Thai Institute of Healing Arts: “Little Thailand” in the USA

“Sab-bay Sat-ta Sukhitaa Hontu” – Or, “May all beings be Happy.”

These were the final words that we chanted every morning as we began our day with our morning Wai Khru at the Thai Institute of Healing Arts. “Wai Khru” means “Respect for the Teacher.” In Thailand, this morning chant or prayer is often performed daily in schools as a ritual to pay respect and homage to the student’s teachers as a method of offering gratitude for sharing their knowledge and wisdom.

This past week, I returned to the Thai Institute of Healing Arts to intern an Intermediate Thai Massage course as part of the school’s Thai Massage Teacher Training Program.  Although I have visited this eminent school for Traditional Thai medicine in the past, it has been over a year since I have attended a class. Having been nostalgic for Thailand ever since I’ve returned to the states several months ago, being in this space felt delightfully familiar. As I passed by the spirit house at the school’s entryway, the aromas of tamarind and turmeric filled my nostrils, and the faces of the Jivaka and Buddha statues appeared to humbly acknowledge my presence. The warm greetings and hugs from familiar friends of my previous classes reminded me why I keep returning to this special place, even if circumstances have kept us departed for many months.

The Thai Institute of Healing Arts was founded by David Roylance in 2003. David’s Thai massage practice began in 2003 in the humble abode of his living room in Ashburn, Virginia. Since it’s beginnings, the school has flourished to an alluring and sizable space in the Ballston neighborhood of Arlington, Virginia.

 

In this space, David has overseen thousands of students learn the art of Traditional Thai Massage and Traditional Thai Medicine. His teachers include several doctors of traditional Thai medicine, master teachers of traditional Thai massage and Thai herbal medicine, Thai folk medicine doctors, and master Thai Theravada Buddhist monks. Authentic Thai massage is steeped in Thai Buddhist teachings and traditional Thai Animist rituals. David is committed to teaching Thai massage authentically by weaving in Thai cultural rituals, the history of Thai medicine, and Buddhist practices into each lesson that he introduces in his school. He has personally visited over 150 Theravada Buddhist temples in both Thailand and the United States, and his knowledge of Buddhist rituals is intricately interlaced in all of the classes taught at the school.

David is also joined at the school by his wife, Sararut (“Sara”) Roylance.  Sara is a Senior Instructor at the Thai Institute, and is also the Director of Charitable Projects and the Director of Therapeutics at the school. She has over 3,000 hours of extensive training in traditional Thai healing, and is currently a Traditional Thai Doctoral Candidate (Mo Boran) and a Doctor of Massage (Mo Nuat) in Thailand. Her training began informally with her mother at the young age of nine in her remote home village, Udonthani. In her later teen years she continued to study Thai massage in a village outside of the northern Thai city, Chiang Mai, and included extensive study of Thai herbal medicine into her practice. She went on to study with numerous Thai masters of traditional medicine and Thai massage. Her studies have also included training in midwifery and post -natal care. The extensive contributions Sara offers in her teachings at the school give students the opportunity to have a deeply genuine Thai experience.

One of the primary goals of the institute is to honor the gift the Thai people have given to the west through their healing arts by teaching them as it is practiced traditionally in Thailand.  Many western massage modalities focus exclusively on knowledge of the physical body as a mechanical mechanism for practicing body work. Thai massage, however, is based not only on the physiology of the human body, but also on the subtle flow of energy in the body (called “lom”), and the practice of loving-kindness from the heart, known by the Thais as “metta.” Thailand is also a Theravada Buddhist country, and the philosophical and spiritual beliefs of the culture profoundly affect the practice of Thai bodywork and medicine. Additionally, the culture has many practices rooted in Animism, and students are educated about these customs as well.

So… How is a Thai massage given?

 

Traditionally, a client receives a session on a futon mat on the floor and remains fully clothed in loose, flexible clothing. Oils are not typically used, although some forms of massage include herbal compresses and herbal salves.  A Thai massage session (Nuad Phaen Boran) includes deep pressure point work, energy channel (sen line) work, massage, and deep stretches that resemble many that are practiced in yoga. The client remains relaxed and passive throughout most of the session, and the results often include a deep state of relaxation, increased flexibility and mobility in the joints and connective tissue in the body, and a heightened state of mind-body connection. If you have never tried one, I highly recommend broadening your bodywork experience to try one. For me, it is the most opening and liberating form of bodywork I’ve ever experienced.

