Renewed in New York at the AMTA: Reflecting on the 2014 Chapter Convention

Enrich, Aspire, Grow…. that was the theme of this year’s New York Chapter American Massage Therapy Association’s (AMTA) Annual Convention. Upon returning from the event, the eleven massage therapy students who accompanied me and I can attest that this year’s conference delivered all three.

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Two weeks ago I attended the AMTA-NY Chapter’s 23rd Annual Statewide Convention. Of the twenty-three conventions that the state has held, this was the ninth one that I’ve participated in. Every year my students from Finger Lakes Community College’s Therapeutic Massage and Integrated Health Care Program fundraise throughout the academic year so they have an opportunity to attend the conference, which consists of over 25 different massage therapy workshops to choose from. These workshops cover a variety of both hands-on techniques and ethical/ business practices related to the massage therapy profession. This is a great opportunity for the students to receive additional education in the field of massage therapy beyond the information and hands-on techniques that are covered within a massage program. Students work diligently throughout the academic year to raise funds to attend the conference by offering chair massages, selling hand-made wellness crafts, hosting spa nights that include giving one-hour Swedish massages, as well as other fundraising activities.AmberandNatalia

Attending the conference offers the students a chance to reap the rewards of their hard work by being able to leave town with their classmates for the three-day, three night event. While attending, they learn invaluable information about their field of study, as well as network with hundreds of experienced massage therapy professionals. “I especially enjoyed the community aspect of the conference,” shared Tim Holmes, a current sophomore in FLCC’s Massage Program who joined us at this year’s event. “I felt everyone was there to support one another and help each other to succeed.”

The AMTA-NY convention also benefits those who are already Licensed Massage Therapists (LMT’s) in New York by offering up to 24 Continuing Education Units (CEU’s), which are now required for LMT’s to keep their registration current. As a result, I had the great pleasure to connect with several of my former students from FLCC’s massage program who graduated over the past twelve years since I began teaching in the program. On the first day of the conference, I ran into Michael Durso (’11) at one of the vendor’s marketplace tables, and he shared that he is excited about the conference and already greatly enjoying himself. Here he is checking out Patrick Ingrassia’s information about his massage training programs in Costa Rica.

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This year’s conference was located at the Double Tree by Hilton Hotel in Tarrytown, NY; a quaint village located about 25 miles north of New York City in Westchester County.

Tarrytown - Photo by Anne PytlakOur group arrived that Thursday evening, and began workshops promptly at 8:00am that Friday morning, which continued throughout the weekend until Sunday afternoon.

Upon entering the convention, I conversed a bit with the AMTA-NY’s Chapter President of the past two years, Cindy Allen, and also with Pat Collins, the Convention Chairperson and Immediate Past-President. I asked them what they feel are the greatest benefits of the conference. “I think the conference is a great opportunity for massage therapists from all over the state to network,” said Cindy. “I also think we can’t discount the value of the CEUs for massage therapists, too. In just three days they can receive up to 24 CEUs.”

Pat chimed in that the conference also provides participants with very high-value educators and ‘super-star’ presenters who are very well known in the field. “As the government relations chair, this is also our member’s opportunity to cast their vote for who they want to represent New York State to the National Convention, and also who they want to represent them on the board,” shared Pat. “It also gives them an opportunity to let the state directors hear their voices and let them know what is important to them.” Pat also added that we shouldn’t forget that the AMTA-NY convention participants like to have fun, too. “The Saturday night banquet is always a great time and we have an excellent DJ. Everyone will be out dancing Saturday night.”

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Each day of the conference consisted of seven concurrent four-hour long workshops. Some of the topics covered at this year’s conference consisted of Orthopedic Massage, Craniosacral Therapy, Essential oils for massage therapists, Pediatric Massage, Massage Ethics, and body mechanics, amongst other workshops. Presenters included some acclaimed practitioners in the field, such as James Waslaski, Eric Stephenson, Tina Allen, and Kerry D’Ambrogio. The students attended several various workshops, and they raved enthusiastically about their experiences.Ariel,Amber,Anne -photo by Anne Pytlak

James Waslaski’s workshops were especially popular. “I thought James Waslaski was brilliant and creative” said program sophomore Ali Newman, who also practiced as an LMT in the state of Virginia for over fifteen years. “The way he incorporated all of his knowledge together into creating his own technique is life-altering.”

Ariel Toulson from the program’s freshman class concurred. “I loved my workshop with James Waslaski. I thought he was excellent!” Ariel shared excitedly. “Learning deep tissue and being exposed to a whole new realm of bodywork and healing to prevent surgery is amazing.” Ariel’s enthusiasm emanated from her face. Here she is with program sophomore Chelsea Morseman, waiting for one of James’s workshops to begin:

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I ran across a few other familiar faces while visiting this class, too, including a couple of our program graduates – Dawn (’08) and Amanda (’08) who were also awaiting James’s stellar presentation.DawnandAmanda

In fact, James Waslaski’s workshop was so packed that I stumbled over massage table legs and chairs about four times while attempting to take these photos…or perhaps it was due to the class beginning at 8:00am and my realization that I hadn’t had my morning coffee yet…. (I was far more composed an hour later).

Many of the students enjoyed the other presenters’ workshops as well.  Program sophomore (and soon to be graduate) Natalia Padilla was impressed with Eric Stephenson’s sensitivity to having people of different skill levels working together in his classes. “Eric Stephenson was very conscious about the students practicing in class and he was very aware,” shared Natalia. “He gave us a great deal of feedback and individual attention.” Anne Pytlak from our freshman class agreed that Eric was an excellent presenter. “My favorite workshop was the low-back pain workshop with Eric. He was really great at explaining things, and I also had the opportunity to partner with someone in the class who has over fifteen years of experience as an LMT.”

