Final Day ~ Practical Exam and Graduation

Friday was my last day of school. That came up so quickly! Our class had our practical exam and then our graduation in the afternoon. The staff at TMC put together an amazing program. We had flowers, beverages (passionfruit juice – my favourite!), and an amazing spread of home-made food. Dessert included mulberry crumble and fresh coconut ice cream. This country really knows how to do food.

It was an emotional goodbye for many of us who are leaving now over the next few days. As well, a few of our classmates are continuing on with the 10 and even 20 week programs here at TMC. We have all become very close over the last five weeks and really enjoyed each other’s company. We had 16 people for a Ping River dinner cruise on the Riverside Restaurant boat. It was the perfect way to end our time together sharing stories and food, and romanced by the ambiance of the Ping River that runs through Chiang Mai.

Tomorrow I begin my long journey back home after attending my first Chiang Mai Football Club game at the 700 Year Stadium. A group of us are attending this soccer match, making the most of every moment of our time here. After the game, I fly from Chiang Mai to Seoul for a 13 hour layover, then to Vancouver for a 6 hour layover, and finally to Saskatoon. I am looking forward to getting back home and bringing all this inspiration to my practice. Oh, and for a bit of a rest!

Here is a selection of pictures from my last few days in Chiang Mai.

Hammer Massage and Foot-on-Fire, Step on Massage

This trip has been an endless parade of learning experiences and adventures. And my last couple of days at TMC, Wednesday and Thursday this week, have just kept on delivering.

On Wednesday we travelled over an hour south of Chiang Mai to a temple in Lampoon Province. There we learned Tok Sen and experienced a Yam Khan treatment from Phor Mor Tananan Fainanta. Tok Sen is “Hammer Massage” and Yam Khan is “Foot-on-Fire, Step On Massage.”  

Phor Mor Tananan learned Thai Traditional Medicine from his grandfather and is one of the last remaining Thai Medicine Doctors “Phor Mor” in the province who still practices this art. He is also an instructor for the Thai Traditional Medicine departments at the Universities of Lampoon and Chiang Rai.

Before the teaching began, our group made an offering to Phor Mor Tananan in front of the Buddha Statue in an open air, covered structure atop a hill, overlooking the countryside and the mountains to the west.

The morning teaching began with Tok Sen. In Tok Sen, a wooden peg is placed on the body atop a sen line, and pressure points along these lines (energy lines), and tapped repeatedly with a wooden mallet “musically” as it is moved over the body. The vibration from the hammering moves through your body creating a most wonderful, relaxation response. Each of the wooden pieces is inscribed with a healing mantra which the practitioner is to recite silently as they hammer the sen lines over the head, neck, shoulders, back, legs, and feet. Phor Mor Tananan demonstrated and we spent the morning practicing our Tok Sen on each other while he came around to correct and refine our technique. His young grand-daughter has also been trained in this technique and assisted with the demonstrations, corrections, and treatments.

In the afternoon we experienced Yam Khan, a “Foot-on-Fire, Step On Massage” treatment. Phor Mor Tananan lit charcoal in a pot and partially covered it with an old metal plow blade. The pot rested next to the treatment mat, along with two containers. One container held a mixture of water, herbs, and oil and the other held a mixture of oils only. He would dip his foot into the water and touch the flat of the hot plow blade, then lean on his crooked staff as he rubbed his hot foot over our back, legs, or arms. Then he would dip his foot into the oil and when he touched his foot to the plow blade a great burst of fire shot up from the blade. He then used his toes, the ball of his foot and his heel to dig into tight, resistant muscles and blockages. At the beginning of my treatment his foot felt very hot but as the massage continued it just felt pleasantly warm with the soothing oil, and pressure from his foot, melting away the tension. He used his wonderfully crooked cane as a support, using his body weight to lean into me with his foot. Earlier in our TMC course we had learned how to do the Step On Massage, but without the “Foot-on-Fire.”

Whether it is lighting a staff and poi balls on fire at Circus School, experiencing a “foot on fire” massage from Phor Mor Tananan, or simply living in the heat that is Chiang Mai in March and April, I feel like I have definitely been travelling on a fire-themed journey.

At the end of the day before heading back to Chiang Mai, Phor Mor Tananan chose a peg and hammer for me that will be my healing tools for Tok Sen when I return home. Now, I know that not all of my clients may want to try the hammer treatment, but I do know many will be curious to try it at least once. And there are a few clients (and you know who you are) that I know will be smiling from ear to ear right now, and will be “pounding” down my door to be hammered. And I will be happy to oblige!

