How to Touch

When massaging, what we are doing, at its most basic, is simply touching.  Touching, feeling, responding, engaging.  Yet very few schools talk about how to touch, curriculums tending more often to focus on where to touch.

So how should we touch? Kaline, wonderful teacher and brilliant woman, once told me when you massage you should imagine you were walking along a river, unable to see the ground beneath the water.  There may be sharp rocks beneath the surface, or there may be mud or sand.

So when you walk, you walk slowly and carefully, like a blind person.  Gently feeling the way and making sure that it is safe, before you shift your body weight.  Because you never know what lies there: what pains, what traumas from the past, what suffering lie beneath the smooth surface, waiting to be heard.

And listen.  Listen well with your hands.  What do you feel?  Is it hot?  Is it cold?  Is it swollen?  Is it flaccid?  Can you feel the pulse, fluid of life, coursing through the flesh?   Is it hard like a rock?  Is it stringy?  Is it spongy?  Don’t just assume – listen.  And the body beneath your hands, or knees, or feet will talk.

The body you are touching has a story behind it, has a direction ahead.  But today, just now, in this moment, let that body be your teacher.  Let that body tell you what to do.  Not your own mind, which thinks “they’re a little crooked there – I can fix that” or “they’re a little too ____, I think they should be more ____, so I’ll do this”

We, who are performing the massage, are the servants, and we are following our master: the client’s body, who is telling us quite clearly what to do.

So we listen and we trust and we follow, and we start by simply touching.

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Prayer to Dr Shivago

Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma sambuddhasa (3x) 

Hommage to the blessed One, the Worthy One, the Perfectly Self-awakened One

Om Namo Shivago Silasa A-hang/Karuniko Sapasatanang O-satha/Tippamantang Paphaso Suriya-jantang/Gomarapato Pagasesi Vantami/Pandito Sumethaso Aloka Sumana-homi (3x)

Hommage to our founder, the father doctor, Shivago who comes to us through his saintly life.  Please bring to us the knowledge of the nature, that this prayer will show us the true medicine in the universe.  In the name of this mantra, we respect your help and pray that through our bodies you will bring wellness and health to the body of our client.

Piyo-tewa manussanang Piyo-proma namutammo/Piyo-naga supananang/Pininsiyang nama mihang Namo Buddhaya Navon-navian/Nasatit-nasatian Ehi-mama Navian-nave Napai-tang-vian/Navian-mahaku Ehi-mama Piyong-mama Namo-puttaya (1x)

The god of healing dwells in the heavens high while mankind stays in the world below.  In the name of the founder, may the heavens be reflected in the earth below so this healing medicine may encircle the world.

Na-a Nava Roga Payati Vinasanti (3x)

We pray for the one we touch, that they will be happy and illness will be released from them.

Translation: Leo Rhee

I’ve often wondered if there is a link to the Hindu mantra “Om Namah Shivaya” (it does sounds so similar to “Om Namo Shivago”) – but if there was a link to the god Shiva: Supreme Being, creator, preserver, destroyer, revealer and concealer of all that is; history does not relate….  and, Dr Jivaka is a very practical focal point to direct our devotion, service and emulation: a compassionate, blessed being with great healing powers.

Video uploaded by Kei from the Shivago Thai School in Edinburgh

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Harnessing the placebo effect

The word placebo means “I shall please” and originally comes from Church liturgy “I shall please the Lord”, and was later used for any attempt to flatter or please another. By the 19th Century, physicians used placebo to refer to any ineffective ‘medicine’ given to a patient not to cure, but merely to please.  Soon physicians saw that if the patient expected the sugar pill to help, it did.

Recent research has shown that the effect is strongest for those disorders that are predominantly mental and subjective: in the case of the depression, placebo pills produce almost the same effect as conventional medicine.

Pain is another nerve-related symptom which is susceptible to treatment by placebo.

Expectations: Patient’s expectations influence the potency, so placebo morphine will provide more relief than placebo aspirin.

Placebo effect has a neurological foundation: Neuro-imaging shows that placebo works by stimulating the production of naturally occurring pain-killers in the brain.  Placebo-activated opioids not only relieve pain, they also modulate heart rate and respiration.  The neurotransmitter dopamine, when released by placebo treatment, help improve motor function in Parkinson’s patients, they can also elevate mood, sharpen cognitive ability, alleviate digestive disorders, relieve insomnia, and limit the secretion of stress-related hormones like insulin and cortisol.  An inert placebo may, by definition, have no effect, but under the right conditions it can act as a catalyst for the body’s endogenous health care system.

Drama is important: Placebo injections are better than placebo pills.  And sham surgery is the most effective of all.  The pill itself will make a difference: shape, size, branding, and price all influence its effects on the body. Soothing blue capsules make more effective tranquilizers than angry red ones, except among Italian men, for whom the color blue is associated with their national soccer team.

Positivity: The more positive a doctor is when telling the patient about the placebo, the more likely it will do the patient good.  We are constantly parsing the reactions of those around us – such as the tone a doctor uses to deliver a diagnosis – to generate more accurate estimations of our fate.

