Thai Massage or Thai Yoga Massage?

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Someone wrote me to ask what the difference was between these and I felt it’d be a good idea to write a post about it. I’m tied into this confusion myself and if you download my free Thai massage workbook you’ll notice something if you look very closely. The cover page says Thai yoga massage. The copyright page says Thai massage. So which is it? What’s the difference between those things?

In America marketing is king. If you can’t sell something then it’s far more difficult to continue sharing with the public. My understanding is thus, years ago as the first westerners were encountering Thai massage and learning it they compared it to what they’d seen before. It’s not typically table, cream and glide like Swedish massage which most consider the norm so what did it look like? Yoga. It’s done clothed on a mat and involves stretching so Thai yoga massage was born.

I’ve asked about this on the US Thai massage group before and I’ve been told the same basic story for years that then comes with heated debate about what traditional Thai massage is.  Adding another category causes even more confusion for potential clients just looking for relief.

If you were an early practitioner of Thai massage and told a westerner you did Thai massage what images rolled through the consumers head? Thai? What’s that? Frankly the images rolling through their head were asian massage and if you were lucky the word parlor didn’t roll through. Thai yoga massage as a marketing strategy worked quite well. The potential customer knew that they were clothed, being stretched and it involved something akin to stretching like in their popular yoga classes.

So what is Thai yoga massage? It’s a western creation to sell Thai massage to the budding yoga community. That has its own challenges and caveats. What’s happened recently is more and more yoga teachers were learning the work since it’s related to yoga right? It’s just a passive form of yoga correct?

What’s now happening is the yoga community is grabbing onto Thai massage that they were once calling Thai yoga massage and now they’re just calling it Thai yoga. The issue is that there’s no licensure, no rules and no regulation of yoga and teaching it. Slowly the yoga community encroaches on what I’m struggling to teach to licensed massage therapists. As much as I try what I’m selling is so different that guess who picks it up more easily? Yoga teachers. The problem has grown large enough that the largest certification organization, the Yoga Alliance, has stepped in declaring you can’t use their certification and practice anything called therapy or yoga therapy. Thai yoga therapy anyone? What a great way to avoid massage licensure and massage school.

Welcome to regulation in the U.S. If you’re not a licensed surgeon you can’t just change the name but if you’re a yoga teacher looking to skirt around massage regulation and going to a massage school it’s an easy switch. Drop the word massage from your Thai yoga massage and you can work on whoever you wish with no license.

There are still debates about the historical accuracy of these issues but in my case I’ve always been a yoga teacher and a licensed massage therapist. I’ve understood that these two traditions influenced each other but were separate entities. I use both. I teach both. I share both but with the understanding that they came from separate cultures and theoretical backgrounds.

What happens next? No idea. In TX the massage board is moving under another regulatory agency and there’s hope that there will be a crackdown on unlicensed massage practitioners. Until then, caveat emptor.

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