Reflexology at Baan Hom

“Sarah, we have a bit of a problem. One of our students has let us down and we need another person otherwise we can’t run the reflexology course. Is there any chance you could help us out”

It was a tough task, but I was willing to step up to the mark.

I qualified in Reflexology shortly before leaving to come to Thailand, after 6 months of training in Edinburgh. Having had many Thai foot massages, I was keen to learn more about the Thai style of reflexology.

As I was not going to be a live in student for the reflexology course, I was making the daily commute to Baan Hom.

My friend John said “In order to survive on the streets of Chiang Mai, you must stop thinking like a vehicle, and think like a fish.” This is a tactic I have adopted many times both in Chiang Mai and Hanoi, and it has always served me well. At 13 km each way, it is perfectly manageable, but I did doubt my navigation skills somewhat. Turns out this was the least of my worries.

My internal dialogue went something like this on my first morning commute:
“Keep on swimming, keep on swimming… Wow! I’m actually gonna be on time! Get me! Navigation guru at your service. I may even be early.

Wait a second Mr Policeman, why have you closed the road I need to go down? You want me to go right you say? Along that road that takes me on to the… superhighway. You’re kidding me right? OK, OK, you’re not, you’re a policeman. OK, that’s fine, I’ll just go onto the superhighway on my small pink bicycle, with all those big, fast moving vehicles that want to kill me. And go in the wrong direction over the river. I’m TOTALLY cool with that. Breathe. OK, superhighway time!

AAAAAAARGH! GET ME OFF THIS ROAD! There must be a way off this road? OK, follow the Thai boy on a scooter, he’s indicating left. Follow him. Stop thinking like a fish, fish don’t ride bicycles. Think like a Thai!

Aaaaand he’s going the wrong way down the slip road… OK, I can do that too, I’m Thai remember? Sorry, sorry, nothing to see here, just a Thai on a bike, going against the traffic, cos I’m Thai and we don’t follow your rules.
OK, under the bridge, round the other side aaaaand… Back onto the superhighway. Oh crap.

Oooh, but we are going back over the river now. ARGH get away from me Mr Lorry! Must. Leave. This. Road.

WOO HOO! An exit! Taking me… Back onto the road I need to be on! GET IN!
…Screw you Mr Policeman.”

Once at Baan Hom, however, Zen was restored. Once I had arrived and recovered from the trauma of the journey, I joined the rest of the students for breakfast and met Ann, my partner for the course. Sometimes you meet someone and instantly click. Although there were nearly 30 years difference in our ages, Ann and I both knew that we would enjoy the week within minutes of meeting each other!

Our teacher for the course, Bang, is Homprang’s sister in law. She often assists Homprang with teaching, and is one of her therapists. It was Bang who effectively “spoiled” every other Thai massage for me after I had a treatment with her, as no one could ever possibly match her! One friend likened a massage with her to a “religious experience”! Certainly, this softly spoken, quietly dignified woman is extra special in my eyes and I was really looking forward to learning from her.

Our classroom for the course was two massage chairs overlooking the lotus pond. As we practiced, we heard the birds singing, the frogs, the occasional fish jumping, and the odd scooter going past. Bang does not speak much English, come to that, she doesn’t speak much at all anyway! This did not seem to matter though, as, like Homprang, she has the unique and special intuition that allows her to almost predict when to intervene, correcting anything that needs corrected even before we realised we needed it! After demonstrating the sequence, it was time to practice.

The sequence used a combination of techniques including massage, acupressure and Thai energy lines, as well as the reflexology points themselves. Looking at the chart of points, there was some crossover with some of the points that I was familiar with, but largely they were quite different. Another massive difference was the use of a wooden stick to work into the points. My reflexology training taught my to “map” the points using my fingers and thumbs, then base my treatment on my findings. The Thai approach, however, uses the wooden stick to work through all 28 of the points listed.

I have to admit that I have a somewhat poor relationship with the wooden stick. Its appearence always awakens a sinking feeling and far too many times, I have found myself practically wriggling up the chair when they bring out the “Stick of death”. Even before I did my reflexology training, I struggled with the concept of how ramming a stick into bits of your foot could be relaxing or therapeutic. I found it pokey and irritating at best, and white-knuckle-grip-the-chair-get-that-damn-thing-out-of-my-foot painful at worst. As someone who relies on feedback and touch from using their thumbs and fingers to work on a very sensitive area of the body, I was dubious of how a tool could possibly be used in an effective and beneficial way.

In Bang’s hands, however, it is transformed from instrument of torture to thing of beauty. Like so many things when it comes to massage, it is all about intention. Under Bang’s guidance, found myself embracing the wee stick as I worked and even starting to relax and enjoy it when Ann was working on my feet! Funnily enough, Ann had absolutely no massage experience, but her kindness and gentle presence made her a natural and I genuinely felt completely relaxed and at ease when she worked on me.

Throughout the fives days of our course, we were lucky enough to have models to work with in the form of guests at Baan Hom, as well as mum and a friend of ours who came to visit one day. Largely, though, it was just the three of us working in a focussed yet relaxed bubble of loveliness under Bang’s quiet guidance in our wee oasis by the pond. It was a really special time and I know that we all benefitted hugely from it. I can’t wait to bring this treatment home to use with my clients and friends!