Is alternative medicine a placebo?  Dr Edzard Ernst, professor of Complementary Medicine at Peninsula Medical School has pioneered rigorous study of many alternative treatments: he found that 95% of treatments were statistically indistinguishable from placebo treatments.  Ernst’s listed treatments that “demonstrably generate more good than harm” were: St John’s wort for depression; hawthorn for congestive heart failure; guargum for diabetes; acupuncture for nausea and osteoarthritis; aromatherapy as a palliative treatment for cancer; hypnosis for labour pain; and massage, music therapy, and relaxation therapy for anxiety and insomnia.  He also said that practioners of alternative medicine often excel at harnessing the placebo effect through:

  • long relaxed consultations with their clients
  • a strong passionate belief in their treatments
  • treatments that are often delivered with great and reassuring ceremony.

The effect of the placebo may persist even if the patient is told they are getting placebo treatments:  Indeed patients have been able to wean themselves from addictive medicines using something they know to be a placebo.

Although there it is an ethical question whether doctors should hand out placebos, the fact that doctors may be handing out unnecessary medication,  side effects included, is also questionable.  An American study of 8,000 people who had been treated for depression found that a quarter of them were not clinically sick, but had just undergone a normal life event such as bereavement.  Everybody hurts: but people are being needlessly drugged because the natural state of feeling unhappy is viewed as an illness, rather than a ­normal part of life that we should experience and learn from.

And if we can harness body’s inherent healing ability, unmedicated, all the better.

Further reading: Why are placebos getting more effective

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Lunar Eclipse ritual

Lunar Eclipse ritual

Tonight (15th June 2011) there is a full lunar eclipse.

For the Lanna ritual for a full moon eclipse, you will need the following:

  • White table
  • Coconut water
  • 12x Purple Lotus flowers
  • 12x Black Candles
  • 12x Black Incense
  • 12x Black Rice Grains
  • 12x Black Sesame Seeds
  • 12x Black Cookies
  • 12x Mangosteen
  • or similar black fruit, candles, incense and foods (Coca-cola?)

As the moon darkens into full eclipse, ask for the elipse energy to bless and cleanse your offerings, to give long life and protection to you, your mama, papa, teacher and loved ones.

Lahu Massamin Ja Puta Gun Nang
Lahu Massamin Tamma Nang
Lahu Massamin Ja Sangkha Nang
Sa Pa Lokha Paya Mi
Wa Che Yasa Pata Pang
Pa Wan Tu Mei
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Cross your arms to relieve pain

Crossing your arms after burning your hand or suffering an injury could lessen pain, research suggests.

Scientists found that crossing the arms across the body may confuse the brain about where pain is occurring.  Researchers think the theory has most impact on pain felt in the hands, and have not yet tested it on other parts of the body.

A team from University College London (UCL) used a laser to generate a four millisecond pin prick of pure pain (without touch) on the hands of eight people.  The test was then repeated with the arms crossed.  The participants recorded their perception of the intensity of the pain, and their electrical brain responses were also measured using scans.

The reports and the scans revealed that people’s perception of pain was weaker when the arms were crossed.  Dr Giandomenico Iannetti, lead author of the paper from the UCL department of Physiology, Pharmacology and Neuroscience, said: ‘Perhaps when we get hurt, we should not only ‘rub it better’ but also cross our arms.’

In everyday life you mostly use your left hand to touch things on the left side of the world, and your right hand for the right side of the world – for example when picking up a glass of water on your right side you generally use your right hand.’  This means that the areas of the brain that contain the map of the right body and the map of right external space are usually activated together, leading to highly effective processing of sensory stimuli.

‘When you cross your arms these maps are not activated together anymore, leading to less effective brain processing of sensory stimuli, including pain, being perceived as weaker.’

The study, published in the journal Pain, involved crossing arms over the midline (an imaginary line running vertically down the centre of the body), as happens when people cross their arms naturally.

According to the researchers, the discovery could lead to therapies to reduce pain.

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Thai Massage for Tigers?

Don’t try this at home, folks!

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Who is Dr Shivago?

Dating back more than 2,500 years, Thai healing is rich in the traditions of the East. The history of this folk science is vague, but the legendary founder of the art is believed to have been a doctor from northern India named Jivaka Kumar Bhaccha.  Jivaka’s work consisted of manipulative techniques as well as instruction in proper diet, herbology and mystical practices.

Prince Abhaya, the son of King Bimbisara, was riding through the city when he saw a flock of crows circling and cawing loudly around a small bundle. Stopping his carriage, he investigated the sound and found a newborn baby boy who had been left to die amongst the garbage on the roadside. Upon inquiry he learned that a courtesan had discarded her illegitimate son whom she felt was a burden, and had left him to die.

Prince Abhaya was transfused with compassion for the newborn babe that still clung to life despite its ugly surroundings. He decided to adopt the baby as his own. The baby was named Jivaka Komara Bhacca – Jivaka, meaning ‘life’, because of his will to live, and Komara Bhacca, which meant ‘adopted by a prince’.

Jivaka led a privileged life in the palace. His friends, however, often teased him as he had no mother. Jivaka, who was embarrassed by the teasing, questioned his father about his origin. When he heard about his origins and his will to live he decided that he would one day grow up to be a preserver of life. Determined to earn the respect he felt he lacked due to his birth, Jivaka decided to go to the University of Taxila to become a physician.

Jivaka approached Disapamok, a well-known scholar, for his training.  In Jivaka’s past births, he had aspired to be the physician of the Buddha.  With this knowledge, Sakka, King of the Heavens, entered the body of Disapamok, and bequeathed the young Jivaka with celestial knowledge in the art of medicine.

Jivaka quickly learned medicines and cures of which Disapamok himself had no knowledge. Jivaka completed in seven years the physicians training which usually took eleven years.Realizing that Jivaka’s education was complete, Disapamok asked him to go forth and bring back a plant, herb or root that could not be used for medicinal purposes for the preservation of life. After travelling far and wide Jivaka returned to his teacher to inform him that no such plant, herb, or root existed. All of nature’s treasures were beneficial for the preservation of life. The joyous teacher then praised his pupil by informing him that his education was complete. Jivaka had surpassed his teacher in knowledge.

Jivaka’s reputation as a great physician grew quickly. He was the physician of kings, noblemen and the Buddha. The text mentions that he operated and successfully removed two tumours from the brain of a rich merchant who was a good friend of King Bimbisara. He also operated successfully to remove a blockage in the intestines of a nobleman. In one instance when the Buddha was afflicted with stomach problems, Jivaka prepared the medicine, and applying it on a blue lotus flower, offered it to the Buddha. Jivaka then asked the Buddha to inhale the essence emanating from the flower. The medicine which Jivaka had prepared with devotion and presented so beautifully, cured the Buddha’s stomach ailment.

Jivaka had in one instance risked his life to attend a very cruel and vicious king named Chanda Pradyotha. One of the King Pradyotha’s subjects had offered him a shawl that had been dropped by a Deva in the forest. Admiring the very beautiful shawl, the king had reflected that he should gift it to Jivaka who had risked his life to save him. Jivaka, however, felt that there was only one person worthy of such a shawl. He in turn offered it to the Buddha. The Buddha accepted the celestial shawl and, as requested by Jivaka, dispensed a sermon on the giving of robes. After listening to the discourse, Jivaka attained the first stage of enlightenment, Sotapanna. The Buddha felt that keeping such a valuable shawl in the monastery would attract thieves, which would endanger His monks. Addressing ananda, he requested that the shawl be cut into strips and resewn so that it would be of little value to thieves. This custom of wearing patched garments still remains among the Sangha. Even their new robes are made of strips of material that are sewn together so that even the robe they wear would help them in the practice of non-attachment.

Jivaka built a monastery in his mango grove so that he could be close to the Buddha when attending to His needs. It was Jivaka who attended to the Buddha’sfoot when it was cut by the sliver of rock that Devadatta rolled down the hill at Gijjhakuta. It was also Jivaka who treated the Buddha in His last days, when He was overcome by stomach pains.

The Buddha dispensed the Jivaka Sutta when Jivaka questioned him on the controversial question of the kammic effects of eating meat. The Buddha explained that the eating of meat was not in itself an unwholesome act if the following conditions were met:

Adittha: One has not seen the slaughtering of the animal.

Asuta: One has not heard that it was killed for his or her consumption.

Aparisamkita: There should be no doubt at all in the mind of the person consuming the meat that the animal was not killed for the purpose of his or her consumption.

It was also at Jivaka’s request that the Buddha established that monks should sweep the compound of the monastery and attend to other duties that would exercise their bodies. Jivaka, seeing the benefit of exercise for a healthy life, requested this and other mild duties to be performed by the monks to ensure their health. With foresight, love and compassion the devoted Jivaka took care of the physical health of the Buddha and His Sangha.

In terms of Thai massage, the movement of Buddhism to Thailand was as important as the Jivaka’s medical system.  He is reputed to have visited Thailand with a party of Buddhist monks. It is interesting to note here that the Thai word for massage is nuad boran which literally means ‘ancient massage’. Whether or not Thailand had an indigenous form of massage before Buddhism arrived is not known. Jivaka’s medical system was based on India’s ayurvedic and yogic traditions. Thai massage’s Indian influence is still obvious today from the large number of yoga like postures used, its many Sanskrit and Pali words, its spiritual foundation as well as from Thai massage therapists’ veneration for Jivaka. In fact a prayer which invokes the blessings of Jivaga is still often recited before giving a Thai massage.

Thai massage theory was passed down orally from teacher to student until it was written down on palm leaves in the Pali language using the Khmer script. These texts were venerated and given the same importance as Buddhist religious writings. Unfortunately the Burmese destroyed most of these texts in 1776 when they took over Ayutthya, Thailand’s first capital.

Here Jivaka kneels in prostration (wai-kru) at the top right hand side.  This is an image from a Tibetan thankha.

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