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…