Every time I start a Thai massage treatment, I kneel at the feet of my client and close my eyes.
With eyes closed, I enter a state of altered consciousness—an imaginary dreamscape.
Throughout the years, I’ve had many Thai massage dreamscapes, but my favourite is the one in which I close my eyes and become a gardener. Instead of being in a treatment room, kneeling on the floor at the feet of my client, I’m in a garden, kneeling on the grass at the edge of a flower bed.
It’s usually in late fall, and my job as gardener is to clean up all the dead leaves, break off the old twigs and branches, and lovingly remove the old flower heads to prepare the flower bed for new growth.
Every time I’m about to start my work in the garden, a little girl comes up to me to ask who I am.
“I’m the gardener,” I reply.
“What are you doing here?” she asks.
“I’m here to clean the old leaves and twigs and make everything pretty again.”
If the girl is still looking at me, I add, “Go and check with your mother. She knows who I am and why I’m here.”
The girl then runs off towards the house, out of view.
In this dreamscape, I know that the little girl represents the spirit persona of my client, and all she’s doing is checking to see that I’m not there to do any harm.
Then the girl returns, which is my cue to start my massage.
As I massage my client’s feet, the little girl stands beside me, watching me tidy all the dead leaves. Then she might look at me and point towards something else in the flower bed outside my area of focus. This is my client’s spirit guiding me to work on another part of his or her body.
With eyes closed and without anatomical reference, I move from where I’m working and follow my client’s spirit. Left to right. Up and down. I’m led to different parts of the flower bed, which represent different parts of my client’s body.
Sometimes, when the little girl returns from the house, I see that she’s wearing an overcoat—a red overcoat. I know from my training in energy work that the colour red means that attention is needed in the area of the first chakra and the body areas associated with the first chakra: Pelvic girdle and legs and feet. An orange overcoat refers to the second chakra, yellow refers to the third chakra, and so on. When I work in the appropriate chakra body area, the little girl helps with further left to right and up and down direction.
Sometimes, if there are a lot of dead leaves and twigs to clear away, the little girl comes to me with a bag, into which I put the leaves and twigs. When the bag is full, she takes it away. Sometimes she comes back and sometimes she doesn’t.
When she doesn’t, it means that there’s nothing more that needs tending. My work is done. The massage is finished for that day.
During these treatments, I feel absent. I am completely absent in my mind and am only lightly present in my body— present enough to carry out the physical work of massage but nothing more. It’s like stumbling from my bedroom to the bathroom in the middle of the night when I’m still half-asleep. I’m thinking of nothing, allowing myself to be guided only by my client’s wishes, as transmitted to me through the dreamscape. I make no decisions whatsoever about which part of my client to treat and how to treat him or her. It’s the exact opposite of what most students are taught in massage schools.
Some of my colleagues rightly describe Thai massage as meditation in movement, but I’m more comfortable with the term movement in meditation.
During a time when greater and greater emphasis is being placed on anatomy and correct technique in Thai massage, its more beautiful form, a movement in meditation, in which therapist and client meet in spirit, is sadly neglected.
Thai massage is not merely massage, and should not be transposed according to the limits of other forms of massage. Thai massage is a spiritual art. Yes, good technique and correct application of the exercises are important, but this is merely form. What gives Thai massage its strength is the energy with which you fill the form. The masters in Thailand fill their form with the energies that come from prayer, meditation, channeling, shamanism, and animism. I try to follow the example of these masters by filling my massages with the energies of prayer and meditation.
This has lead me into a garden, where I no longer see myself as a massage therapist, but instead, as a gardener.
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Editorial Apprentice: Terra Borody/Editor: Jenna Penielle Lyons
Photo: elephant archives