The Quality of Self-Care by Yvonne Cattermole
This weekend was my first experience of the MTI conference. I was looking forward to meeting other members as well as attending and presenting a workshop. Cardiff Met University is a great venue with the added bonus of being an hour down the road! The keynote speech from Darien Pritchard was thought provoking and entertaining including anecdotes and practical exercises to explore the quality of touch.
After Darien’s introduction to the day, I went to Sharon Bull’s workshop on Mindfulness in Practice. We talked about the power of mindfulness and its teachings of awareness, non-judgement and living in the present. Sharon gave plenty of opportunity to explore these ideas, highlighting how a simple short practice can open a different space in a day of busyness. Where Darien had talked about the quality of touch, Sharon invited us to consider the quality of our internal space.
This led to my workshop (Thai massage and the power of the breath) where I wanted to bring attention to the quality of breath. The conference was focused on practitioner self-care. As practitioners we are aware of our client’s breath but how often are we aware of our own? I wanted to introduce Thai massage, which was new to most of the group, and how to work with our breath to support us in practice and bring a deeper engagement when receiving bodywork.
I am a yoga therapist as well as bodyworker and in the course of my studies I have been introduced to the concept of the inhale creating unlimited internal space rather than filling it up. The exhale can then support the space created by the inhale and maintain it rather than there being a gradual deflation. Then there are the pauses in the breath cycle where we can be in the space and acknowledge stillness.
Thai massage is sometimes called Thai yoga massage. The consideration of where yoga is in Thai massage is a huge question for me. As with yoga there are different types of Thai massage, different teachers and different lineages. I follow the yoga tradition of Krishnamacharya sometimes called viniyoga. Yoga can be defined as ‘to unite’ or ‘to be in relationship’. In a therapeutic situation we are in relationship with our client. The breath brings us into relationship with our clients. It keeps practitioner and receiver engaged with the practice. From a physiological point of view, mindful breathing can influence the parasympathetic nervous system to bring us to a state of rest and repair rather than fight or flight. The breath also guides release of restriction within the body as well as the mind. It can bring length and space to the physical and energetic body. The breath also provides a mirror. If my breath is compromised during yoga practice or bodywork practice, I question whether the practice is right for me. In yoga there is always a variation so that each student can engage safely and learn something about ‘where they are’. If the length of the breath can be maintained and be smooth (rather than ragged) then the practice is working with both stability and ease or strength and flexibility. All this holds true for Thai massage and for me this is the yoga aspect of bodywork.
Darien told us this wonderful quote from another massage teacher, ‘we are working with the stiffest muscle in the body, the one between the ears’. So often yoga becomes focused on posture and movement when it is actually a tool to clarify our relationships with others but most importantly ourselves. Through clarification comes a stillness in the mind and this is reflected in the body. So it is with Thai massage. Thai massage can be as client centred as holistic massage or any other therapy. And when it is, it is liberating, grounding and developmental.
On Saturday, the group were introduced to the simplest of techniques whilst working with the breath when giving and receiving. The feedback was positive and some misperceptions and unfortunate previous experiences were challenged. It was a delight to see the enjoyment of practice and pass on my love of both Thai massage and yoga and the role of the quality of breath in self-care.
If you have the opportunity to go to conference next year, please do. It was an inspirational day full of generous souls. If you want to learn Thai massage, please join me at BCMB in Clifton, Bristol, at a workshop this year (12/13 May, 25/26 June and/or 1/2 October) or sign up for the MTI accredited diploma that starts in January 2017. See the BCMB website for more details www.bristolmassage.co.uk
By Yvonne Cattermole, BCMB Tutor