How Do We Improve Yoga or Thai Massage?

I’ve been dealing with these concepts for years and I can speak on it extemporaneously for hours. I fell into two traditions. Traditions of which I mostly hold no direct lineage.

I love Iyengar and his yoga but I’ve only ever taken one specific class though many of the classes I’ve taken and teachers I’ve studied with have more knowledge of his alignment.

Thai massage has a lineage and my teacher studied with some teachers in Thailand but she never made a big deal out of it nor have I. Pichest Boonthumme is represented as is Chaiyuth Priyasith but I’ve never set foot in their country of origin.

To be able to study overseas you need lots of disposable income and the capacity to travel the bulk of which I’ve not been able to afford. I continue to study as I can with whoever comes near and ask questions the frazzle everyone’s brain.

Recently Jason Crandell came to Austin and I was fortunate enough to take a single class of vinyasa with him. In him I found what I’d been hoping his instagram posts would show me.

I’ve no wish to speak for him, which is why I link him here, but he said what I’ve been saying for years to students who actually listened. Yes we honor the foundation of the practice. We do that by updating it making it safer exploring it’s depth and giving it a modern twist that is uniquely our own.

You’d be surprised how controversial that idea is.

Jason ran me through vinyasa. It was hard to keep up. I mention in this video briefly how he tried to kill me. 🙂

I’ve gotten softer having a less fiery practice but in the middle of all that breathing moving sweating and trying to keep up I heard what I admire. He’s just trying to give his students his questions. He’s helping them move along and encouraging exploration. He’s actually asking questions about anatomy safety physiology and pain science.

In other words it’s a near mirror example of my path over the years except I approach it a bit more from a massage therapist’s perspective.

It’s hard to express what it felt like to have some weight taken off as usually I’m nearly alone in a community that doesn’t understand the larger discussion I’m having. Having some focus on Jason for a few hours while I could sweat and breathe and slowly feel like I was going to expire was actually psychically relieving.

His message isn’t revolutionary to me but with two distinct asian traditions people often associate with religion people get very testy very quickly if you try to remove the cultural background and figure out how to use those tools to help people in the west. I’ve done this myself on two fronts. Both communities the yoga community and the massage communities have left me a near pariah for 17 years.

I don’t fit anywhere.

I was glad that at least for a few hours I could still my mind and listen to another teacher that I respected. Jason if you read this I’d love to do an interview or podcast with you. I’d love to talk Thai massage and yoga and the connections between the two. I suspect we’ve come to very similar ideas from different paths and angles.

Teaser Video

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

Back Pain

I’ve seen so much back pain over the years it’s become a joke. I don’t take others pain lightly but having had so many structural issues myself then seeing clients complain about being in an office chair for 60 hours a week becomes tedious. If I could do anything for middle America, it’s showing them how to use gravity to help open their rib cage while back bending their thoracic spine. I see too many office warriors collapsed and growing old before their time.

The above video shows you how to use a foam roll to help you passively back bend through this area and soften the stretch. If done daily, what back pain? will probably become your mantra. Correct the posture, pain often goes away. We don’t cure things but what if you’re symptoms go away?

It’s so simple most people miss it. Correct the posture, align your body, physical freedom happens. Gravity is your friend in this back bend.

Yoga Means Union

Yoga is an ancient practice that has influenced me for many years. I continue to play with hatha yoga, explore breath and work my way into asana while avoiding injury. The practice was first a means of helping my body deal with the physical pain that came from poor alignment after being hit by a drunk driver. Over time the practice is fun, challenging, playful, serious, spiritual and every shade in between.

I’ve been so busy lately I’ve had little time for a practice. I found myself with some space tonight, lit candles to warm the studio then worked my way through some poses while watching my breath. That is to say, I slow down my respiration, breathe through my nose purposefully and allow the breath and body to merge into each other. You’re joining the body and breath to then access the mind and spirit.

In the space of a minute my emotions could go from tears to a smile that permeates everything. There have been so many challenges in the past 14 years since that accident. The one thing I never lost was the belief that life was what I made it. I decided to get better. Excuse me if I smile uncontrollably or shed a tear when I consider what life has given me.


