Sheryl's Asia trip from 29/09/05 to whenever travel blog

The Sanctuary

Haad Thien Bay, Koh Pha Ngan

Haad Yuan beach seen through Bamboo Hut restaurant

The boardwalk leading to Haad Yuan beach

Haad Yuan beach (my beach)

My hut at Big Blue Resort

Sidhamo demonstrating on Melanie

Me with Sidhamo having received certificate of completing yoga massage course

23 April 06 - Back to Koh Pha Ngan

I got the first boat to Koh Pha Ngan at 0920. I was pleased to get a taxi boat to Haad Yuan without having to wait too long. It was just me and a lot of locals. As I went into the Big Blue Resort I saw Lawrence and Craig sitting there, so sat and chatted with them. They had decided not to bother going to Koh Tao as they liked it so much there and Craig continued doing more Thai Boxing. Lawrence had been doing very little. I was originally planning to return tomorrow, but my original room was still available. Later I went with Lawrence, Craig and a chap called Rob from Birmingham to 'Bamboo Hut' - a restaurant, with bungalows, perched on the rocks (where I'd tried to get into but was full when I first arrived) allegedly the best food. The view from there was fantastic overlooking the bay of Haad Yuan and I couldn't help thinking that you would pay a lot for such a view at some restaurants around the world. They really have got this place sussed.

Back at the Big Blue, we started watching 'Brokeback Mountain' - which I believe had won lots of oscars and people had been recommending to me. However Lawrence disappeared very soon after it started through boredom, them I went off to bed followed apparently by Craig. I am not sure why it was such a big hit. Perhaps someone could enlighten me?!

24 April 06

I went to a yoga class at 0800 today at the Sanctuary led by Ben again. I was drenched in sweat by the time I got there. Then at 1200 I had a drumming lesson with a Brazilian chap called Luiz, who had put a sign up on a tree advertising his services. Thought it would be something different to try. However, clearly it requires a lot of practise. He suggested I might like to go to the jamming drumming session they have on a Tuesday afternoon.

Later I noticed that Dan and Rachel had arrived, so that was nice particularly as Lawrence and Craig were going to be be leaving on Wednesday. I took them with me to the Sanctuary at 1400 for a demonstration of the Ayurvedic Yoga Massage course that begins tomorrow, only to discover that it had been cancelled and a meeting at 1800 was going to be held instead. Spent the rest of the afternoon swimming, sunbathing and reading.

At 1800 I went back over the rocks to the Sanctuary for the 1800 meeting held on the beach in front of the Sanctuary. The trainer, known as Sidhamo, gave us a briefing. He seemed pleasant at first meeting. I had thought I would be surrounded by weird people doing the course, but there were only a couple of odd balls out of a group of 15. I thought it would be fun and was looking forward to learning something new and being with a group of people for a while.

25 April - 02 May 06 Ayurvedic Yoga Massage Course.

AYM originated with Indian wrestlers. It is a unique, and comprehensive system of deep tissue massage, muscle release and yoga based assisted stretching using synchronised breathing to 'unlock' the body. It releases stress, tight muscles and the skeleton. Diaphramic breathing is one of the most important aspects as it allows deep stretching.

The Trainer:

Sidhamo, a good looking, 41 year old black American man brought up in Harlem, New York. 'Sidhamo' is the name given to him by his Yogi Master in India. He told me his birth name is Michael Johnson! He began learning meditation, yoga and pranayama (breathing techniques) from the age of 10 when his mother sent him to classes. It didn't add much to his street cred in Harlem! He discovered AYM at Osho's commune in Pune, India and trained in Goa in 2000, and has been teaching it since then. Sadly I, and several others in the group, grew to dislike him owing to his extremely patronising manner towards us and his massive ego.

The group:

I had been concerned that there would be a few 'alternative' people in the group who I wouldn't take to, but this proved not to be the case. It comprised two men and eleven women as follows:

Martyn: from England, aged 30 (although I thought he was older) who has been travelling on and off for some years, and lived and set up a company in Guatemala. He starts a new job in Hong Kong in 7 weeks having been head hunted by a wealthy female investment banker. He has a great sense of humour and leadership qualities. He was the person I confided in when I was about to leave the course and persuaded me to stay.

