Monthly Archives: December 2008

Christmas Holiday in Australia

My parents arrived a couple of days before Christmas, and we have been insanely busy since. We flew to Brisbane to spend Christmas in hot and sweaty Queensland with some of my Australian friends. And we drove all the way to Brisbane, about 2000km in… 4 days. Insane.

En route, we were the witnesses to a giant endangered turtle laying its 58 eggs in a sand dune. I had tears in my eyes as we followed its slow, yet steady progress to the sea. The marine biologist on-site believes they will be extinct within the next 20 years.
We also visited a ‘desert island’ under tropical rains: white sand, luxuriant rainforest, and beautiful grey sky…
After passing the Tropic of Capricorn in our air-conditioned car, we soldiered on to Cairns, via many Seafood restaurants, petrol stations and the best burger in the world (complete with beetroot and pineapple)

Today I had a wonderful day: snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef. Words cannot describe what I saw, and my SLR camera was not going under water, but the images of the reef shark, sting ray, and multicoloured fish I swam with are stored in my memory. I am in awe at nature and its beauty. And yes, I have offset my Carbon emissions due to flying to get to this fragile eco-system.

The next few weeks are set to be equally amazing: we are flying to Alice Springs, then traveling to Darwin to visit an Aboriginal community. This remote place is only accessible on a light aircraft, and we need a permit to enter the sacred Aboriginal land. I am really grateful to Lyne, who is escorting us there. Hopefully I will find out more about manual therapy in indegenous Australia on this occasion.

But my Australian adventures don’t stop there!!! I am then flying to Perth (oh dear, that’s a lot of Carbon) to do a road trip (yep, more Carbon emissions) with my buddy Lauren (student exchange when we were teenagers) on the West Coast. There, will do a lot more snorkelling, surfing and meeting Aboriginal locals.

I can hardly contain my excitement, so much to do, so little time.

I won’t wish you all a very merry Christmas, since I did not get much Internet connection as of late,  but I am more than happy to wish you a fantastic New Year.
Have a good party and enjoy 2009!

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Life at the beach

After a few days spent in the heart of Sydney, I met up with a massage therapist near Bondi beach, Sydney’s world famous Surf beach. We met up for a massage and osteopathy swap, and we finished with a beautiful big salad and a chat. We got on very well, and she was kind enough to arrange for one of her friends to host me! So I am now staying in Coogee, which is a wonderful small beach South East of Sydney.

I could think of worse places to be! So I am hanging out at the beach everyday, and walking between the beaches of Coogee, Bronte (pictured above), Tamarama, and Bondi. I have met and treated other massage therapists and their family, I am getting meals cooked for me in return for my treatments, or offers of accomodation for my oncoming travels, notably in Cairns and Byron Bay. It is a wonderful experience to meet people in similar fields to mine, who are interested in what I have found out so far, and my new and improved approach.
Importantly, my new age osteopathy slash thai slash chi massage is proving to be rather effective on the small amount of people I have treated so far. I am busy bringing all the information together, so it makes sense to me, and feels “together” for the patient. I would not want my treatment to feel patchy, as it can quickly become uncomfortable.
Even more importantly, I am really enjoying treating these people, my new friends, and practising what I have learned.

The rest of my time is spent studying my Thai and Chinese medicine books, as well as Western medicine and anatomy books, to refresh my knowledge of physiology and anatomy. I might as well make the most of my time! I am also managing to keep up the practise of meditation, with about an hour every other day. The beach  has become my favourite place for it. I then run and jump into the waves, swimming and enjoying the tumbles.

I am learning to bodysurf. What you need for bodysurfing, is a body, and some waves. Once you’re in the water, you swim hard to get beyond where the waves break. Then you watch the Ocean. The water is about 20 degrees, the sun is burning and even out there in the middle of the water, it smells of sunscreen lotion mixed with seaweed. Once you spot a nice swell (or see the other bodysurfers getting excited), you turn your back to the wave, and start swimming like a lunatic towards the shore. The aim is to pick up speed before the wave catches you.
When you do not pick up enough speed, the wave engulfes you and pulls you deep into the Ocean, filling your nose and mouth full of terribly salty sea water. But if you manage to swim fast enough, and stay perpendicular to the oncoming wave, as it approaches you, you can feel the power of the ocean lifting you up gently.
At first, you are gently being propulsed into the sky on a big fluffy cloud. The wave is thundering behind you, and breaks a couple of centimetres from your toes. From that moment, I found the best technique to outstretch both arms in front of you, and keep kicking your legs. Once the power of the wave is released, gravity catches up with the rising water and yourself, and the foam crashes down towards the sand. Because you continued kicking your legs, you stay on top of the wave. You are high up on the wave, kicking hard, watching the beach, the water, being propulsed forward at great speed. This is body surfing.
There is no graceful way of getting off the wave. As it hits the sand, the wave’s strength disperses, and your weight is no longer supported, so you too fall towards the bottom, often in a big tumble. I find that my generous buttocks tend to find the surface first, and then I fight the water until my face reaches the air. You cannot breathe in straight away, as you must first expel all the sea water that has entered your nose and mouth. The salty, nauseous taste stays with you as you take your deep inbreath. The cool air feels delicious and restore your lungs. Another couple of breaths, before facing the Ocean and swimming out again.
I finally give up when a wave brings me all the way to the shore. I am breathless, exhausted and thirsty. I run out, and dive on the warm towel waiting for me, spread out on the perfectly soft sand.

