NHPC Thai Massage Study Tour

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For the last portion of my trip to Thailand I remained in Chiang Mai as a host for 12 Massage Therapists from the Natural Health Practitioners of Canada (NHPC). They arrived over the weekend of the Flower Festival which gave us time to explore the city before they began learning their Level 1&2 Thai Massage at the Thai Massage School of Chiang Mai (TMC). From Monday to Friday and then Monday to Wednesday of the following week the group spent all day at TMC devoting their time to learning Thai Massage. My responsibility was to deal with any issues that might arise, and arrange the social, cultural, and food experiences that would help them all fall as deeply in love with Chiang Mai as I have.

My days were spent organizing extra excursions for the group with Kan our fantastic travel agent from Northern Trek here in Chiang Mai, making transportation and payment arrangements, communicating with Shingai at our head office in Edmonton, and then meeting up with friends and exploring other areas in and around Chiang Mai. I liked to joke saying I was sacrificing my time for the group doing research on whether these areas I was exploring would be suitable for the group to take in.

Several flight issues made for a challenging start to their adventure. Despite the fact that most didn’t know each other prior to this trip, they searched each other out on their flights and helped each other, ensuring that every one of them made it to Chiang Mai. For me it meant a day of going back and forth from the airport to our hotel, Le Meridien, to greet them and get them settled. I had a great time in the flower market that morning buying orchids as welcome gifts for each of them.

The next morning we met for breakfast in the hotel to go over our schedule of events and decide on what things we’d like to do in the free time we had between or planned activities of school, a visit to the Elephant Nature Park, and a Thai Cooking Class. It was obvious to me at breakfast that this would be a fun group to host and gave me plenty to organize and plan over the week.

We left for a walk through the streets of the Old City to the park where the flower festival was centered. The floats from the parade the day before lined the streets and were made entirely of exotic flowers. The park had been planted with huge numbers of flowers,  included public displays of award winning varieties, and areas set up for photo opportunities for the crowds that came to drink in the beautiful displays.

We walked back to the hotel stopping at the Clay Studio Cafe for lunch where terracotta statues adorn the walls and walkways of this quiet oasis. This was the perfect way to introduce the group to Chiang Mai with a walk through the old city pointing out areas of interest and eating wonderful food. The group had jelled already chatting along our walk, wide eyed, under the magic spell of Chiang Mai. We were even stopped by two tourists that thought I was a tour guide leading my group around, to ask some questions they had about the city. Fortunately I was able to answer them and this gave us all a great story to tell about our first walk through the Old City.

We had time for some R & R poolside before going out to the huge Sunday walking market in the Old City. I met up with several people from my course in Om Waters and ducked into Wat Chedi Luang to get some atmospheric night photos of the temple and meditating buddha.

Monday was their first day of school and I came with them, greeted the school owners Jan and Noo, and sat in on their orientation. TMC has a new video on You Tube about how to cross the street in Thailand that should be seen by everyone travelling here. What is amazing is that the entire video was done in one take!

The only man in our group, Jordan, quickly gained a Thai nickname; Wonderboy! At lunch I took them over to the market near the school for food. In the afternoon I worked on my computer in the sunshine at the tables in front of the school and rode the songtaew with them back to the hotel.

Our hotel was fabulously opulent with an incredible buffet breakfast, uber friendly, efficient and attentive staff, and a bar that will miss our group dearly when we leave, especially each night during happy hour and later in the evening for a nightcap. This group knew how to have fun and make friends everywhere they went.

One of the participants wore the soft white hotel slippers provided in our room everywhere she went, determined to find a pair of sandals to replace them asap, but never finding that perfect pair. Later in the trip when we were discussing our upcoming trip to see the elephants she talked about bringing her rubber boots which we all thought was a joke, but NO! She actually brought rubber boots. Despite that differences in this group everyone got along incredibly well, and we all appreciated, and at times laughed our faces off, over the characters we were sharing our time with.

Laughter, a sense of joy and appreciation for being here, excitement over their learning, and their sense of exploration made my time hosting an experience beyond my expectations. I really enjoyed getting to know these 12 people and spending my last twelve days in Thailand with them.

Monday night we ate at one of my favourite restaurants Ole Mexican Gourmet (Thai/Mexican fusion), which is very close to Le Meridien. The owner Yao was there and we talked about some upcoming musical and spoken word events happening at the arts and events space, Thapae East, next door to Ole. A few of us stayed to listen to a great jazz group.

The next day I spent with Melanie and Nadine (both from Om Waters fame) hiking in and around the Sticky Falls. The falls are famous for their bulbous limestone rocks. Tuesday night was a great dinner with the NHPC group at Rommai RimPing Restaurant owned by Kan, our travel agent extraordinaire, here in Chiang Mai.

