Category Archives: thailand

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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Meditation explained

Again – the brilliance of WordPress. I am still -hopefully- locked up in a temple near Chiang Mai. I thought I might explain to you what I know of what I may go through when I am inside.

Firstly, Wat Ram Poeng is a well known temple for its meditation retreat, as you can stay from 10 days to 6 weeks. The recommeded introductory course is actually 26-days. Vipassana Kammatthana, or insight meditation is practised in this Wat. It is described as a personal experience of mental development. Whatever your faith (or lack of) you may meditate, on your path to becoming a better person. The technique taught is a way to prepare a path for a peaceful life through the clear understanding about oneself.

There are strict rules, and discipline is expected from all student. Meditators should not speak (unless to their teacher for their daily reportings), make eye contact with others, have any physical contact, read, write, listen to music, smoke, sleep during the day, use the telephone, use the internet, and chew after midday.

The days have a routine:
– 4am: wake up Gong, practise of meditation begins.
– 6am: Gong rings for breakfast. Late comers will not be served. Alms food is sacred, prayers are chanted before the meal. Take time to chew and eat. Then you may wash or bathe. Practise starts again.
– 10.30am: Gong for lunch. As for breakfast. Practise starts when food as been eaten.
– mid-afternoon: Reporting to teacher, schedule depends on teacher.
– 10pm: Sleeping may begin, while dressed in your white clothing.

The four foudations of mindfulness are the Mindfulness of body (bodily actions and sensations, including pain), Mindfulness of One’s feelings (contemplating the happiness/suffering/neutrality of now), Mindfulness of the Mind (i.e. thoughts), and Minfulness of the Objects of the Mind (mental recognition of activities: while we think, we must be mindful of thinking). The way to approach meditation is by Acknowledgement , i.e. realising what is going on, not analyzing it, not dwelling on it, simply acknowledging and letting go. To be conscious of what we are doing physically and mentally in the present moment. The 5 hindrances are desir, anger, laziness, restlessness and doubt.
The reason behing the strict routine, is that continuity is important so that the momentary concentration of meditation may occur. To be mindful from waking, through the day, until sleeping. To acknowledge our daily activities, so the mind does not wander or get disctracted.

The goals of meditation are to:
_ purify the mind,
_ to get rid of sorrows and lamentations,
_ to get rid of physical and mental sufferings,
_ to understand the truth of life,
_ to extinguish suffering and gain Nibbana.

Obviously you may obtain all these goals with regular practise of meditation, a 10-day retreat will not do it! But it is a good way to start…

That’s for the theory, now for the practical…

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Preparation for meditation

You did not think I would leave you with no reading material whilst I was busy meditating, did you? Thanks to wonderful blog, I can write stuff in advance and choose the day I want it put online.

After my week of fasting, I slowly went back to solids starting with fruit (papaya and fresh coconut), then vegetables (steamed and organic) and then carbohydrates (rice noodles). My body was starting to readapt to food, even though the carbs bloated me a little, and I feel nauseous after a meal. I have kept to snacks rather than meals actually, because my stomach has shrunk so does not allow to eat large quantities.
I feel good, my skin is clearing up, and the notorious purple shades I have under my eyes are nearly gone.

Actually I decided to consult a Chinese Doctor here, because my teachers at school said there was a particular good one in town, and a consultation costs 200 Bahts, which would be about 4.5 Euros (just under 4 pounds) (wow I’ve just realised it is nearly 1 euro to the pound! If only it had been like that when I was studying in London…)
So I went on Friday, on my last day on liquids. This Doctor is a short, tiny, Thai woman with Chinese features. We sat down and talked a little about France, Osteopathy, the Chi Abdominal massage course, my teachers at Sunshine, Chinese Medicine etc. After a quick case history, she took my pulses on the right and left wrist (radial artery, at several different places along the blood vessel), and observed my tongue.

She diagnosed my major problem: I am damp. More precisely, my spleen is particularly damp, as well as my left kidney. This is often constitutional, and the treatment is long and tedious because most of is concerns lifestyle changes.
The first thing to change, is to live and work on the ground floor, and never above. Also, I must not live near a river, a lake or the sea, as these are all damp environments that would make my condition worse. Lastly, I should avoid cold/icy and sweet drinks and foods. This one is easy, since I don’t like ice cream or cold drinks.
However, the water things could prove a little difficult, and the ground floor well that’s close to impossible if I see my future in a city.
The Doctor said that is I followed those changes, my dampness would get better within 10 to 15 years…

She encouraged me to follow my ambition, and go to China to find out more about Chi and Chinese Medicine. Also, she said that it might be an idea to visit her at a time when I am not fasting, so she can see what my body is like in “normal” circumstances. I will see when I return from meditation.

