Thai massage, or Nuad Phaen Boran, which means ancient massage in Thai, has a long history through time, but most of it is unknown. It is believed that its origins lie in north India and that the founder of this art was a doctor, contemporary to Buddha, called Jivaka Kumar Bhaccha. He is mentioned in Theravada Buddhist scriptures, in Pali language, and mantras for doctor Jivaka are chanted daily in temples of Thailand. The most common prayer for the Doctor of Medicine, as he is honoured, is “Om Namo Shivago”, which means “I venerate the compassionate Jivaka, who comes to us through his saintly life.
The therapy that evolved to Thai massage probably arrived to Thailand on the same time as Buddhism and Ayurveda medicine, around the 2nd century BC. Very little is known about Thai medicine of those times, for as in India most of the teaching back then were given orally from teachers to students. Later, around the 17th century AD, medical scriptures were written in palm leaves in Pali language, which were treated with the same respect as Buddhist texts. Unfortunately, most of these old texts were destroyed, when Burmese invaded Ayutthaya, the old royal capital of Thailand.
In 1832, King Rama III used the remainders of those old texts and carved on sixty marble tablets the theory and practice of Thai massage; these stone tablets were, and still are, kept inside the Phra Chetuphon Temple in Bangkok, or Wat Pho as it is called today. These teaching were in the form of sixty human body diagrams (30 from the front and 30 from the back), showing the 10 energy lines or Sen lines, as there were perceived by the Thais. Apart of the lines, these drawings also show acupressure points, and come along with texts on how to use these lines and points. Apart of the Wat Pho Sen lines, there are 2 other main sources coming also from the 19th century AD (King Rama II and King Rama V). The lines of all the sources are similar (eg, have the same direction and same origin), but not all lines are identical in their whole path.
Even though that it seems that Sen lines have much in common with Meridians of the Traditional Chinese Medicine, they actually share more common features with Nadis of Indian Ayurveda. For example, the name of three important Ayurveda energy channels and Sen lines have the same roots (Sen Ittha, Sen Pingkhala, Sen Sumana).
Thai massage was brought to westerners by the German Harald Brust, or Asokananda. He wrote the first international book (in English) about Thai massage, which was published in 1990 in Bangkok, with the title “The Art of Traditional Thai Massage”. Asokananda traveled to Asia and was apprentice of various teachers of Thai massage, yoga, vipassana, and other spiritual practices. It was that book, that brought Thai massage to the awareness of the Western people.
To conclude this brief history of Thai massage, we should mention that Thai massage is in fact only a part of the Traditional Thai Medicine, which is historically divided in three branches, the spiritual healing, the massage treatment, and the herbal medicine. Actually, each one of the branches can be blended naturally into the other two. Apart of the spiritual part of this ancient practice, the herbal medicine plays an important role in Thailand, and herbal massage is quite common; herbal massage incorporates hot herbal compresses through a routine of Thai massage.