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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
….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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
By the end of the day, some of us also found that the mats were perfect for napping as well.
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.
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.
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.
My lunch often followed with a brisk walk up the street to visit the local Starbucks, rain or shine. I do love my coffee!
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.
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.
*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: