Now that I’m home and able to type on a proper keyboard rather than my mobile phone I thought I would review the two lots of Thai massage training that I took in Thailand. In this post I’ll cover the two weeks I spent with Pichest Boonthume in Hang Dong near Chiang Mai. The Lahu Village course with the Sunshine network will come separately.
I described the outline of each day here, so this post is intended to cover my interpretation of Pichest’s teaching, and my initial perception of the value of the course to me.
Perhaps I should start by saying that studying with Pichest is not the easiest thing in the world for someone with a Western schooled mind. Teaching does not start at a regular time. The day begins with Buddhist prayers and chanting and then a dharma talk, or sermon. This can last anything from 20 minutes to several hours. The content appears random and confusing and is not helped by Pichest’s eccentric English. Here is my condensed version of what I took to be his message:
Modern life is getting more and more crazy. People are searching increasingly frantically for answers, becoming more involved in distracting pastimes and media and living in a way that is further and further removed from nature. Each attachment we develop to these things, with their associated thoughts and desires, creates problems for us. We are the cause of our own suffering.
The simplest possible life is to honour our mother and our father, who gave us life, provided for us and were our first teachers. To honour the Buddha, the Dharma (teaching and the teacher) and the Sangha (community) to pray and to meditate. One of the outcomes of meditation is that we develop an intense observational power, which can first be applied to our own body and then to the bodies of those around us.
Thai massage is an act of loving kindness to those around us. If we are bound up in a series of techniques and a sequence of moves we are involved too much in our own thoughts and desires. To be truly loving we should instead be listening to the body of the client and allowing our heart to tell us how we would experience those issues in our own body and through that experience doing what is necessary.
Equally we should be aware of our own body during a massage. Executing moves which cause tension in our own body will prevent us being able to listen to the body of the client and will cause problems for ourselves in the long term. We should practice our own moves and exercise to ensure that we have the strength and flexibility necessary to execute the massage without damaging ourselves.
If Pichest asks a question about the worst thing you can do is preference your answer with “I think…” as his immediate response will be “Thinking for what? I think, I want: problem!” If you encounter an issue that you are unsure how to handle in a massage asking him what to do is likely to illicit something like “What to do? How to do? Listen to the body!” When he encounters something in someone’s body he will get you to feel the area and move them. Then he will perform some pressure and stretches or whatever on them and get to you feel the change, or see the difference in the alignment of their body. As he says: “Body is the teacher.”
In terms of technical detail about the most we got out of him was that muscles and tendons are sensitive and will become inflamed if they are mistreated. That inflamed muscles or those in spasm will constrict the blood-flow in vessels which pass through or past them. For example inflammation and swelling in the upper thigh will cause the lower leg to feel cold and sweaty and the pulse in the ankle to feel weak. The body will automatically try to protect itself if it senses possible further damage, and those protection mechanisms can cause more problems elsewhere and also prevent massage being effective,
What it really noticeable about what Pichest does is that whenever he is treating someone he is completely relaxed. None of the techniques he executes require him to hold his own body in tension for more than a very short time. He finds ways to get into a position where simply leaning, or moving his body weight will exert the required pressure without pulling or pressing.
After a couple of days of these baffling sessions I was wondering about the worth of continuing. I determined to see out the week though, and by the end of the week I knew I had to come back for the following week. In his company you gradually come to trust your own instincts in massage. You become aware of how much you have to unlearn and how much you will probably never understand. I wished I could have stayed for longer.
I also met some wonderful fellow students. I’d like to express my thanks for the lessons I learned through working with them, for the massages I received and for them allowing me to work on their bodies.