The followind day (Saturday), I cycled to the temple of Wat Ram Poeng, about 8km South West of Chiang Mai, to check out the surroundings and the meditation course. The monk in charge of the foreign meditators’ office told me there was a space for an introductory 10-day course starting on Monday. He gave a little explanatory booklet for me to go through, and asked whether I had understood everything.
I understand everything, I am ready for this, and from Monday I shall be meditating for 10-days. Or trying to anyway.

One of the requirements of most Buddhist temples, is that the meditators wear only white: trousers/sarongs, tops, and underwear. After a quick “wardrobe” check, I realise I had none of the above. The clothes can be purchased directly at the temple, but the underwear should be bought beforehand. Anyway I don’t see myself buying a bra from a Thai Monk.

So I took my faithful bicycle, and went all the way out of town to Tesco Lotus, the Thai version of the English Classic. The superstore is impressive. It is massive, the carpark is enormous, and on it are hundreds of cars, thousands of motorcycles, and tens of Thais doing Aerobics.
I park my bike near the entrance and bravely enter this major symbol of globalisation. Inside, beauty shops claim to make Asian skin “whiter than white”, Dunkin’ Donuts makes a very Thai Donut on a stick, Starbucks Coffee is thriving with spotty teenagers and the amp behind Ronald Mc Donald pumps out loud music.

I make my way to the first floor, where the main Tesco area is. The reason I went to Tesco, is that I don’t know the word for “knickers” or “bra” in Thai, and that I know for a fact that at the clothes markets around Chang Mai there is not my size.
Once I get to the right department, I realise that Tesco does not make my size either. I check the cheap Tesco Value area, the expensive “Sloggi” Bridget-Jones type pants, and the random shaped thongs. Nope, nothing will fit. Many shopping assistants try to convince me that the Triple-X-L synthetic lacy red thong would suit me, but I do not think it would be appropriate for my meditation retreat. She even whips out a calculator from nowhere, and offers me a 25% discount on it if I buy it immediately. Out of habit more than anything, I try to get the price down, and then I realise that: A) I don’t want it, B) it does not fit me anyway and C) We’re in a supermarket and we’re bargaining? What is going on here? So I walk away and escape in the washing powder/baby products aisle.

I wait a few minutes before I head back to the Ladies section, really wondering what I am going to do about this underwear situation. The white clothes I will get are bound to be transparent, and I don’t want a monk to be offended by my black knickers. So I look for something suitable in my size. And that’s when it all comes clear! I run around the place hoping for them to even exist in Thailand, and yep they do. Ladies Boxer Shorts! I am amazed. They look like something an old lady would wear over her knickers. They are cotton, white, ample and… they fit me! I grab a few.
Next to it are white tank tops… they fit me! I grab a few of those too. And I run away with the lot, as I see that one of the shopping assistants has spotted me and is walking hurriedly in my direction. This time I escape in the live fish section. I make sure my perfect white undies don’t get splashed by the overactive fish swimming in the shallow basins. And make my way to the checkout. For a grand total of 308 Bahts (so less than 6 Euros, 5 Pounds) I have underwear in which I can meditate. Genius.

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The night before the day after

Tomorrow, I am starting my 10-day meditation retreat at a Temple called Wat Ram Poeng. I have prepared for this retreat by doing a hardcore detox: a 5-day fast, with slow return to solid foods. My body feels cleansed and my mind is ready for the challenge to come.

I enjoyed my day off by visiting the Doi Suthep, a temple on a sacred mountain 20km North of Chiang Mai, one of the most sacred Buddhist Wats in Thailand. I enjoyed some quiet time, before returning to bustling Chiang Mai for a massage appointment.

The massage therapist, the same as I has seen last week, was very happy with the results a week on. My muscles are softer, more supple and generally less painful. My left shoulder is enjoying her newfound mobility, and I have been stretching it everyday to keep it that way. She was impressed with my daily Yoga classes, stretching, fasting and going to meditate from tomorrow.

She herself used to be a nun (after being an aerobics instructor and before doing massage) and taught Vipassana meditation. She told me a few things which have been very helpful as preparation, and may even help me in the process of the retreat.
To help me further, she has worked on my lower body mainly, to open up my hips and soften my thighs to help with the lotus sitting position. And wonderfully, after 2-hours of painful yet rewarding massage, I can sit confortably cross-legged. I am hoping this will help me focus more on my mind and less on my aching body.

