Tag Archives: massage

Internship in Tuina at the hospital of Traditional Chinese Medecine of Chendgu

After a week spent learning all sorts of new Chinese skills, I headed to the Sichuan Province with the idea of meeting the Father of my Chinese Tibetan teacher. However, it soon became apparent that Shanna had forgotten an important detail: my Chinese is very poor and her Father only speaks Mandarin, Tibetan and the local Sichuanese dialect.
Sure I could stay with him, she said, and learn from him, but the language barrier might impair this somewhat. Don’t get me wrong, I love a challenge and I am loving having to mime everything, but living with a ninety year-old you cannot even make chit-chat with might become slightly frustrating.

So I decided to make my first stop the Traditional Chinese Medecine (TCM) hospital in Chengdu, the capital city of the province of Sichuan. After a good twenty minutes of getting lost on the student campus, I gave up and walked out… only to finally find the foreign student department. I met “Ricky” who is in charge of the foreigners who wish to study TCM. He offered me a cup of tea before starting a formal interview, asking about my qualifications, my work experience, my hobbies and even my background in Chinese culture and my reasons for wanting to study in the hospital.
I must have made a good impression, as the head of the department suggested an internship within the Tuina department. Mornings would be taken up doind rounds with a senior doctor and a translator and in the afternoons I would get to enjoy some theoritical lectures in Chinese translated into English by his good self. I could even start the following morning.

On my way back, I bought a book about Tuina, as I had not heard the term before. It turns out Tuina is as close to osteopathy as one can get, besides the fact it is mainly based on the meridian system (as is acupuncture and all of Oriental Medicine)

The basic principles of Tuina

– To establish a working diagnosis using TCM principles,
– To treat the cause as well as the effects or symptoms,
– To relieve obstructions ad stagnation of Chi and blood, i.e. to restore smooth circulation, and  
– To restore function of body’s self-regulation of Chi and blood, to restore resistance agains pathogenic factors
– To restore movement throughout the body system and getting rid of stagnation, by:

— relaxing muscles, relocating joints,  manipulating tendons and flicking nerves,
— lengthening and stretching spasmodic or shortened muscles,
— increasing the range of motion of joints through passive movements and mobilisation,
— increasing the pain threshold and breaking down the pain-spasm-pain cycle after injury (this vicious cycle is a concept of Western medicine used in modern TCM textbook. It occurs after a painful injury: the muscles surrounding the affected area go into spasm, therefore compromising the blood supply and drainage of the area. As the metabolic wastes are not cleared away, this generates even more pain, which in turn stimulates the muscles to go into more spasm, and so on),
— enhancing local circulation of blood.

The theory behind Tuina
1. Balancing Yin and Yang
In order to achieve optimal health, the opposing forces of Yin and Yang must be in balance (this is also true of all phenomena in the world and the universe) – check out this previous blog entry for background information on this.
The aims are to restore the relative dynamic equilibrium and remove pathogenic factors by dredging the meridians (=making the lines that channel energy deeper and wider) therefore promoting the circulation of Chi (=Qi) and blood.

2. Regulating Zang and Fu Organs
In Chinese medicine, the organs are divided into three categories:
– Zang organs, which do not come in contact with foodstuff and produce and store Chi (heart, lung, spleen, liver and kidney)
– Fu organs, which receive, digest, transport and transform foodstuff (small and large intestine, stomach, gall bladder, bladder)
– Extraordinary Fu organs, which are a mix of Fu and Zang (brain, marrow, bones, vessels and uterus)  
The aim is to regulate all organs, therefore inhibiting hyperactivity and stimulating underactive organs (called tonifying).

3. Encourage flow within Meridians and Collaterals
Meridians are the channel through which the vital energy, of Chi travels.
The aim is to circulate Chi and blood, therefore nourish the body and stimulate the immune system, to increase protection against pathogens.

