The Samoeng Loop

Doing Thai Massage takes strength and stamina, and I revel in physical challenges to keep me in shape. Cycling is one of my great passions and I was able to indulge that passion in spades this weekend.

My big plan was to ride the 100 km Samoeng Loop road that circles around the Doi Sutep mountain range on Saturday. There is a 1400 metre elevation change with some serious switchbacks and steep ascents and descents, but I was feeling up to it. Not, however, with my single speed “Create” bicycle.

The road bike I was to pick up Friday night from NK bike rental just outside the southeast corner of the old city walls didn’t get back to the shop in time. So the owner rented me a great Trek road bike and even threw in his own cycling shoes which happened to be a perfect fit. This is very unusual, as finding a bike big enough for me wasn’t easy, and to find a bike shop owner with the same size feet was uncanny.

After I picked up the bike, I met Nicole and Kelly at “Cooking Love” restaurant Friday for THE best mango chicken curry with rice and a whole fish. Then Nicole and I went gallery hopping as part of Galleries’ Night, an event organized by the Chiang Mai Art Conversation (CAC). Studios, galleries, event spaces such at Thaphae East, art cafes, and others, hosted art and photography exhibits, open studios, documentary films, live music, and provided free food and beverages (including beer!) Friday and Saturday night. It was an amazing event that took me all over the city, over the two nights.

By 7:30 am Saturday morning I donned my Bike Dr. cycling gear and set off for the Samoeng loop. Within the first 90 minutes I had two flat tires! Fortunately, I had a pump and repair kit with me so all I lost was time.

It was a beautiful and challenging ride through the mountains with many places to stop. On the trip I took breaks at a great cafe, several look out spots, a small town for lunch, and at a strawberry farm. There were spectacular views that I stopped to look at whenever it was safe, or when I needed to give my butt a rest.

Total cycling time was about five hours, and the total trip time with all the flats and breaks was about seven and a half hours. When I got back into the city I had my favourite banana black sesame smoothy at Pun Pun, then headed home for a shower before going to the Lanna Health Spa for a massage. It was a perfect end to the cycle trip.

Then I spent the night cycling around the Galleries’ Night events, including a documentary screening on a roof top where jumbo jets from the CNX airport took off directly over our heads. I also came upon a rock concert I was able to watch from outside the fence for a bit (sold out crowd of 10,000 people!), and of course I ate and ate and ate.

One more day and I begin my five week course at TMC (Thai Massage School of Chiang Mai).

 

The Cutler Experience

While cycling around town I stumbled upon the perfect place to tame my increasingly wild hair. The Cutler Ensemble – A Vintage Barber for Men.

This is definitely the place for hipsters, artists, musicians, entrepreneurs, professionals, gentleman, and men of style in Chiang Mai. I felt like I was transported to another dimension really. And yes, I am describing a barbershop.

I enjoyed a cut and straight razor shave and met an articulate, young, bearded Norwegian entrepreneur in for a haircut and beard trim in the seat next to me. It was a wonderful experience, with a precision cut that employed two electric clippers and four different scissors. During my shave I had a face, head, and shoulder massage with hot and cold towels and all manor of great smelling soap, oil and cream, applied to my face.

I am SO excited because my stay in Chiang Mai is long enough that I can have another cut before I set off for home. An appointment at The Cutler is now at the top of my list for things to do when in Chiang Mai.

The Cutler Barber https://www.facebook.com/THECUTLERBARBER

To punctuate this great experience I took the advice of the owner and had lunch at Cerebrum and Friends Cafe across the street from The Cutler. Friendly service with great coffee and fresh, elegant salads and sandwiches in a super funky atmosphere made my day.

 

Tiggers have springs in their tails…

The wonderful thing about Tiggers, is Tiggers are wonderful things. Their tops are made out of rubber, their bottoms are made out of springs. They’re bouncy, trouncy, flouncy, pouncy, fun, fun, fun, fun, FUN!

On Sunday my friend Peter from the UK (we met two years ago here and he is the reason I am studying Thai Massage with David Lutt) invited me to join him and a few others for a three and a half hour movement training class led by an American named Chance at Huai Kaeo Arboretuma, a park close to Chiang Mai University.

Chance led us through a full body warm up, specific exercises to challenge our ability to move in different directional planes (such as sideways, twisting, and diagonally), strength training using body weight, a focus on supportive breathing, and ways of movement that brought up fear – like jumping sideways, or head on, over concrete barriers. I am happy to report that no bodies were bloodied during the workout.

