Jan 10, 2014
Thai Masseur, Teacher
Lahu Village, Chiang Rai, Thailand
When I signed up for the introductory Thai yoga massage course with the Sunshine Network in Chiang Mai, Thailand, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I knew that I wanted to be able to massage people properly, to interpret with confidence the Brialle-like hills and valleys of that veiled world, the body. Touch, I knew, had the power to heal.
My first experience with Thai massage had done little to calm my nerves. What was all of this poking and prodding, the pulling and twisting of limbs? This wasn’t the relaxation massage I was used to. How would I ever learn these complex sequences, this new dance with a client, in only twelve days?
Relief came upon meeting the instructors for the course. There were a handful of Italians, a Canadian, a Greek, and a Thai man named Chatchoi. They all seemed really jazzed about what they were going to teach us. The excitement over learning was contagious.
The course began with a video about the school. We students sat with mouths agape at some of the advanced arrangements on display. A baby Chatchoi popped onto the screen. His father, Asokananda, literally wrote the book on Thai massage. His methods were what we were here to learn.
Though Asokananda passed away in 2005, his work continues through the Sunshine Network’s course offerings all around the world. The Lahu village in Chiang Rai has been the heart of the Sunshine Network for the last 27 years. This is where Chatchoi oversees the courses that teach the methods his father devised decades ago.
Chatchoi has been practicing massage since he was five years old. It’s the only thing he has ever imagined doing. Even when he is on holiday from teaching, he still practices massage.
"You must keep practicing. If you stop for long, your hands lose their muscle," he tells me. To regain strength, he suggests working a ball of wax until it is warm and compliant.
During our interview, I examined Chatchoi’s hands at length. In the photo, you might notice that the pads of his fingers are swollen and worn. The depth of his fingerprints has been compromised by clients’ clothing. The lines of his palms remain the only trustworthy landmarks amidst the suggestion of a maze that most of our hands bare. It’s a small tradeoff for the power to heal.
On using the hands to read the body, Chatchoi is reserved with his words. This language is something he has known his whole life. His hands read resistance and damage in the body the way that his eyes read Thai. It is communication all the same.