Down There Where the Spirit Meets the Bone

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The 10 days I spent in Germany this November for a workshop and Conference on the latest in Fascial Research was astounding. The amount of information shared was enormous and over the coming months I will be reflecting on this experience as I find ways that it will influence what I do with clients, as well as how it will effect what I do for myself to promote health and wellbeing.

Meeting a colleague and travelling to Guben

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In Berlin I met up with Trina Bailey, a friend and colleague from Australia, and travelled by train to Guben, a small town on the German/Polish border. Here we took part in a three day prosection at the Plastinarium, where renowned researchers Carla Stecco and Andry Vleeming dissected the fascia of cadavers revealing the structure and relevance of the human fascial system.

Prosection is where you watch (and in some cases participate) as an expert dissects a human cadaver.

3 Day Prosection with Carla Stecco and Andry Vleeming in Guben, Germany

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The Plastinarium sits on a quiet street in a very quiet town in a large brick warehouse. This is where donated bodies are put through a process of removing all the water from the body to be replaced with liquid plastic in order to preserve the body. Plastinates are used in the BodyWorld exhibits that travel the world, or as teaching and training models for universities and medical schools.

Carla Stecco of Padua University and Andry Vleeming of the University of Ghent shared their knowledge of fascia through lecture and dissection with 26 very fortunate participants from around the world. Yoga Instructors, Phsyiotherapists, Massage Therapists, Chiropractors, Acupuncturists, Orthopedic Surgeons and others represented the wide variety of health practitioners interested in the evolving research on fascia.

Most dissections remove the fascia to “get to the good stuff” – the muscles, ligaments, tendons, organs, and bones. This dissection was all about the fascia which is becoming increasingly important as we discover its role in immunology, movement through force transmission, whole body communication (proprioception and introception), and pain.

In the words of Tom Myers author of Anatomy Trains: “There is plenty that science has yet to learn about how we sense the body in motion, and how our clients make sense of our work in themselves.

Fascia happens to be the most wired sensory organ in the body with more sensory nerves in it than you have even in your eye or your tongue, and it has maybe six times more sensory endings than your muscles.

That body you call me is actually a community of about 70 trillion hard-working cells, all surrounded by a fascial network—a kind of sticky, greasy fabric that runs around all those cells and holds them firmly together, yet miraculously adjusts to shape and accommodate our every movement.

The fascial network consists of fibers, made mostly from pliable collagen, stronger than steel, woven into ropes, nets and sheets. This web runs everywhere. It is very dense in your tendons and ligaments, and much looser in the breasts, cheeks or pancreas—but all your cells are wrapped into this weave.

The other half of the fascial network is a transparent gel of variable mucopolysaccharides. (More simply: snot.) Basically, your cells are glued together by this mucous, which is everywhere. These sponge-like gels take many forms—the gel in your eyeball, the synovial fluid in the joints, the chondroitin of cartilage—and is more or less watery (hydrated) depending on where it is in the body and what condition it is in.

Your various nerve endings—muscle spindles, Golgi Tendon Organs, Ruffini corpuscles and the rest, all modifications of stretch receptors—are woven and entwined into both the fibrous and the gluey parts of fascial matrix.

One of the primary benefits of massage therapy is that it stimulates these nerve endings in the myofascia, leading, of course, to less somatic amnesia and a more sensitive appreciation of the body, a more complete body image.”

Research is revealing how this awareness reduces our perception of pain and can alter function. How the fascia enables movement through the matrix and transmits force and recoil throughout the body is partially revealed through the study of its structure in dissection.

Here are some key concepts from the workshop:

  • Our body is a composite structure that relies on complex relationships.
  • Myofascial slings, both solid and soft have a major impact on pelvic and low back pain. Fascia is like a sail, adapting to muscular forces creating reinforcements where force is applied, giving us a strong yet light structural support.
  • Where fascia attaches to muscle and joints it increases our internal awareness as specific receptors are stimulated and relay this information throughout the nervous system. This allows for coordinated movement and inner awareness. Mindful movement helps strengthen our system and reduce our experience of pain.
  • The roles of form and force closure (closure due to anatomical structure and fascia/muscles/ligaments) were discussed in relation to the sacroiliac (SI) joint in pregnancy and low back/pelvic pain.
  • Force transmission affects adhesion and scar tissue remodelling. Movement enhances forces that stimulate fibroblast regulation of collegen fibre creation and structure within the fascia. Our fascia is constantly remodelling due to our movement. Move and move playfully.
  • Diaphragmatic breathing is crucial to activating our supporting fascial and core muscular system. Support can be reduced to 40% by shallow or chest breathing.

