A Return to Thailand

Bangkok, 2012 114 (1024x768) (2)

After a very long hiatus from my blog, I return again, this time anticipating a visit to paradisiacal Southeast Asia for another trip to Thailand. As with the 2012 visit, I will have six graduates from Finger Lakes Community College’s Therapeutic Massage and Integrated Health Care Program accompanying me on this adventure. We depart in less than two months.

This past winter has been a turbulent season of brutally chilling conditions, even for those of us used to a more hyperborean region. My black winter coat ended most days with an ashen layer of smutty salt from my car. Since my last post, I’ve experienced an unexpected family death and witnessed heartbreaking grief, learned of loved ones who have been diagnosed with chronic illnesses, and watched friends endure some up -heaving life changes. I admit, the Chinese year of the Water Snake was not one I was sad to see end. But, at the dawning of this 2014 Chinese Year of the Wood Horse, I look forward to predictions of adventure and fast victories. It is said to be a great year for travel – and the more off-beat and exotic, the better.  Although there may be places more uncommonly visited than Thailand, there are few I’ve been to that are more exotic. So, the Horse Year seems a suitable one for me to pack my bags again and embark on that twenty-eight hour flight to the Eastern hemisphere.

As I reflect on these past few months, I’ve strived to lighten my heavier than usual spirits by drawing on some of the Buddhist teachings I’ve gathered from various books and journals. I enjoy exploring these teachings as a path to learning what I can attain through these sometimes more painful life experiences. Perhaps things don’t really get solved, but rather, need to fall apart to allow room for what we don’t know. We can shut down and feel resentment, or we can breathe through the trembling quality that groundlessness brings, and remember that this isn’t the end of the story. We don’t know what is possible on this adventure. We can call it good or call it bad, but in reality, we really don’t know. We can retreat from the uncertainty and become crippled by it, or we can let in room for the unknown and experience the growth that the wisdom we may gain from our experiences can bring.

Truth be told, I consider myself a terrible Buddhist, and in fact, I don’t tend to label myself in a distinct category in general. I often fervidly hang on to things I love or that bring me comfort, …my favorite dish, a bookmark someone gave me fifteen years ago, the hand-made cards given to me by my second grade classmates when I had my tonsils removed, …my favorite chair. I recall words people have spoken to me, both kind and harsh, both recently and from long ago past. They stamp on my memory as if I could push a button and instantly replay the moment. And, like many of us humans, I wish to count on things in life as a means to fulfill my hunger for security. But, when things don’t always resolve as I expect, or when I’m reminded that things as we know them today don’t last forever in the same form, it is then that some of the most basic Buddhist foundations become my teachers.Buddha quote

The first noble truth in Buddhism teaches that suffering is inevitable in the human experience if we believe that things last forever and don’t change. Perhaps the contradiction in this, in part, is that it is in our human nature to become emotionally attached to things, or else this wouldn’t be such a challenging task to accomplish. Emotions often contradict reason. Yet, we can use this as a tool to step outside of our internal chaos and remember that when it feels like the rug has been pulled out and we have nowhere to land, that life, really, is always in transition. We can make the choice, if we want, to embrace life as a friend, even when it is uncomfortable and we want to run away. Every day we can choose to either open up or to shut down. Opening up will most often invite in possibility. Buddhism holds many teachings that I feel I have the most to learn from in my life to help me, both as a means to become a better person, and also to cope with the transient nature of life more peacefully. So, no matter how unevolved, from a Buddhist standpoint, that I may be in my actions, I still consider Buddhism to be one of my greatest allies in guiding me towards transformation.

