What Should I Look for in a Thai Massage Instructor, Teacher or School?, MASSAGE MagazineIn my prior articles, several aspects of traditional Thai massage, Thai medicine and the Thai healing arts were explored. We explored how traditional Thai massage is part of a traditional model of health care in Thailand and the cultural influences that helped shape the practice of Thai healing arts over the last several centuries.

In this article, I will provide guidance to help you research then select a reputable school or institution in which to study Thai healing arts either in your home country or in Thailand. I will also provide you with the cultural understanding and protocols to follow when planning to study at a traditional Thai school.

Thailand has countless schools teaching traditional Thai massage. No matter which city you visit, you will find several businesses set up to teach students. Selecting a reputable school is vastly important to the final outcome of what you’ll achieve in terms of your education and success as a practitioner. There are two primary schools teaching Thai massage with the longest history: WATPO Thai Traditional Medical School in Bangkok and OMH Thai Massage School Shivagakomarpaj (old medicine hospital) in Chiang Mai.

Both schools have a long history of teaching class (more than 50 years) and are well known throughout the country and internationally. When studying in Thailand, its best to allow yourself several weeks, if not months, to settle in to absorb the teachings of the Thai people, or perhaps you could spread this time out over multiple trips.

Students looking to understand the traditional Thai medical arts will want to ensure their education is thorough and in-depth. It can be tough to decide where to study; there is such disparate information on the Internet and through other sources. The following information will help provide you with guidance on finding a qualified Thai massage instructor, teacher or school. I’ve also provided a set of questions you might want to ask a prospective school before beginning your study.

Q: Do you teach yoga, Ayurveda, Chinese medicine, reiki or any other modalities as part of your Thai massage classes? Is a traditional Thai medicine doctor actively involved in your curriculum?

Indian and Chinese influence has helped shape certain areas of Thailand’s medical practices; however, Thai medicine and Thai massage are part of a complex traditional medical system unique only to Thailand. For a student to fully understand Thailand’s healing arts, it’s imperative teachers offer students a learning experience steeped only in Thailand’s knowledge. Mixing ideas from other cultures or disciplines will only serve to complicate the learning process and confuse the student.

Students should seek teachers and institutions that are teaching only Thai knowledge. If the curriculum is based in Ayurveda, Chinese medicine and/or yoga, the teacher will lack the understanding of Thai teachings and the student will leave without a full appreciation for how the techniques they’ve learned are practiced within the Thai medical system. In this case, the healing practices will have been watered down and are less effective.

In Thailand, it is required that all Thai massage training programs are taught under the direction of a traditional Thai medicine doctor. The school you choose—whether in Thailand or the West—should adhere to this important standard. Ensure the school you choose has a traditional Thai medicine doctor on staff or actively involved in the curriculum.

Q: Have you traveled to Thailand? If so, how long did you stay? Do you travel there regularly?

Thai massage and Thai medicine are part of a cultural fabric that is so interwoven, it’s important to have exposure to Thai culture at the same time as you learn the bodywork techniques. A knowledgeable instructor will possess the ability to transmit both technical and cultural knowledge, so the student will have the fullest learning experience. All competent and qualified instructors should have spent several years in Thailand surrounded by Thai cultural experiences. Regular visits to Thailand are important to maintain the teachers’ connections to Thailand. This translates into a deeper understanding of the healing practices they plan to teach.

The most dedicated teachers will maintain a close relationship with their local Thai community. Thai massage knowledge has been shared with us by Thai people, and staying connected in this way is important. Staying connected to the cultural heritage and indigenous practices of Thailand helps the Thai community, and it exhibits a teacher’s sense of appreciation to the Thai people for the knowledge they have acquired. Charitable giving and community building are also important ways a teacher can maintain his cultural connection and make a difference in the community of Thai people. How closely your future teacher is to the Thai community matters to your education; it’s a sign of their dedication.

Q: What is the seat of your lineage?

Traditional Thai instructors represent a specific lineage, historically tracing their knowledge back for centuries. A lineage represents knowledge cultivated and developed by countless masters. It’s the connection to the past in the traditional healing arts.

The proper transmission of knowledge in traditional Thai massage and Thai medicine requires a teacher to belong to and possess the proper blessings from their lineage such that they are fully prepared to pass on knowledge to students. A Thai teacher’s lineage is respected daily through a regular wai khru ceremony and annually through an enormous celebration of wai khru.

Q: Do you perform a daily wai khru? Do you attend an annual wai khru?

A teacher should introduce students to a wai khru (pronounced “why crew,” meaning “respect for the teacher”). This practice is performed by Thai massage clinics, schools and hospitals all throughout Thailand and even by individual healers in local villages. It’s so integral to the practice of Thai healing arts, anyone doing anything with healing will perform a regular wai khru.

A wai khru allows the Thai healer to pause in the morning to gather his thoughts and prepare for a day of healing while honoring his teachers and the founder of Thai medicine, Jivaka Komarbhacca. Ask the schools you research what items to prepare for the wai khru.

While practitioners and facilities involved in healing practices conduct regular, daily wai khrus, each major lineage will also host an annual wai khru. These are formal opportunities to bring the entire lineage together while honoring the past traditional teachers of the lineage. Students and instructors will assemble for this enormous event. For an instructor to maintain her status as a teacher in an established lineage, she must attend this event every year.

Q: Can you send me a scanned copy of your teacher training certificate detailing your training?

A teacher with the utmost training and experience should have completed an extensive teacher training program. Teacher training programs range from a few weeks to a few years. Unfortunately, there are people who instruct classes in the Thai healing arts that have only watched a DVD or read a book without any hands-on training.

If you are interested in finding a serious Thai healing arts teacher, look for instructors that have completed a quality teacher training program. The training should involve years of coursework, exposure to Thai culture and the teacher should have a mastery of Thai massage techniques with countless hours of bodywork experience. These are the minimum requirements you’ll want to look for with any Thai massage instructor.

Locating a fully trained teacher that meets all of the above requires extensive study, focus and dedication. Your instructor should be able to exhibit these important attributes of her background to you. Studying with instructors that aren’t focused or dedicated to what they teach can be a waste of time, effort and energy. Ensure you have a teacher that is worth your time and dedication.

David L. Roylance is the executive director of Touch of Asia in Sterling, Virginia, and the Thai Institute of Healing Arts in Arlington, Virginia. He lives in Thailand for more than three months each year. He has been living and working among the Thais in the U.S. and in Thailand since 2001. Roylance currently provides in-depth training classes and seminars. For more information, visit www.Thai-Institute.com.