“Your hand opens and closes, opens and closes.
If it were always a fist or always stretched open,
you would be paralyzed.
Your deepest presence is in every small
contracting and expanding,
the two as beautifully balanced
and coordinated as birds' wings.” ~ Rumi
Sawadee ka! (Hello!) In the previous entry on Thai Bodywork, I gave an overview of what Thai Bodywork is. This time, I thought I’d take a look at the structure of each weekend, the program overall, and a few of the insights I’ve gleaned so far.
The program overall is comprised of six weekends. Each weekend meets Thursday evening from 5 p.m. - 8 p.m., and Friday, Saturday, Sunday from 9 a.m. - 6 p.m. It’s a full schedule for sure. On Thursday I come right from work, and on Monday it’s right back to work. I use a vacation day for Friday. The evenings after training are spent trying to fit in the usual weekend chores, prepare for the next day, and see Adam and the pets a bit!
The Question Box, artwork by local artist and musician Frank Orrall. The Tibetan Singing bowl doubles as an actual bowl, holding the Thai phrases we pick to partner up for practice. Shhhhh!
Thursday evening begins with sharing. We sit in a circle, and each person has uninterrupted time to say a few words on how she is doing (I am going to use “she” instead of “he / she,” as the group is predominantly female), anything significant that has occurred in her life during the past month, and things learned in doing the practice or homework. After that, we set up the room. Blue Lotus shares space at Moksha Yoga (Bucktown / Logan Square location), so the room is used for yoga at other times. With the remaining time, we review.
Friday, Saturday, and Sunday have a similar structure. Each day begins with movement.
Friday and Sunday is mostly Qi Gong led by Paul, and Saturday is Yoga with Aurora. Wai Khru follows. Wai Khru is a Thai ritual in which students pay respects to their teachers in order to express their gratitude and formalize the student–teacher relationship. In Wai Khru we honor:
1) The Buddha - The symbol of enlightenment, and that we all have the potential to overcome obstacles and awaken.
2) The Triple Jewel - Taking refuge in: Buddha, the ideal or highest spiritual potential that exists within all beings; the Dhamma, or Dharma, the teachings; and Sangha, community, that we are supported and not alone in our endeavors. We don’t have to do it ourselves!
3) Jivaka - The “godfather” of healers. May we all be healed.
Scenes on and around the altar.
And then the morning break, which is spent silently. It takes a little getting used to being around others and not saying anything. Even if I’m alone at home with the pets I talk to them, and I’m not a very chatty person. It’s all habit though, much of what needs to be communicated in those 20 minutes can be accomplished with a smile, a nod, and maybe a few hand gestures. If we have a snack, we should observe mindful eating (more on meditation and mindfulness practices another time). I sometimes text Adam during the break, which I suspect is not in accordance with the spirit of the silent break.
Following the break we have a lecture or demonstration. Practice fills the rest of the morning, and a late lunch at 1 p.m. Immediately after lunch there is walking meditation. I can very highly recommend walking meditation after lunch. For one, it helps with any post-lunch sluggishness. Secondly, it is a nice transition between the more dynamic lunch break and the more contemplative Thai massage work. The rest of the day is a mix of demonstration and practice.
Teaching is a joy, but it is nice to go to class too! Although it is a pleasure, for me, teaching is an “energy out” situation. Being in Thai training is fills me back up, I find it nourishing. I’ve always loved being a student, I am very much a class-learner, I absorb best in the company of others (Sangha!). I am grateful to Paul and the assistants for their time and commitment (Wai Khru!). There are a total of six assistants, not all are with the group the entire time, but between them and Paul there is a lot of individual instruction and feedback.
Assistant Monica demonstrates on Julie as Cathie observes.
We also learn about Thai culture, and throughout the weekend are encouraged to use the Thai words we have learned so far. If there is time, we will work on a Bonus Pose, have Pose Break Down (in depth analysis of a movement), or answer questions from the Question Box. Anatomy lessons and a quiz are on Sundays. We conclude with a shorter Wai Khru. On Sunday evening, we clean up and put all the mats away. :-(
In between weekends we are expected to:
* Meditate 20 minutes daily.
* Implement self-care practices (e.g. yoga, Qi Gong, self-massage, aerobic exercise and / or strength training, etc. - whatever we feel will help us be healthier and better equipped to manage the physical demands of giving Thai massage)
* Note three things daily in a gratitude journal.
* Do four 90-minute practice sessions on friends and family, including documentation.
* Complete readings from the three text books - one each on meditation, anatomy, and Thai bodywork.
* Write two reflections on the meditation readings.
* Prepare for anatomy quiz!
The weekends are very enjoyable, and pass very quickly. By Sunday evening it seems difficult to believe we won’t be coming back the next morning for another day of training. Toni, one of the assistants, said the weekends are like a retreat. Although I’m still in Chicago, I do feel as though I have been away. During Thursday evening sharing, many people said they were excited to be back for weekend two. Classmate Katrina said the process of the gratitude journal unfolded for her over the course of the month. At first it was a review of the day, noting afterward three good things that had happened. As time went on, she began to notice things to be grateful for as they occurred. The process of being grateful drew her into being present for the moment. Hearing this strengthened my gratitude journal practice, which had been sporadic. Like minded folks, sharing and inspiring. More Sangha!
Gin practices on Niki. Paul demonstrates on assistant Tammy, Cam and Katrina watching. During break Isaac shares some Acro Yoga with Niki.
One of the takeaways from the first weekend, for me, was how a small amount of intentional healing touch can be deeply relaxing. Even from a person that is at the beginning of the learning process, working over and over in a small area of the body. In between weekends, as I did my practice sessions, reminders to be gentle with myself were repeated. I have just started learning this new skill, and like anything, it takes time. A friend I practiced on said how much she enjoyed this style of massage. It’s like giving the muscles a suggestion to relax, instead of forcing them to release.
The second weekend brought two insights. The first, when receiving massage, I am not fully letting go. I think I am relaxed, but a small part is hanging on. When my body is being moved, I try and help the giver a little bit. Of course, being a helper and a giver is a beautiful thing. However, I’m really doing a disservice to both myself, not fully accepting the massage and its healing properties, and to the bodyworker, not allowing them to fully give their massage. This is also an opportunity to see things from the client’s perspective. When I feel a receiver holding and not fully trusting, I’ve been there, I’ve walked in their shoes.
The second insight would seem the opposite of the first. When giving massage, my pressure could be greater. Some of this stems from being new and just not knowing. Part is fear of hurting the receiver. But, and here’s the juicy part, the last piece is related to the first insight. I’m holding. I’m not all in. Thai massage is definitely an active endeavor, but, like yoga, really getting somewhere comes from softening, using breath, and allowing. Going deeper doesn’t come muscling and force, it is born in letting go.
And that, as they say, is my work. Finding joy in small moments of recognition and learning. Taking what comes up, and observing. Equanimity - a state of stability or composure arising from a deep awareness and acceptance of the present moment. In this moment of cognition, I realize I’m clenched. To find balance, I must trust, breathe, release, and expand.
See you on the mat.