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Aug 24, 2016 03:24PM

Thai bodywork: Ancient practice makes bodies feel like new

By Chris Cashion
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Maggie Murray, who owns Subtle Energy Thai Yoga Bodywork in Bettendorf, works on Angela Sands, of Davenport, at the Radish Magazine Yoga Fest in July.
"We are always working toward health or illness."

With these simple words and a suggestion of working toward health Maggie Murray immediately had my attention.

Murray is a retired nurse who now owns Subtle Energy Thai Yoga Bodywork in Bettendorf. She had practiced in the traditional medical field for more than 30 years, and has a lot of positive things to say about working toward health in a holistic way.

"Thai bodywork is wonderful for gaining or maintaining flexibility, relieving tension, releasing lactic acid and opening the energy meridians," she says.

"It's not a massage as we know it in the West," she says. During sessions, clients remain clothed. There are no oils or kneading of the skin, Murray says.

Instead, "there is a lot of deep breathing and interacting with the poses as the body is moved."

I decided to check out a session with Murray myself to see what it was all about. After some paperwork and a discussion of concerns and ailments, Murray had me lay on a mat on the floor in a darkened room. She uses a heated Biomat to raise body temperature, increase muscle relaxation and aid in relieving things like muscle and joint pain.

Murray then moved my body into a variety of positions that felt similar to yoga poses, but more relaxing because I wasn't actually doing any of the work. She also applied compression, stopping and releasing blood flow. During the course of 90 minutes, my body was manipulated in a variety of ways, none of which were painful, while I was encouraged to breathe deeply.

I left feeling very relaxed and loose, very much like I had received a deep tissue massage, only more energized. With traditional massage, I tend to feel drowsy and ready to nap afterward. Instead, I felt the same kind of energy I have after leaving a particularly good yoga class.

Kelly Harris, co-owner of Tapas Yoga Shala in Rock Island, offers Thai bodywork at her studio, and says yoga and bodywork are closely related.

"Both include stretching as a method of bringing fresh blood and new awareness to the body. Through conscious and precise stretching, we can change the way muscle fibers and muscle groups communicate with the brain. This, in turn, helps the body replenish itself and counter the effects of day-to-day life," Harris says.

She says Thai bodywork has roots in East Asia. "Like many other ancient arts, it has a deep and difficult-to-pinpoint beginning in East Asia. Thai massage has been a part of family history for many hundreds of years, and is now practiced and taught all over the world. Like other bodywork practices, there's a broad range of styles and techniques that now fall under this name," Harris says.

Daina Lewis, owner of Shine Yoga and Bodyworks, Moline, also practices Thai bodywork. She says she fell in love with it after attending a workshop at a yoga festival a decade ago, and began her training shortly after.

Lewis emphasizes that Thai bodywork is a practice that shouldn't be looked at as a treat, but as a necessary part of whole-body well being. She also points out that anyone can reap its benefits, from children to athletes to seniors.

Lewis practices not only on her clients, but on her children and her mother. She said her mother, who suffers from fibromyalgia, finds that the compression therapy used in Thai bodywork doesn't hurt the way the intense pressure of traditional massage can.

"And athletes can use this as a way to maintain their body by getting into the connective tissues and around the joints. It helps with range of movement," Lewis says.

She adds that her teacher, Chuck Duff, refers to Thai bodywork as "lazy man's yoga."

"You get into yoga-like positions, but you get to relax the whole time," Lewis says, adding that you benefit more if you let your body become loose and let the practitioner do the work.

Thai bodywork is offered in a number of locations throughout the Quad-Cities and Radish region. Murray, Harris and Lewis agree that the regularity with which to receive Thai bodywork depends on the client's needs and budget, but that most clients come any where from once per week to once per month.

Chris Cashion is a writer on staff with Radish.

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