5th International Fascial Research Congress, Berlin

Those tending to fascia are the dedicated environmentalists of the bodywork field. Clean air, fresh water, playful movement, supportive relationships, healthy fascia~ The “seeming spaces in between” teem with life, and are as relevant as can be. That’s the story I’m telling for now. – Gil Hedley, PhD Anatomist offers dissection videos, online courses, in person intensive dissection workshops, books and a whole-body, approach to anatomy, through his company, Integral Anatomy.

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During the two day conference we listened to plenary speakers, attended concurrent research presentations and walked through the poster presentation area and the Fascial Plastination project which featured sections of plastinated fascial tissue from the human body. There were close to 1000 people in attendance at the Urania conference centre.

In addition to the more formal research presentations and discussions, we saw two fascial movies, a dance performance, danced on the river boat dinner cruise down the Spree river, and viewed and participated in an art installation created by two Canadians entitled, Boxtape. This continually evolving sculpture, formed from rolls of box tape, resembled the structure of the body’s fascia. It was a big hit with participants and the public both inside and outside of the conference centre.

Here is a selection of research highlights:

  • Carla Stecco has discovered a new cell, called a fasciacyte, that regulates fascial gliding. Densification of fascia and the lack of, or increased viscosity of, the lubricant hyluranon has been implicated in myofascial pain syndromes including low back pain.
  • Sex hormones play a role in extracellular matrix remodelling meaning male or female sex hormones, pregnancy, and menopause will have direct effects on the structure of our fascia.
  • Paul Hodges presented a multi-faceted approach to the understanding of back pain through movement control, respiration, balance, neuroscience, and emotion.
  • Three researchers presented their research related to the fluid dynamics of the extracellular matrix and/or lymphatic system. Their research overlaps in interesting ways, and even challenges each other.
    • Neil Theise talked about the view of the body as an endlessly divisible fluid continuum. His research focused on pre-lymphatic channels in the billary duct.
    • Peter Friedl studies how fascia adapts to cancer and metastasis using confocal laser microscopy.
    • Melody Swartz spoke of the importance of fascia as it relates to lymphatics and fluid flow through our tissue.
  • Daniel Lieberman presented on the evolution of upright posture for walking (bipedalism). He emphasized the importance of strong feet and healthy fascia of the plantar surface of the foot, achilles, and IT band, and it’s role in the swing spring action that makes bipedalism so efficient.
  • A central message from all the research: Move more often and move playfully. To stay healthy we need to counter the fact that the human being is the most domesticated animal on the planet. We have largely removed ourselves from our natural environment and created a new one that restricts the quality and quantity of our movement on a daily basis.

How all this new research will influence clinicians in their work with patients and clients is an ongoing process. Researchers mentioned that the more we learn, the more complex it becomes. Research leads to more questions and exploration. I feel fortunate to be connected to this community of people exploring our understanding of our internal environment, and how we can use this to support the health and wellbeing of us all.

I have registered for another conference in Vancouver in March whose focus is on manual therapy techniques influenced by the latest knowledge of the human fascial system. Another learning experience to look forward to.

5th International Fascial Research Congress – Berlin

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The role our fascia plays in inflammation control, pain relief, and our optimal health is only now being truly appreciated. Research on fascia has exploded since the first International Fascia Research Congress in Boston, 2007. This year fascia hit the mainstream media with stories of a “newly discovered organ in the body, the fascia!”

The effect that the latest research will have on how clinicians work with their clients to affect positive outcomes for health is exciting to be a part of. This Congress brings together researchers, and clinicians (doctors, physiotherapists, chiropractors,  osteopaths, massage therapists, manual therapists, exercise therapists, and more) to share the research and it’s effect on how we work with our clients.

I have always believed that the experience of touch is a dialogue, a way of connecting and being in relationship as we play with our limitations and freedoms. On the mat or on the table, client and practitioner explore rhythms and stillness that support our capacity for adaptation. Through touch we build systemic resilience integrating our body, mind, and spirit supporting our health, happiness, and the meaning in our life.

Attending this conference excites me for the possibilities it brings to inform my work with clients, and how it may affect my life as I explore ways of keeping my own aging body and mind in top shape.

