Without a Net

Someone asked me the other day what I do in a 2 hour session. A 2 hour massage seems unfathomable to people. In a country where the average massage is a standard hour people wonder what secrets you must pull out for a longer session. I politely told the client that I do the same but I take more time, slowly work my way through each limb and do more detailed work.

Over time I’ve grown to appreciate a 2 hour session and the feel it gives me the most time to adequately deal with client concerns and complaints while at the same time providing space so that I don’t feel like I have to rush. Going to a movie that was almost 3 hours the other night made me wonder why so many therapists and clients seem guffawed at receiving bodywork for that length of time.

I saw an interview with Mickey Hart where he described the Grateful Dead and their music and how they were never a studio band. As I’ve been writing and codifying Thai massage in videos and workbooks lately I completely understood his meaning. A 2 hour session with me is akin to the Grateful Dead’s 2 sets or more of music. If you cut them in half and only give them a first set when do they improvise? That first hour of massage is just warm up. Much like the music I love my bodywork is also performed in the moment with no formal container. Life much like bodywork is best done when you realize you’re performing without a net.

Teaser Video

Here’s a teaser video from the new Intro to Thai Massage Video- Coming Soon!

Q & A #1 Tail Bone Pain

Hey, Robert, I have a problem that you might be able to help with, given your therapeutic expertise. (in all actuality, I suffer from a variety of physical problems, as you may or may not be aware of, so by way of caveat here let me just state plainly that I am not seeking “medical” advice).

It appears that I have some sort of autoimmune condition which is affecting my soft tissue and joints; basically I’m quick to injury and slow to heal, and no one can figure out why. At this point, I don’t even care anymore; I’ve taken matters into my own hands and am focusing mind-body-soul on my recovery, which means proper diet, proper exercise, sleeping, and a positive attitude, yadda yadda yadda… My wrists and ankles have it the worst, but I’m slowly building up long-atrophied muscle mass and getting very weak tendons acclimated to daily activity. It’s been a very long and grueling process, but I am seeing slow progress.

Here is the specific problem I’m having right now in my rehab. After about two years of being sidelined by a pretty persistent achilles strain, I’ve been able to work my way up to walking a good mile three times a week. However, I recently began to notice that my glutes were not firing correctly, and this was causing undue strain on my lower back. I quickly realized I could not even hinge properly at the hips in order to do a proper deadlift, etc. And the reason seemed to be that my hamstrings were just insanely tight. So for the past month or so I’ve been working on building up my glutes, making sure that they are firing properly when I walk, etc. And also I’ve been attempting to stretch out my hamstrings. However, almost as soon as I began this workout plan, I mysteriously developed this severe tail bone pain that will simply not go away! I never hit my tailbone or injured it in anyway (that I know of), but it hurts unbearably if I sit on it wrong, and even sometimes when I’m just walking. I can’t make heads or tails of it, except that it is undeniably worse on the days after I stretch out my hamstrings.

Have you ever came across anything like this? Are there any specific stretches or techniques that might help to alleviate this pain? I realize that without an examination there’s probably very little that you could tell me definitively about what is going on here, but maybe you could point me in the right direction. You see, in my experience doctors are not very much help with this sort of thing, and every time I go to a physical therapist they just make things worse with their over-zealous recommendations; they just don’t seem to have the tools to deal with a patient in my reduced state of physical fitness.


Dear Anonymous,

You’re correct in not seeking medical advice from a massage therapist but based on the info you gave me, we can try some things out and see if it helps. I’ve had a 12 year career helping people with odd pain no one else seemed to understand so I’ll walk you through a few things that may help.

My guess based on what you describe is that you’re having some sort of trigger point dysfunction in your glutes. Most people are Very tight around their sacrum which makes up the S or the Sacroiliac joint. The musculature on most people I work with is taught, tense and gets very little stretching. This muscular tension alone will cause pain in the low back around the legs, possibly down the legs and so on. With the information you’ve given me you could have latent issues that wake up from regular exercise etc. In addition, muscles on one side of your sacrum may be tighter than say the left and imbalance your hips as you’re trying to open things up.

In short, I think everything you’re doing is great! I’ll give you a few things to try out and we’ll see if this helps.

Hamstrings are rough to deal with and I recommend you stretch your hamstrings as I show in this video. Remember to keep the leg bent, whether standing in a forward bend or sitting in a chair. This puts pressure on the hamstrings but protects your low back. Slow and steady is the way to go.

I think the other best thing for your glutes, other than what we’ve already covered, is to find a tennis ball and lay down on it. Put the tennis ball smack dab in your glutes and you can press on anything fleshy. You’ll be anywhere from the greater trochanter of your femur to right along the sacrum. Don’t put pressure directly on the tailbone! As long as you’re in flesh, you’re fine. The intensity should be something that you can breathe into through your nose. If you find it hard to breathe, if it’s too much pressure back off or maybe fold a towel over the tennis ball. You’re looking for tender spots that you can use the tennis ball to massage slowly. Try this for 5 minutes a day and see if there’s any improvement. The chart below shows some of the referred pain we’re talking about.