This is one of the many reasons I enjoy visiting Thailand so much. Thailand is a predominantly Buddhist culture. Nearly 95% of its people are practicing Buddhist of the Theravada sect, which is the oldest surviving branch of Buddhism.  On nearly every street in Chiang Mai, Thailand’s second oldest city, one will see ornamented yet simple Buddhist temples, called ‘wats.’  Monks stroll along the streets, or ‘sois,’ alongside pedestrians and merchants in their orange robes and sandals. The cultural attitude in Thailand is easy going and docile. One of the most commonly used phrases is ‘mai pen rai,’ which can be translated as meaning ‘no worries,’ ‘no problem,’ or ‘it’s okay.’ A deeper meaning of this phrase, however (as I’ve been told) is to let go, or let it be, and that in this way, everything will always be okay.  This saying represents so much of what being in Thailand means to me. When I’m in Thailand, I immediately feel more relaxed, I take life as it comes, and I fret about the future much less. I feel the peaceful energy of the Thai people around me. I slow down. I remember to breathe in the moment and appreciate life’s smallest of pleasures….flower offerings at temples, a smile from a stranger, or the delightful aroma of coconut and mango tingling my nostrils as I pass a fruit shake stand. I may end my day with a relaxing foot massage, or start my day with a walk to my favorite morning market for coffee and little Thai treats.  Yes…it’s been two years, but my memories of Thailand are never buried too deeply.

One of my favorite things, though, about going on these trips is witnessing others as they take in and transition to the charming and easy pace of the Thai lifestyle. Indeed, it is contagious. Over the course of the next few weeks, I will be posting here more frequently, and introduce our massage program graduates who will be accompanying me on this summer’s trip. Now that I have broken my long lapse from here, I hope you’ll come back and visit often. As I prepare for this journey East, I’ll be here writing, teaching classes, giving Thai massages, practicing yoga, and hanging out with my adorable cats, Rumi and Simone.

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Until next time,

La Gorn Kah (goodbye)

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Connecting at the Annual Thai Massage & Medicine Gathering

Thai Gathering participants 2013

Recently, I had the pleasure to attend the Fourth Annual Traditional Thai Massage & Medicine Community Gathering and Annual Wai Khru. The event was held at the Thai Institute of Healing Arts in Arlington, Virginia on August 16th-18th, and was offered free this year to participants. The gathering allowed an opportunity for the Thai massage and traditional Thai medicine community to convene and attend workshops, roundtable discussions, and ceremonies focused on Thai culture and Thai healing arts. This past August not only marked the fourth year of this unique gathering, but also the 10th anniversary for the hosting school, Thai Institute of Healing Arts.

Thai Institute of Healing Arts offers comprehensive training in traditional Thai Massage, Thai medical theory, and Theravada Buddhism. The institute is unique in its approach to Thai massage training in that a strong emphasis is placed on learning Thai culture and the philosophy and theory that underlies the bodywork.  Additionally, the school offers a therapy center for the public to receive Thai massage treatments, and an on-line research center for students and academics of traditional Thai healing arts.

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Over one hundred practitioners, students, teachers, and enthusiast of Thai medicine and Thai massage convened on the opening day of the event. Participants arrived from various locations, including the local Washington, DC area, as well as various other locations in the United States and Canada, such as Chicago, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Tuscan, Toronto, New York City and British Columbia. Several native Thai people attended as well, including Thai teachers, practitioners, and Thai massage students.  I had the pleasure be joined at this event by former colleagues and students from my past Thai massage studies, some of whom I met in Thailand during my training at the Old Medicine Hospital and SVG Training Center in Chiang Mai.

Friday’s agenda included a morning session of Leusi Dat Ton, which is a form of Thai yoga. Sararut Roylance, a native Thai who has extensive training with Thai Yoga masters, and is also a Thai Medicine Doctoral Candidate, taught this practice every morning.  The focus of this day’s session was on poses to assist with back pain. Many of the poses we practiced resemble various yoga asanas (poses), but vary slightly in the placement of the hips, neck, and other body parts. I was surprised by the intensity I felt in some of the poses, even as a more flexible person who practices yoga regularly.