In 2012 I had attended the 3rd International Fascial Research Congress in Vancouver which fundamentally changed how I viewed the body and treated my clients. Directly after this Congress I had the pleasure of hosting Dr. Robert Schleip during his three day workshop in Edmonton through the Natural Health Practitioners of Canada. Dr. Schleip is a Fascial Researcher at Germany’s Ulm University and founding member of these Research Congresses and the Fascial Research Society.

Almost two years ago I began planning to attend this latest research congress on fascia in Berlin. My excitement and anticipation has grown exponentially as the date draws near. Now only a few days away I wanted to share with you why this is such a big deal for me, and what it means for you as my client.

I’ll keep this brief, engaging (hopefully), and relevant to you. I am in Germany from November 8-18. I plan to do a blog once I return from the conference to share the knowledge and experiences that will inform my practice and add to the way we engage together in our treatments.

Key Points of Excitement and Learning…

Thermal Spa and Bindegewebsmassage

The trip begins with a day at the Bad Saarow Thermal Spa one hour east of Berlin by train. Here I plan to have a Bindegewebsmassage treatment and do some research to find if there are more training opportunities in Europe. Bindegewebsmassage is one of the most popular treatments in Europe providing pain relief, and improving nervous system functioning. It has been used to treat conditions such as:

  • Asthma
  • Digestive and Urinary Tract issues
  • Joint pain/Osteoarthritis
  • Migraines/Headaches
  • Abdominal Cramping
  • Cardiac Disease
  • Neurological Dysfunction
  • Rheumatoid Disease
  • Sciatica
  • Nerve Root Pain
  • Neuralgia

This spring I learned the technique from Brian Utting, former owner of the Pacific Northwest School of Massage in Seattle. I have been offering these treatments through the summer with some very good results, enough to inspire me to want to learn more.

Pre-Conference Dissection Workshop with Dr. Carla Stecco

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I will attend a three day pre-conference workshop at the Plastinarium (where the bodies for the Body Worlds Exhibits are prepared) two hours east of Berlin. Here I join 25 others for a three-day full-body fascial dissection by Carla Stecco, Fascial Researcher and Orthopedic Surgeon at the University of Padua in Italy.

For the first time in human medical history Dr. Stecco has systematically documented the entire fascial system of the human body and published her work this spring in the “Functional Atlas of the Human Fascial System.”

She has been described as an accomplished and admired author, researcher, teacher, and anatomist, as well as a world-class dissection expert. I can’t even begin to fathom what I may discover on this journey through the body over three days with one of the world’s most accomplished experts in fascia.

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Two Day Research Conference

Just this afternoon I downloaded the Fascia Congress app with all the speaker bios and descriptions of the plenaries, poster presentations, exhibits, discussions, and concurrent sessions that make up this conference. I have a lot of pre-reading to do!

In my next blog I will share my experiences of the people, research, and experiences that animate this gathering, along with photos and stories of the city of Berlin.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Be_Happy & the House of Hope

fullsizeoutput_2e45I spent the next two days running a few errands and working on the computer. I am getting ready for my Osteothai-Internal Organs Workshop at Om Waters that starts Saturday and for my hosting of twelve Natural Health Practitioners of Canada (NHPC) members arriving February 3rd to learn Thai Massage at the Thai Massage School of Chiang Mai (TMC).

At Tip Top I met another interesting guest named Ron. Ron is the President of the US children’s charity called Kids Ark Foundation that helps to break the cycle of poverty for marginalized children in Northwest Thailand. He is a fascinating man with such interesting stories to tell. He and his partner are in the process of moving to Chiang Mai. It astounds me how many foreigners fall in love with this city and come to make it their permanent home.

In the afternoon as I cycled around the city I visited one of my favourite temples, Wat Chedi Luang.

This Wat has a ruined Lanna-style chedi (or stupa) built in 1441 and is situated within a sprawling area that is powerfully atmospheric, especially at night. The top of the chedi was destroyed either by a 16th-century earthquake or by cannon fire during the recapture of Chiang Mai from the Burmese in 1775, no one is quite sure which. Like many ancient monuments in Chiang Mai, Chedi Luang was in ruins when the city began its modern renaissance. A partnership between Unesco and the Japanese government in the 1990s stabilized the monument and prevented further damage.

