What is Thai massage? pt.2

Thai massage is bodywork that’s designed for those who do yoga. I’m consistently amazed that Thai massage hasn’t taken the yoga community by storm but I believe modern yoga is slowly starting to catch up.

Thai massage puts one through a series of poses similar to yoga poses and stretches many of the same muscle groups, like the hamstrings, glutes and calves. The difference is that a good Thai therapist can get about 10% extra stretch out of muscle and you as a receiver can just relax and let go. Typically in yoga you’re working many muscles to release a few. There’s no substitute for a regular yoga practice but Thai massage can help those who do yoga pin point problem areas to work on and excel in their practice.

The compressions in Thai massage on some areas like the glutes and hamstrings is something that’s difficult to achieve on your own. Bringing fresh, highly oxygenated blood into the area is good and generally refreshing. The letting go that happens during Thai massage allows the spine to stabilize and balance while the hips to open so you can sit and meditate, which is what yoga is designed to help your body do to begin with.

“Thai massage is to yoga as chocolate is to peanut butter.”~~Robert Gardner

Warrior 2

I’ve heard Patricia Walden, one of Iyengar’s senior teachers, call standing poses friends for life. I believe warrior 2 or virabhdrasana to be one of those key standing postures that one will always return to in their practice.

This pose is difficult for beginners to get into completely. Having their bent leg at 90 degrees takes time and strength building in the core and legs. The further the legs are apart the more work done my muscles to hold the pose. If you find it difficult keep good foot posture but decrease the distance between the feet. Always keep the knee above the ankle, none of that moving it out in front.

The second most common problem I see for people in warrior 2 is they don’t open their hips. This was a revelation to me when I was first shown, I’d been almost completely unaware of my hip positioning in the pose previously. Both legs are opening out and stretching apart through the hips. Both legs are turning out so that there’s some focus on having the outer or pinky toes ground into the floor. Most people will sag through the hips and sag through the shoulders. As I often tell my students, “No one slouches into battle! Hips open, shoulders back and down, open the chest.”

As you gain strength increase the distance between the feet. Warrior 2 makes a good transition into triangle pose or trikonasana if the feet are closer together than I have in the video.

Mountain pose

Tadasana or mountain pose is the foundational standing pose in hatha yoga. The alignment in the posture influences all of the other standing postures so it’s important to work on your alignment to get a sense of how proper posture here influences other poses in your practice.

It may seem odd to teach people to stand correctly but that’s what we do. As you watch the video notice how even my posture changes in the pose. I have a small sway back and it’s interesting to see myself in video form leading you through the alignment. Feel the pose as you make shifts. Your body will tell you what feels right if you listen. As you move or adjust yourself further notice how one part of your body flows into another differently due to the changes you make.

In the pose always continue breathing calmly. Increase, follow and explore the breath. See where it takes you.

Headstand pt.2

Inversions bathe the endocrine organs (pituitary gland, thyroid and parathyroid) in blood meaning they are allowed to do what they’re supposed to do. Cleansing and repair happen and proper function returns or is maintained. The increased blood flow to the head includes the brain, the part of the body that uses the greatest blood supply. The morning wake up I do with headstands pushes blood up then down my body repeatedly as I shift my space in gravity.

Reading Anatomy of Hatha Yoga I was surprised to find out he listed two different versions of headstand, one at bregma, another at the crown. Exploring the pose over time I became aware that my skull wasn’t completely level and my neck was certainly not in proper alignment. I’d been told that headstand is a bad idea for someone with my specific injury, a whiplash. I wondered why the pose made me feel better and decided to listen to my body as opposed to stop doing a pose I liked.

I realized over time that headstand gave me space to correct cervical spine issues from the top down. By shifting my head slightly in various directions I had resistance to push into the muscles around my neck, connecting into the base of my skull and into my upper back. I could essentially work in three dimensions and now upside down to reverse any structrual torsion or shift that’d taken place over time. Long story short, not only was headstand good but I could work on my long term alignment in some tricky areas.

Bikram’s torture chamber

Bikram yoga is one of my favorite discussions in the yoga community. Nothing else that I know of is quite as controversial and with as many varied opinions. Those in the yoga community tend to fall into camps. They prefer certain teachers, certain styles and although some are eclectic I find strong opinions in people that are nearly religious in their fervor. Bikram is separate, nearly reviled by those who do not practice it and loved and held in high estreem by those who do. It’s something akin to the disdain people have for the Grateful Dead and their music while Deadheads keep dancing merrily.

