Overview of Physical Therapies in Traditional Thai Medicine

Jessica Dafni
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As part of the broader Thai Medical System, which consists of five roots of knowledge, the techniques found in Thai Massage are just one component part of the root containing the physical therapies.

In treatment, the physical therapies are employed for any of the following purposes: to balance the elements; to create a state of calm; to re-align the body’s physical structures; to treat the channels; to release blockages/stagnation; to awaken the channels; to balance/move the wind; to clean the blood/lymph; to clean the tissue; and to treat the organs.

Guiding both assessment and treatment are the theories applied in the Physical Therapies: five elements; levels of the body; Sen/channels; release points; access points; wind gates; 108 Winds; khwan; and breath.

Depending on the purpose of treatment, a Thai Medicine Practitioner may utilize external therapy techniques such as kneading; point pressing; joint range of motion; stretching; rubbing; squeezing; pressing; plucking; pulling; beating; rolling; and/or vibration to treat the physical body. In the Thai Physical Therapies, each of these named techniques has a specific indication.

In addition to Massage/Bodywork and Reusi da Ton, other techniques included in the physical therapies are: bone-setting; cupping; scraping; burning (with or without herbs); bleeding (using a needle or knife, applied systemically or locally); use of liniments/balms (heating, cooling, neutral); use of herbal compresses (cold, hot, dry, wet), use of poultices (dry/wet); use of saunas (dry/wet); Tok Sen (hitting the Sen); Yam Kahng (Stepping on Hot Iron); Chet Haek (Wipe and Scrape); Jawp Khai (Rubbing and Egg); and Bpao (blowing).

While Yam Kahng, Chet Haek, Jawp Kahi and Bpao are techniques that are applied to the physical body, these therapies are actually part of the spirit medicine root of Traditional Thai Medicine. To perform these therapies, practitioners must be initiated into a medicine lineage and have knowledge of the theories applied in spirit medicine for the therapies to be effective and safe for both patient and practitioner.

Tok Sen, which consists of tapping along specific channels of the body with a wooden hammer and peg, is a physical therapy that also crosses over into spirit medicine. Practicing Tok Sen requires initiation into a medicine lineage and knowledge of specific spirit medicine practices that work in conjunction with the external aspects of the therapy.

Because the five roots form the basis of medical knowledge in the system of Traditional Thai Medicine, crossover of various therapies from one of the five roots into another is common. Though a practitioner may specialize in a particular area of medicine, such as the physical therapies, and may even further specialize within the physical therapies to mostly focus on one technique, such as scraping or Tok Sen, all traditional medicine practitioners will have some knowledge of all five roots of medicine.

This article was written with gratitude to my teachers Nephyr Jacobsen of The Naga Center, LLC and Tevijjo Yogi.

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