Tony: Australian aged 34 who is a nurse and had been working in a prison hospital but decided he'd had enough of it during a particularly violent episode with a prisoner. Searching for another purpose in life. A lovely, good looking chap, very caring and spiritual.

Catherine: aged 49, but looks years younger as she is very petite, from France currently living in Paris. Is going home in 2 weeks having travelled for 4 months. She has been on a 10 day meditation course. I gradually got to know and like her. She does various office jobs but able to travel a lot as inherited money when her father died last year. Has a jazz pianist partner, but she would like to move away from Paris on her return home, with or without him.

Catherine-Joy: an Australian midwife aged 43, but I thought she was older than that. Of the older women, she is the only one who has a child! She seemed a very needy person and focussed a lot on sex, making no secret of the fact that, although now separated from her husband, she had a lot of lovers while married. She very quickly latched on to:

Jan: from Nottingham, England, also aged 43. She had done this course before and adored Sidhamo (seemed completely unaware that he was patronising and an egotist). It took a while to get used to her (she would hold my hand from day one when talking to me) and in fact she didn't talk to many people. She was usually floating about the room getting hugs from Catherine-Joy. She has a 24 year old Thai male friend on the island with whom she is establishing a small cafe, and a recent male love interest back home called Will. She carries a toy monkey around which belongs to him!

Catheline: from Holland. Perhaps the strangest character in the group and didn't really bond with anyone. She was quite attention-seeking, aided by the fact that she had injured an ankle while jumping off a fence when drunk, so used a stick and usually made a late entrance. She sounded spaced out most of the time. I did not get to know her at all.

Ying: female aged 49 from Singapore with very short hair which made her look very buddha-like. She had studied Shiatsu in Devon and Wales for 3 years. A trained architect, but practising Shiatsu from home asking her clients to pay her what they thought the session was worth. A very quiet, intelligent, caring and emotional person. I liked her a lot. I may well meet up with her in Singapore at some stage on my travels.

Amanda: aged 24 from the Sunshine Coast, Australia. A lovely girl who has been working in real estate, but got to know everything about the company so looking for a new challenge. Travelled for a few months before Christmas, went home for 2 months, then returned to travelling. She is considering doing a yoga teaching course and may then teach yoga part time. She is spending 2 months in Daramsala, N. India.

Becky: from Texas, aged early 20's and very shy and quiet. A pretty girl who graduated recently in Photography. I managed to have a conversation with her when I paired up with her one day but she had to be drawn her out, she is not very forthcoming.

Melanie: mid 20's from Sheffield, England. A trainer of personal trainers having graduated in Sports Science and nutrition. I got on very well with her. Just on a 3 week holiday and had been finding her job very stressful.

Lindsay: from New Zealand although I thought she was American, judging by the way she acted. I couldn't bear her - a very big ego, and always showing off her fat stomach which she seemed very proud of. She recently completed a yoga teacher's course on teh island where she met:

Megan: from Alaska, who also didn't really mix in too much with the group. She leaves soon after the course for home to cook for clients who charter her father's motor vessle during the summer in Alaska.

Sidhamo was assisted by Emma, an Irish girl early 30's who did the course with her boyfriend in January and had a great time, but agreed with me that this time it was a bad experience. She was very pally with Lindsay and Megan as she met them also on the yoga teacher's course before this course, and they were very cliquey. I didn't really speak to her until nearly the end of the course, when she asked me what I thought about it. Sidhamo was also assisted by Nirav, an Indian who had done the course before and practises in India for money, but he wasn't always correct when helping out.

There was also a Japanese woman called Aysha with very hairy armpits, Nirav's girlfriend he met on the course (although she didn't do it as had slipped discs in her back) did two days of the course but didn't continue as her back was still playing up.

The course:

I got into a kind of routine during the 8 days of the course which consisted of walking over the rocks to the course, returning at the end to shower and go to my resort's restaurant where a couple of DVD's would be shown on big television screens from 7pm. Usually a comedy first, and followed by a more serious/interesting film. We usually started the course at 0900, but started at 1015 on a couple of the days. I would be exhausted at the end of each day.