Program freshman Nikki Leigh enjoyed Eric Stephenson’s workshops as well. Here she is waiting to begin his Body Mechanics workshops:

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Other presenters were enjoyed and appreciated as well. Amber Stowell from the sophomore class attended all of the aromatherapy workshops with Marc Gian. “It was extremely educational,” shared Amber. “I took all of the aromatherapy classes, and I feel like I learned a lot and can add them into my massage practice. “

Tim Holmes attended the entire series of Craniosacral therapy workshops, and felt the teacher, Tad Wanveer, was “phenomenal.”

In addition to the workshops, another enjoyable aspect of the conference is the Vendor’s Marketplace, which is set up all along the hallway of the convention area near the workshop rooms. During class breaks, attendees have the opportunity to purchase massage products, sample items such as pain relieving gels and aromatherapy, as well as receive mini-massage treatments from vendors who are advertising their continuing education workshops and unique massage techniques. Vendors

I stopped by the Nayada Institute’s booth to receive a massage from the school’s founder, Patrick Ingrassia, with one of his self-created hot stone acu-rollers. I must admit, I enjoyed my mini-session with the acu-roller so much that I decided to purchase one. I wasn’t the only attendee to purchase one, either. Here is Patrick in the process of making a sale with another LMT attendee soon after I bought mine.Patricksellingroller

After receiving my acu-roller mini-session, I walked to the other side of the hall to receive a deeply relaxing facial massage from continuing education provider Yuri Esperson. I decided I should take full advantage of all of the opportunities the convention had to offer, after all….free samplings of massages don’t display in a runway before my eyes every day.

 

 

Once again, the final evening of the conference concluded with a buoyant evening of delicious food, generous awards and raffles, and, of course the dance.

Our group always actively participates in all of the events at the banquet. “I almost felt like I was at a wedding reception at the banquet. It was so much fun!” shared Nikki Leigh.

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Lucky program freshman Renee Bartley won a certificate for a free class during ‘Fascia Week’ at the Red Pines Training Center in Albany.  As you can see, she is very excited about her prize.

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My colleague Maria Petricola and I sat at a table with a bunch of LMT’s who graduated from FLCC’s 2008 class. Here I am enjoying the company of Sarah, Amanda, Dawn, and Leasa.

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Oh….Have I mentioned already that massage therapists love to dance and have fun? At last year’s conference, our massage students were the first ones out on the floor. This year, it seemed nearly the entire room got out on the floor at once, and our group was right in the center of it, mixed in with several of FLCC’s massage therapy alumni.GirlsontheDanceFloor - photo by Anne Pytlak

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Leasa (’08) can always be counted on to raise the heat on the dance floor.

Leasa

So…. Reflecting on this event two weeks ago, this was indeed another successful year at the AMTA-NY chapter convention. FLCC’s current massage program freshmen are already planning fundraising activities to raise funds to attend next year’s event. Renee Bartley, who will be our Massage Club president next year, urges all of her classmates and next year’s Freshmen to get involved so they can attend the conference next year. “Although I loved all of it, my favorite part of the conference is the sense of community within the massage therapy profession,” shared Renee.  “We’re all coming together from different parts of New York State and specialize in different modalities, and we are at different levels in our education. The professionals were very patient and really willing to work with us students and help up. Of course, the dance is also so much fun, too.”

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…In exactly two weeks from today, I will be departing for Thailand once again with six students and program graduates. Come back and visit often, as I’ll be introducing my fellow travelers very soon!

Happy Spring!

*A special thank you to Anne Pytlak and Aromatherapy Guild/Ian Barbour for contributing photos to this post.

A Return to Thailand

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After a very long hiatus from my blog, I return again, this time anticipating a visit to paradisiacal Southeast Asia for another trip to Thailand. As with the 2012 visit, I will have six graduates from Finger Lakes Community College’s Therapeutic Massage and Integrated Health Care Program accompanying me on this adventure. We depart in less than two months.

This past winter has been a turbulent season of brutally chilling conditions, even for those of us used to a more hyperborean region. My black winter coat ended most days with an ashen layer of smutty salt from my car. Since my last post, I’ve experienced an unexpected family death and witnessed heartbreaking grief, learned of loved ones who have been diagnosed with chronic illnesses, and watched friends endure some up -heaving life changes. I admit, the Chinese year of the Water Snake was not one I was sad to see end. But, at the dawning of this 2014 Chinese Year of the Wood Horse, I look forward to predictions of adventure and fast victories. It is said to be a great year for travel – and the more off-beat and exotic, the better.  Although there may be places more uncommonly visited than Thailand, there are few I’ve been to that are more exotic. So, the Horse Year seems a suitable one for me to pack my bags again and embark on that twenty-eight hour flight to the Eastern hemisphere.

As I reflect on these past few months, I’ve strived to lighten my heavier than usual spirits by drawing on some of the Buddhist teachings I’ve gathered from various books and journals. I enjoy exploring these teachings as a path to learning what I can attain through these sometimes more painful life experiences. Perhaps things don’t really get solved, but rather, need to fall apart to allow room for what we don’t know. We can shut down and feel resentment, or we can breathe through the trembling quality that groundlessness brings, and remember that this isn’t the end of the story. We don’t know what is possible on this adventure. We can call it good or call it bad, but in reality, we really don’t know. We can retreat from the uncertainty and become crippled by it, or we can let in room for the unknown and experience the growth that the wisdom we may gain from our experiences can bring.