 

 

 

 

 

Words do not provide enough credence to describe the commendable experience I had in last week’s Intermediate course. The experience is much like the Dao (a Chinese concept, yes, but it seems fitting here). It cannot be described through words, but rather, must be directly experienced. However, I will attempt to construe a briefing of the class.

Our class consisted of eighteen students, our teacher David, and a Teaching Assistant, David Nix. We were also honored to receive some teachings from Sararut in the latter portion of the course.  As an intermediate level class, the focus was placed on breaking out of the basic Thai massage routine to learn techniques with the client placed in side lying position, advanced Thai massage stretches (and they were indeed very big, opening stretches!), back walking techniques,  practitioner self care techniques known as Leusii Dat Ton (therapeutic Thai stretching), and Thai herbal compress massage (Luk Pra Kop). Students in class consisted of people from various backgrounds and professions, ranging from massage therapists and acupuncturists to those with professional corporate backgrounds who felt led to different path to study Thai massage.

 

 

Needless to say, we had a great deal of fun absorbing the knowledge David, David, and Sara shared with us. The day we practiced back-walking was an especially convivial class, in my opinion, although every moment was valuable and special. We used walkers to learn this method, which was a new practice for me. My classmate Beth was a very amenable guinea pig that day.

…And so was Jeff. I think Sandra really helped alleviate some of the knots in his back from giving Thai massages himself all day.

Oh…and remember Katie Star from our Thailand trip last June? Well, she was in the class with me as well. She even had an opportunity to practice some of her new Thai stretches on Khru David. I found her in the moment here:

Perhaps the greatest part of the class for me was having the opportunity to reconnect with my past classmates from two years ago, and also meet so many new Thai practitioners. Eighteen is a larger number than the typical Thai massages I’ve taken in the past. We only spent five days together (and very full days, I may add), but by the end of the week, I felt like I was in a room of familiar friends.

The Wai Khru and the ritualistic closing ceremony at the end with our teacher David rounded the experience to a rich and fruitful completion.

This is far from the end for me. As a Teacher Trainee, I will be revisiting the Thai Institute many times to take more internships, exams, and partake in assistant teaching. I will also be attending the school’s Thai Massage Community Gathering in August as well. I have a feeling I will be reuniting with many of those from my recent class then. I hope to see you there, too. The Thai Massage Gathering is free and open to the public, so perhaps you may join us!

Oh…and the other reason why I will never really be at an end is because I will always need more practice, and people to practice on. I didn’t think I’d be purchasing a walker already at this stage in my life, but I cannot think of a better reason (health-wise) to need one. I also never thought I’d be so excited to start using one. I plan to get many years of use out of the one I buy.

So, until next time, Saw-a-dee-kah, my friends!

For more information about the Thai Institute of Healing Arts, visit:

www.thai-institute.com

To book a Thai massage appointment with Amy (in the Rochester, New York area) visit:

www.handsthathealmassageandwellness.com

Or e-mail Amy at amywarcup@yahoo.com, or follow her on Twitter or Facebook for more blog updates

 

Warm Mineral Springs

Last month I enjoyed an indulgent experience at the significant but little-known Warm Mineral Springs in North Port, Florida. Escaping the bleakness of upstate New York is always a welcomed divergence from my regular routine, but to do so soaking beneath the sun in an 88 (F) degree natural pool of minerals felt blissful. I was fortunate to reap the benefits of these healing waters while being in the company of my friends who live on the west coast of the balmy sunshine state.

So…. before I digress too far into a detailed account of my experience, I’ll take a moment to share a little more about this exotic (though somewhat underrated) place.

What are the Warm Mineral Springs?

Essentially, Warm Mineral Spring is a 1.5-acre sinkhole, or “swimming hole” located in the gulf-coast Floridian city of North Port in Sarasota County. The body of water is formed by natural warm springs, which are believed to have surfaced more than 30,000 years ago when most of North America was covered in ice, and Florida’s climate was more similar to North Carolina’s today.  Shallow areas of the springs are about 3-4 feet deep, whereas the center of the sinkhole is about 230 feet deep. There are fifty-one essential minerals contained in the springs including potassium, sulfur, magnesium, and strontium. These minerals are more abundant in Florida’s Warm Mineral Springs than in any other spring in America.  The water in the springs is anaerobic and geothermally heated by the earth to approximately 80-90 degrees, depending on the time of year.

Some impressive archeological finds have been discovered in the springs. Fifty years ago, a diver named William Royal discovered ancient animal bones and human remains within the walls and at the bottom of the sinkhole, which were later estimated to be about 10,000 years old.