Trigger Point Pain in the Gluteus Maximus

Make sure to work both sides, if one is more tender work that side a little more but do both to find out.

I hope this information helps. Get back to me when you’ve done this so we can update. If that doesn’t we’ll move on to something else until you get some relief.

The MassageNerd Interview

I had my interview about Thai massage in the U.S. tonight. It was nice to finally get a chance to speak to Ryan Hoyme commonly referred to as the MassageNerd. He’s become a celebrity of sorts in massage circles in the U.S.

Looks for more videos soon.

Thai Massage Videos Download

The Thai massage videos for download from this series will be available before Thanksgiving. I’ll keep you posted but enjoy the teaser videos for now.


Thai Massage Can Make You Better

We just finished another full Intro. to Thai massage class at our studio. That means I’m surrounded by 8 or more eager students trying to pull together a routine I’ve put together to try and help their clients, family and friends feel better. I give teaching my all and quite honestly have to hold back due to time. I told students several times that we need to lock everyone in a cave for several months and practice, then they’ll understand the teaching. It’s So simple it takes time. It’s like describing how to make wine. You ferment grapes. It’s never that simple.

When I consider what I’m trying to do. I return again to Jiro Ono. He doesn’t practice Thai massage but when I saw the film I understood immediately. He’d settle for no less than perfection of his craft and art. I don’t want to control Thai massage or make sure it’s traditional, I want to set it free. I want to be able to look back and know that I helped teach the best bodyworkers the US has to offer. When students ask about new moves or techniques I think of Bruce Lee saying, “I fear not the man who knows 10,000 kicks but the man who has practiced 1 kick 10,000 times.”

Come. There’s work to do. It demands your soul.

Thai Massage Is The Best

Lately things have been hectic with classes and business plans. We’re hopefully going to have videos of the sequence used in the Free Thai Massage Workbook available sometime in November. In the midst of all the teaching and sharing I’m amazed at how advanced such an ancient tradition is.

I gave a demonstration to massage students at a school in Houston yesterday and heard a loud laugh. I looked around and asked what was funny and everyone’s eyes went to the door. I looked behind me and saw a student gazing through the window at my demonstration with this look of complete amazement. Thai massage doesn’t often Look like other kinds of massage. 😀

Robert Gardner Wellness Thai massage cobra

I wrote a brief article for Massage Career Guides about Thai massage as well. It’s been wonderful to share this ancient healing art.

Staying Relaxed

A friend asked me how I stay so relaxed. He knows of my business, how frenetically I work and sees the constant output but yet I sat, relaxed, open, receptive. He did catch me at a good moment but the honest truth is that I work so much I go to sleep dreaming about what my next project is. It’s taken an inordinate amount of work to restore my health and with all that bodywork and yoga, I learned how to let go. It’s still a practice, still work on my part but it’s helped tremendously.

Another thing I do beyond Thai massage, yoga and other bodywork is acroyoga. I was introduced to it by friends in the Austin Acro Community. Grant Shipman and I have lots of conversations about community, business and the changing world that Thai massage and acroyoga are in.

Grant started an acrobatic yoga group called Yogabatics and put out a free video series. The first of which you can see below.

Since Grant has done his best to provide innovative new ways to help me stay relaxed in my free time I thought it was time to show him off on the blog. If you’d like to contribute to his ongoing video project you can learn about it here.

Tea Is A Constant

I try to allow myself simple pleasures. Tea is one of the small things that improves my life, gives me a resting meditative moment and prevents me from drinking much soda. Green and white teas are loaded with antioxidants and go wonderfully with various foods. I drink mine warm but sometimes make cold brewed tea in summer. A floral white tea called White Peony is pictured below.


My friend Lauri Smith and I connected over our love of tea and I recently purchased some tea from her business White Cloud World Teas. I typically drink white and green teas but I’ve also grown to like the earthy smokey flavors of oolong like this Ting Tung Oolong pictured below. Tea drinkers eventually sound like wine drinkers or foodies comparing the flavor contrasts of various brews.


I’ll always go back to my love of plain camellia sinensis, the tea plant. Herbal teas are nice but there’s something mystic about the complex flavors that come out of this one plant. Below is a green tea called Dragon’s Well.



Thai massage open practice has grown, shifted and changed through the energy that we’ve put into it. From something that started as what seemed like a fluke I nurtured those who wished to learn some Thai massage and continued promoting free bodywork til hours that eventually annoyed those we got space from. The issue was that we have too much fun, we break all the rules and no one really understands what we’re doing. Who does massage in a group setting til 2am on a Thursday night for free? We do, that’s who!

