When I tried out for cheerleading in sixth grade, which is functionally the social status bar exam to any tween girl, I had the routine down pat: a killer herkie and half-decent toe touch. There was just one athletic albatross keeping me from earning those coveted pom-poms: the splits. Flexibility was never my strong suit, and I was turned away from that sassy short pleated skirt in the school’s colors. (In the end, dad was right - what’s the point of cheering for people when you can be cheered for?)
Despite being flexibility-challenged, I was excited when I walked into the serene space at Lotus Fire Yoga in North Kingstown for my first Thai Yoga Therapy session with owner Joanie Flavin. Petite, peaceful and a long-time yoga practitioner, Joanie looks like she just walked out of a Lululemon ad with glowing skin, coiffed tresses and an enviable figure. I explained to her that while I appreciate yoga and drop into a class from time to time, I’m much more motivated by intense workouts: spinning, running and my favorite, kickboxing.
After an active week taking advantage of the warming temperatures,I was sore and looking forward to what I expected to be massage-like session. We walked into the studio; a warm, inviting cavernous space housed in a former mill building. A wafting aroma of some unknown essential oil combined with soothing instrumental music instantly invited a sense of relaxation. I was puzzled, however, when I didn’t see a standard massage table. Instead, a blanket was placed in the center of the studio surrounded by a few pillows.
Joanie instructed me to lie on my back on the blanket, which was padded underneath, and she started with acupressure on my feet and legs. What followed was an hour of rhythmic massage, twisting, energy work and finally, meditation.
Like a ragdoll, I stayed as loose as possible as she strategically contorted me left, right, back and forth. Despite my aforementioned lack of flexibility, I felt as limber as a prima ballerina as Joanie pushed and pulled me to my limit with the gentlest touch. It’s no surprise that any tension I had drifted away as I entered a calm, near-meditative state.
Thai Yoga Therapy, Joanie later explained, is the healing art of traditional Thai massage mixed with other practices of yoga therapy. The integrative mind-body practice is said to offer multiple health benefits including improved circulation and lymphatic drainage. She added that for these reasons and many others, she works with a lot of golfers, runners, tennis players and other athletes to soothe sore muscles, increase flexibility and address injuries. Though practiced for more than 2,500 years, Lotus Fire Yoga is one of just a few studios that offer Thai Yoga Therapy in Rhode Island.
After our session, I experienced a renewed sense of energy and balance, and could see incorporating this therapeutic practice into my regular fitness routine. Who knows - with some time, patience and Joanie’s talents, I might just be able to do the splits.