David Roylance - presentation

Following our morning Leusi Dat Ton, the Institute’s founder and Executive Director, David Roylance, gave a presentation about the meaning of the Wai Khru ceremony, explaining in detail the events that will occur at Saturday morning’s celebratory annual Wai Khru with Thai Theravada Buddhist monks. A Wai Khru ceremony (in short) is a formal Theravada Buddhist ceremony in which practitioners of Thai healing arts (as well as students of many other Thai disciplines, including Thai dancers and muay Thai kick-boxers) show appreciation and honor for their teachers. The term Wai Khru is translated as meaning “appreciation for teachers and knowledge.”  Likewise, teachers show gratitude to students by preparing and hosting the ceremony.  The acknowledgement that is expressed for teachers not only includes current teachers, but also the lineage of teachers that passed down the knowledge being taught throughout the history of the practice. Since Thailand is predominantly a Theravada Buddhist culture, the highest honor is always given, above all, to the Buddha for his teachings. Most Thai massage students and practitioners practice a condensed version of the Wai Khru ceremony twice daily; once in the morning, and once in the evening. The annual ceremony at this event, however, is a full version of the Wai Khru, which includes chanting of Pali Canon texts by visiting Theravada Buddhist Monks. Much preparation is involved in this special event, such as setting up the alter in a certain way, preparing specific colored fabrics, offerings, and placement of items both around the alter and within the space where the ceremony is being practiced. This practice is very detailed and warrants enough credence to have an exclusive blog post (for the future). David offered a very thorough presentation of this process to our group.

David Wai Khru prep

The group spent the remainder of the afternoon cutting and folding fabric to prepare the offerings, as well as setting up the alter before the monks arrived Saturday morning.

 

Wai Khru prep #2

Wai Khru prep

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wai Khru prep #3

Saturday morning began with another session of Leusi Dat Ton with Sararut (Sara). This morning was themed around poses to help alleviate leg and hip pain. I had the honor to have Sara demo one of the poses on me that morning.

Leusi Dat Ton - Amy and Sararut (photo compliments of Sarah Novotney)

….Have I mentioned yet that these poses are intense?

Following our practice with Sara, we prepared for the arrival of the Theravada monks for the Annual Wai Khru.

Wai Khru - photo compliments of Marty Traucht

Once the participants were all seated, six monks from a local Theravada temple arrived, and proceeded with chanting a Sutta from the Pali Cannon that recited the original teaching of the Buddha.

Wai Khru 2013

As I sat with my eyes closed, I absorbed this incantation, losing my awareness of time as my seated, cross -legged body seemed to momentarily disappear. I’m not sure how much time passed. In fact, my left foot completely fell asleep at the end. I tried to (unsuccessfully) subtly awaken it with a gentle tap, but it really required a hearty shake. The monk’s chanting was followed by David reciting texts as well, as the group echoed each line he spoke.

Theravada Buddhist monk - photo compliments of Marty Traucht

 

 

The ceremony concluded with each student taking a turn to honor and greet teachers David, Sara, and Steve Brown. In return, the teachers gave offerings and gifts to each student (called ‘sai sen’).Music by Khun Nae

Saturday afternoon began the workshop presentations, which included Thai Herbalism, Thai massage treatment practices for chronic pain, meditation for body workers, Thai Shamanism, a Thai language class, and business practices for Thai massage. Each event participant chose three of the two-hour workshops to partake in for the remainder of Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning. The workshops were presented by internationally recognized teachers of Thai massage and Thai medicine.

Thai Gathering - presenters

I attended the Thai Herbalism seminar, the Thai language course, and the business practice workshop.

Here I am with Kristine Traucht, a Boulder, Colorado based teacher of Thai massage and Thai herbal medicine. Kristine is also a former classmate of mine from previous years at the Thai Institute. She gave a thorough and engaging presentation of Thai herbalism.

Amy and Kristine - Thai Gathering

Activities did not subside at the school when the workshops ended, either. Each evening, many participants remained at the school to practice Thai massage techniques and partake in Thai massage exchanges.

Nancy - Thai massage

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Gisela - Thai massage practice

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By the end of the day, some of us also found that the mats were perfect for napping as well.

Thai mat nap

Sunday morning began with a discussion with David, followed by the continuation of the concurrent sessions that started Saturday.

The afternoon concluded with a discussion panel about Thai medicine, Thai massage, and sharing of personal experiences within the Thai massage community.

David, Sara, and Bilhan

Sararut and David Roylance led the discussion, accompanied by their adorable eleven-month-old son, Bilhan. Bilhan was an active participant throughout the event, in fact. He appears to be a budding Thai medicine practitioner already.

Steve Brown and BilhanBilhan and Amy

Oh…I almost forgot to mention one important detail. Every day, we joined together to feast on Thai food (buffet style) for lunch. An event cannot be fully Thai without food, after all. Employees of the Thai Institute also operated a beverage stand, offering Thai iced tea and water throughout the event.

