Kristin Borquist is kicking my butt. Well, almost. I’m lying face up in a New Agey studio above the Flying Pig Book Store in Shelburne, and Borquist is tugging on my foot while kneading my hamstring muscles with her own feet.
But it actually feels good. Great, in fact. I’m about 10 minutes into an initial session of Thai yoga body work, an ancient practice that has begun to appear at spas, gyms and studios across the United States. Borquist has touted an upcoming Thai yoga workshop on October 24 at Burlington’s Touchstone Healing Arts as her “wee contribution to world peace,” and I’m here to see if there’s anything to it.
World peace would be great, but right now I’ll settle for some personal destressing. During my very infrequent visits to the spa, masseuses sigh emphatically over my inability to relax. In the even more unusual event that I attend a yoga class, I’m less like a pretzel than a stale baguette. But Thai yoga “will open up new possibilities of movement,” Borquist has promised me. “I’ve never worked with anybody who didn’t find out they were a much more capable person after Thai yoga.”
Thai yoga bodywork (also known as Thai massage) dates back some 2000 years. Along with its Thai origin, it has Indian and Chinese roots, and is based on Buddhism, Ayurvedic medicine and standard yoga. Unlike traditional massage, Thai yoga is more about releasing energy than simple relaxation. To the outsider, it looks like a push-me, pull-you series of contortions on a mat. But to the practitioner and client, it’s a carefully constructed system of stretching, rhythmic massage, acupressure and yoga moves.
“It really affects the quantity and quality of blood flow and oxygen in the body,” says Borquist before our session. “If you’re an athlete, your performance improves, and general health improves because that’s how our bodies take in nourishment and get rid of things we don’t need anymore.”
Borquist, who has been practicing massage in Chittenden County for about 20 years, got hooked on Thai yoga bodywork eight years ago, she says. “I wanted to do something that would bring about a particular change in the body and engage health in an active way.”
After studying Thai yoga in Vermont and Massachusetts for four years and gaining certification in the practice, Borquist began offering it to clients, who rave about the twist on traditional massage. A sixtysomething Shelburne therapist and regular Pilates practitioner tells me that Thai yoga has improved her balance and posture. Another fan, Meg Berlin of Charlotte, says she can feel the “wonderful and amazing sensation” of blood and energy flowing through her body.
“While Swedish massage often feels like a reciprocal dance where the body worker has an intuitive sense of where to go and what to do,” says Berlin, “Thai body work for me feels more meditative and prescribed. There is a very regular rhythm and flow to her movements, and she works her way through the system with clear intent and motions.”
Deft motion is also a professional necessity for Vermont Symphony Orchestra cellist and principal player John Dunlop of Jericho Center. He says seeing Borquist for Thai yoga has helped him run, cycle and kayak better — not to mention improved his playing. “She pays particular attention to my arms and shoulders to deal with the repeated and restricted motions of cello playing,” Dunlop says. “I’m able to play longer without discomfort because of the work.”
Burlington-based interior designer Rose Ann Humphrey is another enthusiast who says Thai yoga bodywork has changed her life. “I almost feel it to the very marrow of my bones that something is going on,” she says. “It’s helped me become whole; it’s had an enormous impact on my professional life, and even my diet is better.”
Thai yoga doesn’t come quick, or cheap: Private sessions last an hour and 45 minutes and cost $135. That’s one reason Borquist decided to offer one-day workshops in the practice. For $95 each, as many as 20 students can absorb the basics of Thai yoga bodywork and learn to give it to someone else.
“I love the idea that this kind of bodywork is so accessible to everyone,” says Borquist. “It’s clothed, for one thing; it’s good for the person who’s giving it as well as for the person who’s receiving it; and it demystifies the bodywork thing. It’s great to have a professional massage, but it’s really nice to have 15 minutes with somebody you care about. All you need is a floor and a few techniques, and it’s free.”
So far, Borquist has offered four Thai yoga teaching workshops. She says one couple now has a regular Wednesday Thai evening, and parents and kids have connected through the bodywork.
Midway through my session with Borquist, I’m beginning to see, or rather feel, her point. Though it starts kind of awkwardly — I’m not sure whether to keep my eyes open or closed, and my stiff legs make Borquist repeat “heavy knee” to get me to relax — I eventually chill out and enjoy the movement. Deep massage alternates with slight acupressure on my wrist and temples and supported yoga postures like the fish pose. The experience is both relaxing and invigorating; when we’re finished, Borquist tells me, “You look all sparkly.”
I feel pretty sparkly, too, with a tingling from the tips of my ears to my toes. The next day, my regular 6-mile run seems lighter and easier; I do, actually, feel more capable. I’m even inspired to take a regular yoga class, during which I find myself more pliable than usual. Maybe not a pretzel yet, but not a baguette, either.
After a hard day of interval training, however, my hamstrings are strung tighter than Dunlop’s cello. I ask my husband to try the Thai yoga muscle-kneading movement with his feet. “You are so weird,” he says.
Sounds like we could benefit from the workshop. To be honest, after spending the day with my two little kids climbing all over me, I’m usually ready to spend any free 15 minutes vegging out in front of the TV by myself.
But now I’m ready to believe the world can be a more peaceful place with regular Thai yoga practice. “It’s a normal thing to do,” Borquist says. “We all need and want to be touched, and it’s fun to do with somebody — it doesn’t have to be serious. Thai yoga is about inviting centering and grounding to the body. And when we get reminded of that, everything else goes a little more smoothly.”