Wednesday, 8 July 2015

When Buddha decided to give up the Sangha

Reciting the prayer to Jivaka Kumarabaccha with Indic pronunication

Every Thai Massage session and teaching starts with an homage to the founder of Buddhist Medical Sciences Acharya Jivaka Kumarabaccha. I love the sing-song style in which it is delivered. One thing, however, bothered me about this prayer which was that it didn’t seem to sound right
Knowing Acharya Jivaka was born in India and that most texts were written in Pali in his time, I often wondered why the pronunciation was a bit off according to me. While I was never an expert in Pali (the language in which the homage is written) I could clearly see that the some words sounded like Sanskrit/ Pali but--not quite. Being a native speaker of several Indian languages, all of which derive from Sanskrit or Pali plus some basic Sanskrit I learnt at school, I started unravelling the prayer.

What I also realised with my travels in Thailand, is that the Thais are often not able to pronounce certain consonants well, like the sound “da” and “ra”. Therefore, by combining the translation I had for the homage, I started the slow process of rewriting this prayer word by word e.g. Here are some of the words that I spotted were being pronounced incorrectly.

As in the Thai Version Meaning Correct Sanskrit/Pali 
Osata Medicine Oshadha
Suryajantang Sun Moon Surya Chandam
Pakasesi Shine on Prakasesi
Wantami Salutation Vandami
Bantito Learned person Pundito
Sumetaso &Wisdom Sumedhaso
Aroka Health Aroga
Piyo Beloved of Priyo
Teva Divine Being Deva
Naka Magical Serpent Being Naga
Pininsiang Senses Pinindirang
NamoPuttaya Salutation to the Buddha Namobuddhaya
Na A Na Wa Closing chant in a Mantra Swa Ha Swa Ha
Aroga Health Aroka

I also reached out to a Pali expert Bhikku Nayantusida, a Buddhist monk from Kandy in Sri Lanka and he was able to offer even further insight.
The end of the research here is the final product that I feel is better and truer to its original sound, 

Oṃ namo Jīvako Sirasa Ahang karuṇiko
sabba-sattānaṃ osadha-dibbamantaṃ
pabhāso suriyācandaṃ 
kumārabhacco prakāsesi vandāmi 
sirasā ahaṃ paṇḍito sumedhaso arogā sumanā homi (3 times) 

Priyo Deva Manussanang Priyo-Proma Namuttamo 
Priyo Naga Supananang Pinindiryang
Nama-Mihang Namo Buddhaya 
Navon-Navien Nasatit-Nasatien
Ehi-Mama Navien-Nawe Napai-Tang-Vien Navien-Mahaku 
Ehi-Mama Priyo-Mama Namo-Buddhaya (1 time) 

Swa Ha Swa Ha Roga Payati Vina-Shanti. (3 Times)

Spot any other familiar Indian words write in and let me know?

Friday, 26 June 2015

5 Reasons why India is a spiritual land

Anyone who has been to India will agree that it’s a right, royal mess. From the jumble of wires on electric posts, to men openly urinating on walls plastered with lurid coloured Bollywood posters. India has chaos written all over it. Yet, from this seemingly putrid mess arises a flowering bouquet of wisdom and wisdom holders. South Asia has been the birthplace of many spiritual paths like Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Vedanta, Yoga and Tantra.

Over the centuries from Adinatha, a Jina to Shirdi Sai Baba a Sufi, India gives birth to prophets/ saints on an assembly line. The all-pervasive mess is in stark contrast to the wisdom that emanates from it, baffling many into thinking - how anything, mildly enlightening could arise out of it! Why is it that a country with every possible resource and some of the brightest people in the world continues to be a place of so much suffering and inequity often accompanied with fatalism? Is it possible that this suffering is the fuel for the wisdom of the yogis? After all, Buddha was an overindulged prince of a palace until he saw disease, old age and death causing him to renounce his luxurious closeted existence in search of the ultimate truth.

While suffering and mortality are not the preserve of India, yet it has that special quality that has given rise to many paths of liberation. That makes India the must-go-to destination for the seeker in all of us. Here are the top five realisations I have experienced while living in India.

