April 22, 2013

A Taste of Thai. ~ J.R. Epps


Photo: Colin Thalhofer

What I have learned practicing Thai Yoga Therapy.

Part of who I am now, will be carried away by the post office tomorrow—one hundred and twenty pages of thoughts, feelings and expressions. Well over one hundred and fifty hours of my life, spaced out over six months—hours that are priceless. I am sending off a package containing my Thai Yoga Therapy student certification package.

First you should have some perspective, a little background on this part of my journey.

I put considerable thought into where I wanted to take my yoga teacher training. There are several very good yoga schools in my area, one of which quite a few of my fellow teachers have attended (and I respect their education and abilities). The local schools are generally based on weekend classes with alternative week-day classes and a variety of workshops. For the most part, the courses are spread out over a year.

I also spent an exuberant amount of time searching the web for intensive yoga training schools (Costa Rica beaches…Italian wine…Colorado mountains…sooo many wonderful places for my checkbook to laugh at!).

Out of the multiple criteria I was considering, time, price and most importantly, content drove my choice. By content I mean a school that would give me the experience and tools that I would need to safely teach a yoga class but would also allow me and my students to opportunity to explore all that yoga has to offer, not just the physical practice.

After navigating the maze of opportunities, being saturated with pros and cons, I broke down…I asked for advice.

The advice that resonated best with me was “Hey, why don’t you check out the school run by the guy who wrote that book you like?” (Duh!) (Emphasis added) (Okay, not quite the original emphasis, which was more like, Duh!!).

The book is Yoga Beyond Belief – Insights to Awaken and Deepen Your Practice by Ganga White. I did enjoy the book, especially the chapter on meditation; there is a satisfaction a person feels when they read in print the validation that what they have been doing, even thou it may not be mainstream, is a valid approach. Ganga is one of the original founders of the White Lotus Foundation (WLF), located in Santa Barbra, CA and currently along with Tracey Rich, are WLF’s Yoga Retreat Directors.

Photo: Phoebe Diftler

I researched the WLF website and finally found the yoga school I wanted to attend. In the months between registering for the yoga teacher training course and actually attending classes in the mountains overlooking Santa Barbra, I spent time on the WLF’s website looking at other courses being offered. One that really caught my attention was the Thai Yoga Therapy Training.

A definition of Thai Yoga Therapy, for those of you that may not have heard of it is:

“Traditional Thai Massage is an ancient system of healing with its roots in Yoga, Ayurvedic medicine and Buddhist spiritual practice. This unique and complete system of Yoga therapy combines rhythmic massage, acupressure, gentle twisting, deep stretching and meditation. It releases tension, increases vitality and creates wholeness of mind, body and spirit in both giver and receiver. The movements and adjustments you will learn are a valuable compliment in Yoga teaching.” (WLF’s web site)

My definition is simpler: it rocks!

I am an advocate of massage as a health care tool and have for years tried to maintain a steady, monthly deep tissue massage appointment. About a year ago, my regular masseuse said she was learning a couple Thai massage techniques and asked me if I would like to try them. That was the beginning of my fascination with Thai.

The next two experiences with Thai Therapy hooked me. The first was with Phoebe Diftler (lead Thai instructor at WLF) during the yoga teacher training class. Never having had a full Thai session, I settled down on the mat to analyze the entire hour and half process.

To this day I could not tell you what happened to save my life! The only thing I still vividly remember is looking up into an electric blue sky (we were in the studio) laying on my back in the warm white sand, watching the two soles of a person’s feet descend down towards me; the older black man with a graying beard landed softly off to my right with his knees bent. He turned towards me and smiled, then started off running across the sand. I have no idea what the symbolism means to me (if you have any ideas I would love to hear them!).

So, in November of 2012 I headed back to the WLF and spent an incredible nine-day intensive under the tutelage of Phoebe, learning Thai Yoga Therapy.

Photo: Phoebe Diftler

The second experience was during the Thai training with a session given to me by one of the assistant instructors, Colin Thalhofer.

I set up a two-hour session with Colin in the middle of the training to observe how the flow is done by an experienced Thai therapist.

