By Adanna Foley, Mingyu Hu, and Aubrey Louder
Traditional Thai medicine is a practice that has been used for generations. Contrary to Western medicine, traditional Thai medicine makes use of mostly local remedies and local healers. Massage and herb-based healing is an important part of tying the body and soul together. There are three ways of classifying herbal remedies; those takes orally, those applied to the body, and those inhaled (Hays, 2013). Homage is payed to different guardian spirits to ensure that health follows after a healing. These guardians include Shivaga Komarpaj, the Ayurvedic practitioner who treated the Lord Buddha and is considered the father of Thai traditional medicine, Shivago and the unbroken lineage of masters who have kept the tradition alive, and Phra Mae Thorani, or “Mother Earth,” (Hays, 2013). Those who partake in traditional Thai medicine make prayers and offerings, and chant as they collect plants to use in rituals. Small altars are made to honor the guardian spirits.
Historically, traditional Thai medicine, also known as Folk medicine, was passed on by word of mouth. This is different than Royal or literate medicine which is what is practiced in schools and is regulated by the government. Folk medicine dates back as far as the third century BCE which is why it is passed orally (Hays, 2013). The tradition encompasses the idea that a balanced energy flow keeps one healthy. The energy is produced by four elements; earth, wind, fire, and water, which interact based on different portions of one’s life. When the elements are not balanced with each other one becomes ill. This can be remedied by working with a healer in a variety of ways to make all the elements be in harmony again. To achieve a balanced flow of energy through meridians in the body, massage and herbal remedies are used or applied in a holistic approach (Disayavanish, 1998).
Cupping and Scraping
Cupping is a common way to heal and purge the toxins of the body and is commonly used in traditional medicine. Cupping can help with blood circulation, muscle spasms, back pain, sciatica, arthritic and rheumatic problems by simulating the skin (Alive, 2015). Looking at the color and patterns of the marks (which usually range from bright red to dark purple) can help people know if they have good blood circulation and if there are any toxins in their body. Cupping and scraping need to be practiced correctly under a trained therapist or injury may occur (Cupping Therapy, n.d.).
There are three types of cupping: wet, dry and fire. They all work similarly by reducing the air pressure in the cups. Dry cupping uses heat to warm up the cups. Wet cupping is used after apply dry cupping. This is when a therapist will eliminate the toxic blood and fluids by perform tiny cuts on the raised areas for 3 to 5 minutes (WebMD, n.d.). The final type is fire cupping. Fire cupping is using a cotton ball soaked with alcohol and lit on fire to to decrease the air pressure within the cups (WebMD, n.d.). The decreased air pressure in the cups will cause the skin to be raised into the cup after it is applied to the skin.
The origin of Thai massage is unknown, but it may be influenced at by Chinese and Indian medicine. Thai massage is oil-free bodywork that combines massage, acupressure and stretching (Hays, 2008). Many people say this is “someone else doing yoga on you” or “doing yoga the lazy way” because the massage therapist use their hands, elbows, knees, and feet to put clients into various positions. It can last one hour or even several hours to have a full Thai massage routine. The massage therapist may do different positions on different client’s body throughout the duration of the massage (Hays, 2008).
Midwifery in Thai medicine combines a mix of natural practices, folk beliefs, and traditional rituals (Hays, 2008). Traditionally, after delivery the newborn and its mother have to stay inside a birth room for one month. This is called “Yu Fai” which means heat therapy. The mother will receive different types of massages and herbal compress called “Luuk Prakrop”. Yu Fai is mainly practiced in rural areas of Thailand, but in modern families they can choose whether or not to practice the traditional Thai midwifery (Hays, 2008).
If some of the above practices of Thai medicine seem similar, that is because Thai Traditional Medicine has received various foreign influences from the Buddhist religion, neighboring Asian countries, and even from western medicine. (Hays, 2013). There are a lot of cultures and religions that have influenced Thai traditional medicine.
Over 90% of Thai’s are Theravada Buddhists, so it makes sense that religion is going to have a big influence on all aspects of Thai culture. Many believe that traditional Thai medicine began with Shivago Komarpaj, who is believed to have been a personal friend of Buddha’s. Komarpaj is sometimes referred to as the “Father Doctor” and many Thai physicians pay homage to him and Buddha before practicing medicine. It is believed that Shivago Komarpaj taught monks yoga, Ayurveda, and other traditional medicinal practices (Lim 2011). This made Buddhists temples known as the center for healing at the time, and is why religion is such an important aspect in Thai traditional medicine.
Because of trade routes, migration, and its geographical location in the heart of Southern Asia, Thai medicine is also influenced by neighboring cultures (Hays, 2013). There are a lot of similarities between a traditional Thai massage and a traditional Chinese massage. A lot of markets in downtown Bangkok will even sell Chinese remedies along with the Thai herbs because of their similarities. Some Thai traditional medicine practices are also similar to Ayurveda, which is a system of medicine that originated in India.
Western medicine has also played a part in the history of Thai traditional medicine. As the popularity and successfulness of Western Medicine began to rise in the 1980’s, traditional medicine was actually considered dangerous in Thailand (Disayavanish 1998). Many Thais, however were displeased with the side effects and culture of western medicine. For the past 30 years, use of herbal medicine, Thai massage, and acupuncture have been promoted, and the popularity of this traditional type of medicine is rising (Disayavanish 1998).
Hays, J. (2013). TRADITIONAL THAI MEDICINE: HISTORY. HERBAL REMEDIES, DIAGNOSES, TREATMENTS. Retrieved May 11, 2017, from http://factsanddetails.com/southeast-asia/Thailand/sub5_8g/entry-3301.html
Disayavanish, C., & Disayavanish, P. (1998, December). Introduction of the treatment method of Thai traditional medicine: its validity and future perspectives. Retrieved May 11, 2017, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9895186
Lim, J. (2011, June 30). Who is Dr Shivago? Retrieved May 12, 2017, from https://artofthaimassage.com/2011/06/09/who-is-dr-shivago/
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