Thai Yoga Massage

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What it is and what it means for me

Before we start, please allow me just a brief note on the word “Thai yoga massage”, as it is a frequent source of confusion.
The terms “Thai massage”, “Thai yoga massage” or even “Traditional Thai yoga massage” can be used interchangeably. But similar to yoga, there are many different ways or even styles of Thai (yoga) massage. The style that I am practicing is a very gentle and mindful style with the overarching objective of bringing peace and harmony into the recipient’s body and mind.
I, personally, most often choose the term “Thai yoga massage” rather than just “Thai massage”, as it immediately points towards the connection with yoga, which people otherwise might not know about. However, for sake of brevity, I also sometimes just call it “Thai massage”.

But now, let’s dive in:

In April 2017, I attended my first training in traditional Thai yoga massage with Barbara Burkhard. I already knew Barbara from the yin yoga teacher training I had taken with her. It was during this training that – one day – she introduced a few Thai massage moves, which immediately got the whole group hooked. Over the course of the training weekend we continuously kept nagging at her until by Sunday evening, we had her ready to share her deep knowledge of Thai yoga massage in a designated Thai massage training which had to be newly created and designed.

I mainly signed up for it because I have always been a veritable “massage addict”. Nobody knows this better than my poor little sister who unintentionally became my main massage therapist during our childhood. Her skill set of back massage techniques included (amongst others): “pizza baking” or “weather” (rain, sunshine, wind, snow etc.).
Further to this, I was always pitied by adult bystanders when my babysitting children messed up my hair and turned it into the most disheveled hairdos. Little did they realize how much I actually loved this, as – even though a bit rough at times – it basically meant a free head massage!

Once I moved out from home and quit babysitting, I lost both of these massage opportunities. I still treated myself to the occasional head massage at the hairdressers’ or went to see friends who were themselves learning different kinds of massages and therefore charged moderate fees. But when it came to Thai yoga massage, I had never received one prior to my own training. I really knew next to nothing about it and just trusted my gut feeling that this was the right thing to do.

When we had our first training day, I instantly knew that my intuition had been right. Although we were all just complete beginners practicing on each other, I already felt the immense benefits of this traditional healing practice, which originated more than 2000 years ago in Buddhist temples and basically is a fusion of Ayurveda, yoga and Thai Buddhism. At the time of our first training day, I sometimes got sciatic pain (piriformis syndrome), which you can get from sitting too long (mine had first appeared during a meditation retreat…). After only a few moves performed on my feet and legs – without even getting close to the overly tense piriformis muscle –  the pain was completely gone! The gentle palming, rocking and passive stretching of my feet and legs had helped my body and mind to completely let go of all tension and guided me into a state of deep relaxation, where so many magical things can happen.

While I was immediately drawn to this newly found “relaxation technique”, I also began to realize rather quickly that by signing up for this training, I had inadvertently opened the door into an utterly new world. I realized that unless I made time to regularly massage people, I wouldn’t be able to continue onwards with this journey. This was a real struggle in the beginning, as at that time, I was running a very busy schedule and just couldn’t find the time to give whole-body massages. If I wanted to practice, the only option that remained was introducing Thai yoga massage into my regular yoga classes. When I had smaller groups or private lessons, I began ending the sessions with just a few Thai yoga moves on the feet, legs or shoulders. It didn’t take long for my students to demand more. The feedback I received was so overwhelmingly positive that it encouraged me to finally make more space for learning and practicing Thai yoga massage, which is sometimes also described as “passive yoga” because many of its poses share striking similarities with yoga poses. But contrary to yoga, the receiver is just led into the poses without having to do anything on his/her own. Thai yoga massage therefore is all about learning to let go and relax, which can be quite challenging for a lot of people. Most of us are so used to always being active – even in yoga. In Thai yoga massage for once, you finally don’t have to do anything, other than “just being”, which on its own can already be a tremendously healing experience.

While my massaging experience is slowly expanding, I am realizing more and more that Thai yoga massage has a very healing and nourishing effect not only for the receiver but also or the giver. Giving a Thai massage is like a moving meditation. It is a training in metta – the virtue of loving kindness and compassion. In order to connect in this way with the receiver of our massage, we first and foremost have to practice loving kindness and compassion towards ourselves.
While giving a Thai yoga massage can be an actual physical workout for the giver (especially if the receiver is considerably taller and heavier than the giver), I never feel drained or tired after giving a Thai massage. On the contrary – I always feel nourished, deeply happy and grateful from the inside.