Tag Archives: medicine

Doaism and Hot Pot

I have been very busy, with a total change in my activities and lifestyle thanks to the arrival of my sister.

The Internship in the hospital went very well, I practised many different new techniques on fellow Chinese medical students and patients. My understanding of the human body was challenged more than once, and I take away an incredible experience.

I arranged to meet the Kung Fu master of my Tibetan teacher of all things Chinese from Lijiang (Yunnan). This man, master Liu, lives in the city which was devastated by an earthquake just under a year ago, at the foot of ChongChing Mountains (the most Chinese sounding mountain in the world). Legend has it that this mountain was the home of the first Daoist monk in China, some thousands of year ago.
Daoism is the main religion here in China, it is also a lifestyle, a way of life and a philosophy. All principles of Martial Arts, Confucianism, Feng Shui and even Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) are based on Dao (also spellt or pronounced Tao) which literally mean « The Way ».

Master Liu is the “Abbot” of Daoist martial art, which originate from this sacred mountain. There are 5 main types of Kung Fu and Tai Ji, such as Shaolin, Emei mountain and ChongChing. He is the keeper of this knowledge.

 I met the master, his wife and one of his students, a French Canadian fluent in the local Sichuanese dialect who was to be my translator.
After a tumultuous journey from Chengdu, the province’s capital, to the master’s home by train, bus and taxi, I was asked to show the form of Tai Chi Chuan I have learnt previously. I have learned the 24-movement form of Yang-style Tai Chi, which was derived from Chen-style and is now practised mainly by old people as a way of keeping fit.

It took me a couple of weeks to learn by heart the choreography and I have been practising everyday since. It had been less than 30 days since my introduction to this ancient martial art, and the Abbot of Daoist Tai Chi asked me to do a demonstration? Of course, I could not say no. So I started by apologising profusely!

I walked over to a small patio, sheltered by blooming lilacs, as the master, his wife, his student, the maid, the gardener and his young daughter watched me. I had just rushed from the hospital and I had not had time to change, the journey was taxing and I could hear my tummy complaining from the lack of lunch. The nearby road’s traffic sounds – car horns, loud trucks, buses stopping and starting – and my shaky legs prevented me from focusing on the task at hand. On top of that, my onlookers were commenting my every move and talking loudly.
I started my routine despite not managing to centre my wandering mind. I knew the first few steps of the demonstration and the first impression were of utmost importance and I realised I was not doing them justice. I could feel panic and worry affecting my whole body, so I forced myself to pay attention to my feet and my hands. I smelled the air and enjoyed the light fragrance of spring. I felt the warm sun filtering through the trees on my skin. I touched the air and the slight breeze. I felt the ground underneath my feet. And I continued, this time totally into what I was doing.
I found myself moving effortlessly from one position to another, despite not having warmed up and having been sat down in various transport commodities for the last few hours. I glided around, I kicked, and I punched in slow motion. My spectators finally quietened down; it seemed a few birds have replaced their incessant chatter.

I put my feet together and returned to my initial position. A few deep breaths were my vehicle back to reality. I smiled to myself, I felt relaxed and happy by my little demonstration. I turned to face my loving public who were clapping loudly, despite my lousy demonstration. As I sat down to drink my celebratory tea, I realised how deafening the traffic actually was and wandered how I could even hear any birds!
The master asked me, via the interpreter, how long I have practised for. He looked surprised by my answer and congratulated me.
I was so scared to show him what I had learned that I forgot how hard I have been working. I have been feeling very passionately about my newfound sport/hobby and have been practising daily. He was happy to see I have worked hard and enjoyed myself.
He decided to show me some basic techniques of his style of Tai Chi, which are said to mimic animal gestures.

 After a few hours of practise, his face lighted up. It was time for a “Hot Pot”, a Chinese fondue. It is a very popular dish here in China. You need:
–          a big round table with a hole in the middle containing a gas stove,
–          a large group of enthusiastic (and preferably rowdy) eaters,
–          copious amounts of beer and cigarettes for everyone to share,
–          a large amount of random foods,
–          and much tea.