On the first day, we had a two hour yoga session with Sidhamo, but Emma led the other sessions. We had been told that we would probably become very emotional during the course and to let it go as it was a very safe environment! I was determined that I wouldn't be getting emotional!! We learnt a little bit of massage, did some dancing and then went to lunch. After lunch we did an exercise and were told to pair up (I had Aysha) and had to stare into our partner's eyes while Sidhamo was saying things like: "See how perfect/beautiful your partner is". I did this with hardly a blink and Aysha's face would go all blurry. I noticed that she looked a bit tearful, so smiled at her (didn't want her crying on me getting all emotional!). Later when I asked her if she was about to cry, she agreed she was and said it was because she thought I was very beautiful! A susceptible person if ever there was one. After the staring, we then had to breathe hard and increase the speed of our breathing. I started to feel a bit faint, so stopped this exercise, which I considered quite ridiculous (although everyone else seemed to be going for it). Sidhamo told me later, when he asked about our experiences, that I should have continued into the faint! After this exercise we had to go round to everyone, greeting them with our hands in prayer saying "Namaste, I recognise the buddha within you" and give them big hugs. Some were really going at this, but I wasn't comfortable with it, not being a great fan of hugging people I've only just met!! However, after a few days I was quite happy to hug certain people.

During the afternoon I had heard the drumming group in the distance and when we finished for the day went off to find them hoping to listen for a while. However, when I got there Luiz was just packing up, so the others decided to call it a day too. As they were a dreadlocked, dope-smoking group I, being my conventional self, didn't think I would fit in too well anyway.

Second day started with a one hour yoga class with Emma followed by more massage training. I found today that I am enjoying massaging and being massaged and would like to learn to do it really well. We did another eye contact exercise, again adding the heavy breathing and then arms into chest press getting faster and faster (it seemed quite ridiculous to me, but I went with the flow but at half the speed as suggested), then we had to talk gibberish to our partner and then laugh!! I later saw the point, to a certain extent, of these exercises as it did seem to bring us closer together and gain each other's trust - necessary when you are giving a massage. Again this was followed by the "Namaste..." and hugs all round. We finished today at 1600, so I went for a swim and chatted to Dan and Rachel on the beach before showering for dinner and films.

Third day started with a more varied yoga class with Emma. I noticed that I was becoming more flexible, could touch the floor with my fingers, whereas at the start I couldn't even touch my toes. We had our first volunteers from the Sanctuary for us to practise all we had learnt so far. Sidhamo matched us up with them. It was good to work on people outside of our group. After lunch, we did some dancing and fortunately no hugging today. Sidhamo told us that tomorrow we would be doing 'dynamic mediation' which he said was a great way to release emotion trapped in our bodies.

Fourth day as promised started off with the Dynamic Meditation, which was initially demonstrated by Jan and Nirav who had done it before when they did the course and clearly enjoyed it. Jan was the champion sniffer! I will explain. The exercise was in 5 parts and each part took 6 minutes. The first part we were to sniff in and out of our noses at ever increasing speeds and different rhythms. We blew our noses first so that no unwanted missiles would fly out during the process! I didn't exactly go for this, but made out I was doing it. After all, 6 minutes of that is pretty hard going. The second part, we had to vent our anger - Sidhamo told us to really go for this, and not worry if we became emotional as a result. I ended up, as did a few others, on the floor banging it with my feet and fists, screaming and shouting - feeling a right idiot but then I wasn't alone - making me pretty hoarse by the end of the 6 minutes. for the third part we had to jump up and down raising our arms up and down and letting out an "ooh" each time, like a monkey. For the fourth part we were to stand stock still with our eyes closed and the fifth part was dancing about, as crazily as you wanted and around the room. It was a pretty exhausting exercise, but I thought the whole thing was crazy and time that could have been spent learning more massage, as I didn't think that much of our days were spent on massage techniques. For this exercise we were joined by others from the Sanctuary, which I thought bizarre as I certainly wouldn't have done this voluntarily.