As a part of Traditional Chinese Medicine, it considers the body as a whole, and may be used in combination with acupuncture, herbal treatment, cupping, dietary advice, lifestyle advice, etc


During my mornings at the hospital, I visit both the in-patients and out-patient departments. The hospital -as everything in China- is gigantic, and I am told 4000 out-patients  get treated here everyday. Inside, it is completely chaotic. Seriously: Doctors, nurses, pharmacists rushing around the patients, their family and pets. Plus the random soy-milk vendor, a musician and a couple of chickens.
I am taken to a small consultation room, furnished with hard wooden plinths, several small stools and a very old X-ray reading lamp in a corner. The walls are dirty, mould is creeping in the cracks of the ceiling, the windows are open and a cold, chilling wind penetrates the damp room. Bars block the windows, and a neon light flickers intermittently.
The translator and a string of Chinese medical students string in after me. Enter three old ladies, speaking animatedly, followed by their husbands and family friend. One of the ladies sits down in a corner and starts knitting, whilst another takes her jumper off and lies on the plinth.
The female students all hush up when the impressive famous doctors walk in. Their loud voices can barely be heard above the cacophony of the patients, who seem to have come to consultation more for a good gossiping session than a treatment.
But somehow, things start getting organised. The doctors ask questions, palpate, and feel pulses. The translator struggle to keep up with the stream of information. Very quickly, needles fly everywhere and into the patients’ backs, arms, necks and legs.

Hygiene is a very touchy subject, and I only dare to bring it up after a couple of days. For example, the doorless squat toilets that both patients and staff use have no sink. The consultation rooms don’t have access to soap and water or even disinfectant hand wash. Some alcohol spray is sometimes used on the skin before insertion of the needles, but this is not systematic.
And for the more outrageous part: the needles used for acupuncture are indeed re-used many times, apparently after sterilization. In reality, doctors don’t pay a lot of attention to it and I see used needles being put back into a box of fresh ones.
I don’t know what the chances are of contamination, as these extraordinary needles penetrate the body but rarely draw blood. But I know that I personally would not run that risk!

And then the Tuina begins on a 40 year-old woman, complaining of progressive onset tinnitus in one ear. How funny that the first patient I see receiving treatment here suffers from the symptom I studied for my dissertation!
The examination reveals a thready, wiry weak pulse, a yellow-coated tongue, a dry mouth with bitter taste and stiffness if the neck.
The translator lets me know that the symptoms are typical of excessive dampness and heat in the live and gall bladder, caused by a weakness of the kidney.
The diagnoses here are divided in two parts: the branch of the disease (the symptoms) and the root of the disease (the cause or aetiolgy). It is important to relieve the branch of the disease, and clear the root or cause. Of course, the excess “Yang” typical of this woman’s symptoms are not familiar to us Westerners, but I am finding it fascinating to learn about this 7000-year-old medicine, which has proven its clinical efficacy both in Western research journals and empirically over the last few millenia.
The treatment is today focused on tonifying the kidney, by working on remote accupressure points around the ear and head. Some of the techniques used are familiar, other are very different to what I know.
But what is striking is that despite the flowery diagnosis, the practitioner works in exactly the same areas I would have worked on, had this been my patient.
He works on the neck, mainly increasing the mobility segmentally, loosening the muscles and flickign certain tendons. He also works on the scalp and around the ear. Many techniques focus on the face, throat and upper chest.
I get a wonderful realization: despite coming from completely different philosophies, both this practitioner and myself are working on this patient to attempt to relieve them and improve their health, and regardless of where we come from or how we explain things, the human body works the same way everywhere.
So over the next few days, I focus on the specific new techniques and the areas worked on the relieve pain. I believe that with observation and my own experimentation, I can integrate some of the oriental way of thinking into my own practice, and hopefully get even better results for my patients.

The following day, I am directed to the in-patient building. And this is quite something. It is a beautiful modern hospital, with clean airy corridors and rooms, no hussble-bussle and even flatscreen televisions in the three-bed rooms with en-suite bathroom.
I am introduced to the “famous” doctor, a tall guy with soft facial features and an easy-going smile. We follow him around, and he tries to impress me with sme joint clicking: manipulations of the lumbar spine. After the treatment, he asks me whether I have any questions. I smile and tell the translator that I am interested in which vectors he used for his technique, as I use a different one. His face lights up, and he asks me to demonstrate it. A Chinese student volunteers and lies on his side on a plinth in one of the hospital bedroom.
I start setting up, whilst the Doctor, his assistant, four medical students (who, it seems, have materialized out of thin air) and the three patients whose room it is stare at me. No pressure!
When the patient is ready, I look around, make a slightly theatrical gesture and thrust down. A beautiful, clear “pop” emerges from my cobaye’s back, and all the spectators mouthe their appreciation. The student gets up, and someone else lies in their place, wanting to be manipulated by the giant white woman.
Here starts the beginning of a manipulation frenzy, where the doctor and his assistant showed me a new manipulation technique for each one I showed them. Everything got a whack: neck, back, pelvis, shoulders, elbows, wrists, hips, knees, ankles and feet. And in every axis known, in many directions. We enjoyed some banter, approved the techniques we all knew and learnt the ones we had not seen before.
I learnt some incredible shoulder manipulations, as well as hip and knee ones. They learnt a great elbow technique and the amazing CT prone, which are some of my personal favourites.

