Friday, 26 December 2014

Metta in Thai Massage

Metta in Thai Massage
Metta in Many Languages - Download and set as your Desktop
Metta is one of the fundamental principles of Thai massage and is also applied to all other Buddhist healing arts.  Metta is a word in Pali and Thai that means Loving Kindness or sometimes can be translated as friendliness. Metta is also one of the four perfections in Buddhism.

A Thai Massage practitioner working with Metta maintains a feeling of detachment and empathy simultaneously for the suffering of another sentient being. Metta allows the healer to get a better and more objective opinion of the root cause of the disease. It’s a bit like going to talk to a close friend about my troubles. I know that she has my best interests at heart, yet she is a bit removed from my situation, and therefore, she can give me a more objective view of my situation.

It is critical that the feeling of empathy or concern for another person's suffering must be accompanied by detachment. A healer with only empathy and no detachment will not be able to give her best as she will not be able to maintain the calmness and equanimity required to make a good observation of the malaise and, therefore, aid the client in the resolution.

At the other end if the healer has only detachment and no empathy then it would be similar to some modern-day medical professionals who are more interested in money than healing.

How can one develop Metta?

The process of formulating Metta requires experience with suffering!

Of course, the more one has lived, the more one suffers, and this is a good starting base for developing Metta as a healer. People who have suffered are often the best healers. The process of developing Metta requires one to start with the Self, realizing with experience (no intellectualism) suffering, impermanence, and detachment. While empathizing with one’s suffering is quite easy, however developing detachment towards it can be little trickier.

The key to developing detachment to one’s suffering is to stay with it and observe its depth, quality, source and effect.  In the 21st century where people are barely able to concentrate on their pleasures, it is even harder to focus on one’s suffering without giving into the desire to escape it. Assuming that one can do this then one will observe that in time the suffering subsides and the truth of impermanence of both the Self and its Suffering will be realized.

Once this part has been internalized well i.e., that suffering is always around, and all suffering is impermanent like everything else, then one can start work by observing the suffering of others with empathy.  After all, their suffering is similar to one’s own but also with detachment because one knows it is impermanent.   The realization comes when we understand that there is no “I” which, separates us from others and everything else. The truth is that there is no separation. The suffering of your client is the same as yours and arises from the ignorance of thinking that there is a separation.

Metta is the responsibility of love without the clinging and attachment as is quite distinct from the modern day "no-strings-attached-relationships".  Metta is a responsibility and not a pleasure trip. A healer operating with Metta feels the sense of responsibility to help the client out of their suffering, but the healer also knows that client is perhaps more responsible for their healing than the healer.

Metta is not an effortless perfection to attain because it exists on the fine line between love with responsibility and detachment.

To do this well, one will need the next perfection Upekkha or Equanimity.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Friday, 7 November 2014

An interesting article on the connection between your gut and your brain.
The article also talks about what we have been talking a lot about i.e. gut bacteria and how they determine our mood, eating and metabolism.
From a yogic point of view it is well known that vishudha chakra and the manipura are closely connected. The vishudha chakra is the seat of our expression and impression while the manipura is seat of our material contentment.
This article clearly establishes how gut bacteria send signals through the vagus nerve which happens to also innervate the thyroid gland.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

What is pain and how does the body respond

An interesting article on pain, itching and its neurological response.

Are Thai Massage sequences a bad idea?

If you go to a Thai Massage Therapist here in Kansas City or in the lazy lanes of Chiang Mai in Thailand the chances are that you are most probably receiving a standard sequence of techniques. In all probability the therapist does the same sequence of moves for every session day in day out.

If one studied in some of the "certified" Thai Massage School factories in Chiang Mai or  here in the US one may have been taught a standard sequence that one must perform over an hour and half or two.  So irrespective of the condition of the client and their needs a therapist will follow the sequence they have been taught.

One can argue that this cannot be such a bad thing after all. If you pay $60 everyone should get an apple and not an orange. The only problem with that logic is that one man’s food is another man’s poison.

For example a forward bending asana might not be good for someone suffering  a herniated disc or for someone with an excessively lordotic lower back the classic cobra position is not helpful at all. These are just a few examples of the many downsides of delivering a standard sequence.

My experience was quite similar. After having done a three week course from a very famous Thai Massage course factory in Chiang Mai I came home and egotistically pronounced myself a Therapist and did the same old routine I was taught. The only problem  was that I didn’t feel I helped my clients and somewhere in my conscience I felt something was wrong.

So I went back to Chiang Mai and over several years explored Thai Massage not with Massage School Factories but with small individual teachers who provided no certificates and couldn’t be bothered if you wanted one.

Of all of them one stood out.  His class rarely started on time, he had no workbooks, no certificates, he had no awards from the King, he spent half the day talking about the degradation of Thai society and simplicity of Buddhist thought. Several of the students with me found his classes a waste of time and money.

