Fantastic News

I am super excited to announce that The Naga Center is working in partnership with Lane Community College to offer my classes as transcripted pre-licensure education hours that can be applied toward applications for Oregon massage therapist licensure.

What this means
This means that students who are not licensed massage therapists in Oregon now have the option to focus their pre-licensure studies on Thai bodywork. In the past those who had fallen in love with Thai massage and knew that it was the modality they wanted to learn and practice, had to attend massage schools focused on western massage; now they can dive into their passion right from the start.

How it works
Starting in the fall of 2020 I will have a fully flushed out program that allows students to get all of their 625 pre-licensure education hours in about one year through a combination of classes at The Naga Center, online Naga Center classes, online Lane Community College classes, and either hands on classes at Lane Community College or participation in an alternate year Naga Center Thailand study abroad trip. This will all culminate in a deep immersion of study in Thai healing arts like no other.

What about right now?
Students registered in my Thai Manual Therapy Specialist Program for the 2019/2020 year who are not licensed massage therapists can use their hours of study toward licensure. The only difference is that it will take them two years to complete all hours needed as my current program is 317 hours and I will not start offering the full program until next fall.

Will students have to move to Lane county?
My classes will be in the same place, students do not have to live near Lane Community College.

Does this change things for licensed massage therapists?
Nope. My classes have always been designed to meet the needs of the most experienced Thai massage practitioners right alongside those who have never studied any kind of massage in their life. In fact I have often had students in my classes who are Thai massage instructors with 20+ years of experience in Thai studies and practice in the same class as complete newbies and everyone learns. I expect that the majority of my students will continue to be people who are already licensed massage therapists who want to dive deep into the waters of Thai healing arts. Licensed massage therapists will still be able to complete the Thai Manual Therapies Specialist Program as it has previously existed; their classmates who are seeking licensure will just be taking more classes than them.

Some things that are really special about all of this
There are some things that I want to share about this that make me really happy. Lane Community College has been just fantastic. As the only not-for-profit massage program in the state, their agenda in partnering with me has very clearly been for the benefit of students. It has been a delight to work with Kathy Calise, the Program Director at LCC. Her clear desire to provide options for students and to keep massage education affordable has been refreshing and heartening. It makes me happy that I get to work with the most affordable massage licensure program in the state and to know that we are harmonious in our desire to provide deep learning for the benefit of all.

When I first started The Naga Center in 2005 my original business plan (yes, I wrote a business plan) included a long term goal of turning The Naga Center into a licensure school. Over the years I have visited this idea many times, but have found that the process of doing this on my own would require that I grow my school in ways that I did not wish to. I love my small classes with mentorship style study. I love that I teach people in my whimsical somewhat messy yet beautiful space. And I didn’t want to create another $20,000 massage program, nor did I want to go into competition with the existing schools. It was only recently that I solidly let go of that old dream, realizing that what I have with my classes is exactly what I want. And of course, that’s exactly when Kathy approached me about partnering with LCC. Ah universe, aren’t you just like that? It’s perfect. I get to keep my classes small, stay focused on what matters to me, and offer my unlicensed students a path to licensure. Gratitude.

This is a river in Thailand that I have much love for. It could be here representing the flow of the path to licensure and learning deeply. Or it could just be a pretty river.

This is a river in Thailand that I have much love for. It could be here representing the flow of the path to licensure and learning deeply. Or it could just be a pretty river.

Facebook Revisited (and some words on climate change and ethics)

As many of you know I have been struggling with the Facebook conundrum. You can read my bold statement made last November about how (and why) I was going to slowly leave facebook here. I did everything I said I was going to do except the final step of fully leaving. I worked on building my newsletter list in order to better communicate with people that way, I put energy into MeWe, an alternative social media platform, and heavily promoted it on (irony!) Facebook, and finally I took a giant step away from Facebook beginning around the start of the year, only occasionally checking in and participating. I posted about classes, but only after sending out the information in newsletter form, and once in a blue moon I made a personal or political post. Mostly my relationship with Facebook since last fall has been one of contemplation rather than participation.

I put a significant amount of time into searching for alternatives to Facebook and settled on MeWe as being the best option. Why?
• It’s ad free
• doesn’t data mine your personal information
• doesn’t sell your information to anyone
• doesn’t manipulate post presentation order
• doesn’t make fake accounts with the names of friends it has stolen from your phone
• and is, for the most part, exactly like Facebook but without all the bad stuff. Okay, there is some bad stuff. Because the racist sexist alt right, who have their own reasons for wanting to leave Facebook, found it first. And because MeWe, unlike Facebook, doesn’t keep you in a bubble, only showing you what it knows you like, if you look for groups to join on MeWe you are going to see some rather mean spirited groups. These groups exist on Facebook as well, it’s just that if you are a kind hearted person (liberal or conservative) you are less likely to see them. Also, MeWe can be used to promote horrible things just like Facebook has been used. One of the reasons I want to leave Facebook is because of the role it has played in genocide and bullying. It has literally been a tool of death. The only social media platform I have found that seemingly can’t be used this way is Mastadon, which is a lot like Twitter, but adheres to strict “no Nazis” rules. Unfortunately Mastadon is a Twitter replacement, not a Facebook replacement - it simply serves a different role. I don’t use Twitter, so I haven’t put my energies into understanding that realm, but for those of you who do, please go check it out.

Anyhow, I rallied and pleaded with people to take the five minutes that it would take to set up an account over on MeWe (or any other good alternative social media platform) and start using it - because it’s only going to work if everyone goes over there and pours energy into it even while it’s quiet and boring, to get it going. Some people did, but not many; and those who did quickly stopped using it when they found no one there. It broke my heart a little. People talk a lot about all the bold and big things that they want to do to save the world, but when it comes right down to it just leaving a rather evil corporation, when there is an easy alternative, is more than most are willing to do. I understand, all of our friends are on Facebook. And for a small business owner, it has become the single most useful tool for connecting with clients/patrons/customers/patients there is. I really understand.

And so I have sat with this for many months. This conundrum. I pulled away from all social media, MeWe too, because it was just making me sad. And I thought about it.

For me, the ethical need to support something like MeWe instead of Facebook is at odds with the ethical need to be a strong participant in community, and for now, community is on Facebook an awful lot. I am an activist, and when I see an event that I want people to attend to help fight human rights abuses or the environment, I want to tell people about it. And when I see a charity that seems to be actually helping to get children out of cages on the U.S. Mexican border, I want to shout about it. And when I read an article that gives hope when so many are feeling hopeless, I want to share it wide and far. And right now there is something going on that we have to use every single tool available to us to fix, and that thing is climate change. We are on a train that is headed straight for a cliff, and worrying about the ethics of the tools on the train that might be used to stop it is simply not an option. Until people move elsewhere, Facebook is a tool on the train and I cannot justify ignoring it even if it’s a tool that has been used for violence and cruelty and privacy violations. We have an election coming up in which the winners (president, state and country senators and representatives, all the local positions…) will be the ones who determine if we take the train over the cliff or if we stop it. There are some people out there who find reason in the things I say and share. And if I can help even one person to support a candidate who will enforce laws that mitigate climate change, then I must. If I can get one person to call their senators and reps and beg them to support a bill that lowers climate changing emissions, then I must. If I can get just one person to give money to a charity that is working to protect the environment then I must. Because my son, who just turned 18, is in the first generation in known history to have a shorter life expectancy than his parents; because of climate change.

