the Western hemisphere we generally focus only on “physical” Yoga: Raja Yoga, and it’s often assumed that Raja Yoga=Yoga.
To dive deeply into the differences between the various Yoga’s is a whole other subject, but what we nowadays call Asthanga Yoga, Kriya Yoga, Hatha Yoga, Pranayama Yoga, Vinyasa Yoga, Kundalini Yoga, Iyengar Yoga, Bikram Yoga, and the like, are mainly derivatives from Raja Yoga as revealed by Patanjali in his famous text “Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.”
Now, the goal of Raja Yoga is to come to a certain cultivation of the mind using meditation and through meditation achieve Liberation. Or Spiritual Enlightenment, if you prefer. But in order to be able to meditate, that is, to come in a concentrated and afterwards meditative state, an extensive range of Asanas (Yogic postures) and Pranayamas (breathing exercises) need to be practiced. (For the sake of briefness, I’ll skip what meditation is, or is supposed to be.)
Over the years, we have bundled these Asanas and Pranayamas in a variety of Yoga-styles (i.e. the Raya Yoga siblings). And these are the postures and breathing techniques we also find in Traditional Thai Massage. It’s because of this aspect that Thai Massage is also known as Thai Yoga Massage or “Passive Yoga” or “Yoga-For-Lazy-People.”
The history of Thai Massage shows its origin emerging in India. Healing methods, mental, and physical exercises spread together with Buddhism through the rest of the Asian continent and a very specific integration of “healing touch” gradually developed, ending up in it’s current form in Thailand. As to say: Thai Massage is supposed to be initially influenced and formed by Ayurvedic concepts and Yoga philosophy, and later on by various conceptual and practical contributions from healers originating from Nepal, China, Tibet, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, and of course… from Thailand.
It’s for an important part the smooth transitions into Yoga-postures which give Thai Massage its attractive gracefulness. It’s this magnificent blend of classic massage, harmonics, Yoga-poses and acupressure, executed through seamless transitions, which probably makes Thai Massage the most complete, most versatile bodywork.
But it’s of course not for the beauty of postures we use Yoga positions in Thai Massage. The philosophy is the same as in Yoga. We try to “open-up.” Open up the energy-lines (the Sen), stretching the energy lines and stretching muscles, tendons — tissue. We use Yoga Asanas to increase flexibility, increase range-of-motion, to open up tissue for improved blood-supply and thereby improved nutrition and healing quality.
The parallels with Yoga are obvious. Some of the Thai Massage Sen-lines even have the same names as the Yoga Nadis (Indian Yoga energy-lines, Prana-canals) and are described running equally as the Yoga-Nadis.
The difference with practicing Yoga is that it’s the Thai Massage practitioner who puts the receiver in Yoga-postures. And doing so we can go deeper, we help the recipient to open-up more, stretch more. The recipient doesn’t need the effort from other parts of the body to put himself of herself in a certain Asana. That’s why Thai Massage is called “Passive Yoga” or “Yoga-For-Lazy-People,” meaning no-effort, no-extra, just experience, letting go, and receive.
Receivers who are used doing Yoga confirm feeling “like-having-done-Yoga” after a Thai Yoga Massage session. But then without the effort. Yoga without sweating. Without watching the Yoga-teacher and without doing a posture right or wrong.
Thai Massage and Yoga are basically two sides of the same coin, but with Thai Massage one is able to share deeply together. Two souls mirroring each other simultaneously, exposing each other strengths and weaknesses — without judgement, without holding back. Just opening-up and starting to heal, and to make whole again.