Clay Studio and Faces is a cafe/restaurant set amongst a beautiful garden filled with intricately carved terracotta statues and pottery, some whole, some broken. Stepping from the small soi (street) into the garden you are transported into a fantasy world that beckons you to sit, read, or converse, but most importantly, to slow down.

To contrast this calm and soothing experience I next went to Warorot Market, Chiang Mai’s largest market, for a few items. You can buy almost anything here and is great for people watching too.

That night I met my sister Melanie, Julie and Ron at the North Gate Jazz Club and stood outside the open doors listening to more great music.

Each morning I try and do a meditation, study Thai language and/or do a run, or some type of exercise. I decided not to do the exercise Tuesday morning as I knew I was meeting Peter and Erica at Buak Haat Public Park inside the old city walls in the afternoon where foreigners meet to practice Thai Massage, Circus tricks and acroyoga. I haven’t done acroyoga since I was in Chiang Mai two years ago. Erica had me doing more than I thought possible in the time we had, as her base (the one on the ground to support the flyer in the air). Then Peter was the base and had me fly doing a mid air cartwheel! I really need to do this back in Saskatoon, it is way too much fun.

Wednesday Phillip expertly drove Noi, Jack, Kay and myself in Dang’s truck from the Old City around part of the Samoeng Loop doing our favourite kind of travel; from one place to eat to another. We began at Baan Dong View Doi, a restaurant with a spectacular view of the Doi Sutep mountain range and wonderful food. I ordered Tom Khao Gai (coconut chicken soup) that came in a pot with a square of solid fuel burning to keep it warm. It began to boil so I tried to  blow it out which entertained Noi so much she took a photograph through her laughter.

Next we drove to the Royal Rose Garden Cafe. Tables are set amongst terraced stretches of rose gardens up the side of the hill. We had Chinese cabbage cake, pumpkin cake and avocado ice cream! I can’t get enough of the witty conversation and delightful company of these people.

That night Ron and I went out for Japanese BBQ at Huromon where Peter, Eric, Shaun, Debbie and I had been the week before. It was every bit as tasty and so very busy. Other BBQ places surround this restaurant but none are as packed with this many happy customers.

Thursday was an amazing day at Jenny and Mark’s about 13km south of Chiang Mai. We had visited for a few hours to help out last week but this week I devoted the day to helping them make bricks that would build the walls and igloo like structures of their home. Peter came out to join the work party elevating our fun factor. We spent the morning scraping clean the wooden molds, then oiling them to be sure the new bricks didn’t stick to the inside of the mold. We ate a delicious meal at a local roadside restaurant before getting back to work.

The afternoon was devoted to making the bricks. These bricks are made of concrete and a foam (made from compressing water and dish soap). The two are mixed and poured into wooden molds to make either a brick (for the igloos) or the beams (for the walls of the main house). It was a fascinating process to watch. Once the forms were full we had to distribute the concrete foam evenly in the molds and level them. After a few days the bricks are removed from the molds and left to dry for several weeks. The final product is extremely light, strong and a super insulator. My last job was to oil a round wooden form Oliver (the brains behind how to build the igloos) had built to place in the hole, in the centre of the igloo, where he applied glue that would support the centre piece.

Peter left for his date night with Erica and once I was done helping Oliver I left for the city and stopped on my way to buy a book called Thai for Beginners by Benjamin Poomsan Becker (comes with 2 CDs) as suggested by Peter to help me learn Thai. After I cleaned up at Tip Top I ate a delicious vegan meal at Good Souls which included a vegan version of Mango Passionfruit Cheesecake (thanks for that suggestion Ron!). I was so tired after all this work and cycling so I stopped at Sense on my way home for a one hour foot massage that set me up for a deep, deep, sleep.

Friday morning I spent working on this blog, and doing other computer work. Ron kindly asked if I wanted to join him at a site visit of House of Hope. House of Hope is a project at a school in the town of Ban Pa Muet is 12km north east of Chiang Mai. Les, a donor who sponsors this project that provides after school tutoring and meals to minority or disadvantaged children, was going to visit the school with Tom and Ron of Kids Ark Foundation and Rick from another agency. It was a great privilege for me to be a part of this visit. The school children were well cared for and seemed so happy, whether playing marbles on the play ground, or doing their after school assignments. The kids kept smiling and laughing as they looked at us. A few brave ones tried out their english on us by telling us their name saying “My name is…”. One enthusiastic girl shouted out her name with great excitement eliciting a great cacophony of laughter from the other children. A teacher approached to thank us all for supporting this project and hoped that it would continue for a long time. She had visited the homes of many of the 30 children (80% Burmese, 20% Thai, and 10% Hill Tribe) that benefit from this program. Most are extremely poor and live with their parents and many siblings in a one room structure. I couldn’t communicate in thai that I was here as a visitor and had nothing to do with this program. So I received their thanks and tried my best to let them know how much I honoured their work as teachers with these children.  I had an overwhelming feeling that at some point in the future I would find a way to support this great project.