So, I’ve decided to rejoin Facebook for now, and to continue to support the growth of MeWe by double posting everything and using Facebook to promote it because populating MeWe with posts is the only way we can possibly grow it to a point where people will be willing to leave Facebook. My Facebook rule will be that I never use it without simultaneously supporting the growth of a viable alternative. It doesn’t have to be MeWe; if people find something else that is ethical that they like better, I’ll move my efforts. I’m not branded, I just see it as the current best alternative.

I will also continue to alert those on my e-mail newsletter list first whenever a new class opens for registration on my website, or other things of relevance occur. Since my classes have been filling fast lately, I’m hoping this will be an incentive to join. I also put little tidbits of what I hope are interesting and fun Thai related things on each newsletter. Like recipes, or Thai medicine information, or Buddha dharma snippets.

Many thanks to all of you who applauded my initial post about leaving Facebook. Your support of the effort is appreciated. I still hope to be able to follow through someday. And you may all find another post soon flip flopping again, as I may find that rejoining Facebook just feels too icky. We shall see. Right now I believe that fighting climate change is the single most important thing that any of us can be doing though, and if I can use Facebook toward this, and other important ends, then I must. It’s been a lot of contemplation; thank you for coming along for the ride. Much love and hope to all.

I had no idea what pictures to add to this blog post - but this is a nice little lizard being in Thailand

I had no idea what pictures to add to this blog post - but this is a nice little lizard being in Thailand

A Virtual Move: or, Ethics, Facebook, Staying in Touch, Triple Bottom Line

When I stared The Naga Center I based it on the idea of the “triple bottom line”. It’s a concept thrown around by a lot of businesses such as the original Ben and Jerry’s, that strive to be ethical and good. What it means is that while for most businesses profit is the only bottom line, the most important guidepost in business decisions, businesses trying to do better have two other bottom lines: Community and Environment. Every business decision has to be weighed not only in terms of “will this help the business stay alive financially”, but also in terms of “is this of benefit to my community?”, “could it hurt my community”, “is it neutral to my community?”, and “is this of benefit to the environment?”, “is it harmful to the environment?”, “is it neutral to the environment?”.

I have, over the years, made many decisions that from a pure money driven business marketing perspective would be considered stupid, but that from a taking care of the environment and my community perspective were the only option. Because honestly, I’d rather do something different with my life than do something that depends on slack ethics.

And so, here I am again, planning on doing something that perhaps isn’t a good business choice, but that I feel I must do because of community and ethics. I’m going to leave Facebook. Not right away, because I want to take the time to try to get as many of you to move to different ways of staying in touch as possible, but I’ll be leaving sometime in the relatively near future.

So, if you want to stay in touch and be notified when new classes are offered, or when I write a blog post, or when something pertaining to Thai medicine comes along in the news, I invite you to do the following:

Sign up for my newsletter. I haven’t written a newsletter in ages, but with this upcoming change I plan to start. Most likely they will be seasonal. I won’t bombard you with e-mails, I’ll just send out some news when I know I have something of interest to share. I’ll entice you with yummy Thai food recipes. For those of you who are interested in classes, especially my 300 hour program which only takes 8 people per year, definitely sign up for the newsletter as you’ll want to know as soon as registration opens.

Find The Naga Center on MeWe. MeWe is the social media platform I’m moving to. It’s very much like Facebook, only cleaner. No ads, no algorithms manipulating what you see, no data mining. And it’s easy to use. It’s not perfect though; like Facebook, it has people creating hate groups and all of that even though they aren’t supposed to. But it’s much better, or it will be if people from Facebook make the move over to it. Right now it’s a rather lonely place. If you join, you could be the beginning of a much needed exodus. I looked at a LOT of social media alternatives to Facebook before settling on this one. There were some that met my ethics better, but they were complicated and I didn’t think they stood a chance of people actually moving to them. MeWe seems to be mostly good, with good ethics. It makes money by having some of its features cost, such as my business page, which I’ll happily be paying $2.5o a month for rather than have the site make its money off of selling my data like FB does. But for personal pages, it’s free.

Maybe try Twitter? I’ve never managed to relate to it in the past, but I’m going to give it a go again. I’d say don’t make that the only way we stay in touch, but I’ll try to wrap my head around it.

For anyone wondering why I am leaving Facebook, here is what I said in a recent personal FB post upon being asked:

Individual users are not evil, and can use Facebook for great good, however, the company is very very bad. A high up exec sent out a memo clearly stating that so long as they maintain growth, it doesn't matter if Facebook causes people to die via bullying or the use of FB to promote terrorist attacks. They actually said this. They directly steal personal data, they access your friends through your phone who aren't even on FB and create fake accounts under their names that are used to advertise products, they have been directly linked to the election of Donald Trump, they do nothing about stopping fake news (despite their claims), they allow for hate speech and the spread of our new Nazi era, and FB has probably been the single most divisive influence on our culture - firmly dividing people at least as much, if not more than it unites us. Plus, Cambridge Analytica. I could go on and on. It's not just that it can be used for good or bad, but that the root of it, the company itself, actively uses it for bad and does nothing to stop the spreading of hate. You Probably have a very nice circle of friends on FB and you see people sharing messages of love and hope and activism. But there is a whole other side to it in which people are sharing messages of hate and violent activism and this is equally allowed. Sure, freedom of speech, but FB is a privately own company that can choose what it allows just as a store can kick out a customer who comes in and starts shouting racists or sexist bile. Facebook chooses to allow Russian election interference, racism, sexism, all of it. This most recent scandal about them hiring PR firm to use an antisemitic narrative to undermine critics is just the newest thing in an ongoing wave of horrible things that FB does or allows. But the goodness that you see in Facebook is real - we individuals have incredible potential to use social media for wonderful things. We just need a better place to do it. We must move.

Buddhist Pics (2 of 6).jpg

Healing Arts Isn't Just Doing Massage ~ please help these children

I should be correcting final exams for my online class right now.  Instead I'm taking just a moment to ask anyone reading this to please read this article about immigrant children coming up from our southern border (or raised here in the U.S. by parents who don't have legal status) being separated from their families, lost, abused, and detained in terrible conditions.  Toward the end of the article is a list of things you can do to help the situation.  

Thank you,

Bodywork Newbies (unsolicited advice)

A friend and student of mine just posted on Facebook asking what people's advice to someone thinking about becoming a massage therapist would be.  I immediately knew I had more to say than would fit in a Facebook thread.  So I came over here.  I'm pressed for time right now, so this might be a bit clumsy, but here goes... My advice to those just deciding to dip their toes in the study of bodywork.

1) take good body science classes. If where you live doesn't require that you learn anatomy/kinesiology/pathology then go take some community college classes.  You don't have to be able to name every muscle in the body to be a good therapist, and knowing anatomy certainly isn't what makes someone a good massage practitioner unto itself as it doesn't teach touch sensitivity, but it can be a key ingredient in making someone who is good at touch into a great practitioner.  Having the ability to visualize what is under the skin you are touching is game changing. 