This evening, I am going to the night market to buy some white clothes for my retreat… and enjoy my evening meal, my next one will be in 11 days.

So Long my Internet friends. Wish me a good and enjoyable journey.

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Chiang Mai: Advanced Thai Massage, Abdominal Chi Therapy and fasting

It’s been nearly two weeks since I got to Chiang Mai. I am staying in a wonderful guesthouse in the old city, use a rented bicycle as my main mode of transport, and have made lots of new friends.

The Advanced course is over, I have a beautiful diploma to certify that I have passed the required level set by the State of Thailand to call myself a Thai Massage Therapist.
Now for something completely different… After a well deserved weekend, including 2 lazy morning sleep-ins, wonderful luncheons with my girlfriends and massage; I got myself back to school on Monday morning, especially early…

On the Sunday afternoon, I received a massage from Ms. V, a very famous personality here in Chiang Mai, as she uses a very special technique called the “nerve touch massage”. And yes, it is as painful as it sounds. She basically plays the nerves like one may play the guitar cords, and it’s a bit… unnerving (no pun intended) and particularly painful.
I asked her to focus on my shoulder injury, since it still does not have the mobility and confidence the other one has. She was quite perplexed as to why it took such a long time to heal. She got to work on my cervicales, thoracic cage, shoulder and down my arm.
I did shed a tear for the work she did on the web between my thumb and my index finger on the left side. Horrendous pain!

When I got up, not only could I move my arm in all directions (I broke my clavicle in 2 places, with a displacement one and a half year ago) but it felt free and normal! The predomimant feeling was actually the lack of feeling: the tension had simply disappeared. I was impressed.
Of course she told me I had to use the arm, and do specific exercices everyday and for a while if I wanted the mobility to stay. I’ve been swimming in Thailand, and she suggested Yoga also.

So I applied her advice the following morning. 7am is yoga class at the Sunshine School… A very early start, especially that I am not a morning person. ANyway I made it,only to discover that I was the only one attending, and I got personal tuition with the sweetest teacher I have ever met. She is very tolerant with my lack of flexibility. Compared to a Westerner, I amactually relatively flexible. Compared to Thai people, I am the stiffest person they’ve ever met. She is very patient and teaching me the basic moves of Ashtanga yoga. I am told it is not the best way to start Yoga, but it suits me because the other types I find just too boring.

After a good hour of yoga, a cold shower and a rice soup, I was ready to go to my Chi class. Chi is the name for energy in Chinese Medicine. It is very different from Thai. Chi travels along meridiens (that are slightly different to the Thai ones) and have trigger points (much like the ones Baaw taught me) that correspond to organs or specific diseases.

It is very interesting stuff. The techniques are easy for me, as they resemble the ones I have learnt at osteopathy school in my visceral class. I have impressed everyone with my knowledge of visceral anatomy. Even the teacher. And that’s a problem because I know more than her on that point, and her knowledge is, well, bad. So once I got over this frustrating point, I have really enjoyed the course.

The teacher is a little bit “airy-fairy” but it’s not surprising as we are working on meridiens, rather than actual physical points. We’re doing some wonderful techniques, and she brings a lot of case histories and talks about her “miracle” patients. I have not heard her use that name, but that’s what I like to call the people that see such a difference after treatment they want to kiss my feet/marry me/give me lots of money.

The problem with working only on the abdomen 6h a day, is that is gets sore. We get traditional Thai Herbal Compresses at the end of the day, but it’s not enough. And my gut have been playing up. And it’s horrible to be worked on after breakfast or lunch. So I got an idea. A fast.

I have been eating foods that are very different to what I am used to, since I only stick to Thai food here (very different from a lot of tourists who seem to alternate between pizzas and burgers) and I’ve been doing well gut-wise so far. But it seemed like the right time to really flush out my system and strengthen my immune system. The course is not really challenging, so it is ok if I am feeling a bit weak or tired.

Monday was my detox day, I had very simple foods with basic rice soup in the morning, broth for lunch, and a non-spice mushroom soup for dinner. Tuesday I started on water. Yoga felt wonderful, I could feel my body in a very intense way.
Wednesday was more difficult. The second day for me is the tough day. I felt dizzy as soon as I stood up, felt weak in the legs and generally felt ill and nauseous. I could not cope with Yoga so my teacher gave me a relaxing face massage instead. My classmates helped me out too, and after class four of them were working on me, massaging my feet, doing herbal compresses on my tummy and chest, and working on my head and neck. Wonderful feeling.

