Thai Massage Style and Lineages in Thailand

Published: Apr 3, 2018 | Updated: Sep 6, 2022

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Thai Massage Styles and Lineages in Thailand

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Today, it seems that every Thai Massage practitioner, school, or teacher can create his or her own style of Thai Massage. That may be considered a harmless phenomenon, but for (prospective) students it makes it harder to understand what exactly is meant by “Traditional Thai Massage.”

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Yet, things are what they are, and maybe Thai Massage is just this perfect candidate to “further develop and explore,” perhaps simply because it has this extremely rich toolbox of techniques and a sheer endless repertoire of approaches.

Anyway, I’m certainly not for or against “new styles,” for I realize that Traditional Thai Massage is an integration of healing techniques anyhow and its lineage is formed by rather untraceable historical influences. Yet, it triggered me to dive a little bit deeper and try to get to the surface traditional and contemporary developments.

Before I start off, I’d like to say that I in no way claim to be complete in the summary given below. This article is just to give you the idea of “what goes around,” as it were.

Traditional Thai Massage Styles

Northern style and Southern style

Now, first of all, there’s said that there are two main streams of Thai Massage in Thailand: Northern style and Southern style. But I think it’s good to remark here that nowadays you’ll find so-called Northern Style in the south of Thailand and vice versa. It’s not uncommon that schools teach both styles or some kind of mix.

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It’s generally thought that Northern Style Thai Massage incorporates more stretches and “range of motion” exercises, also being performed slower than Southern style, which supposedly would incorporate more Sen Energy Line work using acupressure, while also following a faster pace.

Yet, usually what is now referred to as Northern Style was basically “designed” by Ajarn Sinthorn Chaichakan in the 1960s, who’s also the founder of the Old Medicine Hospital in Chiang Mai.

The official curriculum of the school (the official name is Thai Massage School Shivagakomarpaj & Old Medicine Hospital) is a blend of Southern Style Thai Massage and Northern Hill Tribe and Lanna Kingdom Folk Healing methods and techniques.

Royal Style and Rural Style Thai Massage

Then there’s the distinction between Royal Style and Rural Style Thai Massage.

The Royal Style (or Rajasamnak Style) was/is practiced at the royal courts or for highly placed officials, a style where the practitioner would be on the knees always, keeping an arm length distance, never crosses the body of the receiver (which is considered impolite), and uses the thumbs only. Stretching is seen as not-done, also being considered impolite. Today, in Thailand, it’s most often positioned as Therapeutic Thai Massage or Thai Massage for Health.

Rural Style or Folk Style (Chalosiak style) is much more “liberal” and the therapist may use thumbs, palms, arms, knees, feet, elbows, in fact any part of the body that can be useful giving pressure or acupressure. The practitioner often works very close to the body of the receiver, and stretches and lifts are an integral part of the treatment. Rural style is mostly associated with Northern Style Thai Massage.

Thai Massage Style Variations

Then we have the differences in “hard” style and “soft” style, and all that lies in between. Furthermore, there are practitioners focusing more on so-called “energy work” other more on “down-to-earth” muscle-work.

Other practitioner use oils, lotions, and creams, although common consensus is that traditionally Thai Massage was done without topical “gliders.” On the other hand, the use of herbal compress packs working on the Sen Energy Lines or used to treat certain symptoms or conditions, seem to have been a Thai traditional way of treatment, in any case a Lanna practice.

Jap Sen or Nerve Touch Thai Massage

Jap Sen or Nerve Touch is a style that gained popularity through the works of the late Mama Lek Chaiya, the founder of the Nerve Touch School in Chiang Mai. Jap Sen or “plucking or grabbing the Sen Energy Lines” is a technique where muscles and nerves are “rolled over,” but honestly, it’s hard to explain in words only. This technique is best to be seen and felt to understand thoroughly.

New and Hybrid Thai Massage Styles

Since about 30 years we see quite some “new” Thai Massage hybrids and styles emerging. I’ll just list some of them here below (in alphabetical order and without any further detailing), and I’m positive I’ve probably missed out on quite some of the “new kids on the block.”

Note: Please take caution before using the names (or brands) commercially, because some of the modalities mentioned below are trademarked.


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