2) Then, if you don't know what modality you are interested in, dabble for a bit getting different sorts of sessions and taking workshops in different modalities at first. Remember that not every practitioner is the same, so don't judge a modality based on one treatment from one person. Spend some time finding out the potential of different modalities.  If one interests you, talk to a variety of people who practice it.  You are looking for something to sink your learning teeth into, so it's worth putting in the time to sass out what you want to do. 

3) Eventually figure out a modality that you like and go deep with it. Find something that you can study for years (not that it has to take years before you can practice, just that there will be ever more to learn) and get really good at it. Be careful of the tendency common to massage therapists to think that they need to have a laundry list of modalities that they have studied. Too many people become a Jack Of All Trades Master of None - I'd rather see someone who is serious about a modality, even if it's not my favorite modality, than someone who has taken a class or two in a modality that I like and tacked it onto a list of 10 other modalities. When I see those websites and business cards that list 10 modalities I think "yeah, but what are you good at?" 

4) Learn to do deep work - gentle light touch relaxation massages are a dime a dozen.  For people who like deep work finding a skillful deep tissue practitioner (and I use the term deep tissue to apply to a variety of modalities - for instance, I do deep tissue Thai massage) is like finding treasure.  Being skillful at deep work, you can still do the light gentle work as needed of course, but you bring more to the table for those who need and want more. 

5) If you go to one of those massage schools - the ones that are hundreds (or in some places thousands) of hours of training, remember that even though you are learning a lot, you are not graduating suddenly a masterful massage therapist or a doctor.  Those schools usually take about a year to complete.  Doctors go to school for significantly longer and becoming a highly skillful massage therapist requires having a practice beyond your school time - experience touching many many bodies.  I see a lot of people fresh out of massage school who seem to think that because they know what the greater trochanter is they are now a medic.  26 years ago my first massage teacher said to me "on Friday I'm going to give you all a certificate.  Remember that when you complete any course of study, whether it's a course like this, or law school, or medical school, the piece of paper that you get in the end doesn't mean you are now qualified.  It means that you now have what it takes to go out and learn your skill".  All the schooling is is a launch pad - it gives you the foundation that will allow you to then truly learn. Yes, you can immediately start your massage practice; and you should, for that is a huge part of how you learn your skill, but you aren't done studying.  After massage school, seek out individual teachers to guide you into your specialization.  Never stop taking classes.  And practice practice practice.  I've been a massage therapist for 26 years and I still take classes.  There is always more to learn. 

6) Know going in, that in addition to becoming a massage therapist, you are becoming a business. Most people who are attracted to learning massage are kind and compassionate people who want to spend their days nurturing others.  This is wonderful, but you need to realize that unless you plan on working for others (like in a spa or chiropractic office), then you also have to become a business person.  You have to deal with marketing, maintaining a website, social media outreach, all of the nuts and bolts of getting clients.  They rarely just show up.  Your social community of friends and family is rarely enough to create a viable massage practice.  The number one thing that I see cause people who became massage therapists to leave it behind is that they didn't realize going in that they would have to wear a business hat in addition to wearing a loving caregiver hat.  It's very hard to build a private massage practice that has enough clients to pay the rent.  Being a great therapist isn't enough - you have to also decide whether or not it makes sense to use Google Adwords, and if print advertising is dead or not, and should you give away sessions?  Should you try to give lectures at local events? And what is SEO and does it matter?
If you want to have a private practice, something about this side of things needs to be appealing.  I don't like it all, but for the most part I actually find the business part to be interesting and fun.  I like the creativity of business,  I like working on my website, and I like learning so much that I can even enjoy a well written business book. When I started The Naga Center I went to the library and I got a stack of books on how to write a business plan, and I wrote one.  I went to the local SCORE office where you can get free business mentorship and I paid attention.  I suck at a lot of the business stuff (hello pile of receipts tossed in a drawer to be looked at with horror come tax time), but I don't hate it.  Those who do usually move on to other professions. 

7) Massage can be a very solitary profession.  Most of the time it's just you and your clients.  Most of the time you aren't around others who are doing the same thing as you.  I've heard a lot of massage therapists talk about feeling isolated.  Seek out other massage therapists.  Join massage Facebook groups.  You'll want to talk to others who understand what you do sometimes. 

I think there is a lot more to say, but I have to fly to Thailand day after tomorrow and much to do.  I will probably come back and edit this - add more to it and smooth out the edges. 

Do I Teach Lanna Medicine?

I've been hearing rumors for awhile now that I, and the handful of other instructors who study with my teacher, practice, study, and teach, traditional Lanna medicine rather than traditional Thai medicine.  While I would love to practice more Lanna medicine, the truth is that very little of what I do and teach is Lanna.  In order to clear this up, I think we need to begin by demystifying some of the various categories of medicine practiced in Thailand.

  • Pâet păen tai (แพทย์แผนไทย), which translates simply as "Thai medicine", is the most recent evolution of Thai medicine, having been codified in the 20th century and continuing to be modified in modern times. This systemized form of Thai medicine is taught at government approved schools. It stems from Bangkok, being promoted by the Ministry of Public Health and is taught in traditional medicine degree programs. 
  • Pâet păe boh-raan (แพทย์แผโบราณ), which translates simply as "traditional medicine", is also a more recent incarnation, being based on texts dating back to the 1800s.  It is written primarily in Thai and Khmer script.  The practice of this system varies according to region, practitioner, and which texts are referenced.  This and the first category, Pâet păen tai, are where you see the more modern concept of sen sip (a subject for another day). 
  • Pâet péun bâan (แพทยพื้นบ้าน), which translates as "local medicine", is likely the most pervasive as it encompasses local practices found throughout the country.  Doctors who fall into this category utilize regional variations of theory and techniques that pre-date, and often contribute to, the first two categories above.  These systems are based on local texts and teachings and are generally quite old.
  • Pâet péun bâan kŏng laan-naa (แพทยพื้นบ้านของลานนา ), which translates as "local medicine of Lanna", is a sub-category of Local/Indigenous medicine (Pâet péun bâan). Lanna medicine is based on texts and teaching in the Lanna language found in the northernmost reaches of Thailand. The term pâet péun bâan khawng laan-naa,while accurate, is not colloquially in use, and local doctors prefer the term mŏr-meuang (หมอเมือง), which simply means "town doctor".  This is perhaps the oldest system of medicine in Thailand as local medicine has been best preserved in the north. 
  • Hill Tribe medicine is another umbrella term that covers the many different ethnic/cultural groups commonly called Hill Tribes. Since there is no one "hill tribe", it's a catch all term that is a bit overly generic in that it fails to acknowledge the many and decidedly separate Hill Tribe cultures. 

In addition to what is listed above you can find Chinese medicine, Ayurvedic medicine, Burmese medicine and of course, modern western medicine being practiced in Thailand.  But what we are primarily concerned with here is the traditional medicine of Thailand, which all of the above categories fall into, with some being older than others. 

The Lanna (or to be more Thai about it, the láan naa ล้านนา) kingdom was one of the oldest cultures of Thailand, dating from around 1262 C.E. to the late 1700s.  It existed in northern Thailand, beginning around Chiang Rai and expanding across to Mae Hong Son and down to around Chiang Mai.  Today the people of northern Thailand consider themselves to be Lanna, a separate culture from mainstream Thai culture, and speak Lanna language in addition to modern Thai.  Lanna culture has in many ways been preserved where other parts of Thailand have adapted more to global influences.  Because of this the medical practices of northern Thailand are some of the most rooted in consistent history; although of course, these days things are changing fast and the strong presence of western healing arts practitioners in northern Thailand is having a rapid and considerable impact. 

