Notes From My Recent Thailand Visit
These days, some of the more inventive teachers on the Thai massage circuit are actually Westerners. They are usually already accomplished bodyworkers and give themselves more freedom to invent and explore. It would be easy to take classes in Europe or in the Bay Area, the bodywork Mecca I happen to live in. Yet it is different being in the country that brought forth the form, and it keeps calling me back. A friend of mine jokingly refers to Chiang Mai as the Prague of Asia, and it is true that this dusty and at times polluted Northern city attracts healers from all backgrounds. And while unfortunately the landscape is now inhabited by a lot of over night “massage schools”, serious yogis and bodyworkers alike keep going back time and again discovering new teachers or setting up their own workshops. On my last trip to Thailand in March, I recharged myself first in Chiang Mai; eating well, wandering through the back alleys of the old town, receiving bodywork.
Then I flew to the Southern province of Surat Thani to take a nine day Thai Massage course at Khao Sok National Park. The Khao Sok rain forest is a remnant of the 160 million year old forest ecosystem that is much older and richer than the forests of the Amazon. We were on the banks of a ten square mile lake. The workshop facilitator was Ralf Marzen, and his girlfriend Lu was leading the morning yoga. The lake and the jungle surroundings, a constant presence, slowly embedding themselves in our work. Below, I am sharing some photos that hopefully convey the atmosphere of the practice.
Holistic nourishment through Bodywork
In a holistic lifestyle we take our nourishment seriously with carefully chosen foods. We consider where the food is grown, by what methods, and how it is prepared. Nourishment is not limited to food. It is the air we breathe, the way we move and exercise, rest and sleep, and last but not least: human touch. The reason I use the word “bodywork” as opposed to massage is that the latter evokes lightly rubbing oil into the body and falling asleep. There is a time and place for that, yet there is more to explore. Holistic bodywork is more than a luxury. The practitioner and client work together as partners. The body and mind work as one entity.
Bodywork is not only to be utilized when one aches, it is a preventive, energetic medicine. The issues are present in the tissues long before we start to complain about them. Often during a session we realize how stressed and tight we really are. When the tissue releases, the mind once again feels light and clear.
People often ask me which type of bodywork to choose. It really depends on the therapist. If the therapist has the right intention behind his touch and is experienced, the work will be top quality. Ideally speaking, the bodyworker is at home in his body. As a Thai massage practitioner, I find it essential to have a strong yoga practice in order to enjoy my work and flow through it like a dance. When the bodyworker feels good in his body and what he does, so does the client. I myself have an affinity for meridian based systems like Shiatsu and Thai massage, though I taste and learn from many other styles.
Holistic bodywork is a partnership. Sometimes clients think that bodywork is something I do to them. This is really a recipe for failure, leading to disappointment on the part of the client and exhaustion on the part of the practitioner. True bodywork is something we do together. While the client relaxes and lets go, he releases stored energy through breath as the bodyworker opens the bodymind. This runs completely contrary to: “Work on my body while I fall asleep.” Hopefully you will learn, or rather relearn, how to let go on a deep level of relaxation while staying at the same time hyper aware. In this trance state change and healing occur. Some people are unable or unwilling to go there, but willingness to adventure there leads to growth and healing.
In Thai massage, we start with the feet and loosen them thoroughly. The feet are overlooked by most of us, though we draw the earth’s energy up through the feet and the legs. The late Chayut Priyasit, a famous Thai master, used to work on the feet for at least a half hour before touching the rest of the body. By that time the body was already quite relaxed, and open to deeper work where needed. In Thai massage, we view the body as a whole. So even if someone complains about the shoulder, we will patiently work the entire body, loosening it up bit by bit, rather than just working the sore spot.
Bodywork is truly an essential form of nourishment. For the touch to be nourishing, it has to be nonjudgmental and focused. The intention of a good bodyworker, contrary to popular to belief, is not to heal or fix the person. It is rather to create the optimal conditions for the body to heal and repair itself. This is an important distinction. If the bodyworker tries to fix his client, he then takes on the responsibility that is truly his client’s. This will inevitably result in premature exhaustion and is the cause of many bodyworkers burning out on their work.
I have had the privilege of working with older people, sometimes up until a few days before their passing. It is amazing how touch-deprived some older people get as their friends and close family members have passed on. They just so soak up the touch. If you have an older relative, treat them to a massage!
The more the body opens up, the more the mind does the same. So look at bodywork also as a means to expand consciousness. Next time you wrestle with an important question or decision, let it go for a while. Make your body a little more flexible. Get a massage, and new thoughts and inspiration will follow.
To touch and be touched is to be part of the human race. Think of it as food for the soul. Movement and bodywork are an integral part of a holistic lifestyle. Be adventurous and participate. Its not something that’s done to you, you are there to contribute. Please report back to me on your experiences!