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What is the difference between a Thai massage and a Swedish massage? They are different in many ways, such as in the techniques used, the philosophies, the use of oil, how clients dress, and the benefits. Knowing the differences between Thai massage and Swedish massage is essential in making a decision about which one is best for you.
In this article, we have listed all the key differences to help you make the right decision.
Dress: Swedish massage uses essential oils or lotions; therefore, clients are undressed and covered by a towel, lying face down on the massage table. There’s no need to undress for Thai massage since the oils used are not essential oils and are often not applied.
Techniques: Thai massage applies pressure onto acupuncture points to stretch and loosen muscles. Swedish massage, also called “soft massage”, mainly uses techniques that include stroking and rubbing.
Positions: A “lazy yoga massage” gets its name from the fact that during a Thai massage, clients are rocked or stretched by the masseuse in various positions. During a Swedish massage, a client usually lies on the massage table on his/her stomach.
Benefits: Thai massage is more dynamic and focuses on enhancing the energy flow. It has a bit more of a healing affect than Swedish massage, which is more focused on relaxation, mainly using long strokes and rubbing techniques to relieve stress and pain.
Thai massage, also known as “hard massage” or “lazy yoga massage”, has been taught and practiced in Thailand for thousands of years. It is based on the Eastern understanding of anatomy and physiology. The principles are based on the body’s energy paths. Thai physiology believes that disease is the result of blocked energy pathways associated with spiritual beliefs. Therefore, Thai massage is mainly aimed at improving the energy flow in your body. The better your energy flows, the better your body works.
Swedish massage, which is most commonly seen and popular in the West, often known as “classic massage”, “relaxing massage”, or “soft massage”, is based on the Western understanding of physiology and anatomy. The aim is to promote relaxation and, to some extent, heal the body.
During a Thai massage, the client may change his or her position multiple times as conducted by the masseuse. The masseuse (usually a middle-aged Thai female) will stretch or fold the client’s body into several yoga-like positions (such as the positions shown in the picture below) in order to focus better on specific areas and increase the effectiveness of the massage.
This is why Thai massage is also called “lazy yoga massage” — you don’t need to put any effort into the movement, just relax and let go of your body, and let the masseuse take control of it. The masseuse knows what she is doing, and you don’t really need to worry about being overstretched or hurt unless you step into a really low-end street massage shop where the staff either skip the part of the massage that includes position changes or they don’t do it correctly so it may be uncomfortable.
Swedish massage rarely needs any position changes. It’s like those typical stereotyped Western massages that are shown in many movies or the photo below. The client is undressed and covered by a towel. He/she lies on the massage table on his/her stomach with his/her back exposed to the masseuse. The back is the major part of the body to be worked on by the masseuse. Again, the client doesn’t need to do anything but just relax and enjoy being stroked.
A Thai massage doesn’t necessarily include the application of any essential oils or lotions, so you can stay fully, or at least partially, dressed. Often, you will be provided with a specific garment by the therapist before the session. So, if you aren’t that comfortable with massages that involve being undressed, such as a Swedish massage, a Thai massage obviously suits you better. A Thai massage can be conducted on a mat on the floor, in a room offering a good view in a spa center, or even on a park pathway where tourists can sit down on a chair and be fully dressed.
A Swedish massage has to be done in a very private room since you will be half naked, lying face down on the massage table just covered by a towel.
A massage table can be used in Thai massage but it is not essential. Most of the time, a Thai massage is given on a mat or even while the recipient is sitting in a chair. A Swedish massage has to be done on a massage table.
1. Thai massage works on your entire body! Compared to Swedish massage, Thai massage is more dynamic and invigorating. The masseuse uses every part of her body – the hands, elbows, forearms, knees, shins, and even feet – not only to stretch you but also to apply pressure on your muscles and loosen your joints. The masseuse may even walk on or sit on you if it is needed, to apply just enough pressure on certain parts of your body. As a result, your entire body is stretched, pushed, pressed, rocked, and vibrated.
2. Stretching in Thai massage involves more motions than Swedish massage. The masseuse places your body in various positions to apply pressure on various zones and trigger points of your body. This is where the “yoga position” part of massage comes from.
3. Technique for blocking the blood flow. This is only used in Thai massage and it is used on specific parts of the body, usually areas where the legs and arms meet at the torso. The masseuse will apply sustained pressure on your blood flow for about 30 seconds; then, when released, the flow of blood enhances the effect of the massage.
A real Thai massage session should last for 2 hours, although most spa centers cut this time down to 1 hour for economic reasons. Before she starts working on your body, the masseuse may say a prayer to bring you health and wellness.
Swedish massage is more relaxing compared with Thai massage. It incorporates five major techniques:
1. Stroking and gliding: These are long, sweeping strokes, which are usually used at the start and end of a massage.
2. Kneading and rolling: just like kneading dough, the masseuse kneads the muscles to release any pain and to stretch them.
3. Pounding or drumming: These are fast percussion movements, such as tapping, chopping, and pounding. They are gradually falling out of favor with clients as they are not as relaxing as the rest of the techniques.
4. Friction: Friction and the application of deep pressure to particular spots are done using the fingertips, knuckles, and the thumb.
5. Shaking or vibration.
Both Thai and Swedish massage are beneficial to a client’s overall health and well-being as they relax muscles and relieve back pain, let the body recharge, and allow the client to feel energetic. The different benefits between Thai and Swedish massage are listed below:
Thai massage involves many motions and a bit more flexibility — it’s more dynamic. The masseuse focuses on energy flow or the body’s joints to enhance the energy’s efficiency within the body, so it has more healing affects than Swedish massage.
Swedish massage, on the other hand, is more focused on relaxation, using long stroking, kneading, and rubbing techniques to put your body at ease, to release cramped or tense muscles and, to some extent, release stress and pain, leaving your body feeling recharged.
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