When the director of ITM Thai massage school in Thailand tells you that you have to walk two miles Friday morning to arrive in time for 8:30 am Tai Chi/Qi Gong in the far Southwestern park of Chiang Mai, you grumble profusely.
Once you’re stretching your arms high above your head in the fresh morning air, however, and once you hear the birds singing in the bright green palm trees, all is made clear.
And it’s all even better when three random Japanese tourists in inappropriate clothing spontaneously join the exercises for half an hour!
Unfortunately, once we were all headed back to the ITM classroom, jitters filled the air. We suddenly remembered that our Level One Thai Massage exam was about to start.
“Massage school was one of the most powerful experiences of my life,” confessed my friend Derian in Boston before I flew off to Asia. “You are pushed to connect with strangers in a way you never before realized was possible. It’s really, really odd at first, but it’s unbelievable once you get it.”
These words bounced around my head as I kneaded the legs of my partner during hour two of our two hour massage exam. The room had gotten steamy with so much nervous energy, and sweat started dripping down my nose.
I quickly swiped it with the back of my hand, then realized– dammit!– that the hand clasp rotation was next. The instructor grading me made some notes on her clipboard and I discreetly wiped my hand and focused on move number fifty-two.
As I tried to synchronize my breathing with my partner’s to begin the abdomen presses around his navel, I realized how very much I’ve learned in the past week at massage school. Sixty-three moves, to be exact — many of which I never would have thought beneficial, but are!
In “Cowboy Rides the Horse”, for example, your partner lies on her back, and you push her feet and legs up with her knees bent. Then you sit on her buttocks with your knees! Move your knees up twice then down twice along the lower thigh, while you push the legs towards the head. Intense! And wacky! But amazing. Who knew?
Or what about all this touching of feet? In the reverse of Western massage, Thai massage begins with the feet and works upward. I have never touched so many feet in my life! But it’s rather delightful to feel the different characteristics of each fellow human’s (freshly washed) soles. You can really start to feel the energy coursing through.
As I massaged, I thought of my Thanksgiving-in-Thailand celebration last night, where I ate chicken-veggie stir fry and rice, all alone except for the company of a really fluffy puppy wearing a plaid shirt (pictured, left). And I liked it! Being alone and re-inventing historic holidays ain’t half bad.
I thought of what a change taking a course is from bopping around crazy islands or patting tigers. Gazing around at the range of ages and backgrounds at ITM, I realized that I likely would not have had a chance to connect with such an assortment of great folks any other way. It’s a good thing, isn’t it, switching up travel strategies every few months!
And finally, as I massaged, I though of the fact that you’re really not supposed to be thinking your own thoughts at all while you massage! It’s a spiritual exercise that mandates physical and mental melding with your partner. And thus I shut off my bubbling mind and breathed in and out, in and out, feeling the body heat pass between my hands and the arms of the fellow human beneath my pressure.
The head rub came to a close, as did the hand-brushing of the body, and like that, I finished my exam. The instructor approached with a blank face and held out her hand. “You do six points of hand again on me,” she commanded, and I shakily did. She marked several things in her scorecard, then disappeared.
My partner and I said “Kop koon ka” and “Kop koon kop” to each other: Thank You. And I waited.
I thought about how there was randomly a neon green snake lying dead on the sidewalk on my way to school today (pictured, left). What the heck was the story behind that? Weird.
The instructor returned with my score: a 92%. I passed! And I did well! Hooray!!!!
Of course, it is fully within ITM’s interest to have all their participants pass each level, but I did work quite hard and I feel proud of my “A”. I really do!
Everyone gathered round the floor as ITM’s director, John, ceremoniously passed out the diplomas for those completing their time at ITM: from one week (for dabbling into massage) to eleven weeks (for massage teacher training). People embraced and took photos. Olivia and I get our Thai massage graduation certificates next week after we complete Level Two of Thai Massage, provided we pass that test!
It’s very exciting to think what we will learn next. And it also makes me giggle a little, because I’m sure something new will trump “Cowboy Rides the Horse”. Stay tuned for details!
If you’ve never taken a massage course, I encourage you to consider it. Look at this photo above: here are two people from totally different backgrounds, parts of the world, age groups, and experiences, and yet see how comfortable and trusting they are, physically, with each other! They are just two of the wonderful people who have been training together at ITM for weeks, now, and the effects are beautiful. I like this picture!
We are an amazing species, us humans. I feel extremely thankful for this chance to explore our kind in new depth, thanks to massage.
The author, Lillie Marshall, is a 6-foot-tall National Board Certified Teacher of English, fitness fan, and mother of two who has been a public school educator since 2003. She launched Around the World “L” Travel and Life Blog in 2009, and over 4.2 million readers have now visited this site. Lillie also runs TeachingTraveling.com and DrawingsOf.com. Subscribe to her monthly newsletter, and follow @WorldLillie on social media!