Truth be told, I consider myself a terrible Buddhist, and in fact, I don’t tend to label myself in a distinct category in general. I often fervidly hang on to things I love or that bring me comfort, …my favorite dish, a bookmark someone gave me fifteen years ago, the hand-made cards given to me by my second grade classmates when I had my tonsils removed, …my favorite chair. I recall words people have spoken to me, both kind and harsh, both recently and from long ago past. They stamp on my memory as if I could push a button and instantly replay the moment. And, like many of us humans, I wish to count on things in life as a means to fulfill my hunger for security. But, when things don’t always resolve as I expect, or when I’m reminded that things as we know them today don’t last forever in the same form, it is then that some of the most basic Buddhist foundations become my teachers.Buddha quote

The first noble truth in Buddhism teaches that suffering is inevitable in the human experience if we believe that things last forever and don’t change. Perhaps the contradiction in this, in part, is that it is in our human nature to become emotionally attached to things, or else this wouldn’t be such a challenging task to accomplish. Emotions often contradict reason. Yet, we can use this as a tool to step outside of our internal chaos and remember that when it feels like the rug has been pulled out and we have nowhere to land, that life, really, is always in transition. We can make the choice, if we want, to embrace life as a friend, even when it is uncomfortable and we want to run away. Every day we can choose to either open up or to shut down. Opening up will most often invite in possibility. Buddhism holds many teachings that I feel I have the most to learn from in my life to help me, both as a means to become a better person, and also to cope with the transient nature of life more peacefully. So, no matter how unevolved, from a Buddhist standpoint, that I may be in my actions, I still consider Buddhism to be one of my greatest allies in guiding me towards transformation.

This is one of the many reasons I enjoy visiting Thailand so much. Thailand is a predominantly Buddhist culture. Nearly 95% of its people are practicing Buddhist of the Theravada sect, which is the oldest surviving branch of Buddhism.  On nearly every street in Chiang Mai, Thailand’s second oldest city, one will see ornamented yet simple Buddhist temples, called ‘wats.’  Monks stroll along the streets, or ‘sois,’ alongside pedestrians and merchants in their orange robes and sandals. The cultural attitude in Thailand is easy going and docile. One of the most commonly used phrases is ‘mai pen rai,’ which can be translated as meaning ‘no worries,’ ‘no problem,’ or ‘it’s okay.’ A deeper meaning of this phrase, however (as I’ve been told) is to let go, or let it be, and that in this way, everything will always be okay.  This saying represents so much of what being in Thailand means to me. When I’m in Thailand, I immediately feel more relaxed, I take life as it comes, and I fret about the future much less. I feel the peaceful energy of the Thai people around me. I slow down. I remember to breathe in the moment and appreciate life’s smallest of pleasures….flower offerings at temples, a smile from a stranger, or the delightful aroma of coconut and mango tingling my nostrils as I pass a fruit shake stand. I may end my day with a relaxing foot massage, or start my day with a walk to my favorite morning market for coffee and little Thai treats.  Yes…it’s been two years, but my memories of Thailand are never buried too deeply.

One of my favorite things, though, about going on these trips is witnessing others as they take in and transition to the charming and easy pace of the Thai lifestyle. Indeed, it is contagious. Over the course of the next few weeks, I will be posting here more frequently, and introduce our massage program graduates who will be accompanying me on this summer’s trip. Now that I have broken my long lapse from here, I hope you’ll come back and visit often. As I prepare for this journey East, I’ll be here writing, teaching classes, giving Thai massages, practicing yoga, and hanging out with my adorable cats, Rumi and Simone.

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Until next time,

La Gorn Kah (goodbye)

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A Taste of the Victor Yoga Studio

Warrior I

Last Friday marked the five-year anniversary for the quaint and enchanting Victor Yoga Studio, and the condensation dripping off the studio front windows displayed that it was, indeed, an invigorating celebration.

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Warrior Jill

Located in the heart of the village of Victor, New York, Victor Yoga Studio provides a respite for busy locals by offering weekly yoga classes, mediation workshops, reiki, and special events focused on health and wellness.

“I was inspired to start the studio to create a sanctuary where people could come and be comfortable without an intimidating atmosphere,” shared studio owner Mandy Ziegelmann. Mandy began the studio with fellow yoga teacher Debbie Smith five years ago, and together they aspired to build a community where people of any fitness level could walk through the door feeling secure in their own skin.

Victor Yoga Studio “The studio has grown over the years not just in population, but also in honing in more with what the community’s interests are,” Mandy shared.  “The people who come to Victor Yoga Studio love what I call ‘raw yoga.’ There are no bells, whistles, or frills….just great classes with amazingly talented and authentic instructors who love what they do.”

To accommodate the studio’s growing population over the past five years, it has expanded from two instructors that offered about eight classes a week, to ten instructors and more than twenty-four classes to choose from weekly.

VYS tree

Well, where the studio may lack in frills, it compensates in its tranquil ambience. Upon walking in the door, one is presented with warm golden and earthy hues, peace tree murals, chakra prayer flags, and quotes from Patanjali, the Buddha, and other renown Eastern philosophers and yogis. Exotically stitched pillows and wicker chairs encircle a small, but homey waiting area for yogis and visitors to convene between classes.

Friday’s anniversary celebration, titled Taste of the Victor Yoga Studio, included a 90-minute yoga class co-taught by four of the studio’s instructors, followed by delectable hors d’evours, wine, Mandy’s fruity sangria, and compelling (and sometimes amusing) conversations. As I had just concluded my fourth year teaching at the studio, I was delighted to have the opportunity to co-teach this celebration class with three other skilled and vibrant yoga teachers at the studio.

