From the hustle and bustle of the Folkingestraat in
, I turn into a narrow little alleyway, and the sounds magically melt away is if absorbed by the stone-sided buildings. Karen greets me, a big friendly smile on her face and a white china coffee cup, empty and dangling despondently from her hand. Before we go further, she tells me she’s in need of another cappuccino from café Pure. So, we retrace my steps into the noisy street again to return a few minutes later armed with a fresh, steaming cup of the beverage and we venture further into the alleyway, Karen enthusing and pointing out the hidden gardens along the way. Groningen
We reach her studio via an impressive marble staircase, with a smooth, varnished, wooden handrail that ascends with us. The room, high ceiling and white-walled exudes a comforting wave of warm incensed air and ushers me across its orangey-red floored interior to a large comfy chair. In place of coffee, Karen presents me with an infusion of Thai herbs, in a lidded china vessel and sits opposite perched on a fuchsia coloured covered stool.
To my question as to how she began with holistic medicine in the Eastern doctrine, namely Thai massage, she replies that with an Indonesian father and a Thai Aunt the knowledge was unavoidable: “It was already integrated in my life – I was it, because it was in my family and so it is already within you…”
“It’s an accident that I am this”, she says. In Eastern cultures overcrowding has meant that people are more used to physical contact; with touch you can feel how someone is, unlike the western world where people would rather sit as far away as possible from each other. Casually, she lays a hand on my shoulder and gasps at its tightness. To begin with, she says, she practiced not only just on family members, but also friends and guests, which led to more people coming to her. As she recalls, in those days it was always unpaid and often in dusty little corners, unlike now in her pristine studio.
With twenty years of experience, she says she has a combination of Western knowledge and Eastern intuition, including acquiring some all important diplomas, having studied under Maria Mercati, in
. A fruitful time, which not only broadened her knowledge, but taught her to understand the connection between sickness and the application of pressure, something she had always known and applied intuitively. Cheltenham, England
Once we had talked for a while Karen suggested I remove my boots and sit on the white cloth and cushioned area, for a short session of massage, the idea being to understand what it entailed: “We can talk all day about it, but it’s hard to