The founder of Thai massage and medicine is said to have been Shivago Komarpaj (Jīvaka Komarabhācca), who is said in the Pāli Buddhist Canon to have been the Buddha‘s physician over 2,500 years ago. In fact, the history of Thai massage is more complex than this legend of a single founder would suggest. Thai massage, like TTM more generally, is a combination of influences from Indian, Chinese, Southeast Asian cultural spheres and traditions of medicine. The art as it is practiced today is likely to be the product of a 19th century synthesis of various healing traditions from all over the kingdom. Even today, there is considerable variation from region to region across Thailand, and no single routine or theoretical framework that is universally accepted among healers.
Generally speaking, practitioners of modern Thai massage operate on the theory that the body is permeated with “lom,” or “air,” which is inhaled into the lungs and which subsequently travels throughout the body along 72,000 pathways called “sen,” or “vessels.” Typically, massage therapists manipulate a handful of major sen lines by pressing certain points along the lines. In most models, the sen originate at the navel and spread throughout the body to terminate at the orifices. A significant part of the practice of Thai massage also includes yoga-like stretches which are intended to stimulate the sen and move lom through the body via a pumping action which is connected with the patient’s breathing.
The theory of sen and lom is often translated into English as “meridians” and “energy.” While there are some superficial similarities to Chinese meridian theory, the Thai system is markedly different as the sen are unconnected from the internal organs.