VYS teachers #3

Over 27 people attended the event.  Each inch of the humble space was occupied by mats, water bottles, and smiling yogis who were ready to stretch, flow, sweat, and celebrate.

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Mandy began class in her soothing, gentle voice with a moment to center in balasana (child’s pose) before leading us through her unique variation of sun salutations.

Mandy - opening class

After several graceful flows, the temperature in the room began to rise, the gentle yoga music picked up to a more upbeat rhythm, and the participants were getting energized.

Mandy assisting

Mandy Sun salutations

That is when Beth stepped in and asked the class, “Are you guys ready to party?” Beth followed Mandy’s Surya Namaskar with a more vigorous flow of warrior series poses and strengthening balancing poses to the funky rhythm and blues of musicians such as Blackstreet.

Beth teaching

Beth’s classes are known for being fun, upbeat, and rigorously challenging, and her section of the class offered her best sampling of her specialty. We were definitely sweating after twenty minutes of vinyasa yoga with Beth!Beth teaching #2

Humble warrior

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well, the sweat didn’t stop gushing from our temples yet, because Jill stepped in with some more energetic vinyasa series, followed by her famed abdominal series repetitions.

Jill - boat pose

If a strong core is what you are seeking, then Jill is your woman! In addition to being a yoga teacher, Jill has over fifteen years of experience as a practitioner of Pilates, and she has been teaching for over eleven years. Her expertise in core strengthening definitely shined through during her section of the class. Just as we thought we were on our last navasana (boat pose) crunch, we had another series.  – But, the physical payoffs motivated the class to persevere until she was finished.

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When I stepped up to conclude the class after Jill’s abs series, one student in the front asked, “Oh, what are you going to make us do now?” “I’m going to slow it down,” I replied, “after fifty more boat crunches.”

Well…I was kidding, of course.

Amy - Anjaneyanasa

Slow it down we did, sinking deeply into some of my favorite hip-opening poses, such as lizard and pigeon.Amy - Malasana

This is the part of class I always look forward to. Although my breathing slows down at this point and it seems the practice has moved to a place of more idleness, nothing reaches the muscle layers and connective tissue in the body more deeply than hip-openers do. It is here that I often connect emotionally to myself in the practice, too. This  when I mentally notice and feel the transformation that has just occurred in my body from an hour of practicing yoga. I felt honored to be a part of teaching this class, and especially to have the privilege to bring the practice to a close.

We ended in a peaceful savanasa (corpse pose – final relaxation). A yoga practice is never complete, after all, without savasana. The four of us traveled around the room to each yogi applying essential oils and gentle massages.

After class, we all indulged in tasty food and Mandy’s famous sangria, and lively conversation.Jill, Beth, Amy

Mandy shared with me that just as yoga is often translated as meaning to unite, that her greatest wish is to offer the Victor Yoga Studio a sense of unity and connection amongst those who visit and become part of the studio. If Friday night is a reflection of what the studio has become during the past five years, I think her wish has been granted, and so much of it is because of the love and energy she has dedicated to this lovely space.

 

Thank you, Mandy, for giving Victor this peaceful haven.

Mandy

For more information about the Victor Yoga Studio, visit: www.victoryogastudio.com

 

Connecting at the Annual Thai Massage & Medicine Gathering

Thai Gathering participants 2013

Recently, I had the pleasure to attend the Fourth Annual Traditional Thai Massage & Medicine Community Gathering and Annual Wai Khru. The event was held at the Thai Institute of Healing Arts in Arlington, Virginia on August 16th-18th, and was offered free this year to participants. The gathering allowed an opportunity for the Thai massage and traditional Thai medicine community to convene and attend workshops, roundtable discussions, and ceremonies focused on Thai culture and Thai healing arts. This past August not only marked the fourth year of this unique gathering, but also the 10th anniversary for the hosting school, Thai Institute of Healing Arts.

Thai Institute of Healing Arts offers comprehensive training in traditional Thai Massage, Thai medical theory, and Theravada Buddhism. The institute is unique in its approach to Thai massage training in that a strong emphasis is placed on learning Thai culture and the philosophy and theory that underlies the bodywork.  Additionally, the school offers a therapy center for the public to receive Thai massage treatments, and an on-line research center for students and academics of traditional Thai healing arts.

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Over one hundred practitioners, students, teachers, and enthusiast of Thai medicine and Thai massage convened on the opening day of the event. Participants arrived from various locations, including the local Washington, DC area, as well as various other locations in the United States and Canada, such as Chicago, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Tuscan, Toronto, New York City and British Columbia. Several native Thai people attended as well, including Thai teachers, practitioners, and Thai massage students.  I had the pleasure be joined at this event by former colleagues and students from my past Thai massage studies, some of whom I met in Thailand during my training at the Old Medicine Hospital and SVG Training Center in Chiang Mai.

Friday’s agenda included a morning session of Leusi Dat Ton, which is a form of Thai yoga. Sararut Roylance, a native Thai who has extensive training with Thai Yoga masters, and is also a Thai Medicine Doctoral Candidate, taught this practice every morning.  The focus of this day’s session was on poses to assist with back pain. Many of the poses we practiced resemble various yoga asanas (poses), but vary slightly in the placement of the hips, neck, and other body parts. I was surprised by the intensity I felt in some of the poses, even as a more flexible person who practices yoga regularly.

