August 31, 2010

Want A Massage With Some Tradition? ~ Naorah Lockhart

Thai Yoga Massage: Loving kindness feels so good.

Though a 2,500 year old tradition, Thai Yoga massage is relatively new to the United States. So when I offer the practice to my clients, most of them need an explanation:

When you receive a Thai massage, you lie on a comfortable mat on the floor. You remain fully clothed and no oils are used. With my hands and feet, I massage and stretch your muscles along a pattern of energy lines  to stimulate energy flow and release tension and pain.

Since each of us has a unique constitution, sessions are customized to the different body types. One massage might use vigorous, deep pressure while another might use lighter pressure with a slower rhythm. Besides being both relaxing and energizing, the massage increases flexibility and, of course, feels wonderful.

Moving and releasing energy

But Thai massage is more than flexing and relaxing. Its founder, Jivaka Kumarbhaccha, was a contemporary of Buddha and a North Indian doctor. So the practice is closely linked to Ayurvedic medicine.

Like Yoga, Thai massage involves prana, or life energy. Prana Nadis, or Sen lines, are lines of life energy that run through our bodies. Ten such lines are especially important to our overall health and Thai massage activates the movement of energy along these ten lines through the stimulation of marma points, which are concentrations of energy along the prana nadis. Think of Marma points as the body’s circuit breakers. When marma points are blocked, energy stops flowing, which leads to illness. But when marma points are opened through Thai massage, energy flows better, which leads to health and, as many marma points fall along painful parts of the body, less pain. I have found that clients with injuries receive all the more benefit from Thai massage.

The Buddha’s massage

In addition to being a form of bodywork, Thai massage is a spiritual practice. The practice is the physical offering of metta, or loving kindness, and is closely linked with Buddhism – as Jivaka Kumarbhaccha is reported to have been the Buddha’s personal friend and physician. Attention and breath awareness are as important to the Thai massage as stretching and movement. The therapist will often begin a session by calming and centering their own mind and encouraging the client to do the same.

Jivaka Kumar: founder of Thai yoga massage

In my own practice, I take a moment to center, and then practice metta – both before and after the massage. With my eyes closed I might trace the outline of my client’s body with my mind and then imagine filling that shape with a glowing light. I might also offer them a silent wish for whole body and mind healing.

This is a sweet moment for me. I have no idea if my client knows that this is happening. The truth is, it doesn’t really matter. What matters most is that I’m entering the massage with care and attention.

By sending a healing intention and paying close attention to my client’s body and breath, I become a more effective therapist. I might notice their hip moving with more freedom on one side than the other – perhaps indicating some stagnant energy along a prana nadi. This affects how I work that line. I may also notice that they hold their breath when I work a particular part of their back or shoulder. I may not ever know the reason why someone is in pain, but by noticing these details I can tailor the session to better meet their needs.

How to choose a Thai massage therapist

Before booking a Thai massage, choose your therapist wisely. A referral from a friend is always a good place to start. However, if that is not an option, see what you can find online and maybe ask at your local Yoga studio.

Ask questions! A one-weekend or video certification is not sufficient training. Find a licensed massage therapist with at least 80 hours of training in Thai massage. It’s not essential that your therapist study in Thailand (I didn’t) or personally practice Yoga – but a practitioner’s own practice can only enhance their understanding of the technique.

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Naorah Lockhart is a licensed massage therapist, certified yoga and Pilates instructor and a blogger. Her monkeyfish site is dedicated to exploring the spirit of playful inquiry, freedom in movement and expression, graceful strength and a commitment to diving deeply into the exploration of mindfulness, bodywork, movement, and breath. She lives with her husband and their very old dog in the nation’s oldest city and teaches a weekly YogaBasics class in the Kripalu tradition. You can follow her daily meditation notes on Twitter as well as find her on Facebook.

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