Deep blue spot south of the Indian peninsula has the lowest gravity on Earth
A Lightness of Being: The Gravity Field and Steady-State Ocean Circulation Explorer (GOCE) satellite has been mapping the gravity on the surface of the planet for the past few years and its findings show a large gravity hole just South of the Indian land mass and its effect running all the way up to the Himalayas. The blue gravity hole indicates the point on the planet with the lowest gravity. A careful scan of the GOCE map shows that there is no other place with those gravitational properties on the entire Earth. It may be subtle but it is a fact that life is lighter in India even when you have very little.

A Paradoxical Land: One of India’s richest men, has built for himself a 170-meter skyscraper as his personal home in Mumbai. The skyscraper is plush with every possible luxury in the world. Paradoxically from where he stands on the highest floor of his ultra luxury home he can see the brown buttocks and the pile of turds of the poorest man in the world as he defecates in the open next to the railway track.

India is a land peppered with a million bizarre contradictions, so hard to wrap one's head around that it can cause the analytical mind to short circuit into an instant Samadhi (meditative absorption). No headstand is required.

Learning to Surrender: Living in the United States a country where buses and trains arrive on time and traffic follows in preordained and predictable ways, I realize how strange India can be. I may be driving a swanky sports car on one of India’s superhighways between Delhi and Mumbai, only to suddenly find a cow saunter across placidly and drop a good sized cow pie just as the car whizzes by its tail. In India nothing is predictable. A typical day in India is filled with so much uncertainty that the idea of an “I” that is in control may slowly wither away!

Confronting Mortality: Those brave enough to visit the incredible Indian state of Sikkim in the Himalayas have to take a shared mini van from the dusty, polluted town of Siliguri up the mountains. The van fits ten people depending on the greed of the owner. Irrespective of the number of people in the van it will be a tight squeeze. After a long period of haggling and smoking, you will eventually be driven careening up a narrow, potholed Himalayan road.  The frothing Teesta River runs fast and deep about 1000 feet below while on the other side frequent landslides block the narrow road. Every precarious turn gives you a whiff of your neighbour’s armpit. Then, you remember your friend telling you that there are only two kinds of jeep drivers-- those who run on alcohol and those that run on Benadryl. It is at this moment that you realise that life is as fleeting and delicate as a soap bubble in the wind. If you do survive the thrill of this journey, you can expect a feeling of rebirth and the realisation of your higher purpose in life.

Find a Guru: In India saints and enlightened beings still exist, each with a unique perspective on love and liberation. The only problem is that they are not on the Internet, selling workshops, DVDs or managing large communes. You are more likely to find them in the temple villages, cremation grounds and dusty, crowded alleys of an Indian city or even begging on the train. It 's hard to spot them and one may have to wait for the Guru to call. Which is not a problem because even if the wait is long, India will entertain, shock and enchant every minute. 

Sunday, 7 June 2015

How many Levels of Thai Massage should I do?

Every student who registers for our courses asks this question. In this article, I will attempt to answer this. It is important to understand that traditionally Thai Massage has never been taught as levels. The structuring of Thai bodywork into levels is the outcome of the education being adjusted to suit western students travel plans in Thailand.

Traditionally Thai Massage was taught over several years by first observation and then practice.

In modern times, most schools divide basic Thai Massage education into two five days sections (typically from Monday to Friday) comprising of 30-40 hours of instruction each.

Some schools will not offer this option and instead will offer a combined ten-day course.

The first five days a student is taught how to work with a client lying in a supine (on their back) position. 
Thai Massage with client in Supine position
Thai Massage with Client in Supine position

Thai Massage in Prone position
Client in Prone Postion

Thai Massage with client in side lying position
With Client in Side Lying Position

Thai Massage with Client in seated postion
Client in Seated Position
The next five days (Level 2) the student is taught how to execute new and some of the previous exercises with the client now lying in prone (on their stomach), side-lying and seated position. In these positions, the student will learn to work on the back and hips of their client.

The main reasons for structuring the course like this is that in Level 2 the student will be stepping, kneeling and sometimes standing on their client. It is, therefore, important that the student takes the first five days to understand the pressure and other safety considerations before proceeding to more complicated moves.

How many levels should a student do? Depends on what their objectives is! If the goal is to get a flavour of Thai massage and learn a few techniques that one can apply informally then a three day, five day or introductory course is sufficient.

If however if you wish to practice this healing art with any seriousness, then the students must do at least two levels or a ten day /60-80 hour course. I recommend this for the following reasons.