Over a short period of time, I learnt many new techniques (of both joint manipulation and general soft-tissue mobilisation), new treatment plans (where to treat certain diseases) and a whole new method of approching the body (in the afternoon lectures, which are fascinating)

This weekend, I had great plans as I don’t have class… visiting, sight-seeing, etc, but I am physically and mentally exhausted after all that intensive learning. Instead, I have enjoyed a lie-in, a lazy breakfast and now going to stroll in the People’s Park to enjoy the sun and a cup of herbal tea with the locals.

This week I am continuing my learning in the hospital, and taking some Tai Chi lessons with a great Toaist master, who lives in the mountains outside Chengdu.
My reward is approaching: next weekend I am meeting my sister, who is on a business trip, in Shanghai. I have not seen her in over six months!



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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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Lao massage

Massage in Lao, as in other south eastern countries, is used in everyday life for relaxing and treating aches and pains. It is usually practised in the family circle, and the tradition is taught from generation to generation. Depending on the problem, the massage focuses on one part or the other of the body.

It always starts on the back, following the energy lines, looking for blockages and working on them with deep pressures, manipulation techniques and tendon flicking (with a thumb contact, passing rapidly over a tendon makes it flick which acts directly on the muscle spindles, making the muscle relax). Then the massage therapist attends to the lower limbs, one at a time, starting with the left foot first (as in Thai) and working up the leg. Then the same is repeated on the right.

After that, the person lies on their back, and the massage continues on the feet and legs, left then right.
This is where Lao massage differs (according to my short experience in the country) from others, as the thoracic and abdominal parts are not treated at all. The arms are next, starting with the left hand and working up, then the same on the right.
The therapist sits cross-legged behind the head of the patient and cradles the head to work on the neck, scalp and face. This is completely taboo in Thailand, as no one must ever sit behind the head, not point feet in the direction of it!

The last position is the sitting one, where neck and head are the main focus. The last move is a double handed clapping technique, which vibrates through the spine and the skull.

There are very few stretching techniques, and from the masssages I received, the techniques are very (very) pleasant. The therapist takes care to not hurt the patient, or work sensitively and with consideration on the painful areas (whereas the Thais and Chinese just go for it!!)

I have thoroughly enjoyed the Lao massage, but unfortunately the schools that specialize in teaching it are rare. It is a family tradition, and foreigners are not expected to want to learn this way of treating. I have heard of schools in the capital city, Ventiane, but I will not have time to visit them on this trip. I choose to focus on Thai techniques, as I am starting to get a good basic knowledge. My next courses of “Advanced Therapy” and “Abdominal Thai treatment” start November 10th.

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Trekking to the hilltribes in Laos

Photos have been uploaded unto facebook, please check this link, even if you are not a member:

I arrived in Vieng Poukha, a Lao village a few hours away from the Thailand border. A generator provides electricity during a few hours in the evening, there are a few shops, a tiny hospital and a school. More importantly there is a governmental trekking office, with guides trained by the European Union in eco-tourism.

Mr. HongThong was to be our guide, as we formed a group of 4 falangs (tourists) and 2 guides for a 3-day trek in the Laos mountains. We walked about 30km in total, and it was a truly incredible experience.
Besides the actual hiking in luxuriant tropical rainforests, our guide introduced us to the local people. He expertly spoke 6 local languages, translating for us and explaining to us a lot about local culture.

The first people we ran into were the Akha. They were harvesting rice in a field, as they prefer this type to the one you find in rice paddies. They practise a “slash and burn” type agriculture on the mountains of the North of Burma, Thailand and Laos. We helped them collect the rice, shared a cucumber and continued climbing.