The meal goes like this: whoever is inviting (and paying the bill) gets a menu, and chooses what the guests will eat. He (because it is generally a man!) also orders beer, spirits and cigarettes. Meanwhile, impeccably dressed young women serve tea to all those at the table. That night, it was about twenty of us; including 3 women.

 Everything on the table looked tiny: plates, bowls, cups, glasses and spoons (… even the people: I am at least a foot taller than any of them!). The large hole in the middle of the table was filled by a huge hot pot of boiling broth. It was divided in two sections: in one was clear broth and in the other was red broth: the soup made with plenty of chillies!
And the party began. All the small glasses were filled with beer, and we all clunk our glasses with the master. I drank a sip before replacing my glass on the table. All my neighbours did the same, except their glasses were empty by the time they touched the table. To be polite, one must down the first glass. I quickly rectified my mistake and the content was gulped down. My glass was promptly refilled.
Another toast! To our host! Cheers all around, everyone stood up. Yep, cheers to free food! Again we all down our glasses and slammed them back on the table. Again a refill.
A toast to the white people! My translator and myself clunk our glasses with everyone, and down yet again. I noticed that the Master is downing glass after glass of soy milk. A wise man indeed.
My last meal had been breakfast, I trained for hours in the sun and I started to feel dizzy. The master noticed and ordered the others to stop refilling my glass and offered me some soy milk. I accepted gladly.

We had so many different types of food I did not recognise, including local fresh fish, bits of animals we tend to not eat in the West (including chicken feet and marinated duck head) and even fresh water “sea food”. The crowd thought I was very bravo to try the foods and downed a glass for each piece of kidney, liver or unidentified animal part I ate. I gulped it down with soy mil, tea and the occasional glass of beer when the Master got distracted.
We ate for hours, as the food just kept arriving. All the guests but the Master and myself were completely off their faces. Most were now convinced that I could understand Chinese and spoke loudly to me.
After many “doi-doi-doi” and “ah-ah-ah” (both yes-yes-yes in Chinese) we finally left all our drunk friends and got ready for our early start tomorrow. What better time to study Tai Chi than 5am the following day.

A few days later, I flew to Shanghai to meet with my sister, leaving my backpacking lifestyle behind. She is in China for three weeks, two of which are a business trip and the other a holiday in Beijing with me.

Once we part ways, I will leave China and head over to Indonesia, to discover their ancient manual therapy and over there it will be easier to keep my blog updated.

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Search for Bush Medicine: Living in Beagle Bay

Beagle Bay is a small community of about 400 people, about 100 km of Broome, in Western Australia. One of the teachers at the local Primary School gives me a lift, after sunset on a rainy Tuesday evening. The beams of the car are not particularly well designed, as they do not seem to light the potholes, mud parts, corrugations or boggy terrains that we encounter on our 2 and a half hour journey. I was in the passenger seat, and in a good position to see we had absolutely no visibility. Our driver seem to guess the way, making last minute decisions about swerving right or left, changing tracks and going through major puddles (small lakes).

The dirt track to Beagle Bay, with the very helpful sign about halfway. In case you had not noticed before.

The dirt track to Beagle Bay, with the very helpful sign about halfway. In case you had not noticed before.

 As we got out of the car, I was shaking, but relieved to have made it, finally! It had not rained since we last attempted the road, and it was much drier than a few days previous. Over the next weeks, my objectives are to find out about the medical care within the community, and study the books of Chinese medicine I brought along with me.Beagle Bay was first established by a French Catholic priest, who rocked up on the beach at the end of the 19th Century. The local aboriginals, the Nyul Nyul, who were sick of people trying to colonize them, would have killed or scared the ghosts away (white people were thought to be ghosts!) if one of the elders had not had a vision… The aboriginals are always seen as a pacific, gentle-natured culture, but that was not always the case. There were many wars between the locals, and when the whites started invading their homeland bringing diseases and death, they retaliated by being very violent indeed.This elder was a wiseman and medicineman. He had a vision that the spirits would visit: a man and a beautiful woman. When the priest arrived on the beach, knelt down and prayed to a small figurine of the Virgin Mary, the elder stopped the young soldiers from attacking the beach. Mary was the spirit he had seen in his vision. The priest and his followers were welcome to the community and a big feast was organized.Over the years, the settlers learnt the Nyul Nyul language, and taught French and Latin to the locals (very helpful). They founded a school and started brainwashing the children…During the Great War, a handful of German Priests were in Beagle Bay. When the ever so Christian non-German priests decided to give them in and throw them in prison, they started building a Church to prove their goodness… Using only local materials, they decorated the inside with shells from the sea.