Wednesday I met a fantastic couple, Ciprian and Andreea, from Romania while eating at the exquisite Woo Cafe for lunch. We tried to be respectful of each other having just met, but I could barely finish my lunch and they had a challenge ordering their lunch as they had little time to read the menu for all the talking we engaged in. We connected on Facebook so we could continue our friendship building while in Chiang Mai.

Wednesday after class we took a songtaew directly to “The Best Thai Cooking School” about 12 km outside the city. Our driver and chef Nero had a sharp and witty sense of humour and amongst all the great cooking tips we learned, the most dramatic was “how to burn the kitchen down”. The flames from our woks shot up way above our heads! This cooking school was so incredibly professional with a farm attached to the school and a system of learning that was fun, allowing us to eat our creations throughout the night.

That night some of us, including friends living in Chiang Mai, Coreen from the NHPC, Ciprian, Andreea, and several people I know from past workshops here went to Thapae East for the spoken word event. It was a night of surprising honesty, directness, and heartfelt poetic genius. I was deeply moved by the brilliant writing, and poetic presentations. The crowd was also incredibly supportive of the poets and musicians encouraging new poets and shouting out comments of pleasure and astonishment at their skill. It was organized by a Scottish poet with contributors from Korea, the UK, Thailand, and the USA.

Ciprian has done an Iron Man and is an active guy and asked if I would join him for a cycle up to Doi Sutep early morning. Andreea had a day long meditation class and was feeling better that Ciprian now had a partner for this cycle up the mountain in the early morning. We met at NK Bikes to rent our road bikes Thursday evening and met Friday morning at 6:30 am for our climb of over 1000 metres straight up the mountain. Ciprian was the perfect cycling partner. I was afraid I wouldn’t keep up but we were evenly matched and when we got to the top, we drank a few fruit smoothies and I even convinced him to try some of my cricket energy bar. We sped down the mountain reaching over 70 km/hour and then cycled another distance out to the Ban Huai Tung Khao Resevior. After a short cycle around the lake we stopped at the huts built over the lake and had an early lunch. I felt like I was cycling with a long time friend, not someone I had just met a few days ago. Back at Le Meridien I met Melanie (from Om Waters) for a late lunch and pool time. It was the perfect thing to do after a morning of activity.

I visited a few art galleries in and around Chiang Mai such as the See Scape Gallery, owned by the student of an artist who owns the Wattana Gallery. Both galleries are well worth seeing. During another research assignment I also had a great 2 hour Thai Massage at the beautiful Baan Suan Jungle Retreat and lunch at their cafe. That night I had an 80th birthday I attended for Jack, a guest I met at Tip Top Thai House. It was a great evening of food and conversation at Dash’s in the Old City and it is always great to be in the company of Noi (owner of Tip Top) and Phillip, another Tip Top devotee.

Saturday our group spent the day at the Elephant Nature Park. Every time I go to this Park I learn more about the Elephants and now, over the years, have seen some of the Elephants as they have matured in their Sanctuary home. It is always a moving experience being around these animals and experiencing how treating these beings with respect and kindness brings a beauty to their own relationships and to those with the humans that care for them.

That night we all celebrated with a night of music and dancing at Zoe’s in Yellow and other very popular live music and EDM venues around Zoe’s. Ciprian and Andreea arrived with their dancing shoes on and we burned up the floor with Reggae and electronic dance music! It was their last night in Chiang Mai and I was sad to see them go, but now feel inspired to visit Romania.

Sunday we organized a day trip to Chiang Rai visiting the hot springs along the way to the Black House, Blue Temple, and White Temple. The incredible talent of the artists that built, and in some cases still work on these sites, is astounding.

Monday I had a traditional Thai Herbal Steam and Massage in the Old City. Now that is a great way to spend two hours! That night I took Noi, Phillip and Tony out for dinner to the Cat House. The owner Jacky, and Sal where the ones who made us such amazing food at Om Waters.

Tuesday night was our dinner cruise down the Ping River at night. This is always one of my favourite things to do in Chiang Mai. The food is wonderful and the cruise is such a great way to see the city from the water.

Wednesday I cycled with Phillip and Noi to the MAIIAM Contemporary Art Museum in the east end of the city. It is a private museum initiated by Jean Michel Beurdeley, his late wife Patrsi Bunnag, and son Eric Bunnag Booth. It is their private collection built over 30 years. It is a must see in Chiang Mai with the permanent collection on the second floor and travelling exhibitions on the first floor. As always a cycle with Noi includes at least one coffee shop and lunch.

That afternoon I went to the school to participate in the graduation ceremony marking the completion of the Level 1 & 2 Thai Massage training for our participants. They had a great day learning table thai and herbal ball treatments. That night we celebrated with a farm to table Valentines Dinner put on by the restaurant Rustic and Blue. It was a stunning evening of lights, music, food and company. Jenny and Mark, my Canadian friends living in Chiang Mai joined our party as well for a perfect evening in Chiang Mai.