Today was my third day on water. I felt much better than yesterday, even though we stuck with Yoga on the floor (no standing poses) and I got another neck massage! I am spoilt!
For lunch, I diluted two tablespoons of filtered, organic beetroot juice into my glass of water, if felt great! The afternoon passed smoothly, as the change of taste helped me out.
Tonight I was treated to more herbal compresses, and one of the girls treated my legs. The warmth I felt down my legs as she was working was astonishing. Such a big effect after only a few minutes… This girl is very talented, she studies with one of the masters here in Chiang Mai and is very special.

Tonight, I will stick to water, and tomorrow I may start having more diluted juices. I found a great organic shop close to school where I can purchase them very cheaply.

Tomorrow is the last day, I guess we will have an examination on what we have learned this week. I am not particularly worried as the hands-on stuff is easy and I’ve been working on the theory and doing homework every night of the week.

What I particularly appreciate about this class and the group of people I am doing it with, is that here everyone has that particular sensitivity I seem to have developed. Feeling heat from the patient is normal, getting pins and needles in the hands and feet, having flashes… is part of everyday treatment life. The teacher actually diagnoses from smells, she can smell a bad gall bladder, or an enlarged kidney… Which is amazing! And it’s not the farts she’s smelling! It’s the general body odour, and the specific smells on the person.
Today, she worked on a guy who must be in his sixties – an American hippy I have a lot of respect for, who went onhunger strike against the Vietnam War and now lives in India – who has a weak heart valve. As she worked on the heart area, this insane smell of burnt filled my nostrils. She mentioned it also, most the others could not smell anything. I checked the Chinese Medicine chart: burnt smell corresponds to a burned out heart, like in heart failure or weak valves. Wow.

I am in awe with all the small things I have discovered so far this week. Not so much the techniques, or even the course; but this first approach to Chinese Medicine and the wonderful people I am surrounded with is the best way I could have spent my week.
I love the idea that I am not a freak… and I feel like I am touching one of the reasons I came out here and took this year for in the first place. I am starting to get answers, and I will continue my research in Chine directly, after my travels to Australia and the Aboriginals.
The prospect is so incredible exciting!

And of course I miss my family, my friends, my lifestyle, my job, my patients, French food… but what I have found out about this week, learning to know about this part of me, makes it all worth it.

Next week, and once I have resumed to normal eating habits, I have planned to go even deeper and really find out more stuff about myself: I am going to do a 10-day silent meditation retreat in a temple outside Chiang Mai.
Apparently, the rules are strict: everyone must wear white at all times, no music, no books, no talking (except to your tutor once a day, to see how you are getting on), no chewing after midday (which means food is served only in the morning, and that’s very basic vegetarian food) and lots of quiet time.
After the last marathon few months, planning my departure, learning lots and getting treatment by many different people, so time alone will do me good. Which means from Monday I will not have any Internet connexion for 10 days approximately, so no freaking out!

Until then, I am making the most of my time, I will be visiting temples this weekend to decide which I like best, getting back to delicious Thai food, but only after a day or two of juices and fruit, simple foods and probably no meat until I finish my retreat. Since we won’t be eating much at the Temple, I am glad to be fasting now, so as to keep my stomach nice and small and not get hungry all the time!
I have talked to other people who have done it before, and they said the food eating patterns were actually fine.

I am looking forward to it all, I am learning so much about so many things! It makes me tired and I get to bed around 9pm… Feels fantastic.

This is a video of one of the masters in Thai Massage in Chiang Mai, to give you an idea of the sort of stuff I am learning here.

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Advanced Thai Massage and Loi Krathong

Now I have a new visa for Thailand, I am free to roam… So my first task is following an Advanced Massage Course at the Sunshine School in Chiang Mai (Northern Thailand).