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BKK to SYD, easy life down under

I am in Sydney, after an uneventful journey from Chiang Mai. I am now settling to my new life, as a true “backpacker” for a couple of weeks, until my parents fly in for Christmas, and we head to the Great Barrier Reef for celebrating!

A true bacpacker sleeps in the dorm of a backpacker’s hostel, mine being the George in the centre of town. A true backpacker lives one day at a time. A true backpacker does not have a plan, with nothing special to do. A true backpacker drinks a lot of beer (which I am not doing, I am still far too healthy for that!). A true backpacker is on a tight budget, so cooks in the hostel’s kitchen (well “cooking” is not quite the right word for most people’s habits, who survive on cereal and toast). A true backpacker is always in a great mood, and wants to meet lots and lots of new people.

I am sharing a room with 2 other girls, I pay my rent daily so I can leave when I feel like it, I have started cooking again!!! For the first time in 2 months, I went to a supermarket to buy ingredients, cooked them, ate them slowly and did my washing up! It feels great to cook for myself.
I don’t know what I will be up to over the next few days. Yesterday I walked around the main sites: Darlington, Harbour Bridge, Sydney Opera, Botanic Gardens… It’s wonderful, but it’s a bit strange not having a particular aim.
I have met some nice new people, travelers who have had this lifestyle for weeks, months, or sometimes even years.

I am meditating every day, even though it’s a little difficult when you’re sharing a room, and I have yet to find a Buddhist temple here. I will find my way to a beach soon, and resume my learning of surfing.
Oh no! I am doing it again! I actually really want to learn how to surf (a week’s worth of lessons on the French Atlantic Coast this summer hardly makes me a pro) and where else but the East Coast of Australia to do that! And that’s when I realise that I will never be a true backpacker. Because I really like to learn things, and have a healthy routine of sports-learning-activity, rather than sleeping-boozing-partying.

One of my teachers in Chiang Mai also gave me the name of a Alexander Technique practitioner here in Sydney, so I will hopefully get to meet him

and see how this technique could fit it to my practice.
Put simply, the Alexander Technique helps people achieve good posture by “unlearning” bad habits and returning to natural, instinctive posture. Take a toddler for example: if he drops something on the floor, will he stoop to pick it up? The answer is no – they always squat down, protecting the muscles in their backs.

Even when bending over, they will keep a straight back, unlike adults who put their backs at risk, as bending over incorrectly increases the pressure on the intervertebral disks and joints, which puts them at a higher risk of developing aches, strains and back pain.

Even in a sitting position, babies and toddlers seems to keep their back straight, where us adults always have to fight with our backs and shoulders to avoid the classic “desk posture”. Oh and when have you ever since a child crossing one leg over the other?

Aaccording to Frederick Matthias Alexander, we all know how to use our bodies correctly, but we have taken on bad habits instead. The point of the technique is to get out of those habits to find our instincts take over. This method means that your body tells your brain what to do, rather than the other way round. It seems to be longer lasting in action, as the memory of the body is better than of the brain.
I would like to learn more on the Alexander Technique, and train myself to unlearn my bad habits… and achieve better posture! I would then be able to teach my patients about it also, and prevent a lot of repetitive movement problems and muscle tightness.
Actually, this technique is fantastic for those who use their bodies a lot – office workers of course, but even more so for sportspeople, musicians and artists. F.M. Alexander was actually a Shakesperian orator, and developed these techniques to train his vocal cords, projecting his voice better and preventing chronic laryngitis he suffered from.

It has been a year exactly since I wrote the first article on this blog, it was the start of organising this crazy adventure.
I am really happy about the start of my journey, and how far I have gone so far. Things happened much faster than I could have imagined. I have added a new category, called “So Far…” to give a summary of what I have been up to, without having to read all my posts!

Oh and today in Noirouf (my dog at home) anniversary… he does not have a birthday because we got him from the pound, but he arrived at my parents’ house on December 12th, 1999 (or was it 2000?). Anyway, happy anniversary.

Noirouf le chien.

Noirouf le chien.

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After meditation, back to reality

Ten days. And back in the real world.

In my inbox, an email saying my friends in Bombay are safe. An email asking whether I will be able to fly to Australia. Another about whether the riots in Thailand are affecting me. One about a festival in Australia for New Year’s Eve. It is completely overwhelming, I have no idea what everyone is talking about.

Online, I find out about current events, even though it’s difficult to get the root cause of every event as most articles talk about the consequences rather than the beginning.
The Qantas website says that travel to and for the Bangkok International Airport will be difficult over the next couple of weeks. I am due to travel on December 10th, so I’ll keep up to date to see what my options are.