On my last day in Chiang Mai I bought an extra bag to pack all the things I am bringing back (it definitely won’t fit in my carry on!) and spent the day poolside sorting pictures and completing this blog so I could post it before getting on my plane tonight for an 11:30 pm flight.

Despite the fact that I will miss this wonderful place and all the amazing friends and “family” I have here, I am excited to get back to my family and friends in Saskatoon and back to work incorporating my new knowledge and experiences. Excited too, to go from +35 to -16, trading my blue Chiang Mia bike for my new fatbike that is waiting for me at the Bike Doctor. Over the next month I have several Fatbike events to keep me excited about my winter return!

But most of all I feel so excited for this group of NHPC members that have experienced some of the things I love most about Chiang Mai while learning a new massage modality to add to their work back home. Their clients will be fortunate to benefit from their new knowledge and skills. For some this may be the start of a lifelong journey with Thai Massage and I am happy to have been a part of their Thai Massage Study Tour experience.

 

Om Waters – An Osteothai Sensation

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View of Om Waters on approach in a longboat

My main reason for returning to Thailand every two years is for continuing education in Thai Massage. This  year I decided to focus on the work I began exploring in 2016 after taking two courses from David Lutt of France in Dynamic and Osteothai.

I found the Thai Massage techniques taught by David incredibly compelling. The combination of subtle support through body listening techniques, as well as rocking, rhythm, oscillations, and dynamic movements connect the practitioner and client through the breath supporting the expression of the body’s ability for self healing.

Jorg Schurpf of Switzerland is David’s teaching partner and offered the Osteothai for Internal Organs class at Om Waters, a retreat centre north of Chiang Mai in Sri Lanna National Park. The course focused on the belly which is often involved in structural dysfunctions of the lower back, pelvis and shoulders, as well as issues relating to digestion, emotional tension, stress and trauma.

Osteothai work on internal organs combines the Eastern approach of the Hara and the Western practice of Visceral Manipulation.

The Eastern concept of Hara is the soft area of the belly in, above and below the peritoneal cavity which contains our internal organs. Work on the organs and their associated energy fields assists to relax, strengthen and support proper functioning of our body’s own self healing capacity.

Presence, precision, and the power of our personal inner work influences our thoughts, actions, and movements. This course focused on detoxing organs (with special attention to the liver) as well as utilizing principles, practices, and techniques to support normal organ function restoring the expression of our body’s internal and external balance.

I packed my bags at Tip Top Thai House and went to the meeting point where the songthaew (a pickup taxi) would be waiting to take our group of 16 to Om Waters. The first three people I met set the tone for this incredible experience.

Nadine is a Newfoundlander who until recently lived in the Arctic Circle in Nunavut. Her sister lives just outside of Edmonton so I shared that my husband Shaun taught at Blueberry School for many years. We both nearly jumped out of our skin with excitement when she said Shaun must have taught some of her nieces or nephews, all of whom went to Blueberry. A flurry of texts confirmed that Shaun had taught one of her nephews. Nadine’s sister had always wondered where “the BEST teacher at Blueberry” had ended up. Reconnected through Chiang Mai.

Nadine and I on a cool morning, hence the jackets.
Nadine and I on a cool morning, hence the jackets.

The next person I met was Melanie (also my sister’s name) from Germany. We quickly found out we were both planning to attend the World Fascia Congress in Berlin this November and would be seeing each other again soon.

Next was Chiharu from Japan who had assisted David’s courses I took in 2016 and had taught the yoga before each class. This was new friends and a reunion in the first few minutes!

I could write a book about the rest of the stories that abounded for each participant on this course. We came from Canada, the US, Isreal, France, Germany, Finland, the Netherlands, Italy, Switzerland, Austria, and Japan. Our connections ran deep and wide and before we had even left the limits of Chiang Mai, we were all friends and excited for our upcoming belly journey as a group of bodyworkers.

We packed our bags on the roof of the songthaews and drove the 90 minutes north of Chiang Mai to the entrance of Sri Lanna Park. There were boarded longboats that took us across the lake for our 30 minute ride to Om Waters.

The site of the floating resort was amazing as we came around a bend in the lake to see it nestled near a shore with views of the hills on all sides. We set up our rooms, went swimming, and had dinner made by two of the most friendly and skilled cooks I know, Jacky and Sal of the Cat House restaurant in Chiang Mai. We ate vegetarian (with one night of fish – flexitarian), and never the same thing twice the whole week. It was delicious beyond description.

