While visiting Bangkok, I had the opportunity to sit in on a class of therapists learning the ancient art of Thai massage. Anyone, including foreigners, can register for the courses, which allows travellers or massage therapists to come home with a new skill.
The most famous temple in Bangkok, called Wat Pho, has been welcoming students from around the world to its medical school since 1955, becoming the first Thai medical school to operate under the approval of the Thai Ministry of Education.
The WatPo Thai Traditional Massage School is a Thai-accredited institution whose programs are recognized by a few countries abroad. In Canada, the school is recognized by both the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork and the Natural Health Practitioners of Canada.
A Brief History of Thai Massage
There is evidence that Thai massage was practiced over 2,500 years ago, originating with the simple healing property of touch. It wasn’t until the 20th century that the technique was actually taught in a school. Before then, it was handed down from parents to their children.
The WatPo Thai Traditional Massage School is now the oldest and most well known of the schools. There are branches in Bangkok, as well as in Chiang Mai.
What is Thai Massage?
Therapists use their fingers, palms, elbows and knees to push on pressure points on the body, pull tissue away from those points, and stretch the body along the nervous and muscular systems. It is done without the use of oil. The compression initiates blood flow and encourages stimulation in the internal organs. In Thai philosophy is that there are 10 sens (meridian lines) throughout the body, and by balancing them the body can be at its optimal wellness.
Clients enter the massage sessions wearing loose fitting pyjamas and therapists put them through a series of positions, starting with the feet, while pushing on their pressure points. They then stretch their clients’ bodies in another series of positions to stimulate the blood and lymphatic systems.
Thai Massage Courses in Thailand
Travellers interested in learning Thai massage can train at any of the school’s locations. The curriculums are taught in English and generally run year round.
According to Preeda Tangtrongchitr, the Director of Watpo, half the students are local and the other half is foreign:
“In the last few years, there has been a lot of Koreans and before that Japanese. We’re now starting to see more people from the west of Asia, like India and Pakistan. In Europe it’s very popular now in Spain, Ireland, Germany. We have students from more than 125 countries, even South America.”
The introductory Thai massage course is a prerequisite for any of the advanced courses. You’ll learn about the philosophy of Thai traditional medicine and massage, posture, safety precautions and technique. This is a very basic course, but even RMTs (Registered Massage Therapists) must take it before continuing.
The Advanced Massage Course digs deeper into the Thai medical philosophy and teaches anatomy, physiology and how to diagnose before treating. This differs from North American schooling and focuses on the 10 sen lines and acupressure points along these lines.
For those with more time, there are also professional courses that run over 26 days (165 hours). As well as massage, lessons cover pharmacy, Thai medicine, and herbal massage, another traditional treatment.
More advanced courses are the Oil Massage and Aromatherapy (30 hours), Infant and Child Massage (21 hours), and the Professional Thai Massage for Health, which runs over 165 hours at the Salaya branch.
Thai Massage Training
Marlayne Robinson, RMT and Light Worker at Wings of Reconnection in Red Deer, Canada, took massage courses at WatPo in Bangkok just over 10 years ago. This is what she had to say about her experience:
“I felt honoured to take classes at WatPo… The information was taught at a fast pace, each class being five days long. Each day there were new students arriving for each teacher, to a maximum of 6 students at any one time.
“The beauty is that as we progressed through the course, each day we were able to review the basics and pick up things that had slipped past our memories. We practiced on each other and those of us who had been there the longest assisted with the ‘newbies’ to a small extent.”
Make sure to check the school’s website (above) for the most up-to-date information about classes.