Akha picking rice

In the afternoon, we crossed a river in which we bathed, before arriving to the Akha village we were going to spend the night in. They have a “community lodge” there, that tourists can use. The bare minimum: a house on stilts, a bamboo-leave roof, mats on the floor and mosquito nets. No running water, no electricity. Our guides cooked rice and tea on a fire, and we ate a basic meal, before meeting the King.

The village shaman is also known as “the King”, as he is also at the head of the village. His main role is to take the important decisions for the Akha people, as well as do the rituals and ceremonies for the local traditional animism. He also knows the herbal remedies and special ceremonies to treat the sick.
He is helped in his task by the big O. Opium.
When we met him at dusk, around 6pm, he could hardly stand. His pupils were dilated and his eyes could not focus. He had great trouble speaking, and he did not notice I was a woman so shook my hands (women should never be greeted in this way in Akha tradition! I was not offended…)
We each had 2 shots of “rice-whisky” as our welcome gift, and a chat at him. He did manage to kick his comatose to answer a few of our questions, but did not teach me anything new on local traditional medicine.

As we got back to the lodge, 4 Akha girls were waiting for us. They were to give us a traditional welcome Akha massage. The Akha are historically farmers and gatherers, and traditional massage is given to aching bodies after long days in the fields, or in this case after our first day of trekking.
I was so excited at the prospect of finally finding out about traditional massage from the hilltribes. And I was not disappointed.

The Akhas originated from Mongolia, and have migrated South until they reached Laos. The massage is done with no oil, with the receiver dressed in a sarong. First, I was made to lay on my front, and the teenager started working on my legs and back. The “choreography” from bottom to top and back again was repeated many times, always in the same order, always with the same speed and intensity.
I could see that the other girls were working in similar ways and at the same speed.

The girls were using thumb presses, as in Thai massage, as well as “springing” of the spine, which is a manipulation technique of the thoracic spine. However I did not feel they were following lines that I was familiar with, i.e. the Thai Sen lines.

We turned on to our backs almost simultaneously, and the girls continued their work on the front, working on the arms and then finishing on the legs. A few stretches, especially on the knees (extension and hyperextension mobilisation)

The result was effective, but made of unusual techniques I had never seen before, with a mix of Thai (thumb presses, especially on certain sen lines on the back of the legs), and then I guess some Chinese type acupressure and stretches.

The following day we continued trekking, through the mud… as a tropical storm exploded in the sky and onto us. And we came across some wildlife of Laos: leeches! I only got bitten once, but I retrieved about 30 from my boots, trousers and socks.

ps: I would like to add more photos, but the connection here is very bad. Next time maybe?

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On the road…

Ante Scriptom: (yes that does exist) the following story is totally true and ends well, but some parts may be dramatized slightly. So as to not get anyone panicking, please bear with me and read on. Thank you.

From Koh Lanta, after long goodbyes with Baaw, I disappeared in a mini-bus that was to travel on the island, on a ferry, on another island, then on another ferry and then on the mainland to Krabi.
Being currently on holiday (I am relaxing after over a week of hard work with my teacher) I didn’t have specific plans, so I stopped in Krabi town, to wander around, see if I liked the feel of it and decide whether to stay or not.
I walked up and down with my big, yet not too heavy backpack, and sat down in a cool-looking “Bob Marley” style cafe and got a Coca-Cola. Being on holiday, I read my new book on the theory of Thai Medicine. Then this guy sat down opposite me. I absent-mindedly said hello and continued reading. In my field of vision, I could see his feet and I noticed that one was much bigger than the other. As I turned a page, I focused on his legs. One had loads of bruises and scrapes, with much swelling and the other one appeared normal. So I casually scanned the rest of his body, nothing abnormal detected. I went back to my book.
He asked me something – what exactly is irrelevant – when I faced him to reply, I saw that he had a very bad black eye, and a massive “cartoon-style” scar on top of it (like the ones you draw on your cheek to look like a pirate, with one big line criss-crossed with lots of parallel little lines) I couldn’t help myself, so I asked how it happened. Scooter accident. And I thought he was going to stop there, but no…
“But you should see my friend John, he’s in a really bad state”  oh dear, they were both on the bike?
“No, he’s at the police station and they’re beating him with wooden sticks” shit… why is he there?

Well of all countries, Thailand is not a place where you smuggle drugs, right? So I finished my Coke and ran the hell out of there. Not a good impression of Krabi, at all. I got to the bus station and got on a bus to Surat Thani, from where I could get a night bus to Petchaburi.