And yes, I paid for this.

After Chance had us explore the role of fear on our movement, and witnessing me spring over the concrete barrier, he exclaimed the words that I used as the title of this posting. There was much laughter and smiling through this workout!

Some aspects of the training were very similar to things I do at Freedom Functional Fitness http://www.freedom in Saskatoon. The idea is that if you can challenge your body and mind in a safe, supportive, and playful environment you increase your vitality while strengthening and preparing yourself to adapt and meet the challenges you will face in your life. Done in community it increases our feeling of connection with others, enhancing our mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing.

I had the great pleasure to do partner work with a wonderful woman named Erica twice during our workout. Unfortunately, she strained her neck doing a very challenging core exercise, reminding me that it’s not always good to push too hard. However, Erica continued valiantly on and we had too much fun literally rolling over each other as a way to release tension held in our bodies and breath at the end of the workout.

After the workout the group shared great conversation over a wonderful brunch at “Rustic and Blue” where I also reserved my spot for a Farm Dinner on the banks of the Ping River with live music and a 5 course meal on February 6th. But more on that later.

All things on this adventure seem to feed into the theme, explored within David Lutt’s Dynamic and Osteothai workshops, of our capacity to move, play, and adapt as a determinant of our health.

So, move, play and be merry everyone. It appears to be good for you.

 

Extracurricular Activities

So for the last week, what does a Massage Therapist learning great new techniques and approaches to treating clients do outside school hours, besides practice?

Well, here is a list: Cycling the streets of Chiang Mai admiring the graffiti art, a Movement Training Session at Huai Kaeo Arboretuma (a park close to Chiang Mai University), acroyoga and slack lining in the Old City Park, a hike in Ob Khan National Park, listening to live music at the North Gate Jazz Club, drinks with friends at Rise, and CNX – roof top bars, late-late night Khao Soi (yellow coconut curry soup with crispy noodles and chicken) on the street before bed, early morning yoga (not necessarily after a late night) with Kam Thye Chow (former owner of Lotus Palm Thai Massage School in Montreal and supreme good guy!), evening at Ole Gourmet Mexican with live music at the venue Thaphae East, riding a moped with David to Doi Sutep, the Bhubing Palace gardens and for a swim in Hang Dong Quarry, and more Muay Thai Training at the Chiang Mai Muay Thai Gym.

And here are some pictures to prove it…

The Dancing Web of Adaptation – are your Spidey senses tingling?

It is hard to believe that the second David Lutt course, Osteothai is over. While the Dynamic Thai workshop was full of new approaches and techniques to the practice of Thai Massage, Osteothai was as much a focus on a conceptual framework for living and working well.

Osteopathy is a western wholistic manual therapy approach to healing. Many of its’ techniques are subtle and deeply relaxing, providing a safe environment for change in the body. Its’ approaches are backed by increasing research on the influence of the body’s fascial system, its’ effect on our immune system, and on our ability to adapt to our ever changing environment. It melds wonderfully with the practice of Thai Massage.

As a Massage and Thai Practitioner, my work is to assist in strengthening the body’s ability to adapt. It is natural for a healthy body to be constantly adapting to its’ environment. It is through movement that our bones, blood, fascia, muscles, joints, and organs acquires and strengthens this adaptability. Reduce your movement, or capacity to move, and you reduce the adaptability of all aspects of your physical, mental and spiritual being to maintain your health.

I now understand why David Lutt is in demand to teach his workshops all over the world (currently he teaches in France, Greece, Thailand, and Japan). David teaches not only about techniques, research, and knowledge, but about how the most important thing one can do to be a great practitioner is to work on oneself. In class we explored presence, attention, and intention within our work. We explored the role of our fascial web (thanks Spiderman!), and how embryology reveals the profound truth of how we are beings in motion constantly in relationship, consistently interdependent.

I was reminded of the power of Thai Massage’s compassionate, non-judgemental treatment approach. We work on people, not people’s conditions.

A restriction, or lack of mobility, is what stifles our body’s auto regulation, or our ability to adapt.  The greater our adaptability, the healthier we are. Life is movement.

So have fun out there and move about.

These two courses together are yet another springboard for an inspired practice I plan to return to Saskatoon with. I can’t wait to share it.

 

 

Movement, Rhythm, and Joy!

