“Being around Gwyn makes you feel like a better person,” uttered one of Gwyn’s students before our first session. The Peter Pan of the yoga world, Gwyn is reminiscent of a down-to-earth, 20-something surfer boy from the sunny coast. And almost all of that is true. Gwyn Williams, 51, is the founder of Zenthai Shiatsu, an integration of Zen Shiatsu, Thai massage and osteopathic technique, which began more than 15 years ago. His creation has now grown to become an evolving movement-based therapy program, with yoga classes known as Zenthai Flow — a practice that integrates owing asana with the philosophies of the Chinese ve elements and meridians. All of Gwyn’s workshops and trainings (held mostly on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast and in Bali) have an element of solo work, active partner ow, and Zenthai Shiatsu bodywork therapy.
I hadn’t spoken to many people about it. In fact, I hadn’t interacted with many people beyond my family for months. It was a strange and unique feeling to express, and left me feeling a little isolated and misunderstood. For the past 15 months I’d been living with my younger sister, and 10 months ago she had given birth to the new love of our lives, my beautiful nephew.
And so we were three. It felt self- indulgent to express aloud that I hadn’t been feeling like myself lately, and despite being completely in love with my nephew, my identity felt as though it had been engulfed by this new Aunty Jess status. I had little left for myself, my yoga practice or my teaching.
By the time I arrived in Bali for the Zenthai Flow Facilitator Training, I felt exhausted, confused and socially awkward — unsure how my former self had found it so easy to connect with others. We arrived in the afternoon. The anticipation from the participants was palpable, as we sat in a big circle ready for the adventure to begin. “Welcome, and good on you for being here,” Gwyn said with a broad, genuine smile. “What you put into this training is what you’ll get out of it,” he mused as we got to know each other and prepared for a transformational 18 days ahead. As I drifted off to sleep that night, I felt soothed by Gwyn’s kindness, and already more myself than I had in months.
EARTH ~ NOURISHMENT, GROUNDING, AND BOWING DOWN TO THE GREAT MOTHER
The first morning I awoke to the sound of the local Balinese Hindus chanting their daily prayers and, as I looked outside to the early morning darkness, I felt equally excited and terrified to be in this unfamiliar environment where I would be more disciplined with my practice and schedule than I had been in a long time. During our morning sweaty flow, we watched the sunrise over the ocean, as Gwyn gently posed the question, “Do you want to keep telling yourself your story, or do you want to heal?” During this first, earth element-themed class, I drifted into one of the most deliciously still Savasanas of my life.
After class I was famished, and as I chowed down on exotic fruits and sweet Balinese porridge, undistracted by conversation as we honoured a noble silence until 9am, I looked around at my fellow students. Ageless yogis with sparkling eyes so committed and devoted to being there and soaking up the teachings that Gwyn so humbly offers. Many of these students were a part of Gwyn’s nine-month Zen Thai Shiatsu training course, or had simply had a massage treatment with him, met him at a festival or practiced in his classes, strongly resonating with his vibe. I could relate. My own journey landed me here because I’d met Gwyn many times over the years at yoga events. Despite his busy schedule and high yogi profile, Gwyn had always made time for me (as he clearly does for everyone) and we’d become easy friends. After hearing whispers of his inspiring teachings, I felt the gentle pull towards experiencing them for myself.
HOME AWAY FROM HOME
During our rst morning break, Gwyn shared his coconut with me as he recounted the romantic history of our training centre. Gwyn and his wife Gaia had been introduced to a lovely local Balinese couple, Mr and Mrs Komang, in the late nineties through a mutual friend. Years later, when the Komangs were in danger of losing their current home
and were being forced into a tiny compound, Gwyn and Gaia decided to support them by purchasing a small piece of land on the edge of the rice eld overlooking the inspiring Mount Agung. Here they created a family home and yoga and healing centre. This
would serve the purpose of bringing Westerners to Bali to experience the richness of this simple fishing village as well as providing a home for the Komangs. As the retreats continued to evolve, Gwyn and Gaia purchased an additional property nearby. This beautiful space overlooking the ocean became the main home of our training retreat. All of this was located in Pantai Jasri, a small village with surf, ceremony, a chocolate factory and an abundance of traditional Bali. It felt like home.
JOURNEY TO FLOW
By the end of the second day I was in the flow — up at 6am for meditation and yoga, enjoying a nourishing breakfast, sitting in group discussions, practicing incorporating the philosophies of Zenthai Flow into my own teaching with my fellow student teachers, enjoying long, lazy lunches by the water, then blissing out in the partner yoga and bodywork sessions after lunch. I loved the connection, the touch, the giving and receiving. After only a couple of days of experiencing Zenthai Shiatsu massage, it was official — I was in love. I’d never felt more in my body, and for a head-centred person, that felt pretty special. The learnings were happening fast, and I began to see how much I would be taking home with me, and how much I would be able to incorporate into my own practice and teaching.
Boundaries began to effortlessly dissolve as we found ourselves forming a family — our similarities slowly becoming more apparent than our differences. I felt so incredibly fortunate to be having this experience, and Gwyn and his team’s complete acceptance and approachability made me feel held within the valleys and peaks of the course.
