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  • Writer's pictureKelly Kempter

A Historical Perspective on Traditional Thai Medicine

I spent this past weekend with historian Pierce Salguero, PhD gaining a deeper understanding of the various influences on Thai massage and Thai healing modalities. Pierce Salguero is a historian specializing in Buddhism and the cross cultural exchange of medical ideas. He spent considerable time in Thailand and Southeast Asia, as a student of Thai medicine, Buddhism and culture. He was a well-respected Thai medicine practitioner and teacher. This was all before he became an academic. As such, he holds a unique position; bridging a gap between practitioner and academic. In the workshop, Pierce unpacked and examined for us each of the major influences on Thai medicine. In the past I understood Thai massage as an ancient healing modality dating back thousands of years. This weekend, I learned that is not exactly true; in fact, Thai massage was not codified until 2004 – not even 20 years ago! Thai medicine and Thai massage are living practices, re-interpreted again and again. Although there are five major influences, each practitioner/teacher includes varying ingredients from each method. One teacher may be heavily influenced by Theravada Buddhism, stressing chanting and loving kindness meditation. Another practitioner may perform exorcisms and spirit retrievals. In more recent years, many schools and teachers in Thailand are using western medical terms to convey information. Some practitioners are more focused on points and specific techniques borrowed from Chinese medicine. Many Thai herbal practitioners include herbs from the Ayurvedic cannon. The idea of winds in the body, as well as the practice of asana is borrowed from the Tantra/Yoga traditions. These are just a few examples of what we discussed this weekend. More questions were sparked in me this weekend as I engage more deeply with the historical and cultural environment where Thai massage continues to flourish.

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