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.


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










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



Thai Gathering lunch -2








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:





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:

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