While there is much cross over between Thai and Lanna medicine, Lanna medicine is a separate system with theoretical ideas and techniques not found in mainstream Thai culture. 

My teacher is a traditional Thai medicine doctor who has studied extensively in both Northern and Central Thailand.  He has gone through the Ministry of Traditional Thai Medicine's traditional medicine degree program in Bangkok, and has personal teachers in various parts of the country including some primary teacher's in the north.  While it is true that some of his most in-depth and ongoing studies have been and are with Lanna doctors, what he teaches his western students like me is primarily Thai medicine, not Lanna. 

What I, and others who have had the fortune to study with him have been taught has been a mix of all the different aspects of Thai medicine that he knows, but it has been heavily weighted on the general medicine of Thailand.  Some Lanna medicine techniques have made their way into his teachings, such as tok sen, some traditional northern stretches, and cupping, but as one of his first students I have watched him teach for many years now and can easily confirm that I have only very recently seen him offer the tip of the ice berg of Lanna medical theory, something I believe he has only taught in one or two classes at this point and certainly has not taught enough for any of us to be practiced enough in it to implement or teach it ourselves.  Far and away the vast majority of what I know, practice and teach, is traditional Thai medicine.  I would love to say it is Lanna, as I am quite attracted to Lanna medicine, but that simply would not be true.  I know a handful of lovely techniques, and so little theory as to be firmly in the infancy of study. 

It's important to me to address this because to allow the rumor to spread that what we teach is Lanna is misleading.  The differences in what I and my study siblings practice and teach from what most westerners are teaching lay not in a regional source separation, but more simply in having studied with different teachers, texts and levels of Thai healing arts. 

In the mountains of northern Thailand

In the mountains of northern Thailand

Where's The Theory?

And one more from the archives of my old blog.  Written in March 2011


I find people frequently saying that Thai massage either has no medical theory behind it, or that the theory is all Indian or Chinese.  While it is true that India and China share some theory with Thailand, it is not correct to simply say that Thai theory is in fact Chinese, or Indian.  Thailand has it’s own distinct traditional medical theory that is influenced by the culture, the geography, the climate, and yes, the neighbors; but what comes from the neighbors is only one of the many influences.  Even at that, as outside knowledge is brought in to any culture it is rarely copycatted, but rather adapted, evolved, and enfolded into the existing knowledge of the region.

So why is it that so many westerners who have studied Thai massage in Thailand come away believing that there is no traditional medical theory underlying the techniques they have learned?  Or that if there is, it is not Thai?  I think there are several factors including the historical culture of how knowledge is shared, language barriers, time, and a protectiveness on the part of many Thais.  I’m going to break this down a bit here.

Historical Culture of How Knowledge is Shared
Most of us are accustomed to being able to learn pretty much whatever we want so long as we have the money to pay someone to teach us, and the time to engage ourselves in learning.  With a subject such as healing arts however, this has not traditionally been enough to warrant instruction.  Historically if you wished to become a traditional medicine practitioner such as a massage therapist, you had to find a master who would accept you as a student.  A master might only accept a few students in his or her lifetime, so having a teacher was fortunate indeed.  There weren’t classes that started on Monday, cost X amount of dollars and ended two weeks from Friday with a certificate.  Instead, the student would apprentice to the master for years, following him or her around, watching treatments, eventually helping out, someday becoming a practitioner.  This is true even for massage, for we must remember that massage on a deeply therapeutic level was a part of the traditional medicine of Thailand, and those who practiced it on this level were considered massage doctors.
It must be understood that the whole teacher student relationship is different in Thailand than it is in the west.  In Thailand they differentiate from the teacher who teaches a class, or teaches you for a short time such as a week or even six months, and the teacher who you spend years of your life with and will likely care for when he or she becomes old.  Westerners may develop strong respect and affection for a teacher such as the well known master Pichest Boomthame, who maybe they visit every year, but even after many years of spending a handful of weeks per year in Thailand it is unlikely that Pichest will ever see any of us as true students.   We remain one of hundreds who seek him out, and to the best of my knowledge, he has never taken on a true student.  To do so is a commitment on the part of the student that simply cannot be met without a long term move to Thailand.
And so it must be understood that without the traditional student teacher relationship being met, the teachers we find in Thailand are not inclined to teach to the level of real Thai medical theory.

Language Barriers
If you went to massage school (or some other path toward having a license to touch, such as nursing, physical therapy etc.), you know that learning to work with the healing arts required a new language; the language of anatomy.  Muscle names, anatomical directions, physiological terminology, pathologies; being able to speak shop with health care providers took enormous effort even within your own country.  So imagine if someone were to come to say, an english speaking country, with limited english, but wanting to learn in somewhere between a week to a year, a medical modality; even one as potentially simple as Swedish massage.  Can you imagine getting through massage school without speaking english?  You might be able to learn the massage strokes, but it would be hard to get the anatomy and physiology.  Yet when people go to Thailand, not speaking Thai, they come to the conclusion that the absence of theory in their massage lessons must equate to an absence of theory in the modality itself.

Even if you have taken the time to learn to speak Thai fluently, as in the states you must learn the language of anatomy even though you speak English, so must a student of traditional medicine in Thailand learn the language of medicine there.  And so we have a double language barrier; for to learn the theory of traditional Thai medicine in most circumstances a person must speak Thai fluently, and also know how to communicate about the science of the body through the traditional medical lens.  In my experience in Thailand, even most ex patriots who have moved there do not learn the language fluently; and most massage therapists going there on vacation to learn massage learn only basic needs based tourist Thai.  This all must be seriously considered when wishing to know the theory in Traditional Thai Medicine for, unlike Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, not much as been written about Thai medicine in English.  We do not have schools teaching it as we do traditional Chinese or Indian medicine; we must go to the source, and the source rarely speaks fluent English, let alone medical English.

This one is easy and obvious; the vast majority of westerners studying Thai massage in Thailand have limited time.  Whether you go for two weeks, six months or a year, time limits the depths to which the art may be studied.  Thai massage is a modality that incorporates thousands of techniques,and these techniques tie into a vast system of medical theory; it would be quite simple, given the presence of the right teacher, to spend a large portion of your life studying Thai bodywork and still have more to learn.  And so it is easy to keep visitors happy learning and refining the gross techniques of Thai massage without ever getting to the underlying theory.

Protectiveness of Cultural Knowledge
Yes, it’s true; Thai people, while happy to make a living sharing a lot of their culture with us, have limits as to how much of their knowledge they wish to give away to the non-Thai world.  After all, they have been burned in the past.  A couple of years ago Thailand fought against the attempts of a Japanese business man to trademark the term “reusi da ton”, the Thai name for Thailand’s traditional self care system, and there have been stories of American attempts to trademark the term “nuad boran”, meaning “traditional massage” in Thai.  This sort of non-Thai ownership attempt at Thai cultural/intellectual property leads to a wariness in Thais who feel a deep personal and patriotic connection to the knowledge when it comes to outsiders wishing to learn all they can.

