Mainly Buddhist Thailand is a great place to try out meditation. Up north in Chiang Mai there are Buddhist Wats where you can stay for a short time to taste the beautiful, calm atmosphere. You can do silent retreats of 3, 5, 7 or 10 days at Wat Phradhat Doi Suthep (see picture left) above Chiang Mai. Wat Suan Dok, actually in the Centre of Chiang Mai also does one or four days courses specifically designed to introduce you to life in the Wat. It is not easy but these courses are strict in order that you see what really goes on – they are not meant to be a walk in the park. You can click on the names of the wats above to check out the nature of the retreats – you have to book in advance. They are very encouraging- remember they genuinely want to help you start to appreciate meditation as a transformative tool – not to make money from you.
Another option to kick start your meditation practice is Vipassana Meditation which you can do all over the world by donation, with centres all over Thailand. It is a silent retreat of ten days and eleven nights and you will see it on the resumes of many yoga teachers. It is can be tough but those who have done it say it is incredible. It is not completely silent as you can talk to a teacher if you have questions but any contact at all with the other mediators until the last day is not allowed and leaving in the middle is highly inadvisable. Click here for their website which is full of information. It answers fully any questions you may have about what, when, where and how but make sure you apply far enough in advance as the website is not always up to date with which courses are
Thailand has a lot to offer if you are interested in yogic things. Thai massage is having yoga done to you and is an amazing feeling. Thai people tend to go for a massage rather than the doctor when they have a cold – you can see a typical massage in the video above left. The slow rhythmic pace of the yoga based stretches and stimulation of acupressure points sends you into a meditative state and you completely relax, opening up the energy lines within the body that are common to most eastern medicine. You can learn to do thai massage all over Thailand and one of the ways to study is to keep having lots of massages (how nice) and a good place to take the basic course is ITM, Chiang Mai. Thai massage has taken a while to reach the West but slowly more and more people have heard of it.
There is loads of yoga in Chiang Mai. William Holtby taught Mysore style Ashtanga and much more at Chiang Mai Yoga but has now left and is teaching at Yoga Rocks this October. Now you can practice Mysore style with Mark Yeo at The Yoga Room.
Mysore style means you go and do your practice of an ashtanga series (for most people the primary series) at your own pace for about one and a half to two hours. The late Pattabi Jois, (who lived in Mysore) is the Daddy of Ashtanga vinyasa yoga, from which comes power yoga and vinyasa yoga – so it is quite hardcore. Normally everyone does not arrive and leave at the same time – you just turn up and start practising. If you are a beginner and unsure of the series you can have a sheet to help you but if you practise nearly every day, as is the prescription, you tend to know what you are doing quite quickly. It is a bit scary at first but soon you get used to it. You get very personal help with the poses you find most challenging and when you don’t need help you can just get on with it, finding time to quieten the mind and focus on your ujjayi breath and your bandhas which are integral parts of an Ashtanga vinyasa practice.
There are also regular Iyengar style classes with Fred (0871799735) at Satva Yoga (17/10 Marakot Road just round the corner from ITM). Fred teaches yoga with props in his recently created studio complete with torture wall which has bars and padded straps to hang from; upside down or right way up! He is not officially an Iyengar teacher so this leaves room in his classes for other styles to creep in. Starting with core strength exercises and warming up to whatever is the theme of the day using the props available (including balls, belts, blocks, sticks and bolsters) he encourages you to take advantage of the props and the open atmosphere to experiment with the poses. As the class progresses most people end up hanging around like meditating monkeys before winding down to a few quiet supported poses and savasana. These great value classes are fun and uplifting leaving you with a spring in your step.
Rod from the Body and Mind Healing Studio caught my eye with the quote below:
My experience in Yoga, stems back since 1995, when I started to study the teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda, the great spiritual teacher from India, for 6 years. Around the year 2000 I wanted to deepen my practice in Meditational Yoga, so I started to practice Asana (physical yoga poses).
Most yoga students start out doing yoga at the gym, then may be a yoga studio and possibly then entertain the idea of meditation. Rod’s journey began the other way round and his yoga classes are focused on maintaining integrity in every pose with out going too far and risking injury or losing the mental focus. His yoga classes are down to earth and inspirational and his studio houses many healing arts from tai chi to reiki.