Reflections on a trip to Burma

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAlthough I have been back from Burma for over a month now, it seemed to take a while to properly land. I am happy to say that I no longer feel suspended somewhere between different time zones, climates and cultures. Now that I am settled once again back home I feel I can begin to process the rich experience of traveling and practising acupuncture in Burma.

So here is a little summary of what I was up to:

I was in a team of 4 western acupuncturists invited to take part in a 3 week acupuncture programme which takes place twice a year at a hospital established by a monastery, near Mandalay. The idea of the programme is to enable local traditional Myanmar medicine practitioners who have studied at Mandalay university to gain experience of practicing acupuncture in a supportive environment and learn from more experienced western acupuncturists. In the west we are fortunate to have a very high standard of acupuncture training whilst our colleagues in Burma learn acupuncture as adjunct to their traditional medicine training which focuses on herbs and massage techniques.
The programme is centred around an acupuncture clinic which opens its doors 6 days a week for the period of our stay. At the end of the programme the clinic operates a reduced service 3 times a week and the local practitioners maintain it by volunteering their time but gain lots of experience, a sense of fulfilment and lots of friendship.

Every morning we would walk over the road to the acupuncture hospital where already there would be a long line of people queuing up for treatment and the local team would have just arrived off the bus from Mandalay, a half hour ride away. We would then get together in small teams, a western practitioner with 2 or 3 local practitioners, and work our way around the room.

There was a real variety of patients and we treated a wide range of conditions. There was always a large number of Buddhist monks and nuns, as the area is a hub for monasteries and temples. In order to treat them we would have to navigate the carefully arranged crimson (the monks) and pink (the nuns) robes.  Many of the patients were farmers and labourers with musculoskeletal conditions such as back  and knee pain. We saw a lot of people who had been in motorbike accidents with terrible scars. We were able to work on these scars with daily treatments and really saw the benefit of such regular treatments as scars became noticeably less raised, less purple and more supple. We also saw some impressive results with a lady who had recently suffered a stroke and was paralysed on one side. After 3 weeks of regular treatment her movement ability had significantly improved and she her whole being was much brighter and more able to engage. It makes you think what could be achieved if acupuncture was more widely accessible and part of the mainstream provision in our country. Some patients had travelled considerable distances for treatment with one lady coming from over 100miles. The state provision for health care is apparently very minimal in Myanmar and the population have few options when face with illness.
On some afternoons, after a good lunch of curries, soup, rice and pickles, we would take a short rest before offering a lesson to the students. We were invited to teach about whatever we were most inspired by. And so we offered lessons on acupuncture in pregnancy, qi gong, reading pulses, dental analgesia and safe practice.
A lovely addition to the experience of being in Myanmar was that we were invited to take part in a daily meditation sitting, at the nearby monastery. So we would start our mornings with an hour of meditation which really helped to ground me before a busy day in clinic. I also very much appreciated the special location we were in and the afternoon hikes into the hills behind the hospital to discover a myriad of little paths each leading to a monastery, temple or stupa. And once arriving at the top of a peak admiring the views of the mighty Irrawaddy in the soft, golden light of the late afternoon.
But I think what I was most inspired by was the warmth and generosity of our hosts, a truly humbling experience.