Thai Gathering-lunch

 

 

Thai Gathering lunch -2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My lunch often followed with a brisk walk up the street to visit the local Starbucks, rain or shine.  I do love my coffee!

Starbucks Amy

 

 

 

Perhaps the most significant part of the gathering for me, however, was the opportunity to network with so many other practitioners and enthusiasts of Thai massage and Thai culture. After returning from my time spent in Thailand in 2011 and 2012, my life has been eternally changed. Thailand has amazing powers of transformation for so many people I’ve known who have visited there. The kindness of the people, and the attitude of “mai pen rai” (don’t worry about it, or –no problem) will stay with me forever. As a Thai massage practitioner, I have experienced what the bodywork can do as well, and its ability to help heal. At times I feel alienated in my work at home, even though I am endowed with amazing friends and family. The Thai massage (and Thai in general) community is small here in Rochester, New York. Being with so many other members of the community offers me a space for connection in my work. So many of my fellow practitioners, though all unique individuals, often share a likeness in their approach to healing, and their willingness to be open and connect with community. So many have spent time in Thailand, and if they haven’t, they still have been touched by the culture, by their customs, and the wisdom it brings to one’s life. It’s as if we’ve all learned a secret that can only be comprehended through practice rather than words, and it is understood readily amongst us when we meet.

Thai Institute 2013Amy and Emily - Thai Gathering

I’m proud to call the Thai Institute of Healing Arts my Thai massage home and family, and during this annual gathering, it feels like an extended family reunion. I feel fortunate to have attended this year’s event and connect with this remarkable Thai massage community.

 

Jennifer and Sandra

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Certificate - w Sara and David

 

Thai massage class - Intermediate class group

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Next year’s Fifth Annual Thai Massage & Medicine Community Gathering will be held August 15th – 17th 2014, at the Thai Institute of Healing Arts. For more information, visit:

www.thai-institute.com

 

 

 

 

Thai Institute of Healing Arts: “Little Thailand” in the USA

“Sab-bay Sat-ta Sukhitaa Hontu” – Or, “May all beings be Happy.”

These were the final words that we chanted every morning as we began our day with our morning Wai Khru at the Thai Institute of Healing Arts. “Wai Khru” means “Respect for the Teacher.” In Thailand, this morning chant or prayer is often performed daily in schools as a ritual to pay respect and homage to the student’s teachers as a method of offering gratitude for sharing their knowledge and wisdom.

This past week, I returned to the Thai Institute of Healing Arts to intern an Intermediate Thai Massage course as part of the school’s Thai Massage Teacher Training Program.  Although I have visited this eminent school for Traditional Thai medicine in the past, it has been over a year since I have attended a class. Having been nostalgic for Thailand ever since I’ve returned to the states several months ago, being in this space felt delightfully familiar. As I passed by the spirit house at the school’s entryway, the aromas of tamarind and turmeric filled my nostrils, and the faces of the Jivaka and Buddha statues appeared to humbly acknowledge my presence. The warm greetings and hugs from familiar friends of my previous classes reminded me why I keep returning to this special place, even if circumstances have kept us departed for many months.

The Thai Institute of Healing Arts was founded by David Roylance in 2003. David’s Thai massage practice began in 2003 in the humble abode of his living room in Ashburn, Virginia. Since it’s beginnings, the school has flourished to an alluring and sizable space in the Ballston neighborhood of Arlington, Virginia.

 

In this space, David has overseen thousands of students learn the art of Traditional Thai Massage and Traditional Thai Medicine. His teachers include several doctors of traditional Thai medicine, master teachers of traditional Thai massage and Thai herbal medicine, Thai folk medicine doctors, and master Thai Theravada Buddhist monks. Authentic Thai massage is steeped in Thai Buddhist teachings and traditional Thai Animist rituals. David is committed to teaching Thai massage authentically by weaving in Thai cultural rituals, the history of Thai medicine, and Buddhist practices into each lesson that he introduces in his school. He has personally visited over 150 Theravada Buddhist temples in both Thailand and the United States, and his knowledge of Buddhist rituals is intricately interlaced in all of the classes taught at the school.

