Thai Me Up


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I was reminded of my love for Thai Massage during Yin Teacher Training last August when Paul Grilley taught us The Stiff White Guy Routine – or what I prefer to call (after I stop laughing) “Assisted Yin.”

Assisted Yin is exactly that: one individual receives the Yin Yoga and the other provides it.  The receiver remains relaxed while the provider folds and holds the receiver’s body in classic Yin positions for up to five minutes.  This eliminates effort for the receiver and facilitates a deeper level of physical and emotional release.

Last Sunday I attended a workshop taught by Terri van de Sande from Esprit-de-Core, a lovely Pilates Studio in Los Altos (for locals it’s just behind Chef Chu’s).  Terri is a Pilates instructor and Thai Massage expert.  During the afternoon workshop we worked in teams while Terri introduced to us basic Thai Massage techniques.  I was looking for a few appropriate moves to add to the Assisted Yin treatment I offer clients.

Terri is a very generous therapist, and when she learned who I was and my reasons for being at the workshop (most of the other attendees appeared to be couples) she asked me to be her “demo body”.  Who was I to refuse a request like that?  By the end of the workshop and my stint on her futon I knew what I needed:  some non-clinical, hands-on, deep stretching, relaxing beyond belief bodywork.  Sooner rather than later.

And so, last night, I met Terri at Esprit-de-Core.  She set up her mat, asked me to lie down and put a pillow under my head.  I closed my eyes and handed my body over to her capable hands.

Thai Massage is practiced fully clothed.  More fluid than Assisted Yin, Terri pulled, held and dragged my body from one position to another for ninety minutes.  She drew me into backbends, forward bends and twists.   If Assisted Yin gives Yin Yoga to the receiver then Thai Massage, in its own way, offers a nuanced classic Yoga experience.   Most of the time I had my eyes closed and allowed the work to happen to me rather than feeling I had to actively help.

Any massage is, of course, physically therapeutic, but Terri’s energy tuned into my need to clear a little emotional baggage.  It wasn’t long before I released a few sighs and then a few silent tears.

I love Thai Massage.  Of all the massage techniques I’ve experienced, it remains a favorite.  But if you’re new to bodywork, or have never tried Thai, these tips may help:

  • Wear very loose, very comfortable clothes.
  • While the technique is practiced fully clothed, in many ways the work feels more intimate than classic massage in that the practitioner may need to place her hands and feet in unusual locations. For instance, to help stretch my shoulder, Terri put the heel of her foot in my armpit.  To work my hamstring, she “walked” her feet on the back of my thigh.
  • Be prepared to hand yourself over.  It’s important that you trust your therapist.  If you try to help while she positions your body you’ll lose some of the therapeutic benefits of the treatment.
  • Avoid eating a few hours prior to your Thai Massage.  You’ll feel better receiving the treatment on an empty stomach.
  • Drink plenty of water afterwards.

To Sleep, Perchance to Dream

Good Question…

I was introducing a group of Spanish-speaking clients at the pain clinic where I teach yoga to the power of Yin.  A young man dressed in baggy jeans and a baseball jacket gingerly attempted to find a twist that challenged him yet did not aggravate the injury to his lower back.  He positioned a small bolster under his left thigh, relaxed and closed his eyes.  A moment later, through his interpreter, he asked me,

“Where is the mind supposed to go in these poses?”

The question, considering his lifetime practice of yoga amounted to approximately sixty-two minutes, was remarkable.

How was I going to answer without delving too deep, too soon, into all the possibilities?

I told him that in some practices we focus on the breath, or gaze toward a particular point, but in Yin we can close our eyes and free the mind to travel, and that each new position might bring up a different set of emotions or memories.

And then I confessed that there have been times during my Yin practice when I’ve entered the trance state I like to call “napping”.  Seriously.  While Yin’s startlingly challenging stretches are percolating into my connective tissue, I’m dozing.  Sometimes I can even fit in a thirty-second dream.

Speaking of Dreams…

Shortly before I woke this morning I had one of those weird “what does it all mean” sort of dreams.  Listening to someone tell the story of a dream is a bit like having to sit through four hundred photographs of Uncle Mort’s week in the Poconos.  But stick with me.  This gets good.

It was the sort of dream our subconscious constructs to help us find answers.

I’m teaching yoga to a group of people dressed for Carnivale. Every one is wearing a mask.  I can only identify one or two people and even then only based on their ‘energy’.  The scene is disordered and chaotic but not upsetting.

I am told I’ve been diagnosed with a serious illness.  To be healed, I must take the medicine handed to me in an ornate bottle. But I don’t want anyone to discover that I am ill so I hide the bottle.  Meanwhile, we’re all going on a journey and all my students are packing suitcases and gathering tickets and it’s happy mayhem.  In the excitement, the medicine gets lost in my baggage.

And then Max, one of the felines I’m currently taking care of, jumped on my chest, woke me up and I never discover if I take the medicine or if I’m able to leave on the journey.  The last thing I remember in the dream is accidentally handing over a fifty-dollar bill as a tip, realizing my mistake, taking it back and replacing it with ten dollars.  Odd.  I’m usually more generous.

That dream is going to settle over me for the rest of the day like a satisfying film.  I can still feel the mood of the dream – the tiny moments and the colors – all dark shimmering blues and silver.

I’m open to your interpretations, but I think the one thing that can heal me becoming lost in my baggage is pretty telling…

On that note, just to tie some loose ends from previous posts and to take a few tentative steps into the future:

  • No, I still haven’t canceled my cable.  Yet.  I will.
  • I’m no longer vibrating.  My beating heart has stilled. I feel more grounded than I have in months (although you might disagree when you read further).
  • I enjoyed my last day with the critique group.  I read a personal essay about how difficult it has been to process the reunion I had with my mother in September and how, when my heart was finally open to needing a mother, she wanted to talk about the weather.  Pete cried.  Terry and Henry said, “That’s the best thing you’ve ever written.” Terry added, “Submit it.  Now.”   I came home, cleaned up the formatting, wished it well and sent it off to a few magazines.  Fingers crossed.
  • I’m looking forward to the Thai Massage I’ve scheduled for Friday.  Thai Massage is a bit like having yoga given to you.  I’m pretty desperate for some bodywork.  Can’t wait.
  • And now, for the  You’re Doing WHAT? moment.  In the pursuit of new experiences, to satisfy my curiosity and to venture outside my normal comfort zone, I’m having my Tarot Cards read today.  Yep. It’s all right.  Go ahead.  Even I’m rolling my eyes.