I am being taught by a great teacher, who has studied with the masters of Thai Massage and has a very successful established practise in London, Thailand and all over the world.  Patients you may have heard of  include Thierry Henry, Madonna and the Queen Elizabeth II.
We are a class of 6, all from different backgrounds, differents countries and different approach, but everyone can speak English and is very motivated to learn Thai Massage. We learn a lot of different techniques, from toes to head, via the abdomen. It’s very interesting. I am getting answers to my many questions.
I am asking about the theory behind the Eastern way, the reason for each technique, background information, extra anatomical landmarks and importantly about “Magic Hands”…

A Mother and her son setting off a Lantern

A Mother and her son setting off a Lantern

What is also very exciting is the festival that is going on in Chiang Mai and Buddhist Thailand at the moment, called Loi Krathong. It celebrates the 12th full moon of the year (which will be tomorrow). It is a chance to celebrate light, life and… food!
Everyone makes “Krathong” which are little floaty things made from banana tree trunk, banana leaves, flowers that form a basket. Inside are placed 3 incense sticks, a candle and a coin. These are lit and let to float on the river.
If the Krathong capsizes, you will have bad luck the following year (unless you make more, until one floats correctly). If it meets and bumps into someone else’s, who will find your soulmate. If it comes back towards you,  there is something on your mind that should be said or something should be done.
Finally, if it floats away happily, you are blessed by the Gods.

I have made my Krathong, and I will be going to the river tonight to place it on the river Ping and see what my fortune is. I still have tomorrow and the day after to get busy and make other Krathongs to change my fate.

My Krathong!

My Krathong!

My Krathong on the water!

My Krathong on the water!

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Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and the hilltribe villages

I made it from Koh Lanta to Chiang Rai via Krabi, Surat Thani, Petchaburi, Ratchaburi, Kananchaburi, Bangkok, and Chiang Mai.

In Chiang Mai, I went to visit some schools I had heard about. The Old Medicine hospital is “also” the oldest school of Thai Massage in Thailand (as was the Wat Po in Bangkok, a bit like the States where every other fast-food joint claims to have the “best burger in America”)

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Northern style massage is different to Southern, because it focuses on different parts of the bodies with slightly different techniques. The northern one was developed specifically for the population of the North, where people work crouching down in the fields all day. So the treatments focus mainly on the legs and stretching them, as they get very stiff.
In the South, where apparently the Thais traditionally are more sedentary, the whole body is treated equally, with special attention on the back.

What I want in the North is to continue learning, and build on my Thai knowledge. What I don’t want is to do another rigid beginner’s course where it’s all about repeating and learning off by heart and not understanding. We will call that “Thai style”, where learning is quasi-religious, teachers are praised but questions are not permitted. Questioning the master means doubting him and that is not imaginable.

That is why I felt more at ease at  the Sunshine School. Both Thai and Westerners teach here, and it’s a more relaxed, Western style of teaching, i.e. you get explanations, background, and the right to ask questions! They believe you need to understand before you can learn. And that’s exactly what I need.

There are beginner’s course starting every week, lasting 2 weeks. But after discussing with a couple of teachers, they thought that even though I hadn’t studied the North Style, seeing my background I could jump straight to the advanced courses and they would slow down and explain when I didn’t understand. That sounds wonderful.

Except the next interesting courses start November 10th, and will last 2 weeks. In the mean time, and because I need to renew my visa, I am crossing over to Laos and whilst I’m there I will also be looking for massage traditions. And very much looking forward to it! I hear it resembles Thai, but with a twist, a Chinese influence.

Today though, I visited the Hilltribe Museum in Chiang Rai, and I learnt a few things on the villages and their ways of treating despite the unhelpful staff.
There are a many tribes that live in the mountainous regions of Thailand, and many are the Burmese and Lao border. These people lived secluded from modern Thailand, and have a separate culture in their own right, including medical practices.
Every village or settlement has what is best described as a shaman, mostly men, who spend their time making sure the spirits are kept happy. When a person is ill, the shaman will go to that person and diagnose what is wrong. Possible diagnosis includes: loss of soul, spirit affliction, and consequences of black magic.
Depending on the cause of the disease, the shaman will chose to make chants and incantation, give offerings (generally an animal is sacrificed, offered and then eaten by the family), prescribtion of herbal remedies and appropriate dietary measures.
I did not see anywhere any mention of hands-on treatment, but that does not mean it does not exist…

Shamans used opium as a means of helping with diagnosis (to get in a transe and contact the spirits), and as a means of treatment. Opium and Heroin were used in the West as asthma, cough and teething remedies. The first version of Morphine was derived from Opium.

After the government’s crackdown on drugs (excuse the pun) Shamans have had to stop using opium and its derivatives. Most tribes have also stopped cultivating poppy and have started growing other crops and raising animals as an alternative.

I may visit a tribe or two on an organised trek in Laos, but my main aim is to visit the Northern part of Laos and find traces of Lao therapeutic massage.

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