I took maybe 6 classes of Bikram before moving to Austin. I was excited upon moving here to live in a city that offered Bikram and signed up immediately and have not looked back. On average I’ve practiced once a week for 6 years. Yogagroove has supplied a steady supportive base for me to continue my practice over this time.

A few months into my jaunt I got together with college friends. All of their families are from India. As we ate curry, yoga came up. The modern situation one finds oneself in amazes me. Three Indian guys and one ScottsIrish from south Louisiana. I not only do yoga, I teach it. They’ve barely done more than a sun salutation.

Bikram came up as that was on my mind at the time. Immediately I was told that Bikram was horrible. The hot room was bad for you and what was worse, Bikram was selling the culture of India. I took all of this information in and respectfully as possible replied to certain concepts. It is true that Bikram’s business practices have received attention. Court battles have been fought and won and no one can teach Bikram yoga unless you train with Bikram. At its core Bikram isn’t selling yoga or Indian culture he’s marketing the sequence that he developed and now sells.

In the same way that a song is copyrighted, so is Bikram yoga, and it gives Bikram sole ownership. Many do not like this, they do feel he’s sold part of Indian culture. When I get these complaints much as I did that day with my friends, I ask them a question, “Have you ever done his yoga?” Usually the reply is what I heard that day, a confused look comes over their face and they say, “No.”

When you’ve practiced his yoga, done what he’s asking and looked at it the way I have you form different opinions. Having old injuries, inflammation and scar tissue the heat in a Bikram studio warms me and makes me pliable. It helps me open into those areas and flush blood to help heal old wounds. My body is stronger, leaner, more healthy and I can eat what I want. It’s not much of a sacrifice for 1.5 hours of my time once a week. It’s the only regular purposeful exercise I get. I’ve learned to hydrate well, drink little alcohol, eat lightly and prepare my body for the rigors of his practice. He in turn has helped me with my aches and makes my life more tolerable. I’m one of the healthiest people I know.

Bikram codified his sequence in the heated room for a particular reason, he’s working with Americans first and foremost. Americans are often overweight, lazy, work in air conditioned office like environments and are not yoga aficionados. Bikram’s yoga can take someone who is out of shape and wake them up. I’m not saying it is for everyone, if it doesn’t suit you go do something else. 105F isn’t for everyone but with patience and practice Bikram’s yoga can transform people, of that I’ve little doubt. I’ve done it for 6 years and I’m still finding new levels of health, alignment and openness. The practice gets less difficult but it’s never easy.

Bikram doesn’t have to tell his students to hydrate, they do so because they must to practice his yoga. Bikram does not have to tell his students to practice on a nearly empty stomach, they learn that they will have trouble practicing if they don’t. Bikram does not have to tell people to lay off of the alcohol, they will simply learn that they will be dehydrated if they do not. Bikram’s yoga can turn out of shape people into healthy liberated beings.

It’s not everything. It’s not all of yoga. It’s Bikram. I honor his work and teachings for the differences it’s made in my health and body as do I other teachers, particularly BKS Iyengar.

The heat helps someone who is tight begin to stretch. The heat means they will not be thinking about their grocery list during asana, they’ll be focusing on not passing out. The cardiovascular workout people receive in that light sauna environment gets their heart pumping. That blood circulating does what circulating blood does but add to it asana and its tourniquet effect and you have a way of cleaning out your body. That blood cut off then released flushes the organs, glands and helps heal injury.

Bikram developed his sequence after destroying his knee in a weight lifting accident to the point that doctors told him he would not walk again. Many I’ve spoken to in the Bikram community have overcome injuries due to his yoga. My clients are often overweight, they are lazy, they suffer from American average. If they have a remotely athletic bone in their body I tell them to do Bikram. The reason is that I know this yoga and what the clients will be doing. If I send them to just any studio what will the teacher be teaching? It will vary from teacher to teacher and class to class as does my teaching. This is one benefit to the practice as someone who would recommend yoga to clients.

I do not expect all to like Bikram or his yoga. I see results from my practice. If people practiced Bikram’s yoga they would not wander into my office with a list of medications for illnesses that only affect people in the 1st world. They would not complain about their upper back and neck because they work on a computer 40 hours a week and get no exercise while eating too much fast food.

It is not the only yoga I practice but I honor what he has done. If I ever meet him I’ll polish his Rolls Royce with my taut white keister.

Thank you mister Choudhury and thank you to my friends and teachers at Yogagroove.