  1. The second level covers working on the back and hips. Two crucial areas where everyone needs work on. Therefore for anyone planning to practice professionally, Level 2 is essential.
  2. If you are new to Thai Massage then memorising the sequences and techniques in 5 days can be quite challenging. However since Level 2 covers many of the level 1 techniques in the same series (except that they are done in prone, seated and side-lying) it allows the students to refresh their Level 1 and improves retention.
  3. While Level 1 teaches about One and a half to two hours of techniques when combined with Level 2, the total becomes almost 3-4 hours of techniques. The benefit of this is that with so many variations you can delight your client with new techniques each time they come for a session
  4. Finally, it has been my experience that most students who do only Level 1 rarely ever progress to become serious therapists. On the other hand, those who did both levels are today serious practitioners in their right, and some have even become Thai Massage teachers now.

Advanced levels can be done if the student feels confident enough with previous levels. The higher level course can be both theoretical in nature or can focus on more advanced techniques. Continuing your education after a ten-day course, however, requires sound practice. Please write if you need any further information by visiting this link.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Starting a formal Thai Massage Practice in the United States, India or Internationally

The process to become a licensed Thai Massage Therapist in the United States can be a long and expensive process. Simply put there is nothing like a licensed or registered Thai Massage therapist in the United States. The only legal Thai Massage you can receive in the United States is from a licensed Massage Therapist, who has also taken a Thai Massage continuing education course.

This is unfortunate for the practitioners of Thai Massage as those who can do Thai Massage legally might not have as much training as a practitioner who has had many years of training in Thailand.  By a strange set of laws the student can practice but the teacher cannot!

It is important to understand that laws regarding the practice of Thai Massage vary across the US and each country. No global body certifies Thai therapists and some countries e.g. France do not even recognize it as therapy. It is also important to understand the difference between certification, accreditation and licensing. In general, almost anybody with the necessary qualifications (like a teacher training) can certify. A certificate has more credibility if the instructor/school has accreditation from a body like NCBTMB (US only) or the World Massage Federation. Licensing, on the other hand, is issued by a local government body based on a set of laws which may or may not give any credence to your certification or accreditation.

The path to becoming a licensed massage therapist varies across the United States.  It generally requires 500-750 hours of study in an accredited massage school (there are several exceptions to this norm). Since these schools are located in the United States, massage education can be quite expensive. Further, the training received in these schools are focused towards western massage modalities like Swedish or myofascial release. Some may offer electives in Asian healing modalities. Often the hours devoted to the study of Asian modalities are sufficient to acquire a brief over view.

On graduating from an accredited massage school in the United States, students then need to give an MBLex/ NCBTMB exam or apply to the local state massage board for a license. On getting the license, the therapist can now practice massage.

After this if the therapist does a Thai massage course with an approved provider then they can practice Thai Massage.

Yoga Instructors: There are few Yoga Instructors who do use Thai Massage. They cannot offer nor can they claim to provide a Thai Massage officially.  Since Thai Massage is a yogic healing art, they do sometimes use the techniques of Thai Massage to improve the flexibility and Range-of-Motion of their clients.

Practicing Thai Massage in India:

The practice of healing is largely unregulated. A practitioner of Thai Massage should have a legal work status in India. Further, he or she must have a Shops and Establishment Act License from their local council/corporation. Of course, the practitioner must comply legally by paying all applicable taxes.

Practicing Thai Massage Internationally

Each country in the world has it own set of rules regarding massage and healing.  There is no global body that regulates the practice of Thai Massage. Anyone planning to practice Massage must have a legal work status and comply with local laws. It is next to impossible to list the various rules regarding the practice of Thai Massage in this article. One can, however, say that most first world countries have more regulation on practicing massage and healing. Fortunately, because of the Internet, it should be easy to find country specific information.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Two Exercises to Perfect your Downward Facing Dog Pose

Try these self-administered Thai Massage compression techniques to get that perfect Downward Dog pose.

The Downward dog position is one of the more popular Hatha Yogic poses. It is part of the Surya Namaskara (Sun Salutation series) and, therefore, essential to a yogi’s daily practice. It boosts the immune system, improves circulation, and helps in relieving certain kinds of back and spinal conditions. It also stretches and builds strength in the wrists, arms, legs, ankles and the back.