David is also joined at the school by his wife, Sararut (“Sara”) Roylance.  Sara is a Senior Instructor at the Thai Institute, and is also the Director of Charitable Projects and the Director of Therapeutics at the school. She has over 3,000 hours of extensive training in traditional Thai healing, and is currently a Traditional Thai Doctoral Candidate (Mo Boran) and a Doctor of Massage (Mo Nuat) in Thailand. Her training began informally with her mother at the young age of nine in her remote home village, Udonthani. In her later teen years she continued to study Thai massage in a village outside of the northern Thai city, Chiang Mai, and included extensive study of Thai herbal medicine into her practice. She went on to study with numerous Thai masters of traditional medicine and Thai massage. Her studies have also included training in midwifery and post -natal care. The extensive contributions Sara offers in her teachings at the school give students the opportunity to have a deeply genuine Thai experience.

One of the primary goals of the institute is to honor the gift the Thai people have given to the west through their healing arts by teaching them as it is practiced traditionally in Thailand.  Many western massage modalities focus exclusively on knowledge of the physical body as a mechanical mechanism for practicing body work. Thai massage, however, is based not only on the physiology of the human body, but also on the subtle flow of energy in the body (called “lom”), and the practice of loving-kindness from the heart, known by the Thais as “metta.” Thailand is also a Theravada Buddhist country, and the philosophical and spiritual beliefs of the culture profoundly affect the practice of Thai bodywork and medicine. Additionally, the culture has many practices rooted in Animism, and students are educated about these customs as well.

So… How is a Thai massage given?

 

Traditionally, a client receives a session on a futon mat on the floor and remains fully clothed in loose, flexible clothing. Oils are not typically used, although some forms of massage include herbal compresses and herbal salves.  A Thai massage session (Nuad Phaen Boran) includes deep pressure point work, energy channel (sen line) work, massage, and deep stretches that resemble many that are practiced in yoga. The client remains relaxed and passive throughout most of the session, and the results often include a deep state of relaxation, increased flexibility and mobility in the joints and connective tissue in the body, and a heightened state of mind-body connection. If you have never tried one, I highly recommend broadening your bodywork experience to try one. For me, it is the most opening and liberating form of bodywork I’ve ever experienced.

 

 

 

 

 

Words do not provide enough credence to describe the commendable experience I had in last week’s Intermediate course. The experience is much like the Dao (a Chinese concept, yes, but it seems fitting here). It cannot be described through words, but rather, must be directly experienced. However, I will attempt to construe a briefing of the class.

Our class consisted of eighteen students, our teacher David, and a Teaching Assistant, David Nix. We were also honored to receive some teachings from Sararut in the latter portion of the course.  As an intermediate level class, the focus was placed on breaking out of the basic Thai massage routine to learn techniques with the client placed in side lying position, advanced Thai massage stretches (and they were indeed very big, opening stretches!), back walking techniques,  practitioner self care techniques known as Leusii Dat Ton (therapeutic Thai stretching), and Thai herbal compress massage (Luk Pra Kop). Students in class consisted of people from various backgrounds and professions, ranging from massage therapists and acupuncturists to those with professional corporate backgrounds who felt led to different path to study Thai massage.

 

 

Needless to say, we had a great deal of fun absorbing the knowledge David, David, and Sara shared with us. The day we practiced back-walking was an especially convivial class, in my opinion, although every moment was valuable and special. We used walkers to learn this method, which was a new practice for me. My classmate Beth was a very amenable guinea pig that day.

…And so was Jeff. I think Sandra really helped alleviate some of the knots in his back from giving Thai massages himself all day.

Oh…and remember Katie Star from our Thailand trip last June? Well, she was in the class with me as well. She even had an opportunity to practice some of her new Thai stretches on Khru David. I found her in the moment here:

Perhaps the greatest part of the class for me was having the opportunity to reconnect with my past classmates from two years ago, and also meet so many new Thai practitioners. Eighteen is a larger number than the typical Thai massages I’ve taken in the past. We only spent five days together (and very full days, I may add), but by the end of the week, I felt like I was in a room of familiar friends.

The Wai Khru and the ritualistic closing ceremony at the end with our teacher David rounded the experience to a rich and fruitful completion.