 

Beagle Bay Church - Il ny a pas un chien... ou presque

Beagle Bay Church - Il n'y a pas un chien... ou presque

 The problem with Catholic missionaries, is that they generally beat culture references out of people, and therefore medicinal knowledge tends to disappear, slowly but surely replaced by Western style medicine. Beagle Bay is no exception. My first night out, I socialize with the locals and some of the white teachers. The beer is flowing, as we munch on sushi, dugong stew and deep fried spring rolls. Bugsy plays Country Western music late into the night. The mix of cultures is exceptional. All the white people live in houses around the Church and School, and only 3 of them socialize with the locals. I have a fantastic evening laughingaway, singing along even and getting to know the local ways.
The night after, I meet the white fellas. Different ambiance altogether: here, everyone is whinging about school, getting back to work, the weather, etc. Some people ignore me, as I have not been formally introduced, and I am staying at an unmarried man’s house… What a disgrace!

As I meet and greet people during my first week, I get people to chat to me about the community and its health issues. Most aboriginals don’t want to talk about it. Thankfully, my host Greg facilitates the process by talking directly to those who trust him.

One of the teachers at the school knows Bush Medicine – remedies found in the Bush. We go on a small walkabout, and he talks me through trees, flowers, leaves, barks. This is used for treating colds. This is a contraceptive plant. This tree sap soothes toothache. These leaves in a tea bring sugar levels down. He is very open and happy to talk about a variety of conditions and remedies.
He shows me “bush tucker”: comestible plants one can survive on when in the Bush. How to recognize plants that show water is close to the surface. We also talk about black magic, sorcery and the like.
When we move to manual therapy, he is a bit uneasy. He knows someone who uses his hands to treat, he has seen it happen, but he does not have the gift. He explains that his grand father was a medicine man and healer, who died as his mother was heavily pregnant. My new friend was said to be a “spirit baby”, a form of reincarnation. When he was born, he was praised and treated with much respect. But as he developed, he did not develop any of the faculties his grand father had. He learned about Bush Medicine nonetheless, but later moved away from his family. When I approached this subject, he shut down a little. He had been a disappointment. He was not the spirit baby that his piers were waiting for.

He suggests a medicineman who lives further North on the Peninsula. Unfortunately, all the roads are closed, as there has been a lot of rain recently. Moreover, it is currently “Law” so he is not available.

LAW
This is man’s business: it is boy’s initiation. The boys go out in the outback with the medicine man and a few elders, and are taught basic Bush skills. How to find the right trees for making boomerangs, how to hunt and fish, how to fight, how to find food and water, and the stories of Dreamtime: the songs, legends and dances. At the end of Law, a big ceremony is organized when the boys return to their family. The feasts are said to be exceptional.

My new friend, his son and the traditional shield and ingraved pearl shell
My new friend, his son and the traditional shield and ingraved pearl shell

We talk some more, about my research and my personal quest. He tells me that unfortunately, there are very few “medicine women”, and that a traditional male medicine man could not tell me much about Bush medicine and healing, as he must keep it secret from others, especially women. Like many traditional societies, Aboriginals keep men and women separate. Their culture is based on survival, where each member of the family as their own role. Some hunt, others gathers. Some stay with the children and elders, other gather water. Some treat and heal, other tells stories and dance. They believe that each person has their own talent, and it is a lifelong quest to look for one’s talents and use them for the use of one’s own benefit and the families survival. That is why everything is shared: all food, water, stories, and nowadays: money.