Despite the simplicity of this pose, the full expression of Ardho Mukh Svanasana (Downward Dog Pose) can be tricky to perfect. A common misalignment with this pose is the problem of raised heels.  Poor heel contact arises from shortness in the myofascial chain running from the big toe up to the hip along the back of the legs. This shortness often originates in the Soleus and the Gastrocnemius muscles of the calf (see infographic). When these muscles are healthy, they lengthen easily so that the heel can touch the floor allowing the soles of the feet to be firmly grounded.

It is, therefore, important to keep these muscles flexible. Over exercising, underutilizing them or even wearing high heels can cause chronic shortness and tighten the calf muscles. Thai Massage offers an easy way to address the shortening of muscles. In Thai Massage, compression techniques are applied on yogic meridians (SEN) to achieve a supple muscle tone. While Thai therapists use these techniques on their clients, they can also be self-applied.

Thai massage concentrates on Ten major “Sen” or channels in the body that often run on or along muscles. Of them, Sen Sumana covers the Soleus and Gastrocnemius muscles. The following two simple exercises on the Sen offer a way to rejuvenate the calf muscles.

The exercises take only three minutes for each calf and can, therefore, be easily incorporated into a yogi’s daily practice. The first version of this exercise is easier and recommended for people who have stiff knees.

1.    Lie on the back with both knees bent.
2.    Raise the right leg and bring the right calf up to rest on to the left Patella (kneecap). Exhale as the weight of the right calf settles into the kneecap.
3.    Close eyes and breathe deeply to feel a mild sensation run down the back of the calf to the heels/ foot.
4.    Hold for 30 sec or until slight pulsing is felt where the knee cap makes contact with the right calf (whichever is less).
5.    Repeat on three spots on the right calf from middle to slightly superior to the ankle. Repeat on the other side and then execute a Downward Dog pose and feel the difference.

The second version is harder but more efficient
1.    Bring the body to all fours with knees slightly apart on a well-cushioned surface.
2.    Inhale and gently rotate the right thigh outward to bring the right foot in to wedge it between your left calf and thigh.
3.    While maintaining body weight on the arms, exhale and slowly bring the hips down to trap the right foot between the left calf and thigh. As the hips release down, the right foot will compress the left calf, and it will create an intense sensation along the back meridian of the calf sometimes running down all the way to the foot. It is critical that the hips should be brought down slowly and only to such level that the yogi can bear the intensity of the compression.
4.    On reaching the threshold of comfort hold the pose. Close eyes and feel the path taken by the meridian along the back of the calf to the heel or foot. Breathe normally and while exhaling attempt to pushing the breath into the activated Meridian. In about 30 seconds the initial sensitivity will subside. One may also feel a mild pulsing in the area that was compressed.
5.    Release by inhaling, raising the hip and shifting the weight back to the arms.
6.    Repeat this with the right foot being placed in two more equally spaced spot on the back of the calf from the middle to just above the ankle.
7.    Repeat on the other side.
8.    Now do your down dog and get surprised by the extra stretch your are now getting.

We call this Swantantra Yoga. Read more here

Friday, 6 February 2015

Learning Thai Massage from Ajarn Pichest Boonthume

As a Thai Massage instructor, I like to keep my skills fresh by going to Thailand every year or two to learn from other teachers. In the past seven years I have studied with almost every big school and then some lesser known but perhaps more gifted teachers.

Among all of them, one stood out the most. His name is Pichest Boonthume. It 's hard to understand Pichest from a Western mind frame. If one goes with occidental ideas, one is unlikely ever to learn anything. One of the reasons for that is that Pichest teaches in an ancient world style.

That means there are no fancy printed workbooks, no certification (he couldn’t care less), no accreditation and no set course content. You don’t have to do anything in class. If you just want to sit down and watch or even sleep through class, it is ok!

What might be even more irritating to a first timer at Pichest's is that half the day is spent in chanting what seems like meaningless Buddhist prayers and listening to his complaints about the loss of morality in this age especially in Thailand with rising consumerism and laissez-faire relationships. All this delivered in appalling English.

Then to make matters even worse Pichest may pull out a pack of Krungthip cigarettes and light them in class and take a deep and satisfying drag.

