“Thai Yoga Massage is but a medium that helps us tap into the universal truths that bind us all together.” How much of your success as a massage therapist do you owe to specific massage techniques that you learned in school, and how much of it can you attribute to your personal growth and development?

While percentages may vary, I think that most of us will agree that in order to be a truly skilled practitioner, one must practice more than massage! We must continuously seek to discover the roots of our own dis-function and suffering, find ways to heal our wounds, take time to integrate and embody our new-found wisdom, and cultivate balance in our own lives. If we aren’t living in this “wisely selfish” way, effleurage and petrissage aren’t of much use. In short, to be effective, we must walk our talk! “Healer, heal thyself!

When I think back to the experiences in my life that have incited the most personal growth and development, I think of travel – being immersed in a new environment or culture. Travel, by its very nature, exposes my habits, assumptions, and conditioning; opens my mind and heart to new possibilities; and reminds me to be more humble, grateful, and joyful.

I also think of massage school – a safe, supportive community where dialog was encouraged and emotional breakthroughs were a daily occurrence. Some of my greatest lessons have been learned through witnessing my classmates in moments of courageous vulnerability and seeing myself in their eyes and in their actions and hearing the truth in their words.

This understanding, and a desire to continue to deepen my perspective on health and healing, has influenced the way that I design my continuing education courses. While I agree that in most cases it would be quicker and easier to satisfy continuing education requirements by meeting for a weekend at the local massage school or Holiday Inn, I prefer to create courses that incorporate elements like travel and community-living to more fully take advantage of the (tax-deductible) opportunity to learn from, commune with, and draw inspiration from ”my people”.

In September my friend Gill Webster (www.gillwebster.com) and I offered a five-day Thai Yoga Massage retreat in the Scottish Highlands. For the location, we chose a grand old baronial estate located on the shores of Loch Linnhe. Our classroom was a large glass conservatory with a stunning 180-degree view of the loch and the tall mountains beyond. The participants, who came from Scotland, England, Spain, and the United States, had varied backgrounds in bodywork, yoga, Pilates, and physiotherapy, but shared a common interest in learning Thai Yoga Massage.

We began each day with a gentle yoga practice in full view of the rising sun. Following a healthy breakfast, we returned to the conservatory for our exploration of Thai Yoga Massage. At 1:00 pm we broke for lunch and enjoyed a spacious afternoon open for hiking, swimming, reading, or napping. At 4:30 we met in the parlor for afternoon tea and resumed Thai Yoga Massage class until dinner at 7:00. Dinner was followed by free time by the fire or relaxing in the sauna.

Each day the group grew closer. Meals were filled with lively conversation and laughter. Cultural similarities and differences were explored; and bonds were formed over a mutual love of Marmite, Michael Jackson, and the moon-shadows that played on the waves in our loch. The space inside and outside of the classroom felt sacred and potent. Everyone was making an effort to practice kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity – the states of mind that form the foundation of Thai Yoga Massage. Boundaries were dissolving and fate was readying herself to reveal the underlying, unifying purpose or common thread that brought us together– beyond our love of Thai Yoga Massage and moon-shadows.

On day four, we gathered in the conservatory to learn a traditional abdominal sequence. A woman who had thus far shied away from being my model volunteered. As I demonstrated the techniques, the room became unusually quiet and focused. Then the woman’s cheeks became flushed, her lips curled and a tear dripped down the side of her face. In that instant, I felt every heart in that room swell to encompass her and her pain. Then a deep, collective, intuitive understanding, and a genuine willingness to witness and support her process, led our little tribe into a different dimension where the line was blurred between teacher and student, self and other, work and play.

When she was ready, she shared with us that she felt a deep sadness and emptiness inside since her hysterectomy. This was met with an upwelling of emotion from the circle, which was divinely made up of women ages 23-50, and a wonderfully sensitive man, who for various reasons, had not had the experience of giving birth. Her courageous vulnerability – she knew what she was ready to confront when she volunteered – touched everyone in the room. Each woman (and man) experienced, interpreted, and benefited from this lesson differently, but we were all reminded that our purpose for coming together for this retreat, and our purpose for practicing massage, goes way beyond perfecting any massage technique.

So there you have it. My favorite “wisely selfish” practice is to periodically invite an intimate group of dedicated individuals (12 or fewer) to step out of their routine for a few days and join me in an unfamiliar and interesting location. We follow a schedule that allows plenty of space for the relaxed absorption and integration of Thai Yoga Massage techniques, the natural surroundings, and local culture, and for rich dialog to arise and flow freely. Participants walk away with a substantial competency in Thai Yoga Massage, and we all grow and heal in unexpected and inspiring ways.