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What is the difference between Thai massage and acupuncture?

Thai massage and acupuncture are individual components of separate systems of medicine; one from Thailand and one from China.

Traditional Thai massage and acupuncture are forms of energy work that have existed for hundreds of years. While these disciplines are distinct modalities, they share some similarities you could best describe by the common Thai phrase ‘Same Same But Different.’

Thai massage and acupuncture are individual elements of more complex systems of medicine. Traditional Thai and Chinese medicine consists of herbal medicine, nutritional and food cures, spiritual practice and physical medicine. And traditionally, neither modality was considered the Western system of anatomy.

Both Thai massage and acupuncture are complete energy-based healing systems. For centuries, many Eastern cultures and traditions forbade the dissection of bodies until the arrival of Western medicine. So references to the human body were based on external observation.

In Thai massage, energy (lom) travels along ten pathways (sen). Likewise, energy (qi) travels along twelve major pathways (meridians), and eight additional meridians called extraordinary vessels in acupuncture. This energy powers all our physical, mental, and emotional processes. When the system works well, a person feels happy, relaxed, and pain-free. When the energy system is not balanced, a person will feel symptoms like body pain, muscle cramping and stiffness, insomnia, irritability, anxiety, constipation, or disease.

While there are many similarities between Thai sen lines and Chinese meridians, there are significant differences. In Thai medicine, sen lines all begin at the navel, travel to an external exit point like the mouth, nose or anus, then travel back to the navel. In Chinese medicine, meridians either start or end at the fingertips or toes and when qi is flowing correctly, it travels in only one direction.

Second, sen lines in Thai medicine travel along several meridians instead of working in parallel with the acupuncture system. For example, the Sen Itta starts at the navel, travels down the Kidney line of the left leg to the knee, then turns and follows the left Bladder line to the forehead, which ends by following the Du Mai to the mouth.

Third, many sen lines exist only on the left (feminine) or right (masculine) sides. So Sen Itta and Sen Pingkala are mirror images of each other, but Sen Itta is on the left side, and Sen Pingkala is on the right.

Fourth, in Thai massage and acupuncture, the practitioner harmonizes and clears imbalances in the energy system. But Thai massage practitioners use their fingers, palms, elbows, knees, and feet to correct the energetic blockages. Acupuncturists insert sterile, single-use, hair-thin pins along the meridians at various points on the body.

Regardless of these differences, Thai massage and acupuncture complement one another. And it is beneficial for a Thai massage therapist to have at least basic training in acupuncture points since so many pressure points correspond with the Chinese system.

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