One may wonder then what is the big deal about Ajahn Pichest. Why is it despite all these factors every serious practitioner of Thai massage has passed through his hands.

Why is that despite having all these limitations there might be more than 40 eager students in his small temple/classroom in the season?

The answer is simple. Pichest helps you unlearn everything you know, or think you know about Thai Massage. Which means out of the window goes all the unnecessary movements flourishes, sequences, techniques, passive yoga stretches and other typical fluff and bluff one may have learned at some of the more well known Thai massage schools in Chiang Mai.

A week with Pichest can be hard for some Thai Massage students. Particularly those who have just done a course where they paid 30000 baht and spent four weeks in a Thai massage school. Then you meet this man who turns your world around by proving to you that what you have been doing and what you paid for is quite meaningless and perhaps even dangerous.

However, those who have practiced Thai Massage for some years in the style that is taught in the more famous Massage schools will appreciate Pichest better. They understand instantly how they have been torturing themselves and their clients with unnecessary movements, sequences and techniques. They feel the pain in their thumbs and the ache in their knees. They know they are doing something wrong, but they can’t get a fix on it. Then they meet Pichest and see the simple effectiveness of his work, the ease and grace that flows with it and they are hooked.

Pichest’s massage style will free a Thai Massage practitioner from techniques and bring them back into feeling. With Master Pichest, feeling is supreme, and he will teach you to look for connections and to see the body as a whole. He will teach you how to use the gravity and weight as your friend and give your thumbs and hands a break.

He will teach that physical therapy needs feeling and not techniques. It needs observation and not sequences or more cool looking stretches.

If you plan to go and study with Ajarn Pichest, then give it time and patience. Leave preconceived western ideas of what is a good teacher at home and sit with humility. Observe carefully and try not to think too much. Instead, try to feel and, if possible, get him to work on you. You won’t regret it, and your understanding of Thai massage will change forever. It might even prolong your massage career. Most of all when you ask a question don’t say the word “I think”!

How to reach Ajarn Pichest from Chiang Mai

By bike:

As you drive down on 108 highway with the airport runway on your right, you may need to drive about 15 minutes till you see a large TOA sign. Keep on for another short distance and the lookout for New Life Baptist Church on the left or Ban Waen on the right (see picture).
Landmark and directions to Pichest's house
Ban Waen

Immediately after Ban Waen, there is a small turn on the left (see picture).
Turning to Pichest's House

Take that left and go down about 100 meters past some houses and then some paddy fields on the left.
Paddy fields on the way to Pichest's House
Paddy fields on the way to Pichest's House

Past the paddy field, the road will bend and on the bend you will see Pichest’s House.
Pichest's House
Pichest"s House

By Taxi

Take a yellow Sangtheuw from the South Gate in Chiang Mai. During the day, they are parked next to the gate on the outer road along the moat. Sit on the right side so you can watch out for Ban Waen. When you see it, press the buzzer and get off.
The driver will take about 20 baht. Now locate the turn to the left and walk down till you see Pichest’s house.


Normally about 800 baht a day. You don’t need to call ahead as some people may tell you. Pichest has a very informal class style, and there are no limits to how many people can come to the class. So don’t waste his and your time, calling and irritating him with formality and directions.


You can drop in informally to see a class, and no payment is required. However if you do intend to take a week's class, then you should come with the money in an envelope, some flowers, fruit and some incense. You can buy this as a standard offering bundle from market opposite the south gate before you take your taxi. This needs to be offered to the deities on the right of the shrine in their respective offering bowls.

Best Time to visit: 

Peak summer which is the least touristy season in Thailand is the best time. There are not more than six people in a class, and you have a better chance of some work getting done on you by the Master himself. Watch out!  His work can be intense also the mosquitoes in the heat of summer can be challenging while doing Thai Massage but who said learning from a master was easy.

Class Structure:

9:00 AM Some informal chat as Pichest has a smoke
9:30 AM Chanting and Wai Kru
10:30 AM Pichest Talks Dharma
11:30 AM Pichest may demonstrate
1:00 PM Lunch (Provide by Pichest)
2:00 PM Practice with other students
4:00 PM class concludes with washing and chanting

Address: See Map

Phone: Don’t bother
Class days: Monday to Friday
Email: Doesn’t have one and even if he did he wouldn’t bother responding