David Roylance - presentation

Following our morning Leusi Dat Ton, the Institute’s founder and Executive Director, David Roylance, gave a presentation about the meaning of the Wai Khru ceremony, explaining in detail the events that will occur at Saturday morning’s celebratory annual Wai Khru with Thai Theravada Buddhist monks. A Wai Khru ceremony (in short) is a formal Theravada Buddhist ceremony in which practitioners of Thai healing arts (as well as students of many other Thai disciplines, including Thai dancers and muay Thai kick-boxers) show appreciation and honor for their teachers. The term Wai Khru is translated as meaning “appreciation for teachers and knowledge.”  Likewise, teachers show gratitude to students by preparing and hosting the ceremony.  The acknowledgement that is expressed for teachers not only includes current teachers, but also the lineage of teachers that passed down the knowledge being taught throughout the history of the practice. Since Thailand is predominantly a Theravada Buddhist culture, the highest honor is always given, above all, to the Buddha for his teachings. Most Thai massage students and practitioners practice a condensed version of the Wai Khru ceremony twice daily; once in the morning, and once in the evening. The annual ceremony at this event, however, is a full version of the Wai Khru, which includes chanting of Pali Canon texts by visiting Theravada Buddhist Monks. Much preparation is involved in this special event, such as setting up the alter in a certain way, preparing specific colored fabrics, offerings, and placement of items both around the alter and within the space where the ceremony is being practiced. This practice is very detailed and warrants enough credence to have an exclusive blog post (for the future). David offered a very thorough presentation of this process to our group.

David Wai Khru prep

The group spent the remainder of the afternoon cutting and folding fabric to prepare the offerings, as well as setting up the alter before the monks arrived Saturday morning.

 

Wai Khru prep #2

Wai Khru prep

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wai Khru prep #3

Saturday morning began with another session of Leusi Dat Ton with Sararut (Sara). This morning was themed around poses to help alleviate leg and hip pain. I had the honor to have Sara demo one of the poses on me that morning.

Leusi Dat Ton - Amy and Sararut (photo compliments of Sarah Novotney)

….Have I mentioned yet that these poses are intense?

Following our practice with Sara, we prepared for the arrival of the Theravada monks for the Annual Wai Khru.

Wai Khru - photo compliments of Marty Traucht

Once the participants were all seated, six monks from a local Theravada temple arrived, and proceeded with chanting a Sutta from the Pali Cannon that recited the original teaching of the Buddha.

Wai Khru 2013

As I sat with my eyes closed, I absorbed this incantation, losing my awareness of time as my seated, cross -legged body seemed to momentarily disappear. I’m not sure how much time passed. In fact, my left foot completely fell asleep at the end. I tried to (unsuccessfully) subtly awaken it with a gentle tap, but it really required a hearty shake. The monk’s chanting was followed by David reciting texts as well, as the group echoed each line he spoke.

Theravada Buddhist monk - photo compliments of Marty Traucht

 

 

The ceremony concluded with each student taking a turn to honor and greet teachers David, Sara, and Steve Brown. In return, the teachers gave offerings and gifts to each student (called ‘sai sen’).Music by Khun Nae

Saturday afternoon began the workshop presentations, which included Thai Herbalism, Thai massage treatment practices for chronic pain, meditation for body workers, Thai Shamanism, a Thai language class, and business practices for Thai massage. Each event participant chose three of the two-hour workshops to partake in for the remainder of Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning. The workshops were presented by internationally recognized teachers of Thai massage and Thai medicine.

Thai Gathering - presenters

I attended the Thai Herbalism seminar, the Thai language course, and the business practice workshop.

Here I am with Kristine Traucht, a Boulder, Colorado based teacher of Thai massage and Thai herbal medicine. Kristine is also a former classmate of mine from previous years at the Thai Institute. She gave a thorough and engaging presentation of Thai herbalism.

Amy and Kristine - Thai Gathering

Activities did not subside at the school when the workshops ended, either. Each evening, many participants remained at the school to practice Thai massage techniques and partake in Thai massage exchanges.

Nancy - Thai massage

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Gisela - Thai massage practice

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By the end of the day, some of us also found that the mats were perfect for napping as well.

Thai mat nap

Sunday morning began with a discussion with David, followed by the continuation of the concurrent sessions that started Saturday.

The afternoon concluded with a discussion panel about Thai medicine, Thai massage, and sharing of personal experiences within the Thai massage community.

David, Sara, and Bilhan

Sararut and David Roylance led the discussion, accompanied by their adorable eleven-month-old son, Bilhan. Bilhan was an active participant throughout the event, in fact. He appears to be a budding Thai medicine practitioner already.

Steve Brown and BilhanBilhan and Amy

Oh…I almost forgot to mention one important detail. Every day, we joined together to feast on Thai food (buffet style) for lunch. An event cannot be fully Thai without food, after all. Employees of the Thai Institute also operated a beverage stand, offering Thai iced tea and water throughout the event.

Thai Gathering-lunch

 

 

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My lunch often followed with a brisk walk up the street to visit the local Starbucks, rain or shine.  I do love my coffee!

Starbucks Amy

 

 

 

Perhaps the most significant part of the gathering for me, however, was the opportunity to network with so many other practitioners and enthusiasts of Thai massage and Thai culture. After returning from my time spent in Thailand in 2011 and 2012, my life has been eternally changed. Thailand has amazing powers of transformation for so many people I’ve known who have visited there. The kindness of the people, and the attitude of “mai pen rai” (don’t worry about it, or –no problem) will stay with me forever. As a Thai massage practitioner, I have experienced what the bodywork can do as well, and its ability to help heal. At times I feel alienated in my work at home, even though I am endowed with amazing friends and family. The Thai massage (and Thai in general) community is small here in Rochester, New York. Being with so many other members of the community offers me a space for connection in my work. So many of my fellow practitioners, though all unique individuals, often share a likeness in their approach to healing, and their willingness to be open and connect with community. So many have spent time in Thailand, and if they haven’t, they still have been touched by the culture, by their customs, and the wisdom it brings to one’s life. It’s as if we’ve all learned a secret that can only be comprehended through practice rather than words, and it is understood readily amongst us when we meet.