If you don’t know where that is, don’t worry. Most guide books don’t even talk about it. It’s just off the road that goes from the South to Bangkok, about 200km South of Bangkok. So the bus company said no problem, they would stop there for me and even give me “special price”. On top of that, I got the priviledge of travelling downstairs, so I was fully lying down rather than on one of the reclining seats upstairs. Wonderful. One of the drivers was instructed to wake me when we got there.

3am. It’s dark, I’m alone and I’m tired. I find it difficult to open my eyes or focus my gaze, my legs hurt and they feel really stiff. I’m trying to remember where I am. I am in the Petchaburi hospital, trying to rest. The staff were really kind despite the fact they could not speak any English.
Fatigue is overwhelming. I can’t move so I just fall asleep, but I make many violent dreams.

4am. I’m lying on my side, my shoulder hurts and I’m thirsty. I roll over but nearly fall off. I stabilize myself, listen to the others around me, snoring. The neon lights of the ward are flickering slightly. I can’t be bothered to look or ask for water, I fall asleep again.

6am. I’m glad I got a chunk of sleep. I stretch out a little bit, but my legs fall off the end of the leather couch I’m lying on. I sit up this time, slightly dizzy. The other couches in the hospital lobby are also occupied by sleeping people, though I’m the only Farang (white person) and non-staff.
When the driver woke me, we couldn’t fnd a taxi to get me into town, and he didn’t want to leave me to find one by myself. We were in front of a major hospital, and he decided that was the safest place for me to wait until morning. There would be the night-shift staff, I could wait there and safely get to a guesthouse in a few hours.
I was relieved of the outcome. I went to the hospital, the security guard was asleep , and as he woke up suddenly he thought I was hurt somewhere. I mimed I was fine, used the Thai words for “bus” and “no taxi” and Bangkok. He seemed to understand and welcomed me inside the lobby.
The hospital looked new, and I was happy to find that Thais, like me, can sleep anywhere. So I put my already padlocked bag safely under the couch, lay down and tried to get some more sleep.
I slept surprisingly well, and only got up around 7am, when the day shift people were starting to come in. Noone asked me anything, so I just kept myself to myself.

Around 7.30, I once again used my miming abilities to good use, and with a little help from my phrase book. I found a taxi and got into town, put my bags down in a guesthouse and had a “continental breakfast” before going for a long walk around town.

I had chosen Petchaburi for its Khmer temples, and I was not disappointed, they were beautiful. I was soaked though, as the rain is also present here, a 1000km North of the Islands. I had pretty much seen everything I wanted to see, so picked up my bags and organised a different outcome to my day. I got on a Thai governmental bus to the city of Ratchaburi, where I was to connect with another bus to Chananburi, i.e. where the bridge on the river Kwai is.

The second bus was great – it took about two and half hours to travel 60km, but was an endless source of entertainement. There were no windows to speak off, a crazy conductor who kept singing loudly to announce the stops, and many young children who thought I was the funniest thing ever.

Actually Ratchaburi isn’t in the guidebooks either, and even the travel office and the tourist information told me I had to go via Bangkok to get to Kwai. But I figured there would be another way, since there is a road and the bus system is really well developed. 
Even though the tourist/VIP buses are faster because they don’t stop to pick up and drop everyone on their doorstep… Even so, the journey as indicated by the travel agent would have taken 7 to 8 hours, whereas mine took under 4 hours, and a fraction of the price. So all in all a great deal!

The plan is: I am staying in a guesthouse called “Nita Rafthouse” which is great because it floats on the water! The downside is the amount of mosquitoes here!! I am fully sprayed in repellent, I am wearing clothes that cover up most of me, but I’ve already had a few bites. Anyway, I’m only staying the night, as tomorrow afternoon I’m heading to Bangkok to take a train to Chiang Mai. I’ve booked a seat and I’m really excited for my first Thai train journey.

Once in Chiang Mai, I’ll start looking at the schools I’ve already looked up and check them out in real life, especially the Old Medicine Hospital, which is a similar institution to the Wat Po, but teaches slightly different techniques: more stretches similar to yoga and less trigger-point therapy (which resembles the Chinese Acupressure).