I also plan on doing Step On Massage (without my feet on fire by the way) once I have had a staff made that I will use as my support.

Today, Thursday, we journeyed an hour north of the city to a facility that trains mentally and physically challenged youth and young adults in vocational work. Our class had the opportunity to provide massage to some of the residents and staff at the facility. It was a wonderful experience for us all, with many smiles and thanks exchanged. These field trips have been an invaluable professional and cultural experience for us all.

It is hard to believe but there is only one more day left and my five week training comes to an end.

 

I just can’t get enough of school!

Not only do I get to go to school five days a week learning Thai Massage theory, planning, and techniques, but the weekend before last a group of TMC classmates and I took a minivan to Pai, a town in the mountains north of Chiang Mai, to attend the Pai Circus School.

The Road to Pai (pronounced Pie) is a winding road of steep switch backs up and down the mountain with a reputation of making tourists sick to their stomachs. Pai is small town with great cafes, restaurants, shops, and a reputation for a place to chill out and relax. It was great to get outside the city during this hot weekend.

We stayed in dormitory style huts, literally hung out in the hammocks, and practiced circus tricks from 3- 8 pm. The collection of people that congregated on this hillside location overlooking the town of Pai represented every corner of the globe. We learned the basics of staff spinning, poi balls, the slack line, and stilt walking. As the sun began to go down we chowed down on a delicious meal with our teachers (a couple of young, shirtless travellers from other parts of the world who just oozed circus skills with a chill out vibe). We watched the sun set dramatically over the mountains amongst the clouds and then there was FIRE!

Yes with just an afternoon of training, we dipped our poi balls and staffs into paraffin fuel and lit them on fire. Of course we had the requisite safety talk first. The talk consisted mainly of telling us how safe the paraffin fuel was and how hard it really is to burn yourself. This came from one of our instructors with burn marks down the side of his body. He used the wrong fuel he said – let him be a warning to us – be sure to use paraffin not standard gas or other fuels. Good advice. Check.

We were instructed that if we mishandled the staff or poi balls during our turn, the best thing was to drop them and run. I figured that was sound advice. If by chance we wrapped the poi balls around an arm or leg, it was best to use your hand to quickly unwrap it, not panic and freeze. We would need to fight the instinct to not touch something on fire – the only way to loosen it was to remove it my hand, and the less time it is contact with any skin, the better. If we smacked ourselves in the head, we were told it is best not to have product in your hair. Hair isn’t so flammable unless it is full of gel and hairspray. So with that as our guide, each of us took turns in the fire circle at the edge of the hillside with Pai and the moon as our backdrop, to put on our show for the others we had spent the afternoon acquiring our new skills with.

We all encouraged each other, clapping, ooing, ahhing, and shouting. Some were fearful of the fire at first but everyone eventually took their turn, overcame their fear, and even went back to do more than one show! Nothing like twirling fire around your body to build confidence! A few of us hit ourselves, but the worst marks that were left on us were black soot marks. It really was hard to burn yourself. But hey, don’t try this at home without proper instruction just because you read it here.

After our fire show, many of us walked into town and ended up at the Rasta Bar for live music and a celebratory drink (or two) in celebration of our new skills and the fact that no one got burned. Later in the evening a group of local fire spinners/twirlers put on A MOST AMAZING show for us. It turned into a party that lasted all night. The next day we did manage to get ourselves back to Chiang Mai by late Sunday in order to be at Thai Massage school Monday morning.

Yet another skill learned in Thailand. I plan on setting up a slack line in my backyard when I return home to continue practicing. In only a day I was able to walk the length of the line, walk backwards and even turn around on the slack line. However, I don’t have plans of adding fire spinning as a technique within my Thai Massage.

Yet.

Songkran, The Thai New Year

BKK-Songkran-Festival-250

Songkran is the Thai New Year’s Festival that focuses on family, religion, and a cleansing, in preparation for a new year. But it wouldn’t be complete without the city wide water fight that Chiang Mai is famous for. And tourists are a BIG target. More on that later…

The Wats (temples) here in Chiang Mai have been preparing all week for Songkran. Thai’s and foreigners alike offer alms to the monks, visit Buddhist temples, cleanse, and give offerings to the Buddha. Within the temples are built sand pyramid images. Decorations of flowers and flags bring even more colour and beauty to this amazing city. A parade will take place for hours along the Night Walking Market Road through the heart of the Old City this Sunday.

