I graduated from the Wat Po Traditional Massage School this week.
The tradition of Thai Massage has been passed down hand over hand from Buddha’s physician 2500 years ago. And, last year the UN deemed the procedure a UNESCO Intangible World Heritage.
It is widely used and massage centers are everywhere. I learned recently that after the 1998 Global Financial Crisis the Thai Government decreed that massage should be the employer of last resort and that if there is nothing else to do, you can ease another person’s pain. And thus, people were encouraged to get trained at one of the 181 massage schools around the country.
For a while, with booming tourism, this was a great plan until the world went sideways. With customers vanishing, there are a lot of idle hands.
With some vacation time to use and nowhere to go, I took a staycation and enrolled in the massage class at the Wat Po Chetawan Massage School. This is the original school in Thailand, established in 1955. My goals when I chose the school was to learn the gold-standard of Thai Massage so I know when I’ve received a good massage. Also, I thought it would be a good way to learn about some traditional medical knowledge.
So, Monday morning I sat down with one other student and a teacher and we worked our way toward memorizing all 171 steps of a traditional Thai massage. How to sit, how to stand, where to place the hands, what not to do.
Along with other students, we alternated massaging and being massaged. It may sound like heaven, but it was an exhausting 6+ hours a day. My back was sore from stretching. My haunches sore from squatting up and down. My thumbs ached from pressing along the “Sen” lines, front and back.
In addition to some theory and massage techniques, I learned that I tip my masseuses far too little for the amount of work they do, and I pledge to do better. But, by the end of the week, I had chafing of the knees, a photo and a certificate entitling me to all the honors and privileges conveyed.