The theoretical foundation of Thai massage is based on the concept of invisible energy lines running through the body. The Indian origin and influence is obvious here since the background of this theory clearly lies in Yoga philosophy. Yoga philosophy states that life energy (called Prana) is absorbed with the air we breathe and with the food we eat. Along a network of energy lines, the Prana Nadis, the human being is then supplied with this vital energy. Out of these energy lines Thai massage has selected 10 mainlines on which there are especially important acupressure points. Massaging these lines and points makes it possible to treat a whole range of diseases or to relieve pain. The 10 mainlines are sufficient to conduct practical treatment for the whole body and its internal organs. Disturbances in the flow of energy result in an insufficient supply of Prana, which will in turn lead to sickness. Working on the energy lines with massage can break the blockades, stimulate the free flow of Prana, and help to restore general well-being.
The giving of massage was understood to be a physical application of Metta, the Pali (and Thai) word used in Theravada Buddhism to denote 'loving kindness' - and devoted masseurs still work in such a spirit today. A truly good masseur performs his art in a meditative mood. He starts with a Puja, a meditative prayer, to fully center himself on the work, on the healing he is about to perform. And he works with full awareness, mindfulness and concentration. There is a world of a difference between a massage performed in a meditative mood and a massage just done as a job. Only a masseur working in a meditative mood can develop an intuition for the energy flow in the body and for the Prana lines.
Contrary to Western style massage, traditional Thai massage does not primarily work with the physical body but rather with the energy body of man. The kneading of muscles, which dominates in Western style massage, is absent from Thai massage: energy points are pressed or general pressure is used instead. There is a lot of stretching involved and many exercises might well be described as 'applied Hatha Yoga' or 'applied physical Yoga'. Rather than using the term 'Thai massage', it wouldn't be a bad idea to actually call it 'Yoga massage' since that's what this art essentially is.