This is far from the end for me. As a Teacher Trainee, I will be revisiting the Thai Institute many times to take more internships, exams, and partake in assistant teaching. I will also be attending the school’s Thai Massage Community Gathering in August as well. I have a feeling I will be reuniting with many of those from my recent class then. I hope to see you there, too. The Thai Massage Gathering is free and open to the public, so perhaps you may join us!

Oh…and the other reason why I will never really be at an end is because I will always need more practice, and people to practice on. I didn’t think I’d be purchasing a walker already at this stage in my life, but I cannot think of a better reason (health-wise) to need one. I also never thought I’d be so excited to start using one. I plan to get many years of use out of the one I buy.

So, until next time, Saw-a-dee-kah, my friends!

For more information about the Thai Institute of Healing Arts, visit:

www.thai-institute.com

To book a Thai massage appointment with Amy (in the Rochester, New York area) visit:

www.handsthathealmassageandwellness.com

Or e-mail Amy at amywarcup@yahoo.com, or follow her on Twitter or Facebook for more blog updates

 

In Their Own Words: Chelsey, Kate, and Emily

*This post was originally published on August 4th, 2012

Upon our return home, I asked the travelers if they would like to share some of their reflections of their experiences in Thailand. The following are commentaries from Chelsey, Kate, and Emily.

Chelsey:

My fondest memories are hard to say. Honestly, every moment of the trip was so positive and memorable. I’ll fondly remember the sense of adventure and lack of planning required of me to have an amazing day there.

The biggest challenge was saying good-bye! I thought it was rather easy to be there. Also, finding that there is a limitation to the degree of spicy-ness I can handle.

I will remember most the power of a smile, putting others first and not sweating the small stuff.

There didn’t seem to be a whole slew of rules and regulations there, but the Thai people didn’t live in chaotic, crime ridden streets from what I could see. The perfect metaphor of their culture is the traffic and driving there! There seemed to not be any rules or heavy law enforcement, and yet there were few accidents. They always seemed to be conscious of others, regardless of the seemingly dangerous traffic, from a New Yorker’s view.  It had reiterated my belief that in order to have a safer, more orderly culture we as people must take it upon ourselves to be law abiding citizens and respect others out of principal instead of force. We should not expect the government, religions and laws to force us to be good people.

Kate:

My fondest memories of visiting Thailand were eating the delicious food we made under the supervision of our wonderful teacher, Thurian, dancing until 3am in Bangkok, and  enjoying days spent with our teachers, Rose and Paul, during our Thai Massage classes. I also remember fondly spending time with the gentle and beautiful rescued elephants at the Elephant Nature Park, having the honor of experiencing a day with Mr. PP and Nuy at the magnificent Panviman Resort Spa, and looking out at the Bangkok city lights on top of a 7 floor building with my friend Tay.

 

My Biggest challenges were traveling for 26 hours, and working hard for my two Thai Massage exams after being sick and missing two full days of classes.

 

I remember most the watermelon and cantaloupe smoothies, which were so delicious! I recall the peacefulness, friendliness and positive attitudes of the Thai people, and the amazing markets every night, …the hot weather!

How did Thailand changed me/my worldview?

I appreciate other cultures and what they have to offer even more so than before. Overall I have returned feeling centered and balanced. I am more patient with myself, others and my thoughts. I am humbled, while caring less for material objects and more for the relationships I share.

 

Emily:

Humans, on an individual level, have always captured my interests… from the science and mysteries behind every little cell and how they all function, to the personalities, the mind, the soul, the emotions, the energy vibrations and the “I” of each human being. Now, placing all of these important yet complex parts that create a single individual alongside of other human individuals overwhelms me with interest. This interest, with the beautiful individuals and absolutely amazing relationships between them, is where my fondest memories have stemmed from while living in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Before this trip, I really had not known any of my companions very well. But as one of my professors,  Dr. Miller, once told me, “The best way to get to know someone is by traveling across the country with them.” Being that this trip was not just across the country but on the other side of the world, I made some of the strongest connections that I have ever made throughout my life thus far. I got to know so much more about the group, which instantly created a bond. For example, I found out that the avid baseball player, Adam, loves orchestral performances and theatre. Although, being across the world and rooming with someone brings even closer bonds, to the point when walking in on my roommate dancing to Latino music in just her Sublime t-shirt and underwear didn’t take me by surprise.

