I Took a Tantric Workshop with My Partner That Incorporated Thai Massage, and We Never Felt More Connected

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Many of the ways I cope with stress—monthly acupuncture, the occasional Shiatsu—make a difference in how I feel in my body, but I’ve always wanted a way for my partner and I to experience that same type of relief together. So, when I heard about a “Tantric Thai” workshop at Maha Rose, a holistic healing center in the New York City’s Greenpoint neighborhood, I signed us up. The workshop, which combined concepts from Tantra and Thai massage, took place at the end of 2019 and was one of the last Tantric workshops they did, but the things we learned are timeless.

When we arrived at Maha Rose’s “temple,” there was atmospheric, yogic music playing and the lights were dimmed, with a few candles glowing softly. There were three other couples in the room, and we each had a bed-like set-up with a large woven blanket on the ground and some meditation cushions and pillows around it. The teacher, Sarah Seely, a somatic healer, explained that the two-and-a-half-hour workshop would begin with a meditation, then we’d practice a version of Thai massage that incorporated tantric principles.

Tantra and Thai massage are actually two separate ideologies.The word tantra derives from a Sanskrit word meaning “to loom, warp, weave,” and it refers to meditative practices outlined in the Tantric texts that originated in India nearly 3,000 years ago. Whenever I hear the word “tantra” I think of it in relation to sex—which it definitely can be—but Seely explained that’s not always the case.

“It’s a roadmap for experiencing ecstasy in love and life,” she says.

Thai massage is based on Nuad Bo-Rarn, the ancient medical massage style of Northern Thailand. It is different from other healing modalities in that it uses assisted stretching and yogic postures with elements of compression, pressure, and release. Deeply rooted in the four divine states of Buddhism of loving kindness (Metta), compassion (Karuna), joy/empathy (Mudita), and equanimity (Upekkha), it is a movement meditation. Through the massage, the giver offers themselves in service to the receiver, and it becomes a soothing experience for both.

While the two practices of Tantra and Thai massage are distinct, Seely explained we would be using them together to “create a practice for deepening intimacy, love, and connection.”

Seely developed Tantric Thai massage as a means of rekindling the connection between partners. “Stress and tension are the number one passion killers in a relationship,” she says. Together, Tantra and Thai massage, take couples out of their heads and more into their bodies. She believes that “we as humans want to be held in regard by another, and we feel safe when we have the support and comfort of being cared for by another.” In the moments of safety, we can truly relax, release, and rejuvenate the body.

While the two practices of Tantra and Thai massage are distinct, Seely explained we would be using them together to “create a practice for deepening intimacy, love, and connection.”

Shared Heart Meditation

She asked every couple to sit cross-legged, facing each other with our hands on each other’s hearts—physically connected solely by this chain of hands.“Let’s begin the opening meditation by focusing intently on your hearts and their beating. What do you notice? Listen carefully," Seely said. "When a heart is in physical connection to another heart it begins to beat at the same rhythm, syncing up as one." I could feel my heart unite with my partner's in one rhythm, as our bodies relaxed and settled into the space.

The Yab-Yum Embrace

We then moved into a Yab-Yum embrace. Yab-Yum, which is Tibetan for “father-mother” is an embrace much like the one you may have seen in images of Buddhist art from India, Nepal, or Tibet, with the male deity holding a female. My partner remained seated while I moved into their lap allowing them to cradle me, monkey-like almost. It did feel weird initially to be in such an intimate position among people I hardly knew, but once I let myself realize that we were there with the same intentions, my anxiety eased.

The two roles of giver and receiver are conveyed through this Yab-Yum embrace, and it began to feel comforting and nourishing as I allowed myself to put all of my weight into my partner’s arms.

Thai Massage

Seely asked us to decide who would be the giver first and then we would alternate throughout the evening. I began as the receiver laying down on my back and my partner as the giver kneeling on his knees at my feet. Instructed by Seely, my partner began with his palms on either instep rocking back and forth between the two feet. Continually kneading the inner portion of my feet, and rather than pushing into my feet, allowing his body weight to create the compression and pressure into them.

Unlike other methods such as Swedish Massage or Shiatsu, Thai massage uses rocking, pulling and stretching techniques along with the natural shifts of the body to relieve tension through pressure. Some believe, including Seely, that Thai massage helps to lower stress levels, boost energy, and improve athletic performance through increased mobility.

It was then my turn to be the giver. I found it difficult to not force my hands into my partner’s feet and to simply allow myself to rock back and forth. “You will become tired as the giver, if you force too much with the body,” advised Seely. What I found extremely helpful and differentiating from other massage methods was verbal feedback from the receiver to the giver, which was key in the Thai massage experience.

“Ask each other how it feels. On a scale of 1-10, how is the pressure, sensation and comfort. Make sure you say to one another, “how can I be better, how can I be a 10?”

This idea that the giver was open to feedback and remaining humble throughout the massage was beautiful to me. There aren’t many chances for us to allow our bodies to move in different manners and then also remain open and humble to constructive feedback about that movement. It became more of a conversation between two humans, with neither becoming totally passive or unfocused on the other in the massage, at any point. We used the same method of kneading with the palms and rocking from side to side on the calves and upper legs of the receiver as the night progressed. Moving into the hips with the same technique, my partner and I found that we both held a lot of sensitivity and tension in our hip joints.

Couple's Downward Dog

“Once you’ve kneaded up to the hips, givers take a pause there, right below and diagonally down from the hip bone,” Seely guided. “Feel free to push up into a downward dog from here and hold.”

As an observer, this would look like someone laying on the ground face up, and another person in an upside down “V” shape over them. A bit odd, for sure. My partner pushed up into downward dog and held. When he came down and relaxed, I felt the blood rush through my lower limbs and a slight cooling sensation down to my feet.

Throughout the rest of the workshop, we used the same elements of rocking and kneading through the hips and up the body towards the head. At the top of the head is where we sealed the practice. I, as the giver, rubbed my hands together to create warmth before hovering them over my partner’s eyes.“Think of a wish or intention, only you would know, for your partner. 'I wish for them to see their value; I wish for their happiness; I wish for the diminishing of a certain insecurity,'” concluded Seely.

By the end of the workshop and even now, I see what Seely had attempted to explain. Tantric Thai, including these four poses, are more about connection rather than sex. In fact, my partner and I use them more as an end of the work day relief than a precursor to the bedroom. Working from home amidst the current state of the world, we now have the tools to not only relieve the stresses of uncertainty but also a way to reinforce our connection to each other. It is my wish, my hope, for you to use them as well to take a moment of relaxation from life in quarantine.

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