Look around the non-Thai, Thai massage world and it is easy to find even westerners who live full time in Thailand saying that Thai massage lacks theory.  This idea is backed up by multiple books and well known non-Thai teachers who state plainly that the theory is all Indian or Chinese, if there is any theory at all.  What I see happening is that people go to Thailand where they are taught the physical techniques of Thai massage; then they return to America (or Germany or Canada or France or …) where they decide to teach what they have learned, in books and in classes.  They are faced with an audience who wants to know what is behind the techniques, but since the teachers and authors themselves have most likely only gotten at best a tiny smidgeon of theory, they are forced to extrapolate, to jump to the most logical conclusion about theory without having any real training on the subject.  What most end up doing is overlaying Indian or Chinese theory on top of Thai techniques.

Most prominently we see Thai techniques being mixed with Ayurvedic theory.  This has been put forth in so many english language books on Thai massage that it has come full circle to the point where even many Thai people will say that the theory all comes from India.  It is true that India has influence on Thai medicine, but to say that Thai theory is Ayurvedic theory is to dismiss a long history of medicine in the geographical region that has come to be known as Thailand.

Firstly, as my teacher says, medicine goes with the land.  The climate produces certain disease tendencies, the geography allows for certain plants to grow, and whatever peoples are in an area will always have medicinal knowledge.  It is my personal belief that as long as there have been humans, there has been medicine.  People have always sought to bring relief to pain and disease.  Even the simple act of putting your inflamed aching foot into the cool creek is, in effect, medicine.  And so the first source of Thai medical theory must be the land of Thailand; inclusive of the first pre-historic humans to have populated the area and all that they may have passed from generation to generation throughout time.

Other sources of traditional Thai medical knowledge include China (pre-traditional Chinese medicine as known today), India (pre Ayurvedic medicine), and the T’ai people; the ethnic group that came to inhabit the area.  We must also take into account the Mon peoples from Burma and the Khmer people from Cambodia who inhabited the area before the T’ai people moved in; although with the Mon and the Khmer, I believe we are connecting to the first source, the region itself and it’s pre-historic peoples.

Traditional Thai medical theory, like traditional medical theory all over the world, is based in element theory; the idea that all things, from stones to trees, from animals to thoughts, are made of combination of earth, water, fire and wind that varies only in the balance of the four elements.  This idea is found in ancient Mayan medicine, ancient Greek medicine, ancient Tibetian medicine; ancient medicine from all corners of the globe.  What differentiates Thai medical theory from other cultures is the degree of focus on the elements as well as the integration of channel (sen line) theory, point theory, and Buddhism into the medical system.

Traditional Thai medicine has much in common with Indian and Tibetian medicine, and even with ancient Greek medicine, and to a lesser degree, Chinese medicine.  This said, one cannot simply insert Indian theory on top of Thai techniques and still call it Thai.  Thai medicine does not use the chalkra system, doshas are not exactly what is used in Thai element theory, and the stretches of Thai massage are not yoga poses; although some will look like it due to the fact that bodies stretch the same all over the world.  The confluence of ideas that permeates medical knowledge across the globe is a sharing that I rejoice in, however it does not mean that we can substitute so easily one theory for another.  Thai massage is a component part of the physical/orthopedic medicine root of Thai healing arts, and it is supported by a complex and ancient medical system of its own.

Goodbye Massage Table: With a Heart Twinge

Another old blog post from April 2011  ~ wish I had a picture of that table


My first massage table was handmade by a guy named Perry.  I know his name was Perry because on the bottom of the table there is a picture of a pear followed by the letter E.  The hunters green vinyl is covered in cracks now, and I gave up table work years ago, but still there is a part of me that doesn’t want to let it go.  When I was twenty it was my prize possession; something to take loving care of.  I had rules about my massage table; no one could touch it without my permission, and no having sex on my table.  This is the sort of rule you have to make when you are in your early twenties, living with roommates.

When I was twenty three I spent a summer and fall traveling around the country doing massage at skydiving events called boogies.  Boogies usually happen at small town airports; hundreds of skydivers converge to set up tents between the runways.  Loud speakers blast rock and roll all day, interrupted by announcements and the sound of planes taking off and landing.  I would set up my table, working in the chaos; people literally falling out of the sky around me.  It was my first grand adventure, and all I had was my backpack, my tent and my massage table.  I didn’t even own a car, so the journey across America and back started with a train ride to a drop zone in Montana and included a long time traveling with a friend who paid his way by packing parachutes at the Boogies.  There was also some hitching rides on jumper planes going from one airport or drop zone to the next.  Jumper planes are usually little Cessnas or Otters, with no seats – just a side door that opens for the jump.

My first jump was in Quincy Illinois at the biggest Boogie of the year.  It was a tandom jump, with me strapped to a base jumper who snuck me onto the plane in exchange for a massage.   My second jump was another tandom, strapped   in the early morning to a jump master named Junk Yard Dog who I met  the night before at the nitrous tank he managed (thank goodness we survive our twenties!).  Skydivers party.  I did that jump sans clothing, figuring that if you are going to fall fifteen thousand feet you might as well do it naked.  The moon was still out, hanging with the morning sun.

After that I got a ride in a little jumper going from Illinois to Arizona. Or damn, did Tennessee come first?  The pilot set the plane on go and promptly fell asleep.  We woke him up when the lightning storm hit us, causing an impromptu landing in some little airport in the middle of nowhere.

Arizona was end of summer hot.  I set up my tent in the desert on the edge of the drop zone and spent my nights listening to the coyote footfalls in the sand.  I liked the coyotes being around because I figured if wild things like them hung out around my tent it meant there weren’t any bad guys nearby.  In the days I did the occasional massage as skydiving teams from around the world slowly trickled in to train for World Meet; the olympics of skydiving.  There wasn’t really all that much massage business so I started driving the bus that took teams out to the runway, in exchange for skydiving lessons.  I got stick shift driving lessons on the job, figuring out how to drive the bus while the jumpers in the back laughed at me lurching them around the tarmac.

Once World Meet was in full swing massage business picked up so me and my table got back to bonding.  I’m not sure how long I was in Arizona.  Long enough to find a mattress for my tent and learn a lot about immersion in a male dominated extreme sport.  Eventually I put my backpack and table in a kind strangers car, accepting a ride back to California that led to a train ride to Oregon where I fell off the road without noticing.  For a few years I practiced massage under the radar since I wasn’t licensed in Oregon and I kept thinking I was about to get back on the road.  I dabbled in skydiving at a small Oregon drop zone that I won’t name.  I should have known from the duct tape on their parachutes that there was something amiss with them; I thought I was completing my training, but it turns out they were not qualified to give me a certification that would be accepted anywhere else.  The experience ended my jumping days since I could not afford to re-do the training jumps elsewhere.

Eventually I realized I might not be leaving Oregon, so I went back to school to get my Oregon LMT license.  My table was set up in my shack in Cannon Beach (a real shack, with raccoons underneath, rats in the walls, and plants from the outside growing into the inside) and I commuted four days a week to Portland for school.  My table never lost the smell of its desert time, and so even as years passed, it became a symbol of the kind of turning point that only happens at a certain age.  That table was connected to my first sense of adult worth; having a skill that I could take anywhere and support myself with.  And it was connected to this time when I learned that I could fling myself into the world with nothing and survive.  And of course, that table will always be imbedded with the visceral knowledge of free fall, literally and metaphorically.

