Thai massage is a traditional form of massage that has been practiced in Thailand for centuries. It is a unique blend of massage techniques, combining elements of Swedish massage, deep tissue massage, and reflexology. The main difference between Thai massage and other forms of massage is the use of the thumbs or palms of the hands to apply the treatment, which is mainly based on acupressure. To better understand the real Thai massage style, we must contrast it with the so-called rural style or Thai chalosiak massage style, also called popular, common or commoner style (Nuad Chaloeyseuk).
This type of massage is quite “liberal” in its application and the Thai masseur can use their thumbs, palms, arms, knees, feet, elbows, or any other part of their body to exert pressure or acupressure. It is a very intimate way of performing massages and the practitioner usually works very close to the recipient's body. Yoga-like stretches and postures are also an integral part of the treatment. The rural style is mainly associated with Nordic-style Thai massage, that is, Royal Style. This type of Thai massage was and still is practiced in Thai royal courts for the aristocracy, ruling class, VIPs or high-ranking officials.
It is a style in which the practitioner strictly adheres to certain rules of non-intimacy, respect, courtesy and treatment protocols. It is often associated with Southern-style Thai massage, i.e., Bangkok Style, which is considered therapeutic and quite fast and intense. In the traditional way of “performing” Thai massage in the royal style, the therapist would enter the treatment room crawling on their knees with their face tilted and not looking at the receiver who was already lying on the mat. Before starting treatment, they would pay their respects to the patient and ask for permission to perform the massage. They would then check the pulse rate by placing their fingers on the arteries of the recipient's wrist and check the pressure of the air element (wind) in their body.
Both the recipient and therapist must be fully clothed during this type of massage. As for techniques applied during a Royal Style Thai massage session, the therapist always remains on their knees while keeping a distance from the receiver (about 35 cm to 50 cm). They never cross over the recipient's body or breathe on them (which is considered extremely rude). Only thumbs, fingers and palms are used to press acupressure points. There are no joint mobilizations or manipulations and arms must always be straight when applying pressure.
Stretches performed on the patient are out of the question as they are also considered rude. There are rules for both amount of pressure to be administered (divided into several classes) and duration of pressure (short or long) which is associated with the therapist's breathing. The recipient will only receive this type of massage sitting up, lying on their back or side but never lying down with their face down. In general, either all or part of their body will be treated depending on what type of treatment they receive. Unless you're a member of royalty or a VIP, it's unlikely that you'll be able to receive a real full royal-style treatment in Thailand. However, you can still receive a massage that complies with Royal Style protocols at traditional Thai hospitals or clinics rather than your typical Thai spa or beauty salon. In contrast, training courses in Thailand that cover Royal Style Thai massage are easily accessible throughout the country.
Some courses will cover 372 or 800 hour study plans while others may only last one or two weeks focusing more on how to give a real-style massage and teach you a simple full-body treatment routine. These types of courses do not necessarily teach in-depth therapy protocols and procedures that cover treatments for a wide range of ailments or illnesses. In Thailand this massage style is also called Royal Massage, Royal Style, Court Style, Rajasamnak Style or Nuad Rajchasumnak.