Almost two years ago I came back from a two-year solo trip around the world. One of the best parts of solo travel is the ease of meeting new people and learning about the world through their stories and views. When I stepped into a Muay Thai camp in a small town in northern Thailand, I was only expecting to work on my fitness. I never expected to re-evaluate my views on western medicine and spirituality.
After four months of eating deep-fried street food, excessively sugary iced coffees and endless amounts of Asian sweets, I decided it was a good idea to jump into a sport I knew nothing about. Before leaving on my trip, I was able to run 5k no problem – so 5 hours of intense sweating per day would be a breeze, right?
Well, my knee didn’t think so. A visit to the local hospital left me with the strongest pain-killers I’ve ever known, and haunting nightmares of knee surgery as my hypochondriac-self lay in bed with my leg in the air, and a make-shift ice pack.
Then came Joycee. A yoga-loving, exuberant, caring Filipina who had studied Chinese Tui Na Massage in Hong Kong. She taught yoga at the Muay Thai gym. I hated yoga, but was trying to practice patience, so we became friends.
When she heard about my injury, she told me that she was able to fix it with a massage. Having worked in a western Hospital as a health professional, I was skeptical. I was certain that there was absolutely no way she could massage my knee back to health. My western views made me worried that a massage would just do more damage. I was set on getting an x-ray done and just suffering with the consequences.
But I finally decided to let her try, because – why not, I was in Thailand, and I could barely walk.
I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced more pain by choice. As my muscles screamed, I could feel my circulation rushing back to my extremities. I could feel years of poor circulation become unblocked. I could feel the toxins in my body being released as this petite woman pushed them out of me. I could feel my knee fight against her hands. I could feel my lower back release its numbing tension. I swore, I cried, and I ended up bruised from all the toxins that were released. But my knee worked.
My next two massage sessions involved more tears and more pain, but there was a difference. While she scraped at my muscles, my emotions were released too. The stress of my past dissipated. Not only did I learn to deal with this seemingly torturous massage, but I also learned to let go. Her massages helped me let go of issues that were holding me back from being truly comfortable by myself, on a solo journey. I was fascinated by the way she learned about my life through my body. She knew which bones I had broken. She knew I’d had a recent conflict with a family member. She knew I was holding in a really big secret that I was scared to tell anyone.
After physically feeling the reaction of my body to a simple massage, I began to question the relationship between mind and body, and how important it is to stay healthy and stay positive. If I had gone to see another doctor, what would western medicine have done besides provide more painkillers? After giving nutrition counselling to chronically-sick children for two years, with a western perspective, this event in my life brought on many questions – some personal and some medical.
I’m not saying you have to believe in alternative medicine, or begin to consider spirituality, or even that you have to rush out and get a Tui Na massage (although, I’d highly recommend it). What I’m saying is that you can learn from everyone you meet, absolutely everyone. Traveling is about discovering new cultures, new thought processes and new beliefs.
Three years after that massage, it continues to challenge my thoughts about western medicine. It isn’t to say that I’ve dropped my western mentality – I do still work in a western hospital and benefit from western medicine. But overall I think it has made me a more open-minded person with a curiosity for alternative medicines.
Who knew that signing up for a Muay Thai gym was going to change me so fundamentally? Travelling provides us with so many moments to shift our perspectives and learn from the people around us, and I am so glad I kept an open mind.
I can’t wait to head to Iceland in a few weeks and discover new things about the world! Edit: Did not head to Iceland… planning on bigger things for the summer!
Have any of you had amazing travel moments that changed you to the core? Let me know!