Topanga Messenger Newspaper - May 5, 2011


Living Well: Try Thai!

By Sage Knight

Imagine a world where children learn healing touch from their grandparents, where therapeutic bodywork is not something you need to hire a professional to do, but something you pass down through your family and your village and share everyday, as common as doing the dishes and sweeping the floor. Imagine families teaching touch as the first phase of preventative medicine, of keeping each other well. Imagine sharing bodywork on a weekly or daily basis and sometimes giving or receiving a four-hour session. Imagine how happy, healthy, and loving you would be. This is the world of Thailand as explained to me by Betsy Trapasso, Topanga's own Thai Bodywork expert. I may move to Thailand....

I met Betsy at a Topanga Chamber of Commerce meeting. She appeared to be about twenty-five years old, had a quiet voice, and spoke modestly about her work. I'd never experienced Thai massage, so I approached her, thinking this might be a modality you would enjoy exploring. That the article would require research–receiving a session–also crossed my mind. I love my work.

 Betsy had availability and offered to come to my home. Based on her soft-spoken manner and modest nature, I got the sense she was just starting out. I was in for a surprise. Before moving to Topanga, Betsy had helped launch the Thai Bodywork School of Thai Massage in Chicago and served as the Assistant Instructor for six years. In the words of Chuck Duff, Founder and Chief Instructor, "she was an essential part of the development of Thai Bodywork into a world-class center." She'd also graduated from the University of Southern California with a Masters in Social Work and worked as as a psychotherapist from 1993-2007, specializing in hospice care. Her desire to bring Thai healing to hospice patients, families, and caregivers was her main inspiration for learning the modality.

When our appointment time came, Betsy brought a large cushioned mat for our session, which she rolled out on the floor, and which my golden retriever, Shiloh, recognized right away–the perfect place for a nap. He put his head on the pillow and got comfortable.

Dogs like Thai. My dog loves Thai–and Betsy. Several times throughout the session, I reminded Shiloh to, "Go lie down. She's the wrong species." He wanted to play. I have compassion for Shi's confusion. We'd set up on the living room floor, and as all dogs know, whatever lands on the floor–be it a slipper, a steak, or a human–is fair game.

Betsy laughed and said, "It's no big deal. In a typical Thai session, mothers are calling the kids; the stereo's blasting, people are arguing. It's not like here, where we play quiet music and light a candle. In Thailand, it's simply a part of daily life." Betsy has the patience of a saint. Though Shiloh was an absolute pill for almost the entire time, she never lost her temper. She said he reminded her of her dog in Chicago. She should have raised my kids.

At the beginning of the session, Betsy began a silent blessing; I asked her to say it aloud so I could tell you. Like the Native American prayers I love, she gave thanks for her ancestors, for her lineage of teachers. She also blessed our work together and wished me well. The Thais say, "Doing the work is the least important thing. Wishing well is most important."

Traditional Thai medicine, also called Thai Yoga Therapy, is a natural, holistic approach to wellness. It is thousands of years old and includes nutrition, exercise, and medicinal herbs in addition to the bodywork techniques. Its primary goal is prophylactic, as ancient Thais believed that "the absence of illness is the best blessing." Although written records have been lost, oral tradition traces the origins to Shivago, a renowned healer and personal physician to the Buddha.

According to Thai medicine, energy flows through ten major channels, similar to the meridians of Chinese medicine, but much simpler and more flexible in application. Betsy explains, "The Thai say that as long as you're within three inches of the line, it's good." Thai is a "people's practice," not a perfectionist practice, and each village has its own unique style passed down through oral tradition.

Traditional Thai massage includes the stretching of joints and muscles and applied pressure to sen lines. The work is thorough and, in my experience, feels thoughtful and deliberate. It takes time and patience–a great way for both the giver and the receiver to totally "unplug," as the practitioner moves out of linear time and into a right-brained space of self-care as well.

The Thai yoga therapist takes care of her own body while taking care of yours, using her own body weight and postures in ways that are healthy for her. "The Thai say that if I hurt myself to help you, that's a crime." Betsy also explained that unlike traditional massage therapies, Thai is more like a passive yoga. "The Thais believe stagnation is the cause of illness, so you keep well through moving energy." She moves the client's body, stretching muscles and circulating blood and lymph. She also presses into the meridian, or "sen" lines to open up the passageways for energy to flow.

A Thai bodywork session can range anywhere from one and a half hours to half a day; my session lasted almost two hours. By the time we were done, I felt very relaxed and ready for a good night's sleep, and Shiloh had settled back down for his nap. He's so cute when he's asleep.

Betsy Trapasso, MSW, TBI has studied Thai Massage and Thai Herbal Compress since 2003 with master teachers in Thailand, Canada, and the USA. She lives in Topanga and offers sessions and trainings for groups, partners, and individuals.

For more information, visit Betsy at or (310) 954-1424.

Sage Knight is a local author, editor, and writing coach with a twenty-year background in spiritual counseling and holistic health. Please visit her at 

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