The locals who have integrated into Western society then face a big dilemna: keep ties with their family and therefore distribute their wage, share their house and car; or cut away and make the most of our consumer society?
Most of them cannot keep their motivation, when they see that their money is transformed into alcohol, cigarettes and drugs. When they witness the fruit of their work destroying their family, many stop working and return to the government minimal indigenous income.
Others volunteer, give their art for free, or give all their money to the Church, as they do not want to have to deal with the family politics involved with earning a decent wage.
At the weekend, I indulged in the local past time: driving 4-wheel drives and fishing! A very rudimental “reel” and a huge hook with a piece of squid did the trick. We drove around for hours in dirt tracks (and yes, I mean in, rather than on!), clearing them before we could progress: trees, branches, logs impaired our expedition.
Learning to fish the local way
Learning to fish the local way

 Over the course of my stay, I met the local clinic manager, nurses, and locum rural general practitioners. Most of them told me there were many forms of Bush Medicine used in everyday life, especially using local plants, but most of them know nothing on manual therapy.
I was told that elder women helped the young mums in prenatal care and during delivery, but it stayed very vague. As a foreigner to the community, the locals did not have much trust in me, and suddenly forgot everything they knew. I did feel a little like a police person doing an investigation on terrible crimes, especially when the “witnesses” kept contradicting themselves, covering eachother and telling outrageous lies.

But I continued my research, and when I was downhearted, I studied even harder my books on Chinese Medicine. Of course, there is still amazing medicine out there, in the oldest culture in the world, but to find it, I would need at least 6 to 12 months of integration in a rural, faraway community before I could get straight answers to my questions. This time of the year, because of the Wet and the initiation, it is simply not possible. And what would I do for 6 months? I would go stir crazy just sitting around, and with my visa, I cannot work or even volunteer anywhere…

Onwards and upwards. I packed my bag, but left my disappointment behind. I met so many wonderful people, I shared incredible evenings, and worked hard on my books. It was time for me to go, and return to town.

Helping to prepare for the final ceremony of law
Helping to prepare for the final ceremony of law

I wanted to leave my mark… so I helped one of my new friends to prepare the boomerangs for the end of initiation. He chose the tree, made the object into its shape, and I got to paint and decorate it. This boomerang will be given to the boy -now a man- and he will cherish them for his whole life, as the symbol of his manhood. Never will he know that it was painted by a white woman! Haha!

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The search for Bush Medicine continues… Beagle Bay

After a week of driving, we have made it to Broome, WA.
As planned, and only to make the drive up from Perth less boring, we fed the wild dolphins off Shark Bay, snorkeled on Ningaloo Reef, camped in an eco-retreat in a national park, discovered the best kept secret in the Southern hemisphere: the gorges of Karijini, faced the biggest spiders in the world, broke down in the desert and drove on dirt roads.

Today, we had planned to drive our trustworthy 4×4 campervan on the dirt road from town to Beagle Bay, some 100km North. It is wet season at the moment, and it rains a lot… but the locals assured us the road was practicable.
So we engaged ourselves on the track, the girls back on the road with music blaring out of the grunty vehicle’s sound system. We were confident and felt elated, and I was exceptionally happy to be heading towards the aboriginal community I have been looking forward to visiting for over a year now.

That is exactly the moment it started raining. Just a drizzle at first. Nonetheless, the atmosphere in the camper changed. The music was turned off after we skidded across the path the first time.
Lauren, who was driving, held her breath as the wheels lost grip on the dirt. We came to a gentle halt. And resumed our breathing.
After a short stop, I jumped out the car to lock the front wheels and engage the four wheel drive. As we started up again, we tried to convince ourselves that we were still just as confident.
The road became more boggy as rain poured from the dark clouds overhead.
After a hill and a couple of turns, the heavens opened. A tropical thunderstorm as I had witnessed in South Thailand was upon us. At this point, the vehicles wheels lost any grip they may have had and Lauren lost all control. We slid sideways gently at first, and then faster as the red mud softened under our weight. Lauren swore as she attempted to regain control. We swerved the other way, and violently resumed our skidding. I held on to Sophie’s arm as we slid dangerously close to the ditch. In the back, our carefully stored bags fell down, the cupboards opened and the mattress on the top bunk fell onto the sink and fridge.
Then, as suddenly as it had started, we came to a halt and the rain coincidently stopped also.
We revved the engine up to move forward and attempt to park in a drier area. As we did, we noticed a car coming in the opposite direction.
I got out to stop them, and asked how the road looked like ahead. “It is much worse than here” was the unfortunate answer we had not wanted to hear.
They confirmed our suspicions, and shook all remaining confidence out of us. My legs were shaking as I climbed back up to my seat.
We decided to turn around and get back to town. It promptly started pouring down again. My wise words of wisdom were: “let’s get the **** out of here”. My two terrified friends agreed.
I jumped out again, this time equipped with my amazing hiking boots (who have now walked/hiked/trekked on 4 continents) and walked in the red mud to find a decent place to do a three point turn on. A spot of hard sand did the trick. I was drenched the second I got out of the cabin.