Friday was the last day of my first Thai Massage Workshop with David Lutt of France. The workshop was beyond my expectations in all ways. David’s teaching is grounded in a compassionate, practical, playful, and spiritual approach to Thai Massage. It was clearly evident to me that he lives what he teaches. He is masterful and so very joyful. His teaching assistants (from the U.S., Japan and Germany) were a fitting complement, as they skillfully assisted all twenty four of us in learning and practicing the techniques and art of Dynamic Thai Massage.

Dynamic Thai Massage is an inspiration of Ajahn Chaiyuth Priyasith’s Traditional Thai Massage, and an incorporation of Osteopathic principles and techniques. It gives an opportunity for the practitioner to be more fluid and creative while connecting to the water element of the body. It has been described as Perpetual Movement Poetry.

The experience I had with the other students in this workshop has already brought a profound shift to my understanding and practice of Thai Massage. It has also filled me with a sense of awe about how easily and deeply we can compassionately connect with people around us to bring great meaning and joy to our lives. I didn’t think I could be any more excited about my life and the work I do in Thai Massage, but I was mistaken. I can’t wait to bring this new approach to my work with clients in Saskatoon.

It was fitting that to celebrate this wonderful workshop with my classmates, we began Friday evening with an incredibly inspiring event put on by Documentary Arts Asia (DAA’s). The DAA is a non-profit organization for advancing visual literacy and supporting documentary artists in Asia. The event happened in a green space occupied by Pun Pun Market and Restaurant, Two Revolutions Cycle Shop, and the DAA. The market is an organic food store and restaurant serving some of the finest and healthiest food in the city, with produce and organic meat supplied by Pun Pun Farm http://www.punpunthailand.org/index.html. Two Revolutions Cycle is a community bike shop where you can go to repair your bike, get local cycling advice, and information on cycling events https://www.facebook.com/TwoRevolutions.

This was the 4th anniversary celebration of the DAA which included an indoor and outdoor photo exhibit, as well as a screening of Chintan Ghoul’s joyful documentary film “Pun Pun Farm, and A Philosophy for Life” about the organic farm Pun Pun just outside Chiang Mai. You can watch the 19 minute documentary here: https://vimeo.com/117770298

Then it was off to Riverside Restaurant to meet up with Peter who I met here in Chiang Mai two years ago, and who was the one who introduced me to David Lutt’s work. From there it was off to The White Swan Burmese restaurant near Tha Phae Gate to meet up with more classmates, then to the Roots Rock Reggae Bar for a night of dancing. We had to put all that fluid movement poetry to work after a week of Dynamic Thai!

 

Kombucha

I love kombucha, a fermented tea beverage, and began buying it from Dad’s and Herbs N Health in Saskatoon several years ago. Eventually I ended up drinking it so much (daily in fact) that I decided to make it myself, to avoid taking out loans to pay for my addiction.

Here in Chiang Mai at Tip Top I met another Canadian who came to Chiang Mai to write a novel. To improve his health after a bout of food poisoning, he decided to try fermenting tea to make kombucha. He inspired me to do the same since I am here for 8 weeks.

I am excited to try my first batch of kombucha. When it’s ready, I will decant it into different bottles and flavour it after it’s first fermentation with different fruits such as passion fruit, mango, and kaffir lime leaves. For those who don’t know about the great taste and health benefits of kombucha it is well worth buying some at a health food store to see if you like it. It is hard to describe the taste, but a movie I watched once had an hilarious, if not appropriate description of it, as a slightly sweet, sparkling vinaigrette.

Kombucha is made by brewing a batch of sweet tea, adding either a touch of cider vinegar, or an amount of kombucha from a paste batch, and placing the “mother” or “SCOBY” (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) to float atop the tea in a glass vessel. A week or so later the SCOBY has transformed the sweet tea into a slightly sweet, vinegary, effervescent drink full of B-vitamins, antioxidants, glucaric acids, and beneficial bacteria.

Kombucha has been shown to boost the immune system, support body detoxification, improve joint health, and aid in digestion and gut health. You can read up more on it’s effects here http://www.foodrenegade.com/kombucha-health-benefits/

For a clear and simple instructions on how to make Kombucha yourself I recommend this site: http://www.culturesforhealth.com/how-to-make-kombucha

A compelling and fascinating read on how to ferment just about anything and the benefits on our minds, body and spirit, I recommend Sandor Ellix Katz’s book “The Art of Fermentation.” This fermenting bible (thanks for that gift Shaun!) is why my partner Shaun and I have several ongoing ferments in the house such as kefir, yoghurt, sauerkraut, kombucha, and kimchi.

