On 3rd January, when I was on the flight from Kuala Lumpur to Chiang Mai, I realized that I never had a Thai massage before. This realization came 2 weeks after registering to the Thai massage course, in an airplane that was about to land to Thailand. So one might think it was a bit too late and I would totally agree. Many times in my life I acted purely based on impulse, but I was under the impression that such massively impulsive actions were in the past. My recent urges were restricted to a change in breakfast menu or going to Kuta for beach instead of yoga. I had left my dear Bali to take a 2-weeks Thai massage course in Chiang Mai and had absolutely no idea and no experience what it was. Recently I was just toying with the idea. One afternoon, while I was sitting in the Little K organizing my photos, I logged onto the Old Medicine Hospital website and ended up registering for not only but 2 levels of the course. Now in the plane it hit me; What if I couldn't do it? How would I touch a complete stranger's body? What if it required this and that? As I feared and hesitated more I realized that I was on the right track. If my mind was coming up with such lame excuses for a simple massage course, there was something to be explored there...
The school provides a free dorm accommodation for students if they choose to stay in the premises. I ended up in a room with 8 beds! Well, beds would be an overstatement, they were Thai massage mats on the floor. That meant a good amount of back pain in the coming weeks. That is if sleeping in the same room with 7 other women wouldn't kill me sooner. I was somewhat tense as I had no experience of such a dorm setup.
First thing I did after settling into the room was of course having a Thai massage at school. OK, it didn't look un-doable and it was even quite relaxing, it was jut weird to pull, knead, knock, kick someone.
As everyone settled in, our room became quite international; there were 2 women from Chile, 1 from Spain, 1 from Portugal, 1 from New Zealand, 1 from Argentina and 1 from Japan. The main language in our room had no option but to be Spanish... There were other dorm rooms and some students stayed outside the school so we were a group of almost 20. There were only 3 men, and all came with their spouses. I would have expected to see more men as Thai massage requires some strength, but then one of the girls in the group pointed out this was probably because men were less comfortable touching others' bodies. I don't know if it was so gender-specific but especially in the first days, I felt very weird massaging others too. It always felt so good to relax while I was receiving a professional massage, but giving it was a completely different story. I wasn't able to manage my pressure, couldn't tell a muscle from a tendon and couldn't bend legs and arms fearing that I would break someone. Thai massage follows a certain sequence and has 100+ positions and some of them are quite a challenge to get into.
The course was more intense than I thought it would be. The morning hours were generally dedicated to learning the positions and then we would practice them on each other in the afternoons. But that practice time was hardly enough so third day onwards, we organized additional practice sessions among ourselves 7-8:30am. At the same time, I was trying to maintain my “regular” life where I went to a yoga class every evening and practiced Vipassana meditation every morning at 5am. This meant very little sleep and no time to just chill out and explore the city. Others in the course thought I was very disciplined to be up from 5am and to continue with yoga every day. In reality, I was unable to prioritize and wanted to do everything at once. It was exhausting but somehow worked out fine. At the end of two weeks, I got my certificate (though I still need to keep the book ope by my side when giving massage to remember the sequence), met most of the yoga community in Chiang Mai and even managed to squeeze in two workshops in addition to regular yoga classes and enjoyed the city life to some extent. I visited as many markets as I could; it was such a visual feast. I had 14 days in Chiang Mai and ate all my meals but two from street food stalls. Of course all these meals were vegetarian Som Tam (green papaya salad). Having Thai food in Thailand was a dream for me and I realized that dream more than 20 times. Every meal, where I was sitting by the street waiting for my Som Tam to be served with some raw white cabbage leaves was pure joy. I have a feeling though my massage partners were not happy with the amount of garlic I had to consume in the Som Tam ( I think each portion has at least 4-5 cloves of garlic, so I must have been eating about 10 nasty cloves a day) but hey, it was a price that others had to pay for my happiness so I didn't really care.
Despite my worries of 8 women staying in one dorm room, our entire group got along pretty well too. I thought it was inevitable to have problems when so many people had to live together the entire time for 2 weeks but n problems or dramas came up. Well maybe it's hard to pick on someone in the evening after cracking their toes or rolling your elbow on their butts the entire afternoon... I again met some amazing women who inspired me through their choices, words, smiles and wisdom. But that's a different subject for another blog entry.
Chiang Mai is an interesting city. It has the soul of small community, the ease of a well-established town yet the resources of a city. It is relaxed almost in a hippie way but not a forced or artificial way. Hard to describe by words but if there's ever a concept as hippie, Chiang Mai must have been hippie before the label has ever been used in the US in the sixties. Just as it is, very organic.
Oh, and after giving and receiving Thai massage so intensely for 2 weeks I now know that however impulsive it was, I made the right choice. My body is quite different now, which I can observe very well during my yoga sessions. Thai massage is not necessarily a relaxing and feel-good session but it definitely stretches the muscles and stimulates energy points in the body. I can't wait to do the advanced level training in May, back in Chiang Mai.