We were turning back, defeated by the appalling road condition and the disastrous weather, and shaken up by the sliding incident. We drove slowly in second gear, avoiding the gigantic puddles that had formed since it had started raining, all the way back to the tarmac road.

As I was manually unlocking the front wheels again, I faced my own disappointment. It was just not safe for us to continue, but I deeply regretted not being to get there. “So close, yet so far” as they say.

As we got back to town to check in for accommodation, Lauren and Sophie told me the best piece of news I had heard in a few days.
One of the teachers working in the local school is driving from town to the community, and would gladly take me along for the ride this Tuesday!
I will be able to go after all. Not sure how or when I’ll get back, but that’s not important right now.

I am delighted to say that I am continuing my journey of learning and discovery on Tuesday, where a local will drive me safely to Beagle Bay in their sturdy four wheel drive.
Once there, I will not have access to modern forms of communication such as telephone or email, and I don’t yet know how long I will be gone for.
But for sure I will update my blog as soon as I return to town.

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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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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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Rain, tropical storm and more rain…

I love the rain! I never thought I’d say this, but the tropical downpours here are beautiful. Here’s how it happens. During the day, the sky goes dim and the light drops. Then a very chilly wind starts to blow. Softly at first, then then a few strongs gusts, until it’s like a proper storm.
If you’re lucky, you’ll get to see a magnificent rainbow. The cold air gets more and more powerful, and as it does, it brings small droplets of water with it.
This is where you seek shelter. Quickly. In a few seconds, small droplets turn into proper power shower. The sound of the rain, the drops exploding on the ground, the roofs, the road is overwhelming. Conversations stop, motorbikes park, even 4x4s park on a hard surface, and wait.
The Thais are really good at waiting. It looks like they’re doing nothing, but actually they’re waiting. The science of waiting is not as easy one. If you lose your patience, you get soaked! So we wait. In silence. A few smiles.
And then it’s over. As quickly as it finished. All of a sudden the wind stops, the rain stops, and quiet returns. The silence is as deafening as the storm. There is a moment of stillness. People look around, smell the air, interpret the sounds and decide whether the wait is over.
At exactly the same moment, all activities start again. The birds sing, the motorbikes start, so do the cars, the staff at the hotel, the stray dogs… As if nothing has happened, except the 5cm of water covering all surfaces.

The good thing about the rain is that is freshens up everything. That’s why I’m enjoying so much. Feeling cold during the night, sleeping with my sleeping bag with no fan, simple pleasures after having spent the last couple of weeks drenched in my own sweat.
Moreover, all the tourists are deserting the island, as they flee the poor weather. Unfortunately, there is bad weather from Malaysia all the way to Myanmar and Vietnam. Not much hope for those in the middle on the islands of Thailand.

I have even more time with Baaw now. We scheduled two times one hour per day, as we both get tired from the one-on-one, and he needs to have time to massage the people who walk by. So when he does, I sit next to him and watch. Sometimes he’ll explain something to me, or show me a new technique that I’ll practise later. It is great observing him a few hours a day, as I get a sense of the wholeness of his techniques. One English tourist was complaining from her shoulders and neck. So he started with her back, spent 30 minutes on both her shoulders and neck, then worked hard on her arms, buttocks, legs… Then she flipped over and he focused on her abdomen, with special attention to all the important lines around her belly-button.
It was fantastic. She felt better, he gave her a 90-minute treatment to show me more ways of treating and I was glad to witness it all.