This time lying down on the mat in the same studio at WLF, I was determined to analyze the entire process!

About fifteen minutes into the session Colin softly told me it was over. Okay, I was slightly disappointed, but I did learn a few things; as I sat up I looked at the clock, three hours had passed! By now I was not only hooked—it was hook, line and sinker.

I cannot think of many other ways to better spend nine days then to give and get Thai Yoga Therapy. After the training is complete, 60 two-hour Thai sessions must be done in order to get a completion certificate.

And that brings us around to what I have learned practicing Thai Yoga Therapy:

1) We are meant to touch and be touched.

As a Reiki practitioner, this is not a novel concept to me. There is a healer in each one of us, some give themselves permission to heal through a systematic approach (Reiki for me) and some come by it naturally.

Although touch is not a prerequisite for healing, I believe it is a basic human function and need. I know there are people that are not comfortable touching or being touched, and I am not here to debate the nuances of human interaction, I just know that when the giver and receiver of touch are open to the concept, that there is a flow of connectedness, energy and unconditional love.

2) The bodies we inhabit are shells.

Probably the biggest concern that I had when I started down this path was how I would react with different body types and sexes. While Thai Therapy is done fully clothed (yoga attire or loose fitting), there is no getting around it that it is a personal experience. Being a fifty-one year old single male, I carried my share of baggage into this role. Raised a Texas redneck (boots, buckle, hat, pickup, shotguns, dance halls, beer and snuff—did it all), a Catholic boy in the Baptist bible belt, spending a few formative years in the Army and fighting wildland fires the majority of my career, all of which may have colored my perspective a bit.

But here is my truth, it does not matter what the packing material a soul comes in looks like.

I have had the opportunity to work with males and females, sixteen to seventy-two, flexible as a willow branch and rigid as a board. The one commonality in them all—the one thing that I see when I practice Thai with Metta (loving kindness)—is a beautiful soul.

3) Our body holds emotions.

This concept was covered in class, (yeah…I really did not buy off on it at the time).

The first time it happened to me was when I was working the energy lines on a friend’s arm and her eyes started watering. Being one of the early “on my own” massages, alarmed I thought “Sh*t! did I hurt her?”. Lucky for me she let me know she was releasing emotion, surprised her as much as me.

After that, to varying degrees, with different people, emotions surfaced at the most unexpected times.  Definitely something to think about the next time one of your familiar pains gives you a shout-out. The concept of physically holding emotion gives “Pain in the neck.” a new perspective.

4) Everybody’s story is my story. 

There are times during a Thai session when silence reins. A time to drop into meditative thought. Other times a receiver wants to talk, to share a part of their life, to verbalize something that has been rattling around in their grey matter…another form of release. For the most part a topic is talked around, touched from different sides, stretched, pulled, pushed…sometimes brought into the light, sometimes left where it is to be considered at another time.

With all the variations of tales, stories and experiences, I have always found a part of me in them. The part of me that connects with another soul, a shared emotion, experience or dream. I have found though giving Thai sessions that we are all in this journey together, struggling with same darkness and light.

5) It is better to give than receive.

Rating up there with the golden rule, and simplistic in the content of the message, for me it is an undeniable truth. I feel fortunate to have stumbled upon the opportunity to practice Thai Yoga Therapy—fortunate that Thai has opened my mind to people around me, their struggles and triumphs. One of the last things I do at the end of a session is to wish for the person in front of me…Love, Joy and Happiness.

And for those of you who have read this far, I wish for you: Love…Joy… Happiness.

To my Thai teachers:

Colin Thalhofer and Angela Kukhahn,thank you for your patience, kindness and understanding; you two will always hold a place in my heart.

Phoebe Diftler—the ability to show others a path that can lead to self awareness is a great gift, thank you for giving that to me.  Much love to you and yours!


J.R. Epps is a father, student of yoga, runner, cyclist and life traveler. He barely is able to text and does not blog, tweet or twitter (he does occasionally twitch).




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  Asst: Terri Tremblett/Kate Bartolotta

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