I’ve had shoulder pain and misalignment on my left shoulder for so long it’s become part of me. Recently I had a major breakthrough and I’m slowly trying to integrate this new found movement and lack of irritation. Shoulders are extremely complex structures and due to the use of our arms the shoulder joint has more mobility than the other joints in our body. Long term this means we can develop more problems with them if we’re not careful.

The shoulders connect to the shoulder blades and then to the musculature and structure of the upper back and cervical spine. One completely affects the other and working on your shoulder joint can affect the shoulder blade, thoracic spine etc. Alignment is all.

Downward facing dog allows you to explore all of those structures but 1/2 downward dog allows more movement through the arms, more range of motion exploration and takes less strength to hold. This particular pose allows you to open the rib cage, pull the shoulder blades back and lets you experience some freedom from frozen shut and stuck on the rib cage shoulder blades.


BKS Iyengar has been a beacon in my yoga practice and ongoing work with yoga, Thai massage and yoga therapy. Iyengar is the man who first lit a fire under me. He turns 94 today.

Every time I read about him they mention that he still practices daily and I don’t doubt it. Hatha yoga could not be what it is today without his knowledge and teaching. He’s been one of the most influential teachers of hatha yoga ever.

On days when I don’t feel as good, when I start to feel old, I think about Iyengar. I can see him in my mind’s eye calmly breathing with a smile and saying, “why not try another headstand?” Thank you for your care and teaching. Your longevity alone is an inspiration to continue healing work.

Seated Forward Bend

Seated forward bend or paschimottanasana is a safe pose to practice regularly. The primary precaution as in standing forward bend is being careful with the lumbar spine. The pose is a deep forward bend and one must be careful not to strain the lumbar musculature in addition to herniating discs from posterior pressure.

To safely practice the pose, you’re working on stretching the hamstrings: semimembranosus, semitendinosus and biceps femoris to be exact. You can bend your knees as much as you want but slowly engage the quadriceps and lift the kneecaps. This beginning of lengthening the legs and straightening them will give you the tension to need to begin opening those deep tight hamstring muscles.

The strap shown allows one to focus on opening the calves and achilles tendons. The additional grip with the hands also allows more pull, a pull that’ll slowly allow you to lengthen the hamstrings and begin lengthening the spine. Always remember in forward bends, the pressure is in the backs of the legs, no sharp pain is felt behind the knees and you allow the hamstrings to open slowly as you breathe. Only then do you allow the spine to fall open and begin tractioning the spine.

How to forward bend

Uttanasana or standing forward bend in yoga is an ubiquitous pose in yoga classes. The pose lengthens the back of the body, brings fresh blood into the head and is a component of surya namaskar or sun salutation.

Uttanasana and other forward bends can be problematic for those with lumbar spine issues and low back pain. Go slow. When someone has low back pain we usually recommend more back bending and less forward bending until the problem resides.

The hamstrings are inordinately tight, remember to go slow and breathe. Yoga is not a race, it’s all about feel. If the pose feels good, then it is good. Allow your chest to rest on your thighs and slowly lift the kneecaps to lengthen the legs and deepen the hamstring stretch.

Image and yoga

For years now my practice has mainly been solitary. I practice Bikram yoga at a studio once a week and as far as community is concerned that’s just the hand full of students who show up at my home studio twice a week. I vascillate over whether to engage in more sangha locally at a studio and also wonder if it’s best to continue my slow steady solo path.

There are advantages to either side of a yoga practice. Years ago I went to maybe 10 classes total before I just practiced daily at home the 20 or so poses I’d learned. Being alone meant I could hold the pose longer, hang out, breathe and really deepen my practice in a way that I couldn’t at a studio where the teacher was helping a whole class move through the poses and didn’t have time to focus on me alone.

In solitary yoga you don’t get any community. There is something to be said of sangha within the yoga community and being able to relate to our communal goals and work in our practice. At times this makes me aware of the real humanity of the practice and as a teacher it reminds me to try to meet students where they are at. All of my students are different, have different bodies and needs and as much as possible I try to steer them the direction that will give them the most bang for their buck so to speak.

Financially as a teacher it may be best to venture out, teach at a studio and work with a larger number of students. This also creates an interesting setup regarding the studio itself. In the US people expect a large, spacious studio with wooden floors. Everything is clean, tailored just so and comes with all the trappings we think of in such a space. I care nothing for image.

