The Sunshine Network was founded by a German man who took the name Asokananda. He studied Northern style Thai Massage extensively for many years and developed the practice which he taught through the network. He died a few years ago, but the network continues as his students pass on his teachings.
Asokananda married a member of the Lahu tribe. The Lahu are believed to originate in Tibet, and now live in Hill Villages in the mountains north of Chiang Mai. Asokananda built a school in the village where he lived with his family, and the Sunshine network continues to teach there.
The village is on a steep slope in a beautiful area of jungle. Things appear very basic, with bamboo and wood huts crowded together, with pigs, dogs and chickens foraging beneath them. However, things are changing, with mobile phones commonplace and rumours of an internet café opening.
The Lahu were very welcoming. Some students stayed in houses with families, and everyone seemed very pleased to have us around. Some locals took advantage of the school in their midst more than others - one man would turn up regularly, and lie down in front of one of us to be massaged.
My home for the two weeks was a bamboo hut. It was perfectly located close (but not too close) to the school’s wash facilities, with 3 squat toilets and 2 hot showers. It did however take a few nights to get used to the sounds from the pig pen behind, and the cockerels that would crow underneath it at 3.30am!
Classes were held on a purpose built open platform. We were a large group, so after a demonstration we would split and work in different areas, practising on each other with support from our tutors and several assistants.
|Nicki, our tutor, demonstrates a side stretch|
The course is approached very much as a retreat, for the participants to learn about themselves, away from distractions, not just a massage class. We had meditation and yoga each morning, and prayers and chanting at the start and end of each day’s teaching.
For me, it was definitely much more than a class. I have travelled extensively in basic conditions, bush camping in Africa and Australia, so I thought I would be prepared for life in the village. However, it was a lot more challenging for me than I expected. It was partly due to the passing of years since I bush camped – now I’m a little older, I like a few more home comforts in my life. More than that though, I found it difficult to be living in such close proximity – to the group, the villagers, and several types of animal. I found it a little claustrophobic, and it was hard for me to retain a sense of self. However, in that experience I did learn about myself (I need space!) and I was forced to more actively manage my emotions and reactions for the first time on my journey, to make sure I made the most I could of my time there. After all, this too would end.
|Classes continued in the cold, with a lot of blankets|
And of course, after a few days, the weather lifted and we woke one morning to blue skies. I immediately went for a walk away from the village through the hills, to enjoy the sun on my skin and to find a little of the space I’d been hankering for.
And now I look back on the experience, how do I feel about it? I have to say I won’t be heading back to the village in a hurry; it was a little bit too challenging for me, although I think it would be easier, knowing what to expect. But I loved the course; the massage we learnt was beautiful, a flowing, dynamic movement, truly the dance of Thai Massage and the way I now practise. I met a range of people living very different lives (one group had just spent 4 months in Antarctica) and through them found out about a lot of possibilities I hadn’t previously considered. A number of people practised acro-yoga, for which Thai Massage is a prerequisite to teaching, and there is in France a group teaching Osteo-Thai, which I plan to visit as soon as I can. I can’t deny that my time in the Lahu Village has given my some great stories to tell. It didn’t take long for the memories of the discomfort to fade, and what remains is a rare experience of another way of life shared with warm and giving people, and reminiscing about it makes me smile.