Thai bodywork has an ancient lineage and tradition. At a heart level I’ve done my best to honor that tradition while realizing that this is America, this is central Texas, whatever does not fit into our cultural lives will vanish. As a group we’re helping Thai massage evolve, we’re allowing an ancient healing practice to grow and develop in new ways. The acroyoga community in Austin has pushed us forward and helped syncretize something that’s never existed, healthy Buddhist night life in Austin. Is what we do yoga? It’s it acroyoga? Is it Thai massage? I’m not sure anyone can really answer. It’s none of those things but it’s more than the sum of those parts.

Licensed therapists and traditionalists have announced that we don’t meditate enough. No one is certified and there’s no established authority and control. This doesn’t look like Thai massage in Thailand and why is someone playing Jimi Hendrix on a stereo? Shouldn’t there be massage music? I’ve heard complaints til I’m blue in the face. Why have I persisted? I’ve persisted because almost nightly someone new has come to me and said, “This was Great!” Regulars come up to me and hug me earnestly, thanking me for keeping the group going and tell me it’s the highlight of their week.

In that space, what am I to do? Who am I to listen to? I, much like you, go with my heart. My heart tells me to continue Thai massage open practice but maintain no ownership over it. I do not directly profit from it’s existence and give it away for free. Many of you come to me with injuries, aches and pains and I distill 11 years of study to help you, for free. I could say no, but I will not.

I will not say no because I had to search, dig, scrape by and live in a world of pain for years to find those who had information to help me. I will never stop helping people and sharing because that is what the tradition says I must do.

Let me express this so it’s clear. Jivaka, the originator of Thai massage was the Buddha’s doctor. We’re told that as Buddhism spread from northern India into Thailand the monks preserved it, it mixed with local indigenous Thai medicine and there it sat. Thousands of years went by and Thai massage became distinct, nuanced, some mix of what looks like passive yoga and bodywork. The monks worked on each other to facilitate their meditation practices. They stretched each other out, did blood stops to get their legs to wake up after falling asleep from meditation and on they went, wide awake, alert and calm from the Thai massage.

Beyond that, these monks who knew the body were the local healers. People from the village came to receive the Thai massage to help with their aches and pains. The monks worked on them free of charge, helping them with their pain and hopefully encouraging them in their spiritual lives. Metta, or loving kindness was the deed of the day. If you were a monk you meditated, helped others and focused on Buddha, dharma and sangha. It was part of your spiritual duty to help others.

I’m not formally Buddhist. In fact I dislike organized religion. I’m a farang, a non-asian foreigner. I took the Thai massage taught to me and have given it 9 years to percolate through me and my yoga practice. When Thai massage open practice fell into my lap, my choice was to nurture anyone who wanted to learn, to give or receive for free. I work 6 days a week and take one day off every week. I still put energy into our group because It Must exist.

People want to feel better? Then come out. You want some bodywork for free? Then come out. You want something fun to do that doesn’t involved drinking and drugs? Come out. You want a way to be physically expressive and intimate with like minded people? This is your group. This is Thai massage open practice.

If we dressed you in saffron robes and had you do bodywork in a Thai temple, the people would mostly recognize it as Thai massage. They may look at you funny for some oddity of movement or positioning but make no mistake that the skeleton is still Thai. We’re adding our own influence just as people have done to yoga in America but now it’s time for Thai massage to spread. It’s time for this healing art to flourish in the west.

I don’t care if you have a license or not. I don’t care where your religious views lead you. I care that you wish to help yourselves and others. Metta belongs to no one. Loving kindness cannot be bought or sold, only given away freely. Everyone is fixated on rules, money, ego and personal gain in our culture. I can give because I have enough. You give because it makes you feel better. You all come out once a week and relieve each others suffering. In that sense, you’re all very good Buddhists.

Thai massage will continue to change in the U.S. There’s no way that the influence of western culture won’t have it’s effect upon the practice. Instead of avoiding that influence I decided to grab the wheel and help steer it where I think it should go. Massage therapists are slow on the pick up, yoga teachers love it but aren’t massage therapists and then comes the acroyoga community. The acroyoga community looks like a bunch of anarchists who’ve decided gravity is our friend. I happen to agree.

I write this to try to explain my position. We’re at a unique crossroads in the U.S. We’ve irritated and annoyed some because we refuse to play by the rules. The rules say that something isn’t of value unless it can be commodified, packaged, processed and sold in a drive through. We’re doing things right, creating community and helping people. We’ll never appeal to everyone but those who like what we’re doing seem to Really like what we’re doing. Everything in my being says find a new space and push the gas pedal to the floor.

