Review: Sunshine Network Massage Course

Again, with the benefit of a proper keyboard, here are my thoughts on the Thai massage course I took with the Sunshine Network in the Lahu Village.  I took this course in January 2012, led by Andrea.  At that time I was just trying to find out more about Thai massage and had no intention of becoming a practitioner.  By the end of the course I felt sure that I should take it further.   Andrea recommended that I contact Kira Balaskas in London and I took her exam programme and then her advanced course and exam.

As I was returning to Thailand to study with Pichest it was a great opportunity to stay on a little longer and to repeat that first course with a different teacher.  I felt this would really embed the knowledge and refine my technique.  Every teacher will have a slightly different perspective and emphasis and I was looking forward to training with Laurino.

Transport to the village

Transport to the village

The course starts with registration in Chiang Mai, and then all the bags and people are loaded into the back of pick-up trucks for the two hour drive into the mountains.  On arrival accommodation is sorted out.  There are some rooms in the massage school itself, some bamboo houses which are part of the school and then rooms or houses with families around the village.

The basic schedule for each day is as follows:

  • 0520 Vipassana meditation in the temple on the hill above the village
  • 0630 Yoga or Tai Chi on a lawn area below the temple outside some buildings belonging to The Royal Project
  • 0800 Breakfast
  • 1000 Massage training session
  • 1300 Lunch
  • 1500 Massage training session
  • 1800 Dinner
  • 2030 Evening gathering

There is little doubt that one will be awake for the meditation session: the dogs, pigs and chickens in the village make sure of that.  On my first course I did mostly skip the early morning meditation.  However this time I really enjoyed it and if anything I tended to skip the evening gathering in order to have a little quiet time before bed.  Laurino is a big fan of bhajans, devotional singing, and that really isn’t my thing.

Laurino teaching

Laurino teaching
Photo: Claudio

The most significant difference between this course and the one I took previously was the number of attendees.  Whereas on my first course there were 15 students this time we were 53 at the start and a few more joined on the second day making it 60.  Whilst the school does adjust the number of assistants for the number of students this size of class gave the course a very different feel.  On the first course we all knew each other quite well by the end, and had worked on each other’s bodies multiple times.  This time I didn’t even get to speak with some people.

From a personal perspective this meant that the keen observation of my practice I had hoped for was seldom present.  Only occasionally were the assistants in a position to correct my posture or suggest a better way to approach an exercise.  On those occasions their advice was very welcome.

There are two days set aside during the course for a guided practice.  On the second of these Laurino suggested that rather than taking part I might like to give one of the assistants a full massage and get some direct feedback.  I did this, massaging Claudio in the morning and Christina in the afternoon.  Both had useful feedback on how the massage felt to them, which I very much appreciated.  However, as they said, they were not really able to comment on my positioning as they were not able to see.

The final full massage is by lottery and I was partnered with Pele.  He was an interesting patient as he has had a hip replacement.  Certain of the exercises on one side cause him to tense as his body senses the need to protect the vulnerable joint.  I therefore had to adapt some of what I did and try to stay tuned in to how he was reacting.  Laurino was our observer and he was able to give some very useful feedback to all of us following the session.

The course didn’t work quite the way I was hoping and I found the large class size unhelpful.  I’m certainly very glad that my first course was on a much smaller scale.  Overall I’m glad I went.  I met some great people and I enjoyed the meditation practice very much.  The time spent in the village, away from the distractions of modern life, is a great opportunity to reset one’s perspectives.

Pet rooster

Pet rooster

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