Thai Institute 2013Amy and Emily - Thai Gathering

I’m proud to call the Thai Institute of Healing Arts my Thai massage home and family, and during this annual gathering, it feels like an extended family reunion. I feel fortunate to have attended this year’s event and connect with this remarkable Thai massage community.

 

Jennifer and Sandra

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Certificate - w Sara and David

 

Thai massage class - Intermediate class group

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Next year’s Fifth Annual Thai Massage & Medicine Community Gathering will be held August 15th – 17th 2014, at the Thai Institute of Healing Arts. For more information, visit:

www.thai-institute.com

 

 

 

 

The Yoga Diary (and other random musings) – June 2013

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My blog is titled “Memoirs of My Wayfaring,” but during these interludes of little travel, most of my wayfaring is inside of my mind.  Perhaps this is the true respite, though. As the wise mystic poet Rumi once said, “Remember, the entrance door to the sanctuary is inside you.”

Lately, I’m been pondering on how imperative it is in my life to feel I have control and choices about what I put in (and choose to do with) my body. Although I’ve felt this way for many years, this feeling has increased significantly since I developed a regular yoga practice.

I recently visited a medical expert who had given me a prescription to assist with a minor medical procedure. Since I had been in agreement with this intervention, I rather blindly started taking the medicine without much regard for what it actually contained. It wasn’t until days later, when I gave myself time to actually pay attention to what I was putting in my body, that I was moved to research the medication’s name and learn more about it. As I searched for information about the medication, I became horrified as I read about the negative side effects of the drug. Furthermore, the “simple name” of the medication was one I am familiar with. If I had known what the medication really contained, I would never have voluntarily ingested it. My first inclination was to feel angry and violated by the fact that the drug wasn’t explained to me in more detail. But….then, I had two distinctive thoughts that entered my mind. For one, I believe I am ultimately responsible for checking labels myself, but also…. what do many of us voluntarily put into our bodies daily that we aren’t even aware of? If packaged appealingly enough, we often don’t pay very close attention to ingredients, especially during times of overwork or travel. Indeed, we may have grown accustomed to seeing ingredients like BHA, BHT, sodium nitrate, and polysorbate, and pay little attention as we consume these strange concoctions disguised in attractive packaging, perhaps boasting natural or vitamin-rich ingredients.

 So, as I entered yoga class today, these thoughts were mulling through my mind during my first child’s pose. But, as I entered more deeply into my breath and allowed my external life to fall away, so did these thoughts. Instead, I paid attention to my body in that moment. After practicing yoga for over a decade, I am struck by how stiff my body feels in the beginning of my practice, – almost akin to a rusty crane. I reflected on my youth, when I was a dancer. I remembered how, within minutes after putting on my pointe shoes, I could effortlessly pirouette and lift my leg in an arabesque as if my tendons and ligaments were made of rubber bands. But lately, I’ve needed to start my practice with the heat of the room, several invigorating sun salutations, and slow, intentional transitions into poses to feel the freedom I once did. The magic often happens about midway through my practice. Yes, I call it magic, because it feels as such when the transition occurs. There comes a time during the practice when all of a sudden I’m not thinking about my tight lower back or my crackly ankle. I begin to move freely and fluidly like the dancer of my youth. My leg lifts into Svarga Dvidasana (Bird of Paradise) as if lifting my leg as high as my most exalted arabesque I did as a teenaged ballerina. But, it is over twenty years later now.…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Yoga is a choice I make for my body. Unlike the medication, it is not something I put into my body, but it is a method for wringing it out. As I laid in savasana, I marveled at how I felt as if I had shed over twenty years in just over an hour. Many sects of Tantric and Hatha yoga acknowledge the human body as being a microcosm of divine bliss. In more simplistic terms, the body is viewed as being an individual’s temple. This may sound like a cliché esoteric concept, perhaps, but it is also one that is fundamental, and perhaps even pragmatic. Ultimately, when all other objects fade away, we are left with the shell of our bodies in which our minds and emotions have always dwelled. Perhaps this is why, as I grow older, I am so profoundly affected and aware of what is in my body…the medication, synthetic foods, etc. But, exploring methods for wringing these things out is just as significant. Bodies breathe. We take in, but we also need to release and purge, just as we do with our breath when we take in oxygen and release carbon dioxide. Yoga gives our bodies an opportunity for transformation…. a transformation back to our youth, without sacrificing the gifts of wisdom and experience that age inherently brings.

 Amy - Wheel

 

 

Tree Climbing and Lilac Admiring in Highland Park

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” – Anais Nin

 Lilacsclose-up2

Yesterday I was awakened by the kiss of sunbeams blazing through my willowy translucent bedroom drapes. It was a perfect sunny day here in Rochester. The sun shone through a cloudless sky (although, I always have loved clouds, too). Temperatures lingered in the upper 70’s (F). It was far too lovely of a day to stay in bed, although…feeling the sun on my face was also too pleasant to not allow myself to linger for just a bit.