This is a time for Thai families to come together honouring and giving thanks to their elders. Our TMC class went to a senior’s centre today to give massage to the residents and staff. Prior to the massage we watched a resident perform three traditional dances before we were a part of a ceremony. We gave and received a jasmine garland, offered the seniors holy water (which they dipped their fingers in and splashed us with as a blessing), and then as a final offering we gave them a sweet snack. Few of the seniors spoke english, and fewer of us could speak Thai, so many smiles and thumbs up were exchanged. Some massage receivers slept, some chatted amongst themselves, some chatted with us, or even on their cell phones (we are the same the world over) and we all had a wonderful day.

After lunch our group went for coffee at a local cafe that could have been a cafe at home. It was located on the Ping River right beside the famous Chiang Mai Iron Bridge. I had to give my head a shake as I could have been in Saskatoon! Just look at these photos of the bridge in Chiang Mai! This bridge is even narrower than ours and is listed on every tourist map of Chiang Mai. Artists paint this famous bridge, and post cards of monks walking across this bridge make wonderful souvenirs.

Now come on Saskatoon, we really need to save our bridge…

Songkran festival would not be complete without the water fight. Our teachers had warned us to bring our water guns to the senior centre. In the afternoon when our truck (full of foreigners) returned to the Old City, we would be a BIG target. Armed with water guns and water bottles, we turned on each other before even getting in our two trucks that would take us back to our guest houses. After a day of massaging seniors in the heat of the day (39 degrees) it was a welcome reprieve to feel cool and wet!

As our two trucks wove through the traffic slowing and sometimes stopping, we exchanged water fire between us with great bursts of laughter and shrieking! But the best was yet to come. Once we reached the walls of the Old City the streets were lined with Thais and tourists alike holding massive water guns and BUCKETS of water. We were no match for this kind of water power and soon found ourselves completely soaked. Good thing we had been given plastic bags to put our valuables in. This will be our very wet lives for the next four to five days.

You won’t find me leaving home without my water pistol and water proof pouch. I LOVE this city!

Happy Songkran everyone!

April 13- 15

Thai Herbal Ball Therapy

 

The dried herbal ball ready for export.
The dried herbal ball ready for export.

 

I had been looking forward to Friday all week. This was the day we learned what Thai herbs went into an herbal ball, how to prepare and mix the herbs to make a fresh herbal ball, and finally how to use them within a treatment.

Our class met in the main entrance area of TMC where the teachers had prepared the herbs and cloths we would use to wrap the prepared herbs. They had measured how much of each herb we needed so each of us would have one Thai Herbal Ball to use in the afternoon to massage each other.

Our teacher Na learned about the herbs and their properties from her mother who has a business supplying and selling the herbs required in both fresh and dried herbal balls. In Canada we only have access to dried herbal balls as the fresh ingredients used in Thailand are not available. The only difference between them is that the dried herbal balls need to be soaked before they are steamed when used in the massage.

We breathed in each herb, touched them, and sometimes rubbed them on our skin. Here is a list of the herbs and their properties:

* Plai is a rhizome like ginger but is a, kinder gentler alternative that has anti-inflammatory properties for skin and muscles. Unlike ginger or galangal, plia is not used in Thai cooking.

* Lemon Grass helps remove toxins and is anti fungal, anti-bacterial, and relieves indigestion.

* Kaffir Lime is an antiseptic, is relaxing, detoxifying, and improves skin conditions. It is used in Thailand as a natural hair shampoo and conditioner as well. I am using it here and love what it does for my hair as well as how it smells.

* Tamarind Leaves are cleansing, anti-bacterial, and stimulate digestion. The tamarind fruit is one of my favourite snacks here.

* Tumeric is a rhizome but it is smaller than ginger and a bright yellow/orange in colour with an earthy smell. It is used to soften skin, and improve complexion, as well as being used on minor cuts or abrasions.

* Rock Salt is used as an anti-inflammatory and to draw the oils out of the fresh herbs so they can be absorbed by the skin.

* Camphor is an antiseptic and is used to enhance the aroma and absorption of the essential oils from the herbs.