Thai massage is good for everyone. Massage therapists, novices, yoga teachers and maybe, one day if we’re lucky, acroyoga, Thai massage and yoga for kids in public schools. Imagine recess where kids run outside and do bodywork on each other and therapeutic flying. You, my friends, are helping create that world. Focus on what you love and make it happen.

Sangha is a Buddhist term. Loosely it means community. The triple gem is Buddha, dharma and sangha. The Buddha represents the potential for enlightenment, dharma are the teachings that help us on our way and sangha is community. The community we’ve created is my sangha. I’ve sat with many massage therapists and felt alone because they’re not my people. I feel the same about much of the yoga community, just at odds with the dominant paradigm. Thai massage open practice and the Austin Thai Massage community have always been home, from the first day I set foot in the place. You’ve understood what we were doing and happily taken up the practice and shared with friends like you’d found gems underneath some dirt.

I’ve always been a loner. I anger many people. My thoughts and feelings on issues politically, religiously and otherwise annoy most. I’m always calm with our group. I feel understood. You are my sangha, my community, my friends.

Thank you for what you’ve helped create. We will have a new home soon. We will show Austin, Texas what night life can be for a 21st century human who’s decided to keep the healing heart of the Buddha alive in central Texas. Love in contagious. Thai massage is an idea whose time has come. We’ll feed the flame until it becomes an all consuming fire in our community.


Thai Massage and Buying Local

Landon Sykes and I have meandering conversations from time to time. I decided to record some of them which have become part of the video you’ll watch here. Landon tends to have a broad mental scope and we often talk about issues like the one we discuss in the video.

One of the themes we run into regularly is that people see the importance of buying local when it comes to coffee or produce but don’t necessarily consider their massage the same way. Buy local not only helps your therapist but changes the interaction with a therapist in subtle ways.

Buy local, it’s not only for coffee.

Lumbar Disc Bulge

Someone wrote me asking about a lumbar herniation or bulge. I decided to answer that message in blog format so I can share this info with everyone.

Here’s a basic anatomy lesson on the spine.

Think of a disc like a chocolate candy. It’s got a chocolate coating then a gooey center. When the chocolate coating wears away, tears, ruptures or breaks it allows the gooey center to push backwards onto a nerve. Ow! Lumbar bulges are particularly frustrating because of the pressure of everything above the bulge pressing down due to gravity. What you’re dealing with is a tear, rupture or overly stretched annulus. The nucleus then pushes out, extrudes and generally causes mayhem and makes you wish you walked on all fours again and didn’t fight gravity.

So the annulus is the chocolatey shell, the nucleus is the gooey center. We can talk surgery, chiropractic, massage til we’re blue in the face but I’ll give you the brief run down of how you help a bulge. You decompress then you backbend.

Decompress means you’re taking the pressure off. Think about unloading a ton of bricks from your truck. Hey, the shocks stretch out. Long term that’s good for your shocks and good for your lumbar discs which perform some of the same function anatomically. After you’ve decompressed you backbend. When you backbend keep in mind that slouching forward then sitting up is a backbend. Slow, gentle, timed, breathing, maybe only for 5 minutes on a foam roll or ma roller is backbending.


Why backbend? Well the disc causes problems when it bulges usually to the rear. This happens due to spine anatomy and the fact that most of our lives we spend our time leaning forward. If you put all the bricks in the back of the truck is it going to bother the front shocks? Bodies aren’t that different mechanically. You essentially spend your life stretching and pushing the gooey center back. When it finally tears or breaks you’re a in a world of pain.

So why backbend? Temporarily it’s uncomfortable. It actually can irritate in the short term because well, you’ve already got inflammation and irritation there and you’re pushing on it. Long term, over the course of a lifetime it takes the pressure off the back of the chocolate shell and opens up the front of the disc. Guess what happens when you backbend? You push the gooey center forward! You maintain spine balance and have good shocks for a lifetime.

So, the general answer to back pain is to backbend. Bad posture leads to problems muscularly and to deeper structures like discs. If you already have a bulge or herniation you push the disc forward and guess what happens? It reabsorbs, doesn’t put pressure on a nerve, lessens irritation and inflammation and then, what pain? I’m better.

Let me give you another example so you understand what we’re dealing with. Let’s say you backbend like crazy and rupture a disc to the front. Guess what happens? Usually nothing. Why? Because there’s no gooey center pressing on a nerve. The nerve is posterior and you pushed the bulge out into the front. Isn’t anatomy fun?

Always consult your doctor, surgeon, for medical advice. I’m just a massage therapist providing some information. My choice to decompress and backbend my spine is yoga. I’ve done Bikram yoga for 8 years. What does it do? It decompresses my spine, backbends me and in addition forces blood and circulation around those tough spots so they can heal.

Take your time, go slow, breathe, decompress and backbend. It’s a recipe for health.