The instinctive act to touch, rub, or knead different parts of the body when there is pain or discomfort can probably be traced back to the beginning of human evolution. Many different kinds of mammals will rub themselves with their paws or lick wounds that hurt them. With our superior intelligence, we learned to memorize, differentiate, and systematize our ways of touching and their effects on the body. Hence, various systems of massage developed.
The earliest historical records of massage appear to be from China over 5,000 years ago during the reign of the Yellow Emperor, Huang Ti. Recommendations for massage as a means of helping the body to heal itself also appeared in the Indian book of Ayur Veda around 1,800 B.C. There are also numerous references to the benefits and uses of massage in the medical literature of many other cultures around the world. Even in the Bible there are many references to the “Laying-on-of-hands” as a method of curing sickness.
Until recently, not only in the west but in Thailand also, the popularity of massage has been marred by the general population’s puritanical attitude towards the body. Massage is now once more regarded as a legitimate method of health care because of the surge of interest in the many alternative approaches to conventional medicine, particularly in the types of body-oriented therapy.
Over time, the art of massage has been developed into many different schools. There are institutes or teaching centers in many countries around the world. The most popular are, currently, the Swedish style (which, in fact, was developed from Chinese massage by Swede named Per Henrik Ling) and the Japanese massage (Shiatsu or acupressure).
Traditional Thai massage is believed to have come from India along with the expansion of Buddhism and Indian culture into Thailand. Some scholars speculate that possibly there might have been Chinese influences on Thai culture, through trading relationships over a long period, which also played a part in the development of Thai massage. This, of course, spanned many centuries of history and during this time the art has been refined and shaped into its present system.
At present traditional Thai massage is still taught and practiced at many Buddhist temples and massage schools throughout the country. The well known temples in Bangkok area are Wat Mahataat, Wat Parinayok, Wat Sampraya, and Wat Pho.
Massage exemplifies the “Four Divine States of Mind” of Buddhist teaching: loving kindness, compassion, vicarious joy, and equanimity. These are collectively known in Thai as the “Phramwihan See”. They embody the spirit in which Thai medical services were traditionally given, as opposed to the motivating forces of commercialism which are so apparent nowadays in Thailand.