I have spent the better part of the last ten years traveling around the world teaching Thai Yoga Massage to small groups of people in radically diverse settings. What I have noticed is that it doesnt matter whether I am sharing this ancient discipline with villagers in rural Tibet, single moms living on the street in London, an HIV positive group in Chiang Mai, tsunami survivors on the Andaman Coast, or special needs children in a favela in Rio de Janeiro, the basic response is the same: language, age, cultural and socioeconomic barriers dissolve; hearts open; deep, healthy connections are made; and lives are transformed.
Sometimes the transformation is subtle. A person might
notice that they are breathing a little deeper, feeling a little calmer, thinking
a little clearer, or better able to make good decisions. It is also common for someone who was initially too shy to look me in the eye to become very animated and eager to communicate. As they share their experience, I notice that the light has returned to their eyes, and I enjoy the broad smile that now decorates their face.
But sometimes the transformation is profound. A person who once identified himself or herself as a victim, now recognizes that they have something valuable to give, and feels inspired and empowered to help someone else. This type of insight often leads those individuals to incorporate some of their new stress management exercises and massage practices into their relationships with family members, especially their children, thus breaking the cycle of violence and/or neglect that they grew up with. Others resonate so deeply with the experience that they choose to pursue a career in the healing arts. When an individual makes this choice they are not only generating a valuable resource and ray of light in their community, they are often actively taking a significant step away from ending up in a more common default trade such as prostitution.
Everything that I have seen, heard and experienced through these simple exchanges has indicated to me that the impact of creating a safe space for individuals to explore the relationship between mind and body, breath and movement, and self and other, within the framework of Thai Yoga Massage, has been overwhelmingly positive. My sense is that the world would be a healthier place if more people had access to this type of knowledge and experience, therefore; the mission of the ZIA PROJECT is to literally reach out and give people access to healing arts education.
Thai Yoga Massage is an ancient healing art with origins in Ayurvedic Medicine, Yoga and Buddhism. Over the last 2500+ years, it has evolved into a unique and magical combination of deep stretching, rhythmic compression, soft-tissue manipulation, gentle rocking, energy balancing, and acupressure. Thai Yoga Massage is the perfect medium for the Zia Project for the following reasons:
It is portable - all you need is a thin pad and a patch of floor, beach, or grass, and a willing recipient.
It is universally accessible - no clothing is removed, no oils or lotions are required, no cultural boundaries are breached.
It is grounding - because of the client's proximity to the floor, and because many of the techniques involve deep compression, its effect is inherently grounding. Being able to let go and feel the support of the earth is important for everyone, but particularly for people who's sense of place or tribe has been damaged or violated.
It is effective - its relaxed pace and fluid movements tap into a deeply fundamental human
rhythm that is profoundly relaxing to the nervous system. When one is in this relaxed state, unconscious holding patterns and traumatic
residue are often released.
It is an ideal small business - it requires a lot of heart, but little to no start-up costs.
It is necessary - we can all benefit from learning to give and receive healthy touch!
The ZIA PROJECT Vision
The project takes its name from the Zia (ZEE ah) people of northern New Mexico, who's sun symbol and sacred teachings have captivated my imagination and lived in my heart since I was a young girl. The fact that "Zia" also means "light" in Latin, "illuminated from within" in Arabic, and "Aunt" in Italian, suggests that it is a name that will be recognized and associated with positive, nurturing, live-sustaining images all over the world - a happy coincidence for an organization with an international vision.
A parallel can also be drawn between the project's intention to promote healing arts education, and the Zia people's four sacred obligations. Both aim to help people cultivate practices that foster a strong body, a clear mind, a pure spirit and a devotion to the welfare of others.
The Zia Project vision is divided into three phases. In the first phase, a small team of volunteers will offer an introductory Thai Yoga Massage workshop in a marginalized or displaced community. During the workshop, individuals who have the aptitude and desire to continue on this path will be identified. In the second phase, we will provide those individuals with scholarships and/or mentorships in an effort to prepare them for a career in the healing arts. In the third phase, successful individuals will be given a small loan to start their own health oriented small business.
This year we plan to work primarily with communities that we have already established a relationship with. Our focus will include careful documentation and analysis of the project in an effort to refine and improve upon our model. In the future, we hope to use this model as a basis for similar programs in new communities. I am specifically interested in expanding our relationships with indigenous peoples in the United States, Central, and South America.
The first ZIA PROJECT
The first official Zia Project will unfold on the Andaman Coast of southern Thailand in February 2012. Twenty women, all tsunami survivors from local Muslim, Buddhist and Moken villages, will come together on the tiny island of Koh Phra Thong to spend a week learning Thai Yoga Massage. For the last several years these women's lives have been consumed by rebuilding their villages on safe ground and making sure that their family's basic needs have been met. Now they are ready for an opportunity to safely tear down some of the internal walls that they needed to survive in the wake of the tsunami and take some time to heal themselves and their community on a deep level. This introductory course will focus on basic breath and movement exercises, and traditional Thai Yoga Massage techniques performed in the supine position.
Two women have been identified as leaders in the group, and have been offered scholarships to participate in a three week Thai Yoga Massage journey following the introductory course. During this journey, the women will have an opportunity to expand their Thai Yoga Massage knowledge to include techniques that are performed in the prone, side-lying and sitting positions. They will also have the opportunity to practice speaking English, and develop relationships with the western massage professionals participating in the journey. Through these friendships, the local women will gain valuable insights, skills and business advice about working with the Western tourists who are increasingly returning to the Andaman Coast.
When the local women have developed the skills necessary to safely and confidently practice Thai Yoga Massage, they will be assisted professionally and financially in launching a Thai Yoga Massage business that will successfully meet the needs of their communities. As part of their professional development they will become mentors and pass on their knowledge to the other women in their community who are interested in joining them on this path.
***One of the ways in which we will be documenting our first official project is through a documentary film. We are thrilled that Adam Taub, a cinematographer from Colorado who's films include La Quinceaera, Don Angelo, and El Duque de la Bachata has offered to join us in the field in February.
$200 - Group Transportation: boats to/from Koh Phra Thong,
$200 - Group Accommodation for 6 nights
$500 - Group Food for 7 days
$200 - Program Supplies: Thai Yoga Massage mats
$200 - Two Translators
$5750 - Scholarships for two individuals to continue their Thai Yoga Massage studies through the Integral Touch Institute's program in southern Thailand
$500 - Two Small business loans: to cover basic supplies, marketing
$125 - R/T train tickets for trainers to/from Bangkok/Surat Thani
$125 - R/T transportation to/from Surat Thani to Kuraburi
$200 - Misc. expenses
***Any extra money raised will be directed toward offering a Zia Project in Bodhgaya, India in December, 2011 and in a Native American community in the southwestern United States in the summer of 2012.
Magnify your impact
Please share this link with your family, friends, colleagues and clients!
If everyone in our network who has benefited over the years from access to healing arts education, or who appreciates receiving a quality massage pays it forward, our campaign to promote healing arts education and support health oriented small businesses in marginalized and displaced communities will literally touch a large number of deserving folks!
Thanks in advance for your heart-felt support!
ZIA PROJECT Founder, Thai Yoga Massage Ambassador