In Chiang Mai, I went to Baan Suan Pak health food store just north of the old city to get my SCOBY. For anyone that comes to the store wanting to make kombucha for their first time in Chiang Mai, they receive a free SCOBY. Then you can buy your vessel and anything else you need for fermenting from them.

If you are interested in making kombucha yourself, you may be able to find a SCOBY in a health food store where you live, from a fellow fermenter in your neighbourhood who will always have SCOBY to share (it just keeps growing and growing – remember this is a living organism and way more fun to keep alive than a Tamagotchi), or go onto Facebook and search for a fermentation group in your area. In Saskatoon that would be at https://m.facebook.com/groups/523009037840303

Here’s to your health!

The Magic of Chiang Mai

So much has happened in the six days since I arrived in Chiang Mai, Thailand. I am so grateful for this opportunity to study Thai Massage in Thailand and for the relationships with people and communities that nurture my spirit and bring such great joy to my life.

I have to put out a special thanks to my massage clients for being a constant inspiration to me. If it wasn’t for you I wouldn’t be here today. And so it is my mission to soak up as much Thai Massage Goodness as I can to bring back home to you.

I arrived in Chiang Mai Thursday night last week after over 24 hours of flying, and had a restful sleep at my guesthouse, Tip Top Thai House. I met with owners Jan and Noo of the Thai Massage School of Chiang Mai (TMC) the next morning to discuss their upcoming conference, their new alumni program, and plans for a study tour that I may lead with practitioners from Canada to TMC here in Chiang Mai. All very exciting. I will be attending their teacher training course for the last five weeks of my stay here.

Then the three of us went for lunch at Ohkajhu, a great restaurant nearby the school. This is truly “Farm to Table” eating, as they grow food for the kitchen in their fields around the restaurant.

Two years ago I bought a bike and left it at Tip Top Thai House where I was staying within the one square mile that is the old city. Chiang Mai’s old city is surrounded by the crumbling ruins of the ancient walls that surrounded it and four gates facing North, South, East and West. Outside the wall is the water moat and outside that, Chiang Mai expands outward. A population of 1.5 million people live in Chiang Mai and it has over 300 buddhist temples. On Saturday I washed my bike, cleaned the chain, put on new break pads, bought a new helmut, front light and lock (the lock’s key was lost so we had to cut it off), and I was set to pedal around this wonderful city.

Cycling has become very big in Chiang Mai over the last two years. Next door to Tip Top, Thai owner Yaowadee runs the organic restaurant the Birds Nest Cafe (and a bit further outside the old city, Ole, a great Mexican restaurant). She and a group of friends are big supporters of all things to do with bicycling in Chiang Mai.

I bought groceries (I have a small fridge in my room and use of the traditional outdoor Thai style kitchen at the guesthouse), registered for my Dynamic and Osteo Thai workshops at Sunshine Massage School that began on Monday, and had the smoothest and MOST beautiful latte of my life at Ristr8to Coffee Lab in the trendy Nimmanhaemin area of Chiang Mai. This coffee bar has won numerous international barista awards for its coffee and coffee art.

A great new gym called the Chiang Mai Muay Thai Gym opened up 6 months ago. I stumbled upon it Saturday in my cycling travels only a block and a half away from Tip Top. But more on that later.

On Sunday I cycled to the Tha Phae Gate on the east side of the old city to meet the Sunday Cycling Club. I had no idea what to expect. And was I surprised! The group was formed 20 years ago by a specific Chiang Mai police station. University professors soon populated the group and to this day the influence of these two groups are still evident. However, now it is definitely more mixed in age, sex, profession, and ethnicity. The majority of riders are Thai and there is always a small and dedicated number of foreigners. It is more of a social group than a “fast” riding group, although my ride back with a smaller number of riders was a great workout.

By the time we left the East Gate we were over 50 riders! We cycled through busy main streets to get out of the city and travelled south into the countryside to visit a temple (Wat) where we all sat for prayers and offerings. Then we visited a local handmade soap shop where I couldn’t resist buying a few exotic bars for home. They had a delicious VERY blue drink to quench our thirst (this is the cool season in Chiang Mai where it is 30+ degrees during the day and around 15 at night). The drink is made by steeping the blue Butterfly Pea Flower in hot water, straining, and adding honey over ice. If you add lemon juice you can watch this blue drink turn violet. It is great fun to watch.

