One of my favorite things about yoga asana is that practicing is like a massage from the inside out. But even the most dedicated yoga practitioner craves a massage from the outside in from time to time. If money were no object, my luxury would be a weekly, or even daily, massage. I like to give massages too, but I’ve never learned how to get rid of another’s stress without taking it into my own body. It’s one thing when I massage my dog, whose bones and muscles I can manipulate with ease, but it’s quite another when I try to massage my husband.
For these reasons, I was looking forward to Saul David Raye’s Thai Yoga Massage workshop at a recent Yoga Journal conference in Boston, Massachusetts. Thai massage is performed with clothes on, and the masseuse uses her whole body as a source of pressure.
Walking into the practice room, we were asked to put our yoga blankets on top of our mats to create a padded space for the massage. We’d be learning how to give and receive a “Thai appetizer” massage, a simple sequence which, Raye said, “works energy channels and muscle groups throughout the body” with the goal of balancing and energizing the entire system.
As we studied and tried the techniques Raye demonstrated – using our feet and hands and the weight of our bodies to massage our partners from toes to head, as well as stretches and strokes to loosen the legs, lower back and shoulders – Raye gave us some background information. Thai yoga uses elements of massage, Ayurveda, acupuncture, chiropractic, mudras, yoga, and Buddhism. Despite its name, Thai yoga originates in India, though it is practiced mostly in Thailand, where working with energies is considered a blessed occupation. Thai yoga isn’t only a physical practice, but also a spiritual one, rooted in the Buddhist tenant of “Metta,” or loving-kindness. “Blessed are the peacemakers,” said Raye, as I settled onto the mat to take my turn as the recipient.
Back home that evening, I invited my workaholic husband Neil to lie down on the mat in my yoga room and receive a Thai yoga massage. As our dog looked on (looking a bit jealous), I walked on Neil’s feet with mine, used my hands to release his spine and shoulders, and helped him stretch into a series of supported backbends. Within minutes, he was dozing in a half sleepy state. Afterwards, he couldn’t stop thanking me.Saul David Raye teaches weekly Thai Yoga Therapy classes at the Exhale Center for Sacred Movement in Venice, California, and at Shakti’s Elements in Santa Monica, California. Visit www.thaiyoga.com for a list of daylong, weekend, and weeklong workshops around the country.