Kids Arc is helping these children dream big for their future by providing them access to career options by doing such things as going to the airport to meet a pilot and sit in a cockpit, or visit doctors and nurses in the hospital. This House of Hope program provides support for these impoverished children who would otherwise never have this type of opportunity. At one point during our visit they were drawing and colouring pictures of underwater life. Ron let me know that most of these children have never seen an ocean. This idea boggled my mind. Tourists from all over the world come to Thailand to enjoy the beaches as well as the city life of Thailand and yet these children living near Chiang Mai have never seen the ocean. Kids Arc organizes a special outing once a year and takes 30 children 10 hours by bus to the ocean. They camp by the ocean and then return the next day. Many of the children imagined the ocean was like a large lake. Seeing the ocean for the first time is an overwhealming experience for many of them.

We sat at each of the table where the children worked each of us practicing our thai and english. I loved the sketches on the walls of body parts listed in english, phonetically in thai and then the thai name for that body part. This will be a help to me in my learning too!

Before we left we had photos taken with many of the children from the school. The photo was taken by a group of older boys each holding one of our cellphones. At one point they just kept pressing the smart phone camera buttons making it sound like a large group of paparazzi were taking photos. It was such a funny moment we all burst into laughter.

Back a Tip Top Noi and Phillip invited us for dinner at Kanjana, one of Noi’s favourite places in the Old City. We cycled through the old city to the restaurant and then out to the Night Bazaar area near the Ping river for an intensely good movie at the French Consulate called Corporate.

Tomorrow I leave for my workshop at Om Waters where we have limited solar energy electricity and no cellular or wifi services. Unplugged for the whole week. I can’t wait!

Chiang Mai – A Love Affair

 

From Koh Yao Noi we took the speed boat to Phuket, then to the airport for a great flight on Bangkok Airways to Chiang Mai. What to do when you are in Chiang Mai for one week? Here is what we did. Hold onto your toques, you’re in for a ride.

 

First off we stepped out of our cab to be greeted by the couple across the street who operate the laundry service. Once inside the doors of Tip Top Thai House we were greeted by the MOST wonderful Noi who set the stage for a most joyous week. Later we were also warmly greeted by her brother Dang. Set up in our deluxe rooms, overlooking the lush gardens we set out to explore our area of the old city. Shaun was determined to have a barber cut at The Cutler, where I had frequented my last visit in 2016. We made an appointment for the next day and continued our walking tour of temples and stalked up on snacks and essential items from Tops Market at Kadsuankaew Shopping Centre. That night we ate at Ole Mexican Gourmet owned by Yao, who also owns Birds Nest Cafe next to Tip Top. They serve Thai/Mexican fusion very near the Night Market off Thapae Road. Thapae East is a great jazz venue that sits just behind Ole and is one of my favourite places to go.

 

Tuesday morning a taxi arrived in the morning to take us to TMC, the Thai Massage School of Chiang Mai, where I had studied Thai Massage in 2014 and 2016. While Noo gave Shaun and Debbie a personal tour of TMC, Jan and I talked about logistics surrounding the study tour the I would be leading there in February. It is always a joy to be in the presence of Jan and Noo and seeing them again at TMC and sharing this experience with Shaun and Debbie was special.

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For lunch we went to the market across the street from TMC for a BIG reunion hug from Yupin, who I had lunch from almost every day while here in 2016. Yupin came to Thailand from Burma and one of the dishes in this fabulous lunch was a Burmese specialty. We bought some fruits and snacks from the market before hailing a songthaew (a truck with seats on either side of the covered truck bed for passengers).