Just me; my backpack, my tent, and my green massage table.  That was all I needed for one of the most self creating times of my life.

After getting licensed in Oregon I went down to Eugene and picked out a new table from Custom Craftworks.  It was bigger and cushier, “wine” colored, and designed to be climbed on.  It wasn’t cracked and dirty and rickety, but it didn’t smell like the desert or carry the vibrations of my twenties either.

The old hunter green table has lived in my basement for ten years now.  Unused.  I don’t even use the plush wine one since I devoted myself to Thai massage, but I’ll keep that one just in case.  At this very moment, as I write, my son is outside running a garage sale in our driveway.  My old table is out there with a lot of other junk.  I can’t think of a reason to keep something that big around that I don’t use other than material attachment; but it deserves an ode, so here I am, writing.  Maybe it wont’ sell today.  Maybe this isn’t goodbye quite yet; but it’s coming.  Because twenty years later I am still a growing and changing human, and right now is about a different kind of free fall.  Let go.

Dana ~ The Art of Voluntary Donation

Another post from an old blog I kept.  This one I wrote in April of 2011


Dana is a gift joyfully given.  It is the art of voluntary donation.  In Buddhism it is in Dana that we find the heart of the symbiotic relationship between the Sangha and the layperson.  The Sangha cannot exist without the support of the householders; through donations of food, clothing and other necessities; and the householder’s spiritual growth is accelerated through hearing the dhamma that is taught by the community of renunciates that makes up the Sangha.

When the householder gives to a renunciate, ascetic, teacher, or any in need, a multitude of good results.  In the act of giving, the layperson experiences non-attachment as they let go of the food or money or other gift, and so right there exists already a lesson.  Also in the act of joyful giving is inherent generosity, goodwill, compassion and empathy.  Giving is never a one way action, for if it is done with joy, immediately the giver benefits and progresses on their spiritual path.  For this reason Dana is one of the three practices that The Buddha laid out for the layperson to embrace.


Dana can be a complete act unto itself, but it is often part of a larger exchange between those who offer dhamma teachings and those who would hear them.  Bhikkus and Bhikunis do not exist on the goodwill of society without giving back; indeed, what they offer back is one of the most precious gifts possible as they give us the teachings of the Buddha, guidance in our exploration of the teachings, and support in our spiritual journey.  In Thailand the monks with their begging bowls are not simply receiving, they are providing the laypeople with a chance to be generous, to earn merit, to experience right action.  These rewards for giving should not be the reason for giving, but simply a realistic side effect.

The Buddhist Sangha is not the only place where the Dana relationship exists.  Anyone who chooses not to set prices for their services, but rather to accept voluntary donations enters into an alternate realm of exchange in which the service must inspire true generosity.  In Thailand there are many walks of life that do not allow for required payment for services, but instead must rely upon voluntary giving.  Shamans and medicine men, midwives and magical tattoo artists, those who work with spirits, and of course, any who teach the dhamma; they must all give their healing treatments, lessons and other services to all who ask, with no expectation of specific payment.  Like the layperson who gives food to an ascetic with no intention of receiving reward, yet reward comes, these people give their services because they are called to do so, and in a culture that understands dana, they are supported; their needs are met.

My teacher is a traditional medicine practitioner and a yogi; as such he does not set prices for his time teaching individuals such as myself, or even formal classes such as those I sometimes host for him.  In the U.S. this causes a certain amount of distress for the students as they struggle to know what is correct payment for his teachings and treatments.  They ask me frequently “how much should I give”?  It is the hardest question I face from my students, and one I struggle with myself, because there is no answer.  Having said this, I’ll do my best.

In deciding how much to give to a teacher or service provider, it is good to think of how much you appreciate and value the teachings and/or services.  Also think of what these teachings/services might cost in a space where prices are set.  Of course, if the teaching/service touches you deeply and inspires a desire to give generously, preconceived ideas of what a class is worth become irrelevant as you instead look to your own reality as to what you can afford to give.  It is important to keep in mind that those who work for donation only, have many of the same needs as the rest of us.  They have travel expenses, clothing needs; they often have their own teachers who they may wish to donate to (and you learn from that teacher as well through the vessel of your own teacher).  In the case of my teacher, he is a traditional Thai medicine practitioner, so he also has the expense of medicines, which he gives freely to those he treats.  And so whatever you give to the one teacher may reach far beyond the single gift.  We must also keep in mind that dana is part of the treatment or lesson process; without it, the treatment efficacy is potentially decreased, the lesson may not sink as deep, for we have not completed the energetic exchange.

Generosity is relative term.  A rich person who gives large sums of money may be a terribly important factor in the existence of dana based systems, yet this person is not necessarily more or less generous than a poor person who gives a small donation.  Sometimes the rich person giving large sums may be less generous than the poor person if perhaps the rich person gives without joy, or gives what they have so much of that it cannot be missed while the poor person sacrifices something from their life in the process; like maybe they cannot have coffee for a week because they gave ten dollars, or because they have no money they instead find the time to sweep the temple daily.  It is not for us to judge whose donation carries greater weight, it is not a system of judgment or competition, right or wrong.  Simply give what you can realistically and joyfully afford to give and trust that the receiver, if they give healings, teachings, services in the same light, are likewise doing so joyfully as their own process and unconnected to your dana.

Dana is not only about renunciates, ascetics and healers.  Giving to a homeless person panhandling in the streets is dana.  Giving to charity is dana.  Paying for the car behind you crossing a toll bridge is dana.  Nor is dana only about money and goods.  Caring for stray animals is dana.  Volunteering in a children’s hospital is dana.  Teaching yoga to prisoners in your spare time is dana.  Cleaning a sick friend’s house is dana.  And at the end of the day, dedicating any merit you have acquired, through goodness you have knowingly or unknowingly done, to other sentient beings who may need it, is dana.

There are many ways to give joyfully.

To learn more about Dana, here are some resources for you.

Dana: Giving and Getting in Pali Buddhism by Ellison Banks Findly
This book closely examines the relationship between the layperson and the sangha with a specific focus on dana.  It does not address dana in other facets of life.

Dana: The Practice of Giving edited by Bhikku Bodhi
This little book contains several essays focused on the subject of dana.

Some good websites:

Sen & Lysol

This was originally posted on a different blog of mine in 2011

I am moving a handful of old posts over to this blog; enjoy!

I was vegetarian by the time I was nine years old, and a massage therapist by the time I was twenty-one.  I don’t even remember choosing organic, organic just is.  So when I was in my late twenties and a friend watching me clean my house said “Nephyr, why are you using all that toxic crap?”, it actually surprised me to look at the Lysol and blue window cleaner in my hands.  Somehow, despite all of my natural living, I had not gotten around to questioning my cleaning agents.  They were the products my parents used, and so by some sort of default cleaning system, they were the products I used.  As soon as my friend asked the question I saw the toxic products for what they were, and knew that they would never again be utilized in my house.  What surprised me was that I hadn’t noticed such an obvious thing on my own.

