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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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