We were given a much needed break after this and back to learn some more massage. Later we watched Sidhamo demonstrate some stretches and finished at 1515 as he was going to Koh Samui to check on the editing of his DVD which would only serve to increase his already massive ego. At 1630, Dan and Rachel came over as I had asked if they would act as dummies for us to practise our massage techniques on. French Catherine took Dan, while I took Rachel and Martyn, who didn't have anyone to massage, kindly read from the book and helped us out if we were going wrong. Dan and Rachel enjoyed it so much, they decided they would come back for more tomorrow and stay an extra day, as originally planning to leave for Krabi tomorrow.

Fifth day. A later start today, 1015, and a yoga class with Emma. After lunch, Sidhamo arrived and told us just how wonderful his DVD was, the different camera angles that caught him in the various poses looking at his best! It's incredible how anyone can be so full of himself. We had another staring into our partner's eyes exercise while holding hands, then talking gibberish and laughing. I had young Becky this time, and we both kept smiling at the nonsense of it. Everytime we did this exercise, I couldn't help but think about the scene in 'Little Britain' with the magician saying "Look into my eyes..." Then the group hugs, but by now it was ok for me to hug most of the people as I liked most of them! Then we held hands in a circle, and were told to imagine energy going into and out of our left arm into the next person!! Well, honestly! I started off kicking my legs out and singing, to be joined by others. We finished late, about 1800, and I discovered that Dan and Rachel had come up for their massage, seen that we were still in the class, and gone back to the Big Blue. I had no way of telling them we were late, and felt bad for them having delayed their departure but they were fine about it. It was just as well as I didn't fancy practising more massage, was completely exhausted. Sidhamo had been picking on me rather a lot today. He says "Bingo" every time we get something right when he has guided us through, and will call people 'Sunshine' if he doesn't know their name, which is several of the group. At one point Sidhamo had asked me how I was and I told him ok but that I didn't care for his patronising attitude much, which made him go away and think. Afterwards, he used me to demonstrate some techniques on - as if it was his way to say sorry.

Sixth day. I was still very tired this morning, and would have liked the day off, for the course was 8 days without a break. However, we started off today with one hour of breathing exercises - e.g. inhaling for 6 seconds, holding our breath for 6 seconds asnd exhasling for 6. After this I felt completely revitalised. Apparently we only use about 10% or our lungs' capacity, and I vowed that I would practise these techniques in the future. Strangely I found it more difficult to inhale for 6 seconds than to exhale. We learnt some more stretches. Sidhamo picking on me again for most of the day, which I felt was almost bullying and I didn't like it much.

In the evening, I went for a meal at Bamboo Hut. Unfortunately Megan, Lindsay and Emma were there but fortunately Tony, Amanda and Martyn came. I discussed with Martyn Sidhamo's patronising attitude, and he agreed that it was getting to him too. Martyn is one of the people Sidhamo hasn't bothered to learn the name of, but calls him 'Swarmy' instead. He told me he had counted Sidhamo saying 'Bingo' 24 times this afternoon. Amanda commented that she was upset but for the fact that he had been totally ignoring her, even when she asked him questions, so she had decided not to let it get to her because she liked the rest of the group.

Seventh day. I hardly slept last night and made the decision to leave this morning. I decided to go to a small breath work session that Megan was holding on the beach at 0715, after which told Martyn of my decision and gave him my e mail address to pass on to the others, as didn't really not want to have contact with them. He persuaded me not to leave and I was glad I did because I really enjoyed today. This morning, we finished off the whole massage programme and Martyn and I worked together. I noticed Sidhamo hadn't used the word 'Bingo' apart from one time, when he obviously forgot himself, which made me laugh. It turned out that Martyn had taken Sidhamo aside before the start today about his patronising manner and overuse of that word! He also told him that a lot of people in the group had been feeling quite negative because of his attitude towards them. Sidhamo was sweetness and light to me today, although Martyn said he hadn't mentioned anyone by name. This afternoon we had more volunteers from the Sanctuary and ran through the whole of the yoga massage programme with Sidhamo guiding. I had a friend of Melanie's called Kat, who has been travelling for 2 years and going back home, reluctantly, in July. She told me at the end that she had really enjoyed it. After this, Sidhamo put some music on (he really has quite a good selection) and we danced around the room like mad things. Jan and I were singing snippets from 'The Sound of Music'.