The retreat was tough. Not talking was surprisingly easy (Yes Camille, I did it :-), and the only words I uttered were during the daily 5-minute reporting to our teacher, the head monk of the Temple. Not making eye-contact was more difficult, but as the days passed, I simply did not want to make contact with anyone else. I got so wrapped up in my own experience, that other people’s presence became alien.

Obviously I took the retreat very seriously. On the first day we were taught the technical parts of the meditation practice, and started with 15-minute increments of walking and sitting. After some cross-legged sitting, the pain in my thighs was excruciating. Thankfully it got better over the next few days.

I rolled out of bed every morning at 4am, waking to the sound of a loud gong and the temple dogs howling, then for 2 hours of meditation before breakfast, which consisted of cold tasteless rice soup (overcooked rice in water). We were allowed to eat only after chanting, first by the monks in their orange robes, then by the nuns, and then by us, the Thai and foreign meditators.
Then back to practice, until 10.30am, when the bell rang for lunch. Meals consisted of white rice, broth and generally boiled vegetables with tofu or meat. Since I had only just started eating solid food again 48 hours before entering the Wat, I could only cope with small amounts, and only got the vegetarian option over the first week.
In the afternoon, it was washing, practising and more practising. Chewing was not allowed after midday, so the monks fix their hunger by eaten over-sweetened yoghurt, soy milk and artificial fruit juices. I did so the first day, and got a bad headache and sugar high before crashing out… That was not going to work for me, as refined sugars had been cut out of my diet completely. The second day was when I broke the only rule I was going to ignore over the retreat: I ate savoury solid food every afternoon.

On the first day, it is expected to practise for 6 hours, changing from walking to sitting every 15 minutes. I managed 7. Then each day after that, you are advised to add an extra 5-minutes to each session, and one hour a day. Adding more minutes was hard. I kept looking at my clock and wondering how time could pass so slowly, especially with the pins and needles in my legs.
By the 5th day, I was doing 12-hours a day, in one-hour increments. Walking was easiest, and sitting continued to be difficult for that long. I could tell I had been practising for 35 minutes without needing a watch, as that’s when I lost all feelings in my legs. 45 minutes was when I start getting pins-and-needles, 50-minutes was the start of shooting pains.

The reasoning from the head monk is this: pain is one of the best ways of living the present moment. When the body is suffering , one can only be right there and then feeling it. The mind does not wander. Once your mind is settled on the pain, one can attempt to acknowledge it, and let go of it. Also, pain is a good example of impermance. It’s there, and then it’s gone. It goes to show that nothing lasts, and everything, even the worse pain in the world, goes away also.
As there are 24 hours in a day, 6 of which are spent sleeping on a wooden plank. That leaves 18 hours for meditation. Take two times one hour for pre-prandial chanting and eating, and one hour for washing and general physiological needs, and an “advanced” meditator can spend 15 hours a day in the transe state. I got the luxury of 3 hours of “break” every day. Which ment I could have a cup of hot water between sessions, break the chewing rule in the afternoon, and sit down to think.

Meditating is the absence of thought. And since every human spends their time thinking, it is pretty difficult to avoid that habit. Vipassana meditation does not use a mantra (a phrase that is repeated over and over to occupy the mind), but focuses on the body sensations. Paying attention to every movement of the body whilst walking, with a strange comical slow gait; and to breathing whilst sitting.
When a thought pops up in your head, you must look at it, acknowledge it, and let it go. You must not let it settle in your mind, or continue the thinking process. Recognising what that thought is (e.g. Worry, Anger, Anxiety, Boredom, Restlessness, Impatience) and repeating the quality of it in your head three times in a row is a good way of getting rid of the thought, my teacher said (knowing, knowing, knowing). Same goes when you hear a sound (hearing, hearing, hearing), see something (seeing, seeing, seeing), or feel an emotion (feeling, feeling, feeling… or boredom, boredom, boredom)

During certain sessions, my mind was fully focused, and time was flying. There were even moments when I was completely cut off from external noise and stimulation, and even did not get any pain! But a lot of the time, it was just long, boring and frustrating.

The similarities with my experience at Race Across America were very obvious. Not much sleep, not much comfort, high motivation, low immediate reward. And doing something painful and sometimes horrible for later benefit. It helped me to think back to RAAM, and the cyclists crossing the States in less than 12 days, and take some distance with the pain I was feeling at times.

Rules are fun – they mean one does not have to make any decisions. Back in the real world, and with time to chill out, I am finding difficult to decide what to do, sleep, eat, activities… everything was thought for me over the last 10 days, and getting back to organising my own life is proving a challenge!
I have noticed I walk slower, and I take more attention to everything. The noise and the general buzzing of the city are a bit much.

I think I will spend some time to practise today, as my teacher recommends continuing to meditate for one hour everyday. I can try… to see what it will do. If it can help me in my day-to-day life. At the moment, I have a lot of time, not many commitments, so it will be easy. The hard part will be the motivation to keep going if I do not see results.

All in all, a tough experience. Rewarding because I made it through, my teacher was happy with my progresses and I am going to Australia in 6 days to continue my journeys!

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