During the course of the succeeding decades, the remnants of over twenty Paleo-Indian have been discovered in the springs. A human skeleton in a fetal position was found as well, which has been estimated to be about 11,000 years old. Numerous animal skeletons, including a giant sloth, have also been discovered in the depths of the sinkhole.

During the 1960’s the property was turned into a spa by private owners of the springs. Unfortunately, several of the ancient bones and relics from the bottom of the sinkhole were stolen by scuba divers and were sold for profits. Access to the springs was unrestricted at the time. In the 1970’s access was newly restricted by the owners, and an archeologist began to work at the site to protect the ancient artifacts and greater publicize the significance of the history of the location.  In December 2010, Warm Mineral springs was purchased by Sarasota county and the city of North Port.

Historical research in the located has found evidence that the Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon (1460 – 1521 ACE) attempted to claim the Warm Mineral Springs for the Spanish because he believed to have found the “fountain of youth” here.  Ironically, the barrage of attacks he propelled on the native people to claim this eternal elixir is what eventually had cost him is life in 1521.

Unremarkable Décor at a Commemorated Spring

Okay, well…I must admit that when I arrived at the springs, I was initially a little disheartened by the mediocre, if not substandard, quality of décor at this most acclaimed sinkhole. Upon initially entering the grounds, I first encountered the signage welcoming me to the “Miracle Waters,” which was accompanied with beautiful photographs of this luxurious appearing spa. The price was a rather lofty $20 per person to enter the sulfur-laden lagoon. Being from out of state and having read about the benefits of the spring, I didn’t mind paying this. As I walked from the corridor out to the seating area surrounding the springs, however, I was surprised to see the weathered, dingy plastic chairs that were stacked high atop of one another, almost as if expecting too small of a crowd to disperse them around the circumference of the swimming hole.  The smell of sulfur was initially overwhelming.  The water looked a bit murky. Perhaps some would hesitate to slip in too quickly, if at all. I, however, could not diverge quickly enough into this cloudy vacuum of aquatic minerals.

Why, you may ask, would one want to jump into a swimming hole that emits offensive odors and has 11,000-year-old human skulls and ribs settled at its depth? For me, it is because the benefits of the springs far outweigh any of these drawbacks.

Benefits of Warm Springs

There are dozens of benefits of Warm Mineral Springs, and continued research on these healing waters continues to grow. Here, I have highlighted just a few of the medicinal benefits of soaking in a body of warm water that contains fifty-one essential minerals.

 

  1. Aids in reducing swelling and symptoms of pain and inflammation in arthritis sufferers.
  2. It increases the hydrostatic pressure in the body, which increases cell circulation and oxygenation.
  3. Improves joint mobility
  4. Bathing in thermal waters raises the metabolism, which aids digestion.
  5. Lowered blood pressure
  6. The absorption of minerals through the skin stimulates the immune system, increasing immune function and endorphins, normalizing glandular functioning.
  7. Repeated soaking in minerals has a therapeutic effect on skin diseases such as psoriasis, dermatitis, and fungal infections.
  8. The springs contain a high number of negative ions.

A taste of Europe in West Florida

Apparently, the knowledge of the benefits of Warm Mineral Springs is much greater in areas of Europe than in America. As I walked from the corridor out to the premises of the sinkhole, I was struck immediately by the overflow of languages that surrounded me, most of which sounded Eastern European. Warm Springs are widely advertised in countries such as Russia, Ukraine and Hungary. I was informed that some retirees actually move to North Port almost exclusively to bath daily in the springs. It is said that some believe in the benefits of the springs so eminently that it is worth building the latter years of their lives around it. My friend shared stories of some who have claimed to cure their debilitating arthritis, or at least alleviate the symptoms so wholly that they felt cured.

I beamed as I took in the mini subculture around me. Women in floppy sunhats and flouncy, flowered dresses chattered uproariously in extrinsic tongues.  As I stopped in the locker room to change, I paused at myself in the mirror, noting my own big straw sunhat and ruffled flowery jumper, and thought of my Hungarian grandmother. I felt right at home here. As I descended into the sulfur pool, delighting in the warm, still waters as they slowly engulfed me, I thought perhaps these Warm Springs “regulars” were indeed on to something. Every ache, trigger point, and tense area in my body slowly dissipated. It remained that way for several days afterward. Experiencing is believing. If we really are as young as we feel, perhaps that old Ponce De Leon had indeed found the secret to youth here in southwestern Florida.

So, if visiting Sarasota County happens in your future travels, I recommend that you consider visiting this little known pool of juvenescence.