On any given day his actual massage instruction rarely exceeded an hour but I found his transmission in that one hour was way more than several weeks of teaching at a typical massage school factory.

The learning was clear. Change your healing to fit the patient and recognize the uniqueness of every individual. Today while I still teach sequences and techniques I keep reminding my students that there is nothing sacrosanct about them and the sooner they can master the sequence and technique sooner they can free themselves of it. It may seem quite counter intuitive:-

If techniques and sequences are not important then why do I pester my students to memorize them to perfection?

The answer lies in the fact that massage is like learning music. When you start you need play some standard note sequences to master

1.     How to play each note
2.     How to transition from one to another
3.    Get a feel of how each note merges with another and the feeling it generates in the listener.

Once you have mastered it then you can make your own tunes and they will speak your soul and sound good too. The difference is that students need to be encouraged to feel and sense the blockages on the clients instead of only practicing sequences and techniques mindlessly.

In a good Thai Massage courses even for those for beginners, one should learn not only techniques and sequences but also the why and when of each of the moves. Students may or may not be able to absorb all the information but they will understand the principle and as they practice they will come to their own realization about healing, about their clients and themselves.

My recommendation to anyone intending to study Thai Massage seriously - please go for a small independent teacher and avoid the massage school factories. Even if you don’t join my courses feel free to write to me at [email protected] and I can recommend for you a learning path that will consider your needs with Thai Massage that is also based on all my experiences both good, bad and ugly.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Trigger Point formation and causes: An Academic Paper

A published paper on Here is abstract and link for the full paper is below.

While the nociceptive influence of Trigger points (TrPs) is well know not much thought has yet has been given on the detailed causes of why Trigger points form. It is well known that the underlying cause of TrP formation is the overworking of muscles. It is concluded on the basis of the Sliding Filament Theory than TrP form because of the Actin-Myosin bond not uncoupling due to shortage of ATP in the muscle cell. On that basis this paper presents four possible scenarios from the perspective of ATP demand and supply on how TrPs form:

1.    Overworking of muscles
2.    Prolonged mild contraction
3.    Constriction of blood supply
4.    Whiplash

The paper also offers a graphical representation of each of the scenarios.

Read the full paper on Trigger point here

Monday, 17 March 2014

Suffering and Healing in the Karmic Web

As healing goes it seems that often things can be a hit or miss. By healing we don’t mean only alternative healing practices but rather cutting edge state of the art western medicine. The little known secret of modern medical research is the Placebo effect. It is observed that the placebo effect works on many common conditions often as effectively as drugs derived from million dollar research programs.

A research paper by Levine JD, Gordon NC, Smith R, Fields HL (1981). "Analgesic responses to morphine and placebo in individuals with postoperative pain". Pain 10 (3): 379–89. doi:10.1016/ 0304- 3959 (81) 90099-3. PMID 7279424 reported that the patients who reported relief following placebo (39%) is similar to the percentage following 4 mg (36%) and 6 mg (50%) of hidden morphine.

Henry K. Beecher, in a paper in 1955, suggested placebo effects occurred in about 35% of people. Placebo had variable positive response rate, ranging from 0% up to nearly everyone. In a dental postoperative pain model, placebo analgesia occurred in 39%. In research upon ischemic arm pain, placebo analgesia was found in 27%. The placebo analgesia rate for cutaneous healing of left hand skin was 56%.

Now this can say something about Morphine but it also tells us a  lot about the inconsistent effectiveness of medicine both conventional and alternative. As healers or doctors know but hate to admit, healing can be quite probabilistic. The question is, why is it that for some clients the muscle relaxes with the slightest touch and for others, despite applying oneself for hours over several sessions there seems to be no substantial improvement? Why is it that some clients get better and some continue to suffer?

Suffering within the Karmic Context
The Law of Karma is the universal Law of Action and Reaction. To every action there is a set of consequences or chain of events one must experience. I.e. if you have lived a life of violence and intimidation then it is quite likely that you to will suffer the same. Or if you smoke then you have higher chance of getting cancer.  Though we may perceive a consequence as good or bad, still it is inevitable we will suffer the chain of events that come out of our actions.

In Buddhist thought the fundamental principle is that suffering is inevitable and that suffering arises from our desires. I.e. if we don’t get something we suffer disappointment, craving, if we do get something we want more or if we get what we want, is it really what we wanted? And we may lose the thing we so much wanted and we then suffer disappointment or loss. Of course this is a simplistic explanation of life’s rigmaroles, but the truth is that we all suffer and we suffer because of our actions, which then start a chain of events arising out of our own desires.

The Himalayan Master Sri Kulavadhuta Satpurananda says in his paper “The Matrix- the web of karmas” that  “All the happenings in a human life that create karmas, good or bad, preferable or not preferable, depend upon the preferences of doing, knowing, and desiring.  Desiring can never be without knowing, or doing, in its extreme ends.  You cannot desire something, which doesn’t fall within knowing or doing.  Knowing is mind and doing is body.   Is there anything in human life beyond body-mind? "

So our desires play out in our minds, our actions and speech through our bodies. The consequences of which is suffering.

As healers the implication of the Laws of Karma for people who suffer is clear. People suffer pain and disease because of the choices they make in life. For example an occupational choice to be a software designer meant sitting hunched for hours in front of computer and consequent bad posture and pain. A desire to own wealth and comfort led to a stressful yet sedentary life resulting in heart disease. Sometimes of course the connection between action and consequent suffering is not so clear because we don’t realize in the moment what we are doing can effect us 10 to 20 years down the line. We are conditioning ourselves at every moment in ways that will affect us later in life. Here is where Samskara, the more metaphysical concept of karma of past lives arises. That even though one has lived righteously in this life, still one may suffer karmas of the past. Eastern philosophy will tell us this is due to accumulation of the Karmas of our past lives and that we need to bear this suffering too with equanimity to end it.

While one may choose to believe in past lives or not however a large portion of our suffering can be directly attributed to the choices we have made in this life, a life we clearly remember. So what role do we, as healers or doctor’s play if suffering is inevitable and the consequence of our client’s actions?

Healing in the Web of Karmas
Anyone who says that they can heal someone is fooling themselves and their clients. The very idea that the “I” can do any healing is based on egotistical viewpoint and refuses to acknowledge the crucial role of the client. It is this lack of understanding or ignorant viewpoint that results in the probabilistic nature of healing, both alternative and conventional. An infection can eventually be defeated by the body’s own immune system even though it might have taken some assistance of an anti-biotic.

Robert Schelp,  conducted a research on Myofascial pain by working on clients while they were under anesthesia. The study found none or very little improvement from Myofascial release techniques on clients under the effect of anesthesia as compared to a control group that were awake. Schelp postulated that any release that is felt on waking clients is due to the effect on mechano-receptors which respond to manual pressure by reducing the sympathetic tonus. The findings of the study shook the core of many Myofascial Therapies like Rolfing and Myofascial Release.  By proving that fascia cannot be modified without the active awareness of the client, Robert Schelp put a bit of a dampner on the skill, technique and egos of many physical therapists.

So what do we do as healers?
The role of a healer irrespective of the modality is to bring the client into awareness about his or her own problems. From the viewpoint of physical therapist, this would mean making the client aware of what occupational/postural situations are possible origins of their pain. If one were a cardiologist, then explaining what lifestyle choices are the cause of their disease. If one were a psychotherapist, then what behavioral/ mental constructs is the origin of their malaise. Sometimes this awareness need not be even at a conscious level but merely planted into their mental physical construct at a sub-conscious level to take root,  flourish and eventually heal.

When therapy results in such awareness and realization by the client, then real sustainable change is possible. Of course even this state of awareness need not result in change. What works best, is that this realization is experiential rather than intellectual.  Experiential learning is a powerful learning tool.  A fire will burn is an intellectual premise until the child actually puts its finger in the flame. One could argue that Karma is the ultimate and highest experiential teacher and woe to those who don’t learn their karmic lessons for they are bound to suffer, not learn and suffer more. Clients who don’t internalize and assimilate the change are great for billing (if they keep coming back) but they do not sit well on our conscience.

As healers, it is crucial to have awareness and understanding in what ways a Healer’s role is relevant for the client and how Time and Space play a major factor within the Karmic Matrix or structure. The client came to us not because we are the cat's whiskers but by a chain of events. Perhaps we may be able to help them or perhaps not. A lot depends on how much they want to change themselves and their capacity to develop the sensitivity to know their own minds and body. Then sustainable change can happen.

What about Thai Massage
However, as Thai Bodywork goes, then what use is all that pulling, kneading, palming and stretching? The purpose of all that pulling, kneading, palming and stretching is to bring the client into Awareness.  Thai Massage allows the client to experience their own bodies, their restrictions, adhesions,  and their SEN (channels) Lines. This awareness is not intellectual but of the highest experiential order. This is the Art of Thai Massage. A good Thai Massage session aids the client to experience the totality of their body and to come to a realization of their body’s potential.

With compression, we are able make the client experience the fascial continuity due to the mechano-receptors firing along the fascial chain. By working out the adhesions and knots we make them understand what parts of their bodies are being repetitively stressed or locked. When we stretch and mobilize they realize how their bodies have become stiff. Finally when they get up and feel the buzz of improved circulation and easy movement they realize the toll their current lifestyle in taking on their body and mind. Maybe then when they go home with the exercises and knowledge  given by the therapist then they will change and one may never have to see them ever again... in a professional context.