We were a diverse group, all having different backgrounds, some of us raised in the city and others in the smallest of towns. We all had different expectations, goals and reasons for why we were really attending this trip. But all of us, aside from Amy, shared one common situation: traveling to Thailand for the very first time. This is where I not only experienced great memories, but also my biggest challenges.

At the beginning of the trip we attempted to stay together as a group while we roamed the streets and markets of Bangkok and took luxury Mercedes vans to tourist attractions outside of the city of Chiang Mai. As the days were sluggishly sinking into memories, we slowly began to distinguish interests and what we each wanted to do while we were not in class. While shopping at the markets, I would become antsy if I was with another person. I could not seem to stick with a person or group because I always had my mind set on two things, finding the stand with the freshest fruit shakes and a stand that sold ukuleles. I always told whomever I was with that I was going to run ahead to explore the stands and that they could find me when they heard the sweet sounds of a ukulele. But the markets were busy and in the back of my mind I knew that I wasn’t going to see my partner(s) for the rest of the night. Though not admitting it, I was excited by this.

Soon, there came a point in the trip when I was very frustrated with others and their interests or lack of interests. I was becoming uneasy with the fact that I hadn’t felt like I was really experiencing the culture of the Land of Smiles. I realized that I was creating a scapegoat on the others for my uneasiness. I knew this was wrong. I stepped back and just realized again why I love humans; because of our individualities and how we all are complex, different and wonderful in our own ways. I knew I could not hold in such frustration nor can I put it on anyone else. So one night, I left the hotel by myself and just walked, without a map, without a plan, without many baht and with an empty stomach. This night, this walk away from the frustrations and fears that were holding me back, turned into the most significant night I experienced on this trip.

 

I walked on main streets and side streets and streets that weren’t streets to find some food. I found plenty of food but I kept searching for something more. I finally encountered a fruit shake stand and a charcoal grill with meat cooking. It was late, there were a handful of people that looked my age, and without hesitation I stopped I smiled and said, “tao rai kaa” and pointed to the grill. They didn’t understand. I wasn’t speaking confidently because I couldn’t remember if what I said meant, “How much?” After some more gesticulating and vocal attempts, another man my age came out, got by with some English and I finally understood that the meat being grilled wasn’t for sale, but I was more than welcome to sit down and eat with them. The moment I sat down and purchased a shake and took a bite of the unknown slab of meat, from these unknown people, sitting on the side of an unknown street, allowed me to digest the fact that I had overcome my personal fear of the unknown. From then on the night became a charade of getting to know each other, with cheers and extreme enthusiasm about taking turns on Youtube playing an array of music. This is the night I have remembered the most.

 

I made a handful of friends and memories that night and we continued to make plans to spend more time together during the weekend. The person explaining these plans is named Faq. “Like frequently asked questions,” he would say. Faq spoke English better than I did. He is majoring in tourism and hotel management at Chiang Mai University and has started his own school for teaching English to the Thai people. Faq told me that we would meet in the same spot on Friday night at 9pm. This moment became the first of the few precious moments I received from Faq. I asked him how we will get there, by taxi or by motorbike, and if there would be extra room if I wanted to bring a friend from my group? Faq simply responded along the lines of not to worry, Friday is when we will know. What he said was so simplistic and profound to me. It made me aware of the fact that the smallest things in the future that I am concerned about do not really matter. At this point, I realized that in my life I have a conditioned response to make sure everything is to be understood or clear. I realized that my western ways kept me from feeling the now… be-ing in the now. It happened two more times where I have shown concern or held on and both times, while talking to Faq, he would casually speak words that really helped me experience how wonderful it is to be aware yet detached and truly live in the moment. During these moments I felt like the crown of my head opened and all of the distractions, thoughts, worries and fears from anything and everything in my mind floated away, and everything that I perceived became vivid and outstanding. From then on, my view of the world has changed.

 

“So when you want to become something more than you are, different from what you are, or higher than where you think you are, all that means is that you haven’t discovered where you are, and you are under the illusion that there is somewhere else that you ought to be besides here.”

