I was working with my friend and teacher Chance the other day. We talked about inversions. Inversions Thai style. First, let’s define. An inversion is when the heart is higher than the head. Simple as that. Let’s think of all the poses that we do where the head is higher than the heart. There’s not a lot perhaps, but a good number. Now, let’s think about what it takes to put someone in that position. Is it easy or is it difficult? Does it take strength or energy on your part, or are you able to use gravity and alignment to make it happen? Are we doing it because we think the client expects that from a Thai massage? Or is it because we want to “wow” our client with some “cool” Thai massage moves? I can only answer these questions for myself of course. And for me, most of the inversions take energy and often times they are difficult. And sometimes, I find myself trying to “wow” my client, especially if it seemed to be a pretty low key, “uneventful” session. All this begs the question, could it be that for most of the inverted poses, our western bodies are not able to receive it comfortably? Could it be that for most of the inverted poses, our western bodies are not able to give it comfortably? Here’s another question. How often do you use inverted poses in your practice? For me, the answer is very rarely. They just rarely feel good. And I’m often concerned that I might injure someone. So, why are inverted poses included in the traditional Thai massage sequence (and for beginners no less)? I don’t know the answer to that. But I do know that when I receive sessions here in Thailand, I am rarely put into an inversion. It seems they’ve pretty much gotten rid of it here. So why do we hold on to it in the west? Because it’s “traditional Thai massage?”
I am in the process of breaking down every single pose that is in a “traditional Thai massage” sequence. And if I cannot do it comfortably, and I mean COMFORTABLY, I am leaving it out, throwing it in the trash, and walking away. I have no desire to maryr myself for another person (and of course, if it’s not comfortable for me, it’s not comfortable for them either and then how can it help them?).
Right now, Paul and I are taking a hard look at the “sequence” as we have been teaching it. And we are going to have to make some hard choices. In an interview I had with Homprang earlier in the week, I asked her about putting together a sequence from a western perspective, using what we know in the west and who we are in the west, and she answered strongly in the affirmative. After all, she made up her sequence based upon her experiences and training. Pichest did too (though he has long since thrown out the idea that a sequence can be beneficial at all). Why shouldn’t we do the same?
And here’s the fact. All the teachers who are worth their salt (ie. Pichest, Homprang, Mor Noi) are saying the same thing over and over and over again. Create a practice that works for you and for your client. Throw out the book. Throw out your idea of Thai massage. Throw out the “teachings”. Just tune into the body and what it needs. It is your body first of all. And the clients body second of all. And if you are uncomfortable in any way when you do the practice, stop, back up, back off, and take another look.
As for inversions, suspensions, lifts, and the like, ask yourself when you are doing them, “if I was to stay here for 5 minutes would I be comfortable? Would my client be comfortable?” If the answer is no, then whatever you hoped to achieve by doing that move, see if you can achieve it another way. A way that is more supported for both you and your client.
I know that it might be a radical thing to say to get rid of most of the inversions in your practice, but what is more important, your own and your client’s health, or “doing traditional Thai massage” as you were taught? Obviously, this question is rhetorical. But then again, it is not for me to tell you to get rid of most of the inversions in your practice. After all, the teaching needs to come not from me, another teacher or any book, but from tapping into your own wisdom. So it would be better for me to rephrase and simply say, pay attention to your body when you put someone in an inversion. And then let your body and not your mind be your guide. You will then know exactly what to do; not because it came from me or some teaching, but because you are listening with compassion, sensitivity and your inherent wisdom.
The journey continues. . .