Lilacs (light)Lilacsclose-up

It was a perfect day to go to Highland Park; Rochester’s exquisite 155 Acres sprawl of rolling hills, sunken gardens, magnolias, tree gardens, amphitheatre, and, most of all, over 500 varieties of lilacs. It is just one week before the city’s 115 year old spring Lilac Festival begins. The festival is held in mid-May yearly, and includes area and regional art, food, and live music (some of this year’s lineup include The Campbell Brothers and The English Beat). Given that it was such a beautiful day, I thought I’d visit the park before the crowds of nearly 500,000 people show up to wander this lilac fairyland with their funnel cakes and Genesee beer.

LilacShrub

The park’s lilacs cover over twenty-two acres of the park’s land. A colorful array of lilac trees and shrubs sprinkle the park. I visited as many of them as possible, taking in each one’s ambrosial aroma.

 

LilacSniffing

One of my other favorites in the park (aside from the lilacs, of course) are the breathtaking magnolias, which are now sensuously blossoming toward the sun, reminiscent of Georgia O’Keefe’s feminine paintings.

 

Magnolias

 

 

WhiteMagnoliasWhiteMagsclose-up

Perhaps my favorite place in Highland Park, though, is the majestic peace graffiti tree. It is still one of the best climbing trees I’ve ever visited, even after all of my travels. 

Yes, I do love climbing trees. Given my summer attire, I wore the aftermath of scrapes along my forearms and legs as a reward from this venture. But, it was worth it. It is always worth it when climbing trees.

Amy - Tree climbing1

ThePath

 

Inspired at the AMTA-NY 2013 Convention – Adirondack Style

Massage Students AMTA 2013

Inspired and renewed…that is what connecting with over 300 other massage therapists in tranquil Lake George in upstate New York can do.

Sagamore - woods

This past weekend I attended the American Massage Therapy Association New York Chapter’s 2013 Annual Convention. Two of my colleagues and fifteen of FLCC’s students from our Therapeutic Massage and Integrated Health Care program accompanied me to the event. This year’s conference was held in Bolton Landing, New York on Lake George, a 33-mile long lake located in the southeast base of the Adirondacks. This is New York State’s twenty-second statewide AMTA convention, and the event’s location circulates to various areas of the state from year-to-year. Founded in 1943, the AMTA is America’s oldest association for massage therapy and bodywork professionals. The AMTA acts as an advocate to advance the profession of massage therapy through continuing education, insurance benefits, conducting research supporting the benefits of massage, and committing to the ethical practice of massage and bodywork. National, regional, and statewide conferences are held annually to support continuing education for professionals and promote the advancement of massage therapy.

AMTA sign

This year’s state conference was held at the luxurious Sagamore Resort, a historical lakefront retreat for spa and golf enthusiast. Upon exploring the history of the resort, I discovered that it was opened in 1883, and was twice damaged by fire in the early 1900’s.

Sagamore - front view

The resort was completely reconstructed in 1930, and is famed for hosting numerous high-profile figures over the decades. Apparently, the Sagamore was one of former president Richard Nixon’s favorite retreats. So, I decided on my first day to take a stroll around the grounds, since we would be occupied in our workshops and presentations during the majority of the weekend.

Sagamore -deck

Sagamore -Lobby 2

On my way down to the spa and hot tub area, I learned that the Sagamore prides itself in being “A smart resort for nice people.”  Well, I must say, I was quite grateful that I was not a guest at a dumb resort for mean people…..

Sagamore - sign

 

 It was beautiful at the Sagamore, though. The resort offers stunning views of Lake George, and the early spring weekend lingered around sixty degrees with semi-sunny beams of light peeking down from the cumulous clouds. For those of us who reside in upstate New York, these conditions are quite favorable for this time of the year. I was happy.

Sagamore- deck 2

 

The rooms were quite cozy as well. Chelsea and I agreed that the couch in her suite was especially comfy.

Sagamorecouch

 

Many of my students in FLCC’s massage program participated in this year’s Massage Club at the college. Beginning at the start of the fall semester, the students dedicate several hours a month fundraising and participating in club activities to raise enough money to come to the spring conference. Activities have included several chair massage events, a “spa night,” and selling items the students made by hand, such as jewelry, aromatherapy eye pillows and rice bags, and framed original art and photography (if I haven’t mentioned yet, we have some very artistically talented students in the program). As the club's faculty advisor, it is a pleasure for me to witness the students reaping the benefits of their months of diligence by participating in the convention.

The AMTA-NY event consists of three days of concurrent seminars and presentations related to massage therapy. This year’s presentations included topics such as Lymphatic Drainage Therapy, pregnancy massage, massage ethics and business development, treatment of shoulder, wrist and forearm pain, exploring fibromyalgia and massage therapy, deep tissue body mechanics, and myofacial release techniques. The students were spread amongst several of these workshops. I traveled around to visit them.

Students - workshop

 

Here is Natalia getting ready to begin the Mothermassage workshop.

Natalia -workshop

 

 Here, Tonya, Lisa, and Hannah were studiously waiting to hear Ruth Werner’s ebullient lecture.

Tonya,Lisa,Hannah - workshop

 

I especially enjoyed Ruth’s entertaining and informative lecture. Ruth Werner authored A Massage Therapist’s Guide to Pathology, (now in its 4th edition) and is the president of the Massage Therapy Foundation. I am here with Ruth after her enlivening presentation about the Ethics of Client Communication.

Ruth WernerAmy and Ruth Werner

 I was also delighted to learn that several of our program alumni were attending the convention as well, seeking continuing education for their massage therapy practices. Sarah (‘08) was the first alumna I saw during breakfast.

Amy and Sarah

  Not long after, I saw Chauncy (’05) and Tracy (’10) partnered up and waiting to participate in the workshop on full-body postural assessment.