METAL – LET GO
During our first yoga practice of the metal element with Gwyn, he told us the story of a man at the top of a tree, his arms tied as he held onto a branch with his teeth. A Buddhist monk stood below the man and asked him to utter the word that would save his life. The man was terrified to let go, finding comfort in the holding on, instead of enjoying the free fall towards the end. “We don’t know when the end is coming. It could be in 50 years, it could be in 50 seconds. The free fall is your life. Let go and enjoy,” Gwyn said as he laughed.
“There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” — Leonard Cohen
Gwyn infused all his teachings with stories, keeping us engaged and able to grasp the philosophies associated with the elements. After a few days, I was beginning to
feel a little cracked, and the whole group was visibly drained. The nature of the work, the interaction with each other and the consistent introspection was taking everyone beyond their everyday monotony and propelling them into growth. We were starting to ease into
this new bubble of a life, and the shift was palpable. As we ended the day in a circle, Gwyn looked around the room, smiled, and said encouragingly, “You’re all doing a great job.”
I had been nervous leading up to my first day of teaching, where I would share a class themed ‘letting go’ in Zenthai style. In a last-minute effort to embody the teachings, I threw away my notes and showed up, completely vulnerable, to share the value of surrender. I left the class feeling light and con dent, happy for the opportunity to receive feedback, and completely held and supported in sharing myself more deeply with my students.
WATER – FLOW ~ CREATIVITY ~ IMAGINATION
As we moved into the water element, Gwyn invited us to “flow with whatever life throws at you” as we “uncondition” ourselves and tune into truth. “If you say it’s difficult, it is,” he gently reminded us. I realised I had been internally moaning about the amount of energy the process required, like I’d be happier on the couch eating chips and chocolate. As I re ected on this I became aware of a slight pain in my kidney — the organ associated with the water element. Interesting.
Two days into the exploration of water, I was emotionally fragile. Beginning to miss home and, feeling the internal growing pains, I felt like I was taking a journey through the wounds of my psyche, an uncomfortable step in the process, but a necessary one for self- awareness, growth and healing. I was vulnerable and raw, and needed space for healing, so I retreated into the comfort of my room and allowed myself some space to process as the water owed freely, and the emotions washed over me.
WOOD – VISION ~ DIRECTION ~ GROWTH ~ EXPANSION
By the time we reached the wood element, we were approaching the halfway point. I began to feel myself ease into this new reality. The bodywork was getting more challenging and the asana intense, but at the same time it felt like the hardest part was over and we were free falling. That night, as I was shaving my legs, I listened to the sound of the blades, felt the sensations and noticed the rhythm of my movements. “Hey,” I thought to myself, “I’m being present.” And just like that, it was gone. Like magic.
FIRE~ CELEBRATING HEARTS WIDE OPEN
As we all eased into the comfort of our new community, we were becoming closer and closer. We sat in circles singing and hugging, like a scene from a seventies movie. But it didn’t feel comical. It felt real, expansive, open, easy. Like life should be. Everyone was feeling it. Our collective heart was cracking wide open and we marinated in this sometimes joyful, sometimes tender vulnerability. Acknowledging that tenderness, Gywn held us in our rawness, as the self-doubt began to surface — a result of truly showing up. “I’m just gonna offer a plate here,” he soothed, as he encouraged us all to be ourselves, to work creatively and to love from the inside out. We had reached another sticky point of growth, another step on the path of transformation.
There are moments in life where we can clearly see a before and an after version of ourselves. Before our rst relationship and after. Before our first yoga class and after. Before our first overseas adventure and after. Before our first child and after. Zenthai Flow is one of those moments. It’s not so much a becoming something new as it is coming back to the essence of who you truly are. My mantra became soften, open, let go.
On our final night, I poured my feelings onto paper.
Tonight it finally happened. I finally cracked. The tears were pouring out of me. Uncontrollably. I suddenly felt so connected to this community. Lately I’ve lost myself in the turmoil of life, and it’s stopped me from shining like I used to. But here I’ve finally felt myself cracking open and wanting to see and be seen. Tonight, when I really saw that happening, and saw that it was over, I just couldn’t stop crying. This feels like one of those moments in life that has great potential to propel me forward. So I hope I can use some of that momentum to keep feeling like myself. Because I think she’s been lost for a while.
On the last day, as we sat in our final circle, Gwyn shared the importance of service and of taking our learnings “into the marketplace”. Gwyn did not encourage us to put him on a pedestal, but instead invited us all to see the guru within ourselves. “If you notice something that you admire in me, it’s just a part of yourself that you’re being aware of. Learn to bring that out within yourself and let it shine.”
As I write this, it’s been more than a month since my Zenthai journey, and I’m still feeling the love … the impact that the course has had on my practice, my teaching and my life. I’m more at ease with life’s ups and downs, and my yoga practice is stronger and more consistent than it has been for a long while.
I’m holding a special place in my heart for the magic of Zenthai, and I look forward to crossing paths with my beautiful, new community along the endless path of yoga.
To learn more about Gwyn, Zenthai and the beautiful courses, workshops and retreats on offer, as well as other facilitators and therapists see www.zenthaishiatsu.com
Photos by Jules Cardillo