There is quite a lot of confusion online and among customers about the types of Traditional Thai Massage (Nuad Thai). There are a few ways to distinguish different techniques but to keep it simple we can separate Nuad Thai into two types: the ‘royal’ variety and the ‘rural’ variety.
There are loads of similarities (and different therapists have studied under different tutors so bring their own experience)
Originally the ‘royal’ variety was developed to cater to Thai royalty and aristocracy. There was in Thailand (and it remains partly today) a caste-like system in which Thais needed to categorize each other in order to gauge their social interaction. Public physical contact between Thais was somewhat frowned upon and the maximum politeness and deference was reserved for royalty. Hence the ‘royal’ variety of massage emerged, with lots of restrictions on what the therapist could and couldn’t do:
- Only thumbing and palming was used to because using other parts of the therapist’s body could have been seen as disrespectful
- Unless specified the client’s feet would be touched last, or not at all – being considered in Thai culture to be the dirtiest part of the body
- Touching of the head, unless absolutely necessary, was not allowed as the head is considered the most sacred part of the body and no one of a lower “social class” would dare touch the head of someone above them!
- At all times throughout a ‘royal’ variety massage, the masseuse remained at arms-length from the client
- The receiver would never assume the ‘prone’ position – face down – as this would have been considered inappropriate
(Historically to qualify to massage royalty a masseuse needed to be able to sit cross-legged and be able to lift themselves off the floor by the fingertips for one minute – we do not put our therapists through that torture!)
Altogether, not much of a massage we think you’ll agree! The ‘rural’ variety of massage however is much more encompassing, beneficial and enjoyable. It incorporates thumbing and palming as well as use of elbows, forearms, knees, and feet. The receiver can be in any position without too much worry about protocol (though respect is of course always required). Rural variety massage has been around the longest, is the most widely used, and is where the most advancement in technique has come about. Not only is it more functional and therapeutic, it has a much more fun and open atmosphere.
As you might have guessed, in London at Thai Kosai we don’t practice the ‘royal’ variety!