Our Final Day at SVG Training Center

*This post was originally published on June 15th, 2012 on amywarcup.com

It has been nearly twenty days since we have arrived in Thailand, and today we have approached the final day of Thai massage training at the SVG Shivagakormarpaj Thai Massage Training Center. The students have completed about one hundred eighty minutes worth of Thai massage training. The written and practical examination will occur in less than three hours. Everyone has worked so diligently…studying late into the evening hours last night and quizzing one another this morning. I haven’t any doubts that each of them will go home as skilled and compassionate Thai massage practitioners. Training at the school has been intense. I surmise that some are starting to feel prepared to go home soon.

Despite the depth and commitment required in the training, however, I also gather that many aspects of being at the school will be missed….our morning Wai Khru (Buddhist chant and prayer), the delicious home-cooked vegetarian meals, teacher Rose’s wit and detail in her meticulous Thai massage instruction, and the unabridged kindness of the school owner, Mr. PP, his administrative assistant Nuy, his wife who made or meals each day, our charming teaching assistant, Paul, and the resident dogs, Bambi and Brownie, who make the school feel like a home. It is my hope that these will be the parts of being here that each of us, in some variation, take home. Although we may not always have Thailand accessible to us, the memories we carry from our experiences become such a momentous part of who we are. They have the influence to shape and contribute to our sense of self, our worldview, and to our interaction and treatment of others. Someone can rob us of our material possessions, people, animals, and inanimate objects may come and go from our lives, but nobody can take away our knowledge, our memories, and our life experiences.

*For more information about the SVG Thai Massage Training Center, visit theeir website at www.thaimassagetrainingcenter.com

 

“Travel Brings Power and Love Back into your Life”

*This post was originally written on September 27th, 2011 on amywarcup.com*

Travel brings power and love back into your life.”

I pondered on the mystical 13th century Persian poet’s quote today. Though I love reading quotes and poetry from many of the prophetic sages of the east, Rumi has always been one of my favorites. I enjoy reading his whimsical passages that shun the dogma of guilt-based religions in favor of celebrating life as a journey based on love and kindness.

But…there is a more personal reason that I read this quote. I depart solo for Thailand in just six days, and I will be leaving for over nine weeks. Although I have explored some other Asian countries in the past, this is my first visit to Thailand.

So…you may ask:  Why Thailand?

Well, hmmm…let’s see… there is the temperate climate, of course, and the smiling faces of the people who may have all but invented the word “hospitality,” the beauty of the southern coastline and tropical beaches, the lush green mountains of the north, the easy-going pace of the culture, the lovely and peaceful Buddhist temples, the delectable food…the list goes on.  Perhaps a better question may be “why not Thailand?”

My primary reason for visiting is to study traditional Thai massage, which I began learning and practicing in the states in early 2008. My intention is to bring what I learn back home with me to share, and eventually, to bring students with me to Thailand. I am fortunate to be on sabbatical leave this semester from my full-time job to study Thai massage more in-depth. Perhaps more importantly, I am going to Thailand to be immersed in the culture and to learn about Thailand’s people, and what Thai massage means to them. The knowledge gained by such experiences can indeed, I believe, bring much power and love into one’s life, perhaps in ways unimaginable unless experienced personally.

What is Thai Massage?

In short, a Thai massage session (Nuad Phaen Boran) incorporates a combination of yoga-like stretches, pressure point holds, and energy channel (Sen line) work. Benefits include noticeable relief of stress and tension in the body, increased openness in the body’s joints and muscle tissue, and an overall feeling of more balance for the receiver. Sessions are given with the client dressed in comfortable, flexible clothing. The client remains passive during the session to relax and enjoy while being stretched and massaged.

There is not any documented evidence of Thai massage being practiced as it is today that is more than 70 years old. Research amongst Thai communities, however, shows that the roots of its development were created between 800-1200 ACE. Though Thai massage is uniquely Thai in its practice, there are traditional practices from other Asian cultures that have influenced the healing art.  These influences include Theravada Buddhism, Ayurveda, Hatha Yoga, Chinese meridian channels, and Animism.

This, however, barely touches the surface of what Thai massage comprises, but it is a start. This is a topic that shall I shall revisit many times, I’m sure, during my travels.