Today there are several hundred styles of massage, including several of Thai massage. A hundred years ago, massage was not as popular and widespread in the west. Compared to today, there were very few massage styles. Many styles of massage, body work, physical therapy, yoga, and energy healing have developed in the past decades. What makes them authentic?

Let's see how these styles develop.

1. Someone is still developing an existing system and turning it into something new. For example, Swedish massage, deep tissue massage and sports massage are clearly related.

2. Someone has a good idea and comes up with a truly novel approach. An example would be Trager or Feldenkrais.

3. Someone studies various systems and combines them in a new style. An example would be Thai massage combined with elements of Shiatsu and Tui Na.

4. Someone modifies an existing system and gives it a new name. An example would be Thai massage and Thai yoga massage.

At one point all of these new systems were unknown. They were not considered authentic, and were sometimes branded as heresy, as they diverged from an established style. Over time, more and more people studied the new system, books were written about it, it became widely known and accepted, and then it became an authentic style. At this point it was protected by copyright, enshrined in stone and fixed with authentic manuals and rules.

In the next phase, things change, and if someone practices the system in a different way, that is proclaimed inauthentic and against the spirit of the wise founder of the great system. If enough people see a benefit in the new heretical style, it will eventually become their own authentic system. In this way the cycle continues.

I recently read an article written by a western massage therapist demanding that Thai massage practitioners identify whether they were practicing the northern or southern or more common style and that they were to demonstrate that they know a certain sentence taught by some Thai massage schools in Thailand.

Here in Thailand, most therapists never recite this prayer, and cannot do so if asked. And those styles are very varied. There are no fixed limits. In the northern city of Chiang Mai there are schools that teach the Bangkok style, others teach the Northern style, and some teachers have their own unique style.

Is there something to be gained from massage puritanism? Is a massage better because it has a certain label? Is there something wrong with improving or changing a massage style? In my opinion, the answer to all three questions is no. Authenticity is a useful requirement for gemstones, artwork, or antiques. Healing therapy at a higher level is a unique individual skill that challenges attempts to legislate by definitions or labels.

Some of my best Thai massage teachers had their own unique style, and that's what made them special. In the world of massage and healing therapy, labels, styles, and authenticity are good frameworks for early childhood education. But the more you stand out in the healing professions, the less there is reason to limit yourself to designations and labels. Healing is a unique and personal expression that comes not so much from technique but from one's heart, intention and passion.

I have to admit that I am biased towards the oriental approach, and my opinions are based on having lived in Asia for many years and having practiced and taught Thai massage for more than ten years. Asian therapists are far less interested in categorizing, labeling, and authenticating than their Western counterparts. I'm not sure what an "authentic" Thai massage is, but I can say a good one when I receive it,

Author's Bio: 

Some of my best Thai massage teachers had their own unique style, and that's what made them special. In the world of massage and healing therapy.