Next we cycled to a small village where we ate a New Year’s lunch at a former school turned community events centre, and were entertained by our fellow cyclists singing karaoke in Thai! The cost of this delicious lunch was 100 baht, 30 baht of which went directly to the new school’s fundraiser. The Canadian dollar is about 25 baht to the dollar, so it was just under $4.oo for lunch. To get to this final destination we had cycled over 40km.

After lunch I rode with a smaller and decidedly faster group of cyclists on the way back to Chiang Mai and we passed through a wonderful wood carving area just outside Chiang Mai. We stopped for a coffee here and chatted about potential cycling trips I could plan to do while here, as well as about the lives of these men, mostly expats now living in Chiang Mai. I also had a great conversation with Paddy from Ireland, on vacation from studies in Physical Therapy in Ireland. Then we followed the Ping river on our return to Chiang Mai.

Then it was the Sunday Walking Market where thousands of people walk the main street of the old city for arts, crafts, massage, food and more.

Monday I began my first Thai Massage workshop with David Lutt of France. I get up around 6:00 – 6:30 am, get ready, cycle to the Eco Resort where the first workshop is being held, and do yoga from 7 – 8 am. Then Jenny (from Canada now living in Chiang Mai) and I do some acroyoga. The only place I have ever done acroyoga is in Chiang Mai. Jenny has been so great taking me through both flying and basing poses and movements. Then we eat breakfast and are in class from 9 am to 4:30 pm with a break for lunch mid day.

We have 24 people in the workshop with three fantastic teaching assistants. Participants come from the U.S., the UK, Canada, Russia, Poland, Germany, France, Thailand, Italy, and Japan. It is an incredible group of people to learn with. David’s wife Dao and their young son often come to class later in the afternoon. Their son isn’t quite at the walking stage yet but he has a wickedly sweet smile, can wiggle his hips (to the music and chanting we do each morning and afternoon) and his giggling can get the whole room laughing.

The work I am learning is amazing and many of my massage clients dance through my head as I learn different techniques and think, “Oh! They are going to LOVE this!” Dynamic Thai Massage is a combination of rhythmic, rocking motions working into the stretches and pressure point work, amplifying the dance of Thai Massage. Dynamic Thai is also melding with all the fascial research findings, theory, and techniques I have been learning and using over the last several years of my practice both on and off the table.

Not only is this workshop creating stunning mental fireworks in my head with each new connection, but it is resonating in my body as I soak up the treatments we give and receive each day. I LOVE my job.

The beauty of travel and workshops such as this, is that you make new friendships so quickly and so deeply. We are planning hikes into the mountains, nights out at restaurants and music venues, and more.  The other thing about travel is it demonstrates how connected our world is. It amplifies the joy of living when you realize how easy it really can be to connect with others half a world away.

Near the end of 2015 in Saskatoon the daughter of a massage client visited her from the U.S.. Her daughter received her first Thai Massage from me at Broadway Health Collective. It was a wonderful experience and she asked me if I knew anyone in her city in the States she could go to. I didn’t, but said I would try and find one for her. On the second day of class, I partnered with Mary, a Thai Practitioner from the same city as my client’s daughter! Mary was a wonderful learning partner and I was able to put the two of them in contact for Thai Massage once Mary returns to the States from Chiang Mai in February.

An article and a TED talk came into my inbox this week on how the quality of one’s relationships is the most important determinant of an individual’s happiness, quality of life, and health. I would highly recommend you read the first and watch the second.

http://www.care2.com/greenliving/the-surprising-health-factor-thats-as-important-as-diet-exercise.html

And finally I just have to mention that once again the magic of Chiang Mai has lured me to try something I would never have dreamt I’d do – boxing. I joined the Chiang Mai Muay Thai Gym! On the first day, during skills training, I gave the trainers a good belly laugh. Supposedly I learned the kick super fast, which is usually the hardest to pick up. My punch however, included a hip thrust that caused my trainer Bang to exclaim in a fit of laughter, “hips too sexy!” Once I don’t look totally ridiculous I may include a picture of myself in the ring. Until then, these pictures of the gym and by boxing buddies will have to do.

I put a quote up as the tag line to my blog before I left home that reads, “all journey have secret destinations of which the traveller is unaware,”and this has already been my experience within my first few days. There is no telling what experiences and stories this eight weeks will bring…