Chiharu and others helped create a mandala of flowers on one of the floating platforms where we set the intention for our week of learning and belly play. Music, chanting, and meditation set the tone for an intense week of new information, practice, and self care. No cell service meant we were all totally unplugged. The first bell rang at 6:30 am. If you cared to join the yoga class at 7 am the next gong marked the beginning of class. People meditated, did yoga, Tai Chi, or whatever personal practice they had in the mornings. At 8:30 am the gong rang for breakfast and we were on the main platform to begin class by 9:30 am. We broke for lunch from 1 – 3:30 pm (giving us time to play in the water or rest) and had class from 3:30 to 7:30 pm just after the sun had set. We ate dinner soon after and were usually in bed by 10 pm. We were all living together in close quarters on a collection of floating platforms for the week. Noble Silence was kept from 10 pm until 9 am each day giving us all time to allow ourselves peace and quiet without being compelled to engage socially (which we did in abundance outside the hours of Noble Silence).

Through this and other practices the environment was created for inner awareness, acceptance, trust, non-judging, and community support. This atmosphere provided a great opportunity for the possibility of a profound shift in our practices both personally and professionally.

 

The yoga each morning led by Sia was different each day. One day Sia began to play his guitar and sing as we lay in Savasana. Each of us slowly came to sitting joining in the meditative chant. The sense of connection and joy for a morning of yoga on a floating raft in the shade from the sun was deep.

My room faced openly to the lake with a breeze and a view of the stars and hills. Each night and morning the sounds of the jungle came to life. Buzzing insects and whooping, hooting, trilling and chirping birds filled the night. Later the creaking of bamboo ladders, and floating walkways began when people got up at night for the bathroom, and snoring of different tones and frequency supported the teachings that all of life is vibration, sound, movement, and light.

For those of us who love the water, we were in it every chance we had. Swimming, inner tubes, kyaks and crazy blow up unicorns and dragons were available to join the life of the water. In our work on the belly, the platforms often rocked as longboat wakes, or the winds lapped the edges of the platform. The stage was set for a sense of play, agility, nimbleness, and joy. One morning as the mist rose off the lake just before sunrise I kayaked out to where birds congregated for their morning chat. Cranes stood on their long legs at the shore as well as on the highest branches of the trees . Hundreds of tiny black wrens dotted the reeds close to shore and scattered about in play. It reminded my of the clown fish swimming playfully in and out of the soft flowing coral off the shores of Kho Yao Noi.

But it was not all ease for everyone. Some participants shared their struggles with challenges they had with their belly, as well as health, life, and emotional issues of the past. It was courageous to share intimate things within a group and it had a powerful effect on us all. Again the sense of community and support was palpable. We were all taking the time to learn about each other, care about each other, and be part of each others journey. This wasn’t simply about techniques for the belly.

One afternoon after lunch a group of us went with Joe (one of the generous owners of Om Waters) by longboat across the lake to visit an abandoned monks area where there are monks quarters and a meditation cave.

During our time on the lake and in the middle of our massage practice one night we were fortunate enough to witness a rare Super Blue Blood Moon with a complete lunar eclipse, last seen in Thailand in 1866.  It was a super moon as it was as close to the Earth as the moon can get, Blue as it was the second full moon of the month, and Blood referring to the color of the moon during the eclipse. This experience took our breath away as we did our practice and paused for a while in silence as we watched the super blood moon reflected in the lake and then slowly disappear. Over 2.5 hours later it began to reappear as we ate our dinner.

Many of the participants are musical and the Om Waters “Untuned” House Band was born. Untuned was their playful way of recognizing the variety of instrument types and player experience that wasn’t always in harmony. Four guitars (including a ukulele/guitar hybrid) and drums were played every day.

Two more flower mandalas were created by Chiharu, Pase and others. The second mandala was in honour of the eclipse and had an outer ring of “light boats” made of the outer leaves of the banana flower. The final mandala on our last night was created for the sharing circle were we voiced our experiences of joy and hardship, appreciation for our connection with this rare group of people, and our profound gratitude to Jorge and Till (our skilled teaching assistant) for sharing their skills, talent, and nature with us all. Jorg’s teaching expresses his boundless knowledge of anatomy and physiology, techniques both empirical and energetic, as well as his own authentic spiritual and personal development work. It was a pure pleasure and great gift to participate as his student.

In the morning we did our final practice and then brought Jacky and Sal into the circle to give them a group massage to thank them for feeding us with such nourishing food during our stay. We did a ceremony featuring the last performance by Untuned for some time to come, and then offered all the flowers to the lake before boarding our longboats.

I couldn’t possibly convey in full the profoundly moving experience it was to be in this workshop, with these people, in this place. I found it not only an enriching experience for what I will be able to bring into my practice through work with the abdomen, but it was a time to recharge, reconnect with nature, and the hara and hearts of people determined to make a difference in peoples lives through body and soul work.