Part of the reason I’ve enjoyed working in my home studio is that it’s about the practice, not the space. There is no image to maintain. It has a carpeted floor, it’s a repurposed garage and has recycled mirrors. If you’re looking for what you consider a yoga studio, you’re in the wrong place. My studio is about yoga, not about image.

That one sticking point has prevented income over the years. I could make more if I spent more time focused on image, scenery and facade but how would it affect my practice? My concern is that it would lose depth. I love looking at photos of sadhus in India in sackcloth covered in ashes. That my friends is yoga. You’re breaking down your ego, not bolstering it with brazillian wood floors and painted mandalas in an air conditioned building.

Both as a teacher and practitioner I go where I feel works best for me. Image isn’t my forte. If you’re looking for image this isn’t your practice and I’m not your teacher. Substance? Oh, there’s depth over here.

“Once in awhile you get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right.”~~the Grateful Dead


Ashtanga yoga as it’s come to be known was taught by Krishnamcharya to a young Pattahbi Jois who’s shown in the video below as an older man. I started watching this video because I’m not particularly familiar with Ashtanga and find that I’m wanting more of a flow to my teaching sequences in class.

Ashtanga was the original flow series. As I understand it all of power yoga, power flow and such sprouted from this series. Visually I’ve always noticed that Ashtanga adepts are very long and thin. The series can be adapted to fit any health level but I remind myself that it was created, developed and first taught to a Very healthy 13 year old boy, namely Pattabhi Jois.

Typically in classes I’m using Iyengar alignment with a little sun salutation then we branch out into whatever I’m feeling that day. My private practice is similar except I go slowly and feel my way through every pose like I’m meditating. This contrasts well for me personally due to my Bikram practice but with students being led I prefer to keep them moving a bit more from pose to pose.

One can become lost in the names of modern yoga teachers and their practices. In the end remember it’s important to sample different styles and do what works for you. With hatha yoga that’s not harming yourself and continuing your exploration. Around the 40 minute mark of this film they start doing poses that I’m not currently comfortable doing much less teaching. Even I must remind myself that this is a life long practice, not something done overnight.


When I went to the Moving into Stillness retreat with Erich Schiffmann and friends I watched Erich like a hawk. This is common to anyone who teaches me. Over time I’ve learned that your teachers are everyone. What I like, what I dislike and what I aspire to be are contained in those around me and if you look closely your teachers are never further than a glance away.

My reason for watching Erich is I won’t have a huge time around him. What I’m looking for isn’t truth, least not from Erich so much as listening to a friend on the path who’s exploring to share insight. It’s not just teacher to student or peer to peer as much as he’s been doing this awhile, he’s charted the path more during his years…watch him.

While engaging our group in a talk he discussed meditation. All of yoga for Erich goes back to this. Hatha yoga is designed to get one ready to meditate. I’ve only just started practicing sitting meditation after working on my posture for years. As Erich discussed meditation he said, “there’s just something about it.”

The hawk like precision I had made me say, “Aha!” internally. Even he, after all these years recognizes it’s ineffable. Krishnamurti, Iyengar and now Erich all putting their hand on their forehead and going how can you describe the indescribable? Everyone attempts to, what other language is there? We use symbols to communicate and share but in the end it’s your path and no one else’s. Teaching is good but it will never communicate experience itself.

“There’s just something about it.” That small glimmer of light within his talk put me at ease. It feels good to have community that is as perplexed, confused, happy and in awe of what we’re working with. We’re alive. We’re focused and trying to gain more insight in how to lead healthier, better and more integrated lives. Yoga and meditation are good medicine, not just for your body but for your soul.

Where does yoga lead us?

This is the first of what I consider a video dharma talk. Dharma is used in a specific context within buddhism and I use the term loosely. In all things take what makes sense to you and leave the rest behind. My purpose in posting the video is to bring more clarity to the spiritual component of hatha yoga and how a regular practice within this realm can change your life.

Hatha yoga practice leads to meditation. This is the entire purpose of a hatha yoga practice and what it’s designed to do. The vibrant health that comes from a practice hopefully allows someone to live a long full life where they can continue their meditation practice and spiritual pursuits. A balanced body leads to a balanced mind and then you tap of the door to the spirit. The integration of these parts of your being continues. Yoga means union.

I’d like to thank Erich Schiffmann for the added encouragement to post this video. The ease with which he complimented my videos as being heart felt made this a much easier process.