Thai medicine is split into three disciplines: religious or spiritual healing, manipulative (Thai) massage, and diet or herbal medicine. As herbs and food have a profound effect on the healing process, they are considered fundamental therapies in themselves.
Thaimassage or nuat bo’rarn is one of the oldest and most popular forms of Thai treatment offered in spas throughout Thailand and around the world. It is a traditional healing art developed by Jivaka Kumar Bhaccha or the revered ‘Father Doctor’ of Thai medicine. Thaimassage is based on the stretching techniques of Indian Ayurveda and acupressure applied in Traditional Chinese Medicine.
To the uninitiated, Thaimassage is associated with pain and discomfort, involving contortions of all sorts of unimaginable body positions while being kneaded deeply by a therapist. To the devoted, Thaimassage is a healing, physically energising and spiritual experience that aids relaxation and helps to prevent disease.
A typical massage is performed on a floor mat with both the therapist and recipient wearing loose comfortable clothing. In accordance with Buddhist philosophy, the session begins with a meditative prayer or puja (in the original Pali language), designed to help the therapist reach a meditative state that is in turn imparted to the recipient during the session. After gently squeezing the limbs to warm the body, the therapist uses his or her hands, forearms, knees and feet to apply pressure to the body’s sên or acupoints to encourage a smoother flow of energy.
While Thaimassage does not necessarily seek to relax the body, it is a dynamic physical experience that integrates body, mind and spirit. When performed in a quiet, meditative atmosphere, the technique loosens the body completely, releasing tension and thoroughly invigorating the system. Relaxation is an incidental bonus of successful massage session.
Thais fervently believe that herbal medicine is an essential part of health and wellness. They use it primarily to maintain good health rather than to treat specific diseases. Using time-tested recipes, the toxic effects of pollution and pesticides can be reduced while energy, immunity and sexuality are enhanced; the result is overall happiness and longevity.
Most of the plant-based ingredients are taken from the local fields and kitchens, and are chosen specifically for their effects on the body. For instance, turmeric is a natural antioxidant and helps to cleanse the system; ginger nourishes, moisturises and warms the body; garlic, galangal and chilli help protect the body from illness.
The ingredients can either be blended according to time-honoured recipes and consumed as a tonic, or used directly on the body as a compress or paste. The paste is spread over the body, paying extra attention to drier areas such as the elbows, knees and feet, after which the body is massaged.
In the Thai herbal bolus treatment, herbs and spices are tightly wrapped in muslin or cotton fabric, and the bolus is infused in steam. The infusion is inhaled by the patient and absorbed through the pores to calm and rebalance the system. This therapeutic hot bolus can also be used as an aid in body massage to relieve tension and stimulate circulation. Its especially popular with women who have recently given birth as the hot bolus soothes and calms the muscles while the herbal steam eases the mind.
Other Thai beauty rituals that are very popular in spas throughout the country include face and body masks made of specific herbs, flowers and fresh foods. The ingredients are blended into a paste which is then applied to the skin. Classic examples include the traditional honey-and-cucumber facial and the papaya body polish.