• Charlene Gaffney

Five Thai Massage Misconceptions and Clarification

Thai massage is a unique system of bodywork that is enjoyable to both give and receive. And, as it's popularity grows in the West, more clients are asking for it and more bodyworkers are now in search of proper training.

Whether you are new to Thai massage and searching for your first class or have already had some training there are a few things you might want to know that will help you understand this modality better.

So, here are some common misconceptions about Thai massage and some clarification that might help take some of the mystery out of this modality.

  1. It's all about stretching

  2. It's an ancient therapy practiced in Thailand for thousands of years

  3. It's only Thai massage if you are doing the authentic sequences

  4. I have to know yoga and meditation to practice Thai massage

  5. I'll be certified after one weekend of training

It's All About Stretching

This is probably the most common misconception out there about Thai massage. My theory is that it's because Thai massage stretches (like the one pictured above) are so beautiful to photograph so stretch pics are what we see the most of. And while it's true that a Thai massage session will generally include some pretty amazing stretches it also includes acupressure, passive range of motion exercises and many familiar techniques such as kneading and percussion.

It's an Ancient Therapy Practiced in Thailand for Thousands of Years

Historians may have traced the roots of Thai medicine back this long but the Thai massage sequences that are popular around the world today were developed and documented at schools in Bangkok and Chiang Mai approx. 1970 - 1990

PS : We visit both of these schools on our Thailand Study Tour!

It's Only Thai Massage if You Are Doing Authentic Sequences

A result of the commercialization and standardization of Thai massage practice in Thailand is that there are now many, many schools and teachers offering training and certification. Each teacher, school and lineage has their own unique approach to Thai massage that may or may not include sequences and, if they do, those sequences may look very similar or very different depending on who is teaching it.

We like to think of sequences as teaching tools and believe that teacher/student interaction, apprenticeship, theoretical study and PRACTICE are the most effective methods for becoming a great Thai massage practitioner. A search for authenticity really asks us to consider WHY we are doing a particular technique and to honor the Thai tradition from which it came.

I Have To Know Yoga and Meditation to Practice Thai Massage

It certainly helps to have some flexibility, stamina and a calm mind when it comes to giving Thai massage but a knowledge of yoga and meditation isn't a necessary pre-requisite to learning how to do it. You will, however, probably learn about yoga and meditation at some point during your training since they are related practices that connect with the Thai medicine tradition that Thai massage is a part of.

I'll Be Certified After One Weekend of Training

The "weekend workshop" style of continuing education is a good way to get exposed to different styles of bodywork, including Thai massage. And, if you have (or are required by your location to have) a license to touch and manipulate soft tissue then you are free to implement whatever you learn in these classes into your practice once you are sure you are doing it correctly and won't harm anyone.

The difference between saying you practice Thai massage versus calling yourself a "certified" practitioner really comes down to the meaning behind the word "certified".

When massage therapists complete a weekend workshop we get a certificate of completion as documentation of continuing education and an acknowledgement of our effort toward professional development. Receiving a certificate in this way does not necessarily indicate certification or that you have learned everything there is to know about Thai massage. If you really like Thai massage then take more classes. My recommendation would be approximately 200hrs with one or more qualified teachers as a start!

Want to understand more about certificate vs. certification check out this link on the NCBTMB website


1. My own experiences networking and receiving Thai massage throughout different regions in Thailand and S.E. Asia regularly since 2014

2. Traditional Thai Medicine, Buddhism and Ayurveda by Pierce Salguero