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Koh Lanta: Magic Hands, Motorbike and Thai Massage

So here we are, arriving in Koh Lanta. For those who haven’t had the chance to visit the islands on the West Coast of the Southern part of Thailand, Koh Lanta is a relatively smallish island where no reality tv show was made.

On the boat, we sit with a couple from France, who happened to also stay in hour bungalow place in Koh Phi Phi. We let the people from the hotels tell us how great their places are, and we settle for one that appeals to us all, “Lanta NAture Beach Resort” on the Klong Nin Beach (West Coast), a stone’s throw away from Relax Bay, where Greg stayed a few years ago.
As I check-in with MP, I mention to the receptionist that I would like a Thai massage, and can she recommend someone. Of course she can. She calls the massage family people straightaway, he will come in 10 Thai minutes (i.e. anything from 10 minutes ago to in an hour or two). I meet an older woman, she says that her son works here normally but is with his daughter in the hospital. He teaches massage also.

He teaches massage? Here in a beautiful resort on the beach? The idea is exciting. Until the lady massages me. She’s not very good. What she does is painful, but in a bad pain kind of a way. I have a scratch on my right big toe so I mention it to her, but when she starts massaging my feet she has already forgotten. Yikes it hurts! My toes starts throbbing… She apologizes, only to press on my delicate toe again a few minutes later.
Disappointment strikes. There is no way I want to be taught anything by someone like that who does not care about what she’s doing, and generally is not very good. I still want to meet this guy, her son, and check him out, we never know.We set an appointment for Thai 8.30am the following day.

By 10am, still no one. So I get MP and another guy we met the night before and we decide to hire a tuk-tuk for the day, to visit the Island. Tuk-tuks here are very simple: a simple motorbike, joined at the hip to a wheel-barrow type machine. It’s slow, but steady. We take it in turns to drive, and the joyride begins.
Except a tuk-tuk is not made for going up and down hills, and we plan to do exactly that. I volunteer to jump out the thing whenever the up or down is too steep.
Visualize me running by the side of the road, a weird motorbike/wheel barrow thing with two scared passengers on board in the most aerodynamic position possible, surrounded by Thai kids laughing their heads off.

Anyway, we made it to where the road ends, and we trekked through the tropical jungle to see a satisfying waterfall and some elephants… And we even made it back, after eating delicious unknown shellfish in a restaurant on the main pier.

The following day (that would be yesterday), another appointment was set up with the massage therapist. I could hardly believe my luck when a short, dark guy with a moustache and a beard turned up and said hi. He was wearing tracksuit bottoms, a purple football shirt and a big grin. I was actually practising my Thai massage as I’d learned it in Wat Po on MP, so I asked him if he could wait just a few minutes… Pressure was on as he observed what I was doing. I got a little flustered and forgot a couple of stretches. Nevermind.

We started chatting in his “massage home” a little elevated sheltered area, which was built after the tsunami destroyed his previous bamboo massage home. His eyes glaze over as his mentions the destructions and the loss of lives on Kho Phi Phi.
We go onto talk about the massage. He seems unimpressed by my Wat Po qualification, but appreciates the fact I am actually serious about this. He asks how long I can stay, and I answer without blinking: 1 month. He laughs.
He then goes on to ask me why I want to learn Thai massage. Now is the time to explain to this Thai guy with poor English that structure and function are inter-reciprocally related… “I am like a Thai massage therapist, only the Western equivalent. I don’t work with the energy lines, but with muscles, joints, organs, blood etc”
He nods politely but I am not sure how much of this he understood.

The best, he says, is for him to give me a masage, and then I can start learning. I agree, as I am sure I don’t want to take classes from a guy who can’t massage to save his life.
I lay down, and he starts. The second he lays his hands on my back to spread his special herbal oil, I know that I have met someone exceptional.
He explains that this oil is made with Chinese herbs, made with a recipe from his great-grandfather, who was a Chinese doctor. And he works away. I try to focus on what he is doing, where he puts his hands, what order he does things in, how much it resembles what I do and not what I learned at Wat Po. But slowly my mind drifts away, far away from his expert hands.