 

Shaun and I had our barber cuts and back at Tip Top met three people at the door of the guesthouse. After chatting for only a minute we discovered that we each had a close friend in common. Jane has known Jen Budney (our dear friend in Saskatoon) for over 20 years. Shaun and I are godfathers to Jen and Richard’s son Julian! Jane was here with her husband Foster and son Tony. We posted a picture on facebook to see what would happen and just before we shared a meal at By Hand Pizza in the Old City, Jen answered back, completely flummoxed! “How can this be? she asked, is there only one guesthouse in all of Chiang Mai?” We were all stunned at the chances we would stay at the same guesthouse.

 

The next day Shaun and I went on a cycling tour of the countryside south of Chiang Mai organized by Noi with Phillip, Jane, Foster, and Tony. We first stopped for coffee at No. 39 an exquisite coffee shop, stopped at Phillip’s beautiful home for tea and snacks, had lunch at a Praw & Plean Green House, and wandered around Baan Kan Wat, an artist’s village, and had another fabulous coffee. Once returning to Chiang Mai we freshened up and all went for a fantastic Burmese meal in the Nimmenhieman area. We just couldn’t go home without stopping for coconut cheesecake at Charin Homemade Pies.

 

On Thursday we hired Warrachat, a charming young taxi driver who drove us from the airport to Tip Top, for the day. We began with a visit to my friends Jenny Rae and Mark. They are building their home and yoga sala on land surrounded by rice paddy close to the Grand Canyon at Hong Dong Quarry south of Chiang Mai. We donned our work clothes and helped prepare for the making of the bricks used to construct the walls of the main house and create the domes which will be the entrance to the house and the bedrooms. We could only stay for two hours so I planned to come back next week when I can spend the day helping. From there we swam at a crazy water park newly opened at the Grand Canyon. I had been here in 2016 when it was a relatively quiet swimming hole and now it is an inflatable water park with water jets, kayaks, wake boarding, and a zip line. Our next destination was the Orchid Farm where we ate a scrumptious buffet meal, and captured images of some stunningly beautiful orchids and butterflies. Our last visit of the day was to the Queen Sirikit Botanical Gardens. We had a fabulous day with Warrachat! After freshening up we met up with my friends Peter, Erica and her son Ravi (from the UK) at Horumon, a Japanese BBQ restaurant north of the old city suggested by Peter. The last time I saw Peter, Erica and Ravi was here in 2016. It was an evening of great excitement, food, more food, and just a few beer. We were definitely in a happy place.

 

Our most enjoyable morning routine became set with a coffee at Akha Ama Coffee on Rachadamnoen Road, then breakfast at Bird’s Nest. Another great coffee shop is Ristr8o in Nemmin. Friday we hired a songthaew to take us to the Wat at Doi Sutep and Bhubing Palace. Suthep is one of northern Thailand’s most sacred temples and a beautiful example of northern Thai architecture. You acquire good merit by climbing the 306-step staircase flanked by naga (serpents) to reach the Wat.

The monastery at Doi Sutep was established in 1383 by King Keu Naone. The story of Sutep is that a piece of bone from the Buddha’s shoulder was mounted onto a sacred white elephant by a Lanna monk. The elephant wandered the jungle and upon it’s death, the site became the foundation for the monastery.

The terrace at the top of the steps is dotted with breadfruit trees, small shrines, rock gardens and monuments, including a statue of the white elephant that carried the Buddha relic to its current resting place.

Steps lead up to the inner terrace, where a walkway circumnavigates the gleaming golden chedi enshrining the relic. Pilgrims queue to leave lotus blossoms and other offerings at the shrines surrounding the chedi. Monks recite prayers while tying a knotted string around your wrist for good blessings.

 

Once back in the city we had a coffee and visited the Secret Cafe and Gallery for a unique art exhibit. Each of the three artists involved created a piece based on the same theme. One theme was that of a rooster; with a quilted piece, painting, and sculpture each exploring the theme within it’s own medium. For dinner we reserved a dinner cruise on the Ping River through Riverside Restaurant. I love the view of a city from it’s river and Chiang Mai is no exception. The river’s edge is often light up with lights and lanterns from the many restaurants lining the banks. There were even people fishing in the coolness of the night. We had great food and a 75 minute cruise up and down the Ping, but that wasn’t yet the end of our day. Melanie and I met Jenny Rae at Thapae East for a Jazz/Blues concert where I got to introduce Yao, the owner of Ole Mexican and Birds Nest, to my sister. We stayed for a “secret concert” by the Isra Liberal Orchestra who played incredible original music that astounded me. This was their rehearsal concert for a Jazz Festival they were to play the next day.