The rest of the morning was spent chopping, peeling limes, and stripping tamarind leaves from their stems.  Then the plia, lemongrass, lime rinds, turmeric, and leaves were pounded with a mortar and pestle to release their essential oils. We only had a few minor close calls with the knives, and a good dose of blisters from the time spent at this task. Once prepared, we mixed the herbs together with the salt and camphor. The aroma of freshly cut herbs being pounded in the mortars was intoxicating. Just the smell of these herbal balls made me relax and we hadn’t even started doing the massage with them yet.

Once the herbs were mixed we opened up our cotton cloths and placed two cups of the mixture in the centre. The we gathered up the four edges of the cloth and pulled on the corners tightly, and repeatedly, to form a tight circular ball. Next we tied a string around the base of the ball and up the folded ends to create a handle. We were done forming the herbal balls and it was lunch so off we went to the market. When we returned, we would begin the massage.

Over lunch the herbal balls were placed in a steamer to heat them and allow the oils to be released further. It smelt good enough to eat! Then we were shown techniques to use with the herbal balls during the massage. As we massaged each other the bright yellow/orange oils and their combined fragrance were released from the herbal balls. Our skin and muscles soaked it up, gaining the benefit of their combined properties and the aroma sent us all into a deep relaxation. We were definitely mellow yellow!

I loved the smell, and the warmth from the herbal balls. The unique techniques used to press, stretch, and move over skin and into muscle were very effective in releasing tension, increasing circulation, and easing tired, achey joints. Some of my favourite areas where we used the herbal balls were on the abdomen, buttocks, back, and hip flexors. After this one treatment some achieness I had in my lower back and right gluteus was gone.

I plan to add Herbal Ball Therapy to my practice once I am home. If you are a client reading this, watch for information on when I will be adding this as an option. Making an Herbal Ball appointment will be available through on-line booking as well. I also want to source local herbs to make a fresh herbal ball from local ingredients that would be uniquely Saskatchewan; Prairie Herbal Ball Therapy.

Well, today is Monday for me and we begin a week of practicing all the different skills we have learned to date as well as going on several field trips that I will be writing about later in the week. We are also preparing for Songkran, the Thai New Year and Buddhist Festival, which begins this weekend. In Chiang Mai I hear it turns into a city wide water fight. Now that is may kind of Festival! But that my friends, is another blog post…

 

Week Three, Day Two of Thai Massage

Last Friday each of us gave another classmate a two hour full body massage using all the techniques we had learned to date. Our instructors (Khru in Thai) observed, evaluated, and gave us feedback on our stance, technique, ability to remember sequences, and flow. I felt great about how it all came together for me after the first two weeks and received some valuable feedback. Week two accomplished!

I have been so looking forward to week three as it’s focus is on therapeutic application of Thai Massage for conditions associated with the knee, ankle sprains and strains, shoulder issues, dizziness, fatigue, nervousness, neck stiffness, headache, menstrual cramps (the treatment for which has been a big favourite amongst us all – and really, there is no need to wait for menstrual cramps to do this series!), arm stiffness, numbness, or weakness, and indigestion. After only two days there is already so much I can see using with my clients back home. Over the next few days we will be focusing on treatment for constipation, leg pain, lower back and other back issues, and the making of and application of thai herbal ball therapy.

I am so excited about the herbal ball, that I am sure one posting will be on that entirely. I plan to add thai herbal ball treatment to my practice at home.

One of my favourite new abdominal treatments (both to give and receive) is the use of a tightly rolled up cloth applied to the belly and slowly unrolled as you press in and down with your forearm. The combination of the softness of the cloth and the strength of the broad pressure applied with the forearm, provides a unique, effective and oh so pleasurable sense of calm and relaxation. It is a great way to reduce tension and stress.

Tonight a group of us met at the Bird’s Nest Cafe, an organic restaurant next to my guest house. We had a great dinner and discussed plans for our dinner party at Ben’s Thursday night. Ben took possession of his apartment this weekend as he is staying in Chiang Mai until August. We are each bringing a dish, and considering all the countries we represent, this is promising to be a fabulous feast.

Really, isn’t life all about great company, food, and massage?!

Then, I cycled to the Night Bazaar and Ton Lamyai Flower Market. I wanted to check out what I should bring for Ben’s housewarming party on Thursday and thought it would also be nice to bring some flowers to school for my teachers. Not that I am sucking up or anything…

Here are some photos of the flowers. The orchids I bought for my room cost 30 baht or about $1.oo. So beautiful.