I’m having another of those duh moments, only this time it’s not about cleaning, it’s about Thai massage.  When I first began learning Thai massage it wasn’t so much with individual teachers as it is now, but in efficient established classes with workbooks and sequences.  And while each class I took might have some variance in techniques, one basic sequential progression was common to all of them; toward the beginning of the massage you palm press the legs, then you thumb press the sen on the legs. It was always after thumbing the lines that stretches and other techniques came into play.   Later, when you reached the arms, you palm pressed the arms followed by thumb pressing the lines on the arms.  Same for the posterior legs and the back.  Arrive at an area, palm press it, thumb press it, then do “other stuff”.

When I created my first Thai massage class I modeled it after one that had been modeled after a course at the Old Medicine Hospital in Chiang Mai.  Since most of the prominent teachers training westerners in the Chiang Mai area stemmed in one way or another from Old Medicine Hospital, some variety of this sequence was quite commonly taught to beginning students.  And they all launched from palm pressing to thumbing the lines early on.  As did my beginning Thai massage course at The Naga Center.  Over the years I have changed various things in that class, but the early palming and thumbing has remained, unquestioned, like Lysol.

What makes my lack of questioning in this area extra blind is that my teacher has been telling me about the different layers of the body for a few years now.  Telling me about how one path of disease comes from the outside in: first hitting the skin (a chill wind, a pathogen, extreme heat…), then moving into the next layer, the tissue (muscle, fascia…), then moving to the next layer, the channels (sen/lines), before moving to the bone, followed by the organs (first hollow organs, then solid).  We have talked about this progression quite a bit in relation to how dis-ease moves both into and out of the body.  Sometime in the last year he made a comment about how even though Thai bodywork is ultimately about reaching and working with the sen, you often have to spend a lot of time working on the layer of the tissue or else you can’t reach the lines.

It was a Lysol moment.  As a massage therapist for over 20 years, I know full well that you have to go in layer by layer, moving from superficial to deep.  I understood this when I practiced deep tissue swedish massage; but something happened when I learned Thai massage that caused me to hand over some basic common sense in the face of a foreign culture saying this is how we do this.  I went right along, for almost twelve years now, with the idea that you could approach say a leg, and go straight from some gentle palm pressing to working deep channels.  Of course, some part of me knew that this wasn’t really working; it’s why, despite so many years of practicing and teaching Thai bodywork, I have never connected with sen line work as much as I wanted to.  Even while recent years have brought more and more understanding of how the sen work, how to make intelligent choices in how I approach them, still they didn’t seem fully there for me.  I know now that this is due to the automatic knee jerk pattern of always working the lines, whether I had actually gotten to them or not.

So lately the channels come last, or close to last, if there is any resistance in the tissue (and we all know that there generally is).  I palm, I stretch, I use hot herbal compresses, I use percussion,  I use deep compression, I apply balms and liniments, I utilize Thai neuromuscular release points, I use tok sen,  I do everything I can to free the layer of the tissue; and then, only then, when I know I can really get in, I work the sen.

Let Us Treat One Another With Kindness

*This piece was originally written as a "note" on the Naga Center's Facebook Page*

Let us speak to one another with kindness when we play in this realm of social media. Let us speak to one another as if we were always addressing our dearest deeply loved friend. This is a letter to the Thai massage community, especially the teaching community. It is in regards to a tendency I see of tearing down one another’s Facebook posts from time to time. We must keep in mind that those who write about Thai massage and medicine online are usually teachers and practitioners. What this means is that we are people who earn our livelihoods through Thai massage. It is how we keep a roof over our heads, it is how we feed our children, it is how we care for our aging parents, it is how we give dana donations to our teachers, and it is how we hopefully have a bit left over to give to important charities, working to save the world on many fronts; although I know that many of us live hand to mouth and have little to give. Our clients and students may be following us online. When we publicly tear one another down, we potentially cost one another business; a real life consequence. We potentially take from a student, what might have been an important learning experience as we may cause them to doubt an excellent teacher. We potentially take from a suffering person the possibility of an amazing healing experience with a practitioner who we caused them to doubt. And all too often, this is done as a strange form of marketing ourselves at the expense of our community. Let me show the world how clever I am by publicly telling someone else that they are wrong.

We can talk all we want about the importance of being free to say what we like, what we think, what we believe, and we can call public malignment “friendly debate”. But let us take a moment to consider our words carefully. To consider just how important it is to insert ourselves, to be critical, to be right. Let us treat one another with kindness, and if we do not agree with something someone said, we might want to consider the golden rule. Let us be mindful of our actions. The other day a Thai massage teacher asked me about something online, in a public format. As soon as I realized that my answer might in some small way have the potential to be read as critical (even though my perception was not critical), I did what I always do; I moved the conversation into a private chat. I didn’t know this teacher, but I decided to default to respecting him and his students enough to err on the side of excessive caution. I would not want, for a moment, for my words to cause one of his students to lose faith in him, nor would I want to appear to be “one upping” him, or trying to lure his students my way. It is highly likely (but as yet unknown) that he teaches in a way that I would not agree with or like, for I am an outlier in the western Thai massage world. But this does not make me want to hurt him and/or his family by even accidentally discrediting him.

There are seriously horrible things going on in this world. There are things that we need to stand up and shout about. All over the world xenophobia is rearing its ugly head. People’s rights are being taken away. The earth’s rights are being taken away. Humans and animals are suffering and dying in thousands of horrible ways. Whether or not I agree with some little thing you said about Thai massage is not so important as for me to shout about it or to cause you potential harm. And yes, given that Facebook has become most people’s primary way of marketing their businesses, to publicly denounce one another’s Thai massage posts is to potentially hurt one another’s livelihoods. Why would we do this?

We all have our own platforms now. Those who like to mix and match Thai massage with other modalities and say that this is the natural evolution of the art can sing about this all they want on their own blogs, Facebook pages, essays and books. And those, like me, who like to preserve the art as it has historically been practiced, we can sing it about it all we want on our blogs and social media and such. I will never go onto your Facebook post and tell you that your approach is bad, that your prices are too high, that your theory is incorrect, that you are wrong wrong wrong. Because I see your Facebook post as being both the welcome room of your business, and a couch in your living room, and I had better know you awfully well if I am going to go sit on your couch and point my fingers at you.

Let us treat one another as we would like to be treated. Let us care for one another as we care for our clients. Let us not live in fear of someone else’s theory taking something away from us. Let us remember that if we trace things back far enough, we are all lineage siblings. Let us treat one another with kindness. Peace and thriving practices to you all.


How Herbal Compresses Actually Work

I got asked this question again the other day that I get asked variations of fairly frequently, so I thought I'd share my answer here.  The question is essentially, "how does a body absorb any benefit from the herbs in Thai hot herbal compresses (luk pra kob) through cloth?"

Steaming the herbs releases herbal alkaloids into the steamy watery herb mix - just like how if you steep a tea bag in hot water, the herbs infuse the water - you can then remove the tea bag, but your water now has herbal properties in it. So your herbal compress is kind of like a cup of tea that is packed with herbs - If that cup of tea is still hot, you can smell the herbs in the steam that drifts off of the cup. The reason you can smell the herbs, is because that steam is actually infused with tiny particulates of the herbs. This is why in Thai medicine we say that the sense of smell is related to earth element - because if there are no earth particulates, things don't have a smell. So we know that the steam that smells herby, actually contains bits of herbs that are too small to see or separate out. 

