If you're not already familiar with this powerful healing therapy, I'd like to open your eyes to Thai yoga therapy, or Thai massage. Combining aspects of hatha yoga with Ayurvedic and Chinese medicines, Thai yoga therapy can help balance, energize, and relax the body and mind by stimulating the flow of vital energy. I'm a big fan of Thai yoga therapy and have been working with Thai Yoga Therapist Liza Dousson (in this video with me) for several years now. Having done just about every form of therapeutic bodywork there is, including ten years of bioenergetic psychotherapy, or “bioenergetics,” training (bioenergetics is about releasing trapped emotional energy which can contribute to illness through physical postures), I feel Thai yoga therapy is one of the best forms of bodywork out there. As an energy medicine practitioner and strong advocate of massage therapy, I believe that Thai yoga therapy is highly medicinal and truly integrative.
I especially like the stretching component of Thai yoga therapy... let me tell you, you’ve never been stretched until you’re stretched by a Thai yoga therapist. Stretching helps us maintain flexibility, the capacity to bend and move with ease, so that we can continue to engage in moderate regular exercise (not to mention keep up with our grandchildren) to stay healthy. Stretching also improves blood flow to constricted areas of our bodies. When someone else stretches us, we can go further than we would on our own (without causing pain, strain, or soreness, of course) and focus more on the breath. Stretching with a therapist can help us stretch better later at home or in a yoga class because it creates muscle memory.
Benefits of Thai Yoga
- Homeostasis: balances hormones and autonomic nervous system
- Release of muscular tension
- Better blood circulation; oxygenates tissues, clears toxins
- Improved heart rate variability (HRV)
- Removal of energy blocks and promotion of healthy energy flow
- Stimulation of glands and internal organs; improved digestion
- Improved posture and alignment
- Increased flexibility and range of motion; lessened stiffness
- Body/mind/spirit holism in both therapist and client
Interested in learning about the active practice of yoga? It's never too late to get started. Learn more...
Going With the Flow, Whichever Way You Slice It
Thai yoga therapy is designed to bring about a state of balance in the body by helping release stagnated energy. Through assisted yoga poses, the Thai yoga therapist attempts to manipulate major energy lines in the client’s body, using stretching and gentle twisting techniques.Thai yoga therapists also use acupressure and reflexology techniques to help facilitate the flow of vital energy through the body. While acupressure involves using the fingers, hands, feet, elbows or forearms to trigger pressure points all over the body, reflexology entails applying pressure to specific points on the hands and feet to positively affect corresponding parts of the body. Both techniques are said to improve blood flow, promote relaxation, relieve tension, and calm the mind to foster balance in the receiver's body.
From a Western perspective, Thai yoga therapy helps harmonize the branches of the autonomic nervous system and establish hormonal balance; both states are crucial for health and wellness. Recognizing the role of chronic emotional stress in degenerative diseases, Western doctors are now advocating the practice of mind-body therapies like yoga, meditation and Tai Chi for stress management. By practicing any or all of these mind-body therapies, we can help trigger parasympathetic nervous system activity in our bodies that will result in a physiological relaxation response. The parasympathetic nervous system is one branch of the autonomic nervous system, which controls how our internal organs (e.g. our hearts, blood vessels, small intestines, and glands) react to external stimuli. The sympathetic nervous system, responsible for our physiological responses to stressors, is the other branch.
When we are chronically stressed, we get into the pattern of sympathetic nervous system overdrive; more often than not, parasympathetic activity gets suppressed and we suffer imbalance in autonomic nervous system activity. It’s no wonder that chronic stress is linked to high blood pressure and digestive problems. Chronic stress also results in the excess release of stress hormones, which can also lead to hormonal imbalance in the body. Excess cortisol release by the adrenal glands, for example, can cause insulin and thyroid hormone resistance as well as disrupt sex hormone function, resulting in symptoms like depression, weight gain, and loss of energy or sex drive. By reducing the physiological stress response through mind-body therapies like Thai yoga, we bring the body into better overall hormonal and nervous system balance.
- Learn about yoga and blood pressure
One of the yardsticks cardiologists use to measure excess sympathetic nervous system activity is heart rate variability (HRV), the beat-to-beat alterations of heart rate. People with low heart rate variability are less able to "go with the flow" when faced with stress and are more prone to stress-related health issues, including cardiovascular disease. When we balance sympathetic with parasympathetic nervous system activity our heart rate variability improves. Engaging in deep breathing during Thai yoga therapy, can help us cultivate healthy heart rate variability.
Consciously focuing on our breathing during Thai yoga therapy brings a meditative element to the practice. For some, the practice of Thai yoga therapy may also become a spiritual discipline, incorporating Buddhist principles of mindfulness (focused breathing) and compassion (loving kindness), and bringing mind/body/spirit wholeness.
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