In the evening, decided not to go to the Bamboo Hut for dinner as they were showing 'Hotel Rwanda' at Big Blue.

Eighth day, and the final day of the course. I had a little chat with Emma and Amanda this morning when Emma asked me what I felt about the course and Sidhamo and it was then that she confided what a very different experience she was having this time compared to the last time she did the course. She seems fine when not around Lindsay and Megan, who together form a little clique which noone else likes to disturb. We walked together to the Sanctuary and I slipped on some gravel and fell on my backside, which I didn't think much of at the time but later had difficulty sitting down so realised I must have bruisesd my coxix.

Sidhamo told us that we would be running through the whole programme with a partner and swapping over in the afternoon. Jan had asked me to partner her yesterday for today, which meant that I had successfully avoided working with either Lindsay or Megan but with everyone else. I massaged Jan in the morning. We were told that we wouldn't have Sidhamo to watch, but we had each other as a guide and to try to keep together. I had some difficulty working out what was next when I got slightly behind, having had to stand up a couple of times to rest my lower back, which really hurts while kneeling on the floor massaging people. Jan was telling me how to do things, and as we progressed she said she was getting stressed which didn't exactly inspire me with confidence! I missed a few things out, and had to call Sidhamo over to show me a couple of stretches that I couldn't remember, and at the end Jan got up grumpily and told me she was completely stressed out and had to have a shower! After that, we had lunch which was on Sidhamo, and Jan ignored me. I eventually went to speak to her and she told me it wasn't about me but that she had felt stressed out, shouldn't have had to tell me things etc. I said I thought that her expectations were set too high because at the end of the day we hadn't had a lot of training with the massage and I wasn't a professional. She had apparently done a lot of various courses in massage, had a lot of massages and also done this course before. I confided in her that I had been going to leave the course early, and she said that perhaps I should have done if that was how I felt about it and Sidhamo!! We laughed and said that perhaps I should stick to singing and dancing!! I later discovered that I wasn't the only one who didn't know exactly what came next or remembered how to do the various stretches. Decided not to let it get me down and that it was a rather dramatic reaction of Jan's. We were given feedback forms on the course, and I have to say mine was pretty negative.

Sidhamo is teaching this course in Germany and Austria, also teaches it in London. The course costs 550 pounds in London (Covent Garden) whereas we had paid the equivalent of 150 pounds for the same thing.

We decided to have a final meal together tonight at 'Eden' which was next to the Bamboo Hut on the rocks. I had a Singapore Sling before going over. I thought that we would all be together on one big table, but as it happened we ended up in small groups sitting on the floor, which was rather disappointing. Sidhamo came round to us all selling us his DVD, which I bought as will need to remind myself of the moves. He had told us that we should practise as soon as possible after the course otherwise we would forget virtually all of it.

03 May 06

Decided just to chill out today and to leave tomorrow. I had hardly seen the sun in the last 8 days and my tan was starting to fade! I chatted on the beach to Amanda for a while until she went off to lunch, and didn't reappear because she had burnt herself. Stayed on the beach all afternoon and really enjoyed it. In the evening, I went to the Bamboo Hut for dinner with Melanie, Kat, a Swiss girl called Anneka they had met, and Amanda. We were joined, after having eaten, by Martyn and Tony who have started the fasting course at the Sanctuary. They had been 'pre-cleansing' for the two days prior to today, which meant just eating raw vegetables and fruit. All they had tonight was fruit juice with no sugar. Went to Eden with Amanda and Tony for a while until 0100.

Tony did confide that the colonic irrigation wasn't a pleasant experience! They had to do it for themselves, and just had a dingy room with a bench to lie on. They have a tube attached to a 5 gallon (or was it litres?) tank, out of which comes brown liquid (I thought that was what came out of their colon!). They have to turn the tank on until their stomach is full, it then empties out, and the continue doing this procedure until the tank is empty. Tony had had a colonic irrigation before but said that he had at least then had more comfortable surroundings, and a seat with a hole! I realised that now embarking on the fasting/colonic irrigation course had been a wise decision

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