Three Essential Parts of Thai Bodywork


Robert Wootton, PhD, LMBT

Nuat Boran [noo.ut bo.rahn] is the name of an ancient bodywork practiced in Thailand.  In America it is variously called “Thai Massage”, “Thai Yoga Massage”, and “Thai Bodywork”.  The Thai people call it Nuat BoranBoran means “ancient,” in the sense of “classic,” not just “old,” and Nuat is often unfortunately translated as “massage”.  But Nuat Boran is so different from what we think of as “massage” that I prefer to call it “bodywork” or by its real name Nuat Boran.

Nuat Boran is one of the most complete forms of bodywork or healing modalities.  I like to describe it in terms of three parts or aspects: physical, energy, and spiritual plus the combination of the whole.


The physical part is done on the floor on a mat with the client fully clothed. It combines stretches with work on meridians called sen. Practitioners use their whole body in leverage and interactive work as they move and rock the client into various positions and apply rhythmic pressure up and down the meridians.

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Beside the physical movements, the complete Nuat Boran combines what we would call “energy work” on meridians which Thais call sen. Thais think of these sen as wind channels. In many ways they are similar to the meridians used in Chinese medicine and Shiatsu, but the origin of Nuat Boran goes back to ancient India in the Ayurvedic tradition rather than to Chinese tradition.

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The attitude or spirit in which Nuat Boran is done is all important, and elevates it from being a mechanical, technical treatment. This spiritual aspect which underlies or permeates true Nuat Boran developed during the centuries it was practiced in the Buddhist monasteries and temples.

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The Thais are graceful people, and their art forms are flowing.  I consider Nuat Boran an art form – a graceful, smooth-flowing interactive dance.  I noticed how the elders I was privileged to live and work with have an economy and efficiency of movement in whatever they do.  This too is at work in Nuat Boran as each movement does several things at once – more than one gets at first.  In fact, after 20 years of practice I still discover new aspects of the genius of the form.

The Whole is Greater than its Parts

As with any true art, the effect of the whole is greater than its parts.  Thus Nuat Boran always treats the entire body in all positions, never just the one place that may hurt, though of course adjustments are made in emphasis and the specific movements chosen to address the specific needs of the client.  But the full effect comes from the whole process, the whole choreography.  Americans are naturally attracted to the stretching and range of motion movements and see that as defining Thai Massage.  But to me that is only part of it.  There must also be the treatment of sen, the treatment of the whole body, and the attitude of Metta.  Then the whole is noticeably a different and more beneficial experience.

Adaptable Treatment

Treating the whole body in four positions allows one to treat the same area several times from different angles.  On the other hand, if for some reason a client is restricted and is only comfortable in one position then a whole treatment can be given in that one position.  For example, a pregnant woman can be given a whole treatment in side-lying position.  Likewise, all the treatments for sitting position can be given to someone sitting in a chair.  So once one learns the whole Nuat Boran treatment in all positions – and is also used to working through clothing – one is better able to adapt to many situations.

My courses give students enough to get started practicing Nuat Boran.  But I believe everyone can benefit from exposure to Nuat Boran whether they want to actually practice it or just take a few elements from it to enhance their own work.  Accordingly I show how the individual movements and the whole treatment can be done on a table and even applied to a chair.  I only ask that one be honest about whether one is giving a full Nuat Boran treatment or just taking some parts of it.

Nuat Boran is an inspired and inspiring form of Bodywork and I look forward to sharing it with you.