My spine cracks and it feels good. My muscles are unknotted one by one. My tight kayak shoulder feel as light as a feather. He works my back, buttocks, legs, feet, arms and hands before I turn onto my front.
He takes several of my pulses, including axillary (armpit) and declares that my Left shoulder is weak and slow compared to the right. He says more work need to be done on my scapula (shoulder blade), and did I have an accident on that arm? I explain my football tumble of last year. He cringes as I go into the details.
He continues working, for what seems like beautiful, endless minutes. When I sit up, my head is dizzy and I feel incredible. He looks at me, smiling and laughs out a “finissed”.
I convince MP to have a massage, and Buuw (pronounce Baow) explains certain things as he goes along. He keeps repeating how hard Thai massage is to learn.

He learned from his father from the age of 18, and his Dad was taught by his own father at the same age, who was given one of the ancient books of Thai medicine by the King himself. I am told by the other members of staff that this is true, and that Buuw’s father is a famous man.
As he goes on tender, tight spots, he takes my hands and lays it on the sensitive part and says: “this is Pain”. I realise that he did not understand that it’s my job to know what is and what is not painful, and treat it.
What is the best way of explaining to someone who does not speak the same language what osteopaty is (and hopefully convince him I am a professional): treat him.

That evening, after spending the afternoon chatting and laughing with Buuw, his 15-year old daughter Dao (which means Sky) and his wife, I dragged him into the massage home, and authoritavely told him to take his t-shirt off, and lay face down. And he did.

I focused for a moment, and realised how important this treatment was going to be for both of us. I wanted to show him what I did in my country, that I understood the body in a different way, and that osteopathy is an effective, efficient and valid way of treating.

I started with his back, mobilising, using different techniques to show him, manipulating his thoracic spine, a rib or two on the way. I was rocking! I worked on his gluteus (buttocks), down his legs, up his arms… Put him on his side for a classic lumbar roll to HVT his L/S junction (sore and restricted on the Left): a big crack made us both laugh. On his back I worked his abdomen, going deeper and deeper, into his colon, his diaphragm. I worked the thoracic cage whilst I was at it… I was sweating, as one does when working hard on a sunny tropical afternoon.

His eyes were closed and his face seemed at rest. He opened them again and asked: “can you do my neck, it pain”
Sure can! I asked whether I could sit behind him (as the head is very important in Thailand, it should not be touched, and when lying down one should not walk behind it) he agreed and I was going at it again!
I used a little bit of everything: from strong techniques, to easy simple ones. A couple of manipulations, the wonderful “strain-counterstrain” where pain seems to disappear under my fingers, and to finish a big double crack on the junction between the neck and the shoulders.

“Finished!” He sat up, moved around a bit, and said he felt good. We set an appointment for tomorrow.
As we said our thank yous and good byes, he said something that is now engraved in my memory.
“I will show you Thai massage. It will take time, but you have magic hands. So it will be ok”

So I have magic hands.

Since then I haven’t stopped smiling.

Especially that he came to greet me at breakfast this morning: “my neck feels so good!”. And the staff have been treating me even better since the magic treatment… They are all asking me questions and want to be treated also. They say that Buuw has talked to them about me, and they want to try this new “French Thai Massage” too.
Today we did more training, first 2 hours this morning, I observed him giving a long treatment, him explaining as he went along. Then this afternoon, working on one of the staff. We covered the main lines of the back, the buttocks, the thighs and the popliteal fossa (back of the knee). It is fascinating.
As Chinese medicine and acupuncture, Thai medicine has “lines” which resemble meridiens. They are energy or wind lines. As I understand it so far, “wind” or “air” gets trapped in many places around the body. To avoid disease, and achieve health, the Thai therapist unblocks these with massage, manipulation and herbs.
When the patient complains of pain, the therapist finds out what the cause of this pain is, and works on that. Buuw jokes about treating directly the site of pain, how silly is that! With massage, he works on specific trigger points, which are situated on the energy lines, as well as working on the whole line in question, and those connecting with it.

For now, he is showing me the main lines, and teaching me how to recognize trapped wind. We are also starting to take pulses, and I am trying to feel something…
He is impressed with my palpation skills, I am impressed with his knowledge of the body. This special interpretation. He respects my point of view and background, and we joke about how similarly we work, yet how far apart our theories are.

The fact he was taught by his father, from his father, makes this teaching very special indeed. I am going to stay here for at least another few days, maybe a week. Continue my healthy schedule: run early in the morning, massage, then a healthy break with some amazing food and then more massage in the late afternoon, a final meal and then I collapse into bed…

I am doing my best to take detailed technical notes of what Buuw tells me, so I will have a written version of all the information I know will leak out of my brain. I will also take some pictures of him and some techniques in the next few days.