He also treated some rather overweight Swedish girls. As they left, he joked with our friend Rong (who I generally practise on) that these two girls were actually Swedish Anacondas. They burst out laughing, so I asked for an explanation as I obviously didn’t understand what they were on about.
“Anaconda, very skinny. But when Anaconda swallow a pig, then very fat! Same same!” They burst out laughing again, me smiling along with them. I inquired about what he thought these girls had eaten to have swollen up so much. “Cow. Them eat cow. No! Wait!” he could hardly talk he was laughing so much “Not one cow! Many cows!”
That’ll be Thai humour for you.

This morning, my teacher asked me for “the works”: a full body Thai massage “Baaw Style”. He said that I was to do it on him, so if I got it wrong, he could redirect me. He looked at me in the eyes and said that if the massage was bad, he would tell me; and if it was good, it would tell me also. I agreed. I haven’t had all that much feedback, so I was looking forward to it.

Over two and half hours later… I finished… Well, the techniques he taught me anyway. There’s a whole load of stretching and manipulation technique we haven’t touched yet.
So I start. I use coconut oil, which is made by his wife from fresh coconuts, and smells like a dream.
During the course of the treatment, I focused on his problem areas which are his left shoulder, the middle of his back and his sacro-iliac joints. Not working in my conventional way, I only used his ways and his methods from the sole of his feet to the top of his skull. “Toug Mai?” I asked when I was unsure of whether I was in the right place, he replies “Toug!” when I am, or he tells me to keep looking. When I find the right point on a line, he sighs in satisfaction.
As he opened his eyes, sat up, took a deep breath, he said “It was good massage”

So that’s the only feedback I was going to get? Don’t get me wrong, that makes me happy, but I need to know more detail what was good, not so good, bad… I’m a beginner, I need to know how to improve myself.

So he continued: “Your hands, they can find the pain. Your brain, it can remember the lines. Your mind, it can be focused on the massage. You can do good massage. If you do like this in your country, you very successful”

Wow. That’s something. Of course I don’t know all the lines, there are hundreds of them, but Baaw has taught be the main ones, and how to deal with each one. How to find the trigger points, how to treat the pain. And starting to learn how to diagnose with the lines. I can now feel something. And yesterday, I even felt a difference in several pulses we were palpating. I can feel I am progressing, and I also know there is still a long way to go.
My goal is not be to become a Thai massage practitioner – don’t tell Baaw this – but to integrate the Thai knowledge, especially of the lines and the holistic side of treatment, to my osteopathic practise. I still believe that my techniques are more efficient for the aches and pains we have in the West, and that people want to consult for. The Thai techniques will help my diagnosis, refine my palpation, treat more globally and think outside the box.

I am looking forward to continuing my path, and discover more about the art of Thai medicine. Soon, it will be time to say my Kop Khun Kahs and leave Baaw and Koh Lanta.

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One week to go…

Seven days before I board the plane, anticipation is building. I have trouble realising what’s happening, but it’s slowly sinking in.

Maybe it helps to wake up in my parents’ house, say goodbye to my friends, party the night away this coming Saturday, or maybe what I really need is to land in Bangkok’s unpronouncable international airport terminal to make this whole adventure feel true.

Saying goodbye is one of those terrible processes. I am personally absolutely ridden with guilt, thanks to:
– my Grandma who truly believes I am abandoning her,
– my patients who attempt to make me believe I am irreplaceable,
– my Mum who thinks I am running some great danger when I am far away from her,
– the taxman who can’t imagine why anyone would abandon their “situation” and go to another country for a while (ok that guy doesn’t make me feel guilty, strictly speaking!!)

But thanks to all those who truly support me, my project and my short hair; I feel I can go guiltfree. Well a little guilt maybe, but hopefully I’ll feel better once I’m there and actually find what I’m looking for. (Actually, the people who know about the “technical” bits will tell those who care to listen that the more you find out, the less you know. And yes, I am totally aware that I will only find more questions. Bring it on.)

I have given about half my worldly possessions to a charity, I am taking time to pack my backpack optimally and taking the least amount of stuff possible, my hair is so short it hardly ever needs a wash… Yep I feel like I’m ready for the adventure.

The Big Project. Out in Seven days on a blog near you.

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