 

Early Saturday morning the van from the Elephant Nature Park picked us up for the 90 minute ride north of Chiang Mai to spend the day with the Elephants. The plight of elephants in Thailand is a disturbing and sad one. There are only a few true Elephant Sanctuaries that protect and respect elephants allowing them to live in as natural an environment as possible. Elephants fortunate enough to live here have come from illegal logging and the tourist camps that allow riding and picture painting by elephants. In order for an elephant to be ridden or perform tricks a cruel and torturous process of breaking an elephant’s spirit takes place in order to instil fear as a way to control them. Organizations such as this Sanctuary are only able to rescue previously tortured elephants and their campaign is to stop the cruelty to elephants all together. However, tourists still visit Elephant Camps in great numbers and brings in huge amounts of money allowing for hundreds of camps to continue unethical treatment of elephants while only a handful of true Sanctuaries exist. Until tourists stop going to Elephant Camps that torture these magnificent animals there is no incentive for the Thai government to step in to ensure the elephants’ safety. Spread the word and when in Thailand be sure you are not supporting a camp that is cruel to Elephants. Many camps such as the one we almost visited in Koh Sok National Park, have caught on to the desire of tourists to visit Sanctuaries and advertise their ethical treatment of elephants. They say that you won’t ride elephants, but still provide the opportunity for others to ride if they choose. Don’t be fooled. Spending the day at a true Sanctuary and hearing about the plight of the Asian elephant gives you the realization at how cruel humans can be and yet how utterly loving and devoted some are to providing love, respect and a place for elephants to roam in community as they are meant to do. Each elephant is named and has their story on the walls of the sanctuary. Being near the elephants and hearing their stories is an inspiration. It was a moving experience for us all.

 

Back in Chiang Mai we ate at CNX Rooftop Chillout for dinner, and walked to Sense Spa for our two hour massages. This was the first massage we had since arriving in Chiang Mai. Three of us had foot massage for an hour and then an oil massage for an hour, while I had an hour each of thai and oil massage. Sense is a wonderful spa with a relaxed atmosphere and super friendly owner and staff. On our walk home we bought an assortment of steamed buns from my favourite shop in Chiang Mai conveniently located a short distance from Tip Top. It was an incredibly full day and we all collapsed into a deep sleep that night.

 

Sunday was the last day for Shaun and Debbie before heading home. We wandered Charoenrat Road which has wonderful shops, galleries, riverside cafes and restaurants. According to Noi of Tip Top this street has good quality items, at reasonable prices, and of great taste. Some of the highlights were Torboon, Sop Moei Arts, Graffiti, Suvannabbhumi Art Gallery, Kome Tong Classic for Men, Woo Cafe, and The Gallery. This is one of my favourite streets in Chiang Mai for high quality gifts and items to bring back home as a special way to remember a trip to Thailand. We returned to Tip Top for a rest and gave Noi a beautiful bouquet for flowers as a thank you for all she had done for us. In the evening we took a stroll through the Sunday Walking Market in the Old City which is full of art, clothing, souvenirs, crafts and more. Every Sunday the centre of the Old City is thriving with crowds walking through the stalls and eating at the many food vendors that set up in the temple grounds. We decided to stop and eat at Villa Dang Champa, one of my favourite people watching sites along the market. It is a multi story white washed hotel and restaurant serving great food, cocktails, and has excellent live music.

Then it was back to Tip Top so Shaun and Debbie could be ready to catch the taxi to the airport. One final flurry of airdrop photo exchanging and they were set to go. After three weeks together it will be odd to not share each day with them both.

 

Earlier in the day Peter had called to see what we were up to and offered the perfect antidote to moping in my room at Tip Top after Shaun and Debbie left. I met Peter at Maya Mall later Sunday night where they have a rooftop garden and several live music clubs and bars overlooking Doi Sutep and the Nimmen area of Chiang Mai. At one point in our walk around the rooftop, the music of over six live bands converged at one point into a cacophony of sound. Lights, crowds and the views made for a high energy atmosphere. A set of lit stairs provided seating for many looking out over this social scene or back over the city and mountain range. Peter and I sat at the oyster bar area, the highest point on the roof of the Maya, and completely enjoyed ourselves in conversation and eating (of course) oysters and treating ourselves to a Whiskey Sour.

And so ended week one in Chiang Mai.