Marie-Pierre has taken off, and is on her way to Bangkok. So I downgraded to a smaller room, and hang out with the Thai staff where I am staying. They call me the professional footballer. I am not sure how many more compliments I can take before my head -or my ankles- swells up and explodes.


Filed under thailand

Wat Po… Final days and plans

Tomorrow is my last day and also my exam at Wat Po. Hopefully this time tomorrow I will be a qualified Thai Massage Therapist. We have learned the “basic” routine which is a two-hour massage which comprises acupressure, stretches and yoga-type positions. It’s great for general suppleness, so I can now bend in many more directions than before. It also really is energising, and since I’m spending 6 hours a day being massaged (yes! yes!) I’m really energised!!! but it also means I can harldy get to sleep at night…

Wat Po - the temple of the reclining Buddha and my massage school

Wat Po - the temple of the reclining Buddha and my massage school

My routine is pretty settled. I get up around 6.30am to have fruit , yoghurt and nut for breakfast, followed by a cold shower before getting the boat to Tai Chi. After an hour of stretching I head to school until 4pm, with a break for soup and noodles. At this point I treat myself to a fresh coconut, go swimming with my new friend for about an hour (Camille mon colloc – tu serais fier de moi, je krolle mieux que tous les Thailandais dans la piscine reunis), take the boat home, have a soup and some fresh fish, meat or veggies… and then Marie-Pierre and I practise massage together before I get to bed.

It’s exhausting! Massaging is very physical, and I spend most of time kneeling, which I am not super comfortable with. It’s crazy how fast my body adapted to it though, because I can now stay in that position for a couple of hours before my feet and legs start complaining. Also being massaged, especially the Thai way (I get walked on a lot, and poked constantly) makes the muscles specifically and the body in general react pretty strongly. I have aches and pains constantly… But swimming and walking around helps.

So I’m in bed by 10pm. It’s not very sexy but I don’t really mind… What is glamour though is that MP and myself are preparing a holiday! Some might say that I’m already on holiday, but my tight schedule would convince anyone that I’m working hard (right?) Anyway, we’re heading to Koh Phi Phi tomorrow after my exam or the next day. We’ll stay for a few days for sure, and then I’ll travel back to Bangkok or straight to Chang Mai on the plane.

What I’ve found out is that in Wat Po there is a therapy course, which is basically how to treat specific conditions (like tension headaches, period pain, low back pains, etc) with Thai massage, i.e. manual therapy. The course is intensive: 60 hours in 10 days and pretty expensive (250 Euros) but I think it would be worth it.
Also, I have learned the South Thailand massage, which is different to the Northern one. I won’t go into the usual North/South debate (even though North London is better than the South) but the Northern one was developped for the popular classes working the land, who spent their days bent over in the rice paddies. It focuses on the lower limbs and is mainly stretch based. It is easily usable on sportspeople who also tend to have tightened, shortened muscles.

Kneeling on someones ankles, not as easy as it looks (does it look easy?)

Kneeling on someone's ankles, not as easy as it looks (does it look easy?)

So tomorrow is Thai Massage Exam (a grilling done by 3 Thai teachers, and a 2 hour massage done on one of them), more swimming and then going to the beach. After that, probably heading to Chiang Mai to learn Northern style massage and/or heading to Bangkok to learn therapeutic use of Thai massage. There is a national holiday on November 5th, where a candle is lit into a lotus flower which is then delicately put on the water/river… If it floats, it brings lots of luck, and the best thing is you can put as many lotuses as you like! Lucky me 🙂

Anyway, everyone will be glad to know my intestines are in perfect working order, that it is raining like pissing cows this evening (another amazing thunderstorm, and a great French expression purposefully literraly translated) and that my mosquitoe repellent is very effective. Also, I am eating like a sumo. Tonight we went to a very Thai 99-Baht all you can eat fest, complete with cross-dresser singer, who treated us to at least 6 out of tune “happy birthday” tunes, thankfully with a selection of delicious meat, seafood and vegetables to grill on a table barbecue, cook in a hot soup or on a proper barbecue. I even got to see Brazil kick some Venezualian ass (4-0 when we left the place)
I have taken some photographs but don’t have my cable with me, so it will be for next time.

Life is good.


Filed under Bangkok, thailand