Tracey and Chauncy

I continued to be greeted by several others as the day progressed. All of them either have successful private practices or are currently working as licensed professionals at businesses.

SarahStephLisaAlumni - AMTA

 Vendors also filled the hallways, sharing information about bodywork and massage products, book, and even giving mini-sessions.

Amy KidaMo - vendors

 

Dale - demo

AMTA registration

On Friday, the group attended a business luncheon with keynote speaker Dr. Kathleen Doyle from the New York State Department of Education Office of the Professions. Dr. Doyle shared current legal standards for the practice of massage therapy in New York and updated us on recent trends in the profession.

Dr.Doyle

 

 By Saturday night, everyone was in agreement that they had gained an immense amount of knowledge about new techniques and concepts related to therapeutic massage. We were ready to socialize, eat some delectable food and boogie. I sat with my colleagues and some of our program alumni, including Evie (’04) and Kaide (’08), who now own a very successful massage practice together in Trumansburg, New York.

Evie, Kaide, Amy

 

Oh, but before the festivities began, there were many prizes to be given out during the AMTA-NY’s raffle of products generously donated by various sponsors. Well, it seemed our current students and alumni took home about 75% of this year’s prizes. Students were winning items ranging from hot stones to jojoba oil, to Topricin lotions, and more. The biggest prizes went to some of our alumni, though.

 Angela (’04), for instance, won a brand new massage table.

  Angela

 ….and here is Evie right after learning that she won a one-week craniosacral intensive course with the Upledger Institute (redeemable at a location of her choice), which is valued at about $800. Yes, she was very excited (who wouldn’t be?).

Evie

 My colleague Maria and I visited with our students for a bit after dinner. This seemed a great opportunity for a group photo.

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 Well, the evening was capped off with a very active dance floor, and Alyssa (a sophomores and soon-to-be graduate) was the first one out on the dance floor (and one of the last, too).

Alyssa - dance floor

If I haven’t mentioned already, massage therapists like to have fun. We were not a shy group on the floor, as you can see. Our group, of course, was right up front near the DJ, dancing right up until the final song.

AMTA-dance floorAMTA NY Banquet

 

Students- dance floorLisaandHannahHeidiandJulie

Nora

SarahLisaAmy

HannahandLyndsy

After one final workshop on Sunday, we departed this beautiful place with an abundance of knowledge and new skills. We agreed that this convention was a success and a great asset for state LMT’s (Lisenced Massage Therapists). In a few months, I’ll begin the fundraising process all over again with next year’s students. We’ll be heading to Tarrytown, New York for a more urban version of this educational retreat.

Until then, I’ll be here, writing and sharing about yoga, or Thai massage, or Asian philosophy, or tree toads, or whatever other whim I’m fancying in the moment.

Amy blogging- Lake George

 

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.

 

 

Raising the heat in a Winter Wonderland – Yoga Raving in western New York

When most people think of Rochester, NY, the first thoughts that come to their minds are not likely to be “cosmic,” “vibrant,” or “spirited.” – But they did not see what was happening last night at the Harro East Ballroom in Rochester’s downtown city center.

For three hours last night this city I call home, which is so often dreary and ever- grumpy during the mid-winter months, lit up with incandescent lights as over 215 people gathered to laugh, dance, stretch and move in an exhilarating yoga practice. This is what happens here when we have an event like a Winter Wonderland Yoga Rave.

A yoga rave is an event that is part yoga practice and part dance party, and uniquely weaves together high-energy music, a spirited vinyasa yoga practice, and an overflow of florescent color in the form of glow sticks, “bling rings,” and glitter. The expertise of professional DJ’s and some of the area’s most acclaimed yoga teachers led the event.

The concept of bringing a yoga rave to Rochester was introduced by Aimee Senise Bohn.  Aimee is a registered yoga teacher with over eighteen years of experience in the practice. In addition to teaching various yoga workshops for both yoga teachers and those who are new to yoga, she also leads yoga study trip to India and teaches her own eclectics style of yoga called Shri Vinyasa Yoga.

Rochester’s first yoga rave was held in March 2012, and the response was so favorable that another one was planned for this January. The event was co-taught and coordinated by Aimee and fellow renown Rochester yoga teacher Randi Lattimore, who is also the Mind-Body Coordinator at Rochester’s Midtown Athletic Club.  Breakthrough Entertainment’s DJ NAPS and DJ A provided a dynamic amalgam of high voltage music to create a perfect blend of party, yoga, and savasana.

 

 

 

 

 

Who would have thought this was happening on an 18-degree (F) evening in western New York? Well, what many people outside of our city may not know is just how amazing (and large) our yoga community is here.  During these months when I start to feel nostalgic for Thailand’s sunshine, or wonder why I didn’t move to southern California or Santa Fe fifteen years ago, our yoga community is one of the things we have in Rochester that makes me most proud to be here. I’ve visited yoga studios in dozens of locations in other cities, states, and even countries, and I am always struck by some of the talented teachers and beautiful studios there are here in Rochester.

We have over twenty-two yoga studios in the greater Rochester area (including surrounding suburbs), and thousands of local yogis who are practicing styles ranging from vinyasa to Iyengar, from restorative to Bikram, to name just a few. So, if you do have a reason to venture into western New York, I recommend stopping in Rochester, and place taking a yoga class (or several) at the top of your list of activities to partake in. And, if you are really lucky, maybe there will even be a yoga rave event while you’re here. I’ll see you there on the mat…or maybe even with a hula-hoop.

Until next time, namaste.

*A special thank you to Juliette Pellegrino and Diane Harris for sharing photos for this post*