Teacup (1 of 1).jpg

Now, how those herbs get into the body of the person we are using the compresses on? The heat/steam from the compress is transferred to your client via convection, the method of heat transference in which heat moves to colder areas. Your client's body is colder than the compress and so it absorbs the heat and steam from the compress. Your clients should be able to feel that the compresses cause a softening in the skin and tissue as the moist heat opens pores and calms the tissue. The key word here with these compresses is "moist heat", as, in addition to the general relaxing properties of warmth, we have a transference of the herbally infused steam. Steam and heat travel easily through cloth to the skin. To help this out, most Thai herbal compresses have camphor in them, which is an herb that serves as a vehicle for transporting other herbs into the skin and on to the other layers of the body.  

Many people use Thai hot herbal compresses wrapped in a face towel, and through the client's clothes.  Despite these layers of cloth, the compresses still work; and it's not simply the effects of heat.  If you do an easy experiment of applying a clay or gel hot pack to one side of your body and a hot herbal compress to other side, you will most likely be able to feel a difference.  To my body, simple hot packs are wonderful, but the herbal compresses are noticeably better.  This said, while the compresses do work though multiple layers of cloth, they work even better when applied straight to skin. But when applying straight to skin you must be extra careful of the potential to burn your client, and some would hold that these compresses should not be used on more than one client (since the compresses are steamed between uses, they are effectively sterilized, plus many of the herbs in the compresses have antibacterial properties, so the single use requirement is debatable).  Increase the potency of the compresses by dipping them in clear alcohol (such as vodka) before applying to the client's skin. 

photography credit for both images to  Django Boletus  Special thanks to Tevijjo Yogi for this knowledge and so much more. 

photography credit for both images to Django Boletus
Special thanks to Tevijjo Yogi for this knowledge and so much more. 

Love Tithing

Yesterday I gave Naga Center money to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and to Greenpeace.  I like to post on Facebook when I do these things for two reasons: One, because if the money comes from student's tuitions I feel that it is a matter of transparency, and Two, because I believe that people are more inclined to give when they see others giving, and so I have come to reject the idea that it is better to be humbly anonymous in our generosities.  I think we should shout and sing when we help each other; not out of ego, but in the spirit of encouraging all who can to do likewise. 

I have loved Greenpeace from the moment my 1970s child eyes saw that clip of them in that tiny boat between the whaling ship and the whale. 

I have loved Greenpeace from the moment my 1970s child eyes saw that clip of them in that tiny boat between the whaling ship and the whale. 

In my Facebook post I said I gave out of a commitment to "love tithing".  After I wrote it, I thought about this term that I had just made up.  I didn't simply say "tithing", because that word alone has not always sat right with me, although now I have come to feel very warmly towards it. When I was younger, the word "tithe" conjured images of hats going around in churches.  My impression of the word was connected to ideas of higher ups in religious communities getting fat off of the faithful pennies of those in the pews. Not having been raised around churches, it always seemed a bit suspect.  As I grew older I came to understand that it is indeed sometimes the case that tithing is an extortion of the community for the benefit of a few, but other times the truth is more about people taking good care of other people. Still, the word maintained an uncomfortable religious connotation for me. 

No More Deaths is out there putting little caches of food and water in the U.S. desert for refugees/immigrants coming in from our southern border - directly saving lives every day. I deeply love this organization and fantasize about someday volunteering for them. 

No More Deaths is out there putting little caches of food and water in the U.S. desert for refugees/immigrants coming in from our southern border - directly saving lives every day. I deeply love this organization and fantasize about someday volunteering for them. 

Later I learned about the alms rounds of Buddhist monks.  We see them in Thailand, walking orange robed and barefoot through the streets in the mornings with their alms bowls like children in slings hanging from their necks and shoulders or cradled in hands and arms. The daily outpouring of people placing careful bundles of food in those bowls is another form of tithing and it was through this one that I realized the benefit of tithing to the one who tithes.  I learned of the symbiotic relationship between lay people and monks.  How the lay people feed and clothe the monks, and in return the monks teach and guide the lay people, and how, embedded in the exchange is the first lesson, which is the importance of generosity.   

Back from Thailand one day I sat shotgun in a friend's car, his preschool aged daughter in the backseat.  A red light, and a man holding a "anything helps" sign standing at the side of the road.  My friend, rolling down his window, handed the man a dollar.  We drove off and from the back seat we hear "daddy, what just happened?", to which my friend replied "that man just gave me the opportunity to be generous, and I took it". 

In the current U.S. political crisis, which is a civil rights crisis (amongst other things), I cannot imagine how we would have hope without the ACLU

In the current U.S. political crisis, which is a civil rights crisis (amongst other things), I cannot imagine how we would have hope without the ACLU

I have always given to those who stand on the sidewalks asking, sometimes even when giving was literally handing over my last pocket of change, but my friend's words changed my understanding of the dynamic. That man gave me the opportunity to be generous, and I took it.  I had thought that giving was about helping out our fellow humans, but in one short sentence I came to see that it was a gift to self.  This is what dana, a Pali/Sanskrit word that means joyful voluntary giving, is about. 

For the last 13 years I have had a Thai medicine teacher who happens to be a spiritual ascetic.  One way that this plays out in his life is that his vows don't allow him to set prices for his work as a healer and a teacher.  All money that comes into his life is given voluntarily.  I make my living by passing on the things he has taught me to others, and so it is only proper and right that I share some of that with him, knowing that he in turn gives a portion of any money he gets to his teachers; the direct care-taking of lineage.  Over the years I came to see the money I would periodically send my teacher, as tithing, and finally the word stopped being directly about religion.  With time, I started attaching the word to other forms of joyful giving in my life, like a dollar here and there to those living on the streets, or the small bits I send along to Greenpeace, MOAS, the ACLU, The Sierra Club, and No More Deaths. Somehow calling it tithing allows me to do it more.  It's a self imposed business tax that feels as mandatory as the one the IRS requires of me.  It's the tithing of being a part of the human community on planet earth.  It is tithing for love of clean air, protected peoples, trees and basic humanity.  It is love tithing.

These good folk are literally scooping drowning refugees out of the ocean!  This organization is amazing.

These good folk are literally scooping drowning refugees out of the ocean!  This organization is amazing.

I believe deeply that healing arts doesn't stop at the edge of your mat, massage table, or office doors.  I believe that being a healing arts practitioner means doing what you can to alleviate suffering in any form or place.  If we do not have clean air to breathe, we cannot be healthy.  If we do not have food to eat, and basic human rights, we cannot be healthy.  If we are oppressed and living in fear, we cannot be healthy.  This is why I am an activist.  When I march in a political protest, I am being a healing arts practitioner.  The is why I agitate.  When I call my senators, I am being a healing arts practitioner.  This is why I love tithe.  When I give to organizations that are doing the hard work, fighting the good fight, even if only in the small amounts that may be possible, when I do this, I am being a healing arts practitioner. 

To learn more about any of the wonderful organizations pictured here you can click on the photos.  Except for the monk's feet - that picture's just there for pretty.  There are many more organizations out there doing good work that I love, I just chose a few of my favorites to feature here. 

Got my first gynecological exam from the good doctors at Planned Parenthood when I was a young woman.  They do so much more to save lives than many realize.  

Got my first gynecological exam from the good doctors at Planned Parenthood when I was a young woman.  They do so much more to save lives than many realize.