PUBLISHED: 2:31 PM on Wednesday, March 9, 2005
Haines residents flock to Thai massage classes

Inside the meditation building on a windy Sunday morning last fall, a wood stove warmed five couples, seated closely on the floor. They had gathered at the one room, mountain-view structure - a privately owned retreat center outside of Haines where community members often come to reflect - to learn the basics of Thai massage.

The day-long course began with the lighting of incense and candles, the recitation of a short prayer, and the historical background of the practice.

The rest of the day was filled with kneading, chopping, stretching bodies into yogic postures - students laughing as they tried to target just the right spot. Partners shared the role as giver and receiver as instructor Brietta Leader introduced 44 massage moves from the East, providing an example, then assisting students.

"Is this right? Am I in the right place?" asked one female student.

Her partner lay on the floor, knees pulled into his abdomen, arms at his side. Standing, she placed his feet on her knees, leaned forward and wrapped her arms around his legs just above the knees, then rocked backward into a squat. Her partner arched up, feeling a stretch in his lower abdomen that he couldn't have achieved without such assistance.

"Looks great," the instructor said, checking each couple.

"The benefits of Thai massage are many," said Leader, who studied the ancient form of massage along with meditation and yoga in the fall of 2000 in Chiang Mai, Thailand, the country's second largest city.

"At that time I had never received any style of massage in my life, which seems crazy now... It helps open the energy lines of the body with acupressure and passive yoga stretches. The body is left feeling energized. Sometimes it's called 'lazy man's yoga'."

Rooted to the introduction of Buddhism to Thailand from India in the second century, Thai massage incorporates yogic and Ayurvedic traditions. Apparently it's popular in Haines, a community with a dense population of massage therapists.

Leader, who offers courses there in Nia (a combination of martial arts and modern dance), SoulMotion (integrating movement as a spiritual practice), and yoga, was the first to offer Thai massages in Haines, and by request,

Community members are now lining up for classes on the how-to's of the ancient practice. Leader is planning a series of courses over the summer.

"I believe that if we maintain our bodies with healthy movement practices and ways to slow our thinking minds, we find much more meaning and clarity in our everyday lives," Leader said. "This allows our bodies to open with awareness, which taps into the body's own healing potential."

The next course is set for late March in Haines, and participants are encouraged to sign up as partners.

Editor's Note: For more information or to enroll, contact Leader

Photo courtesy of Brietta Leader

Called "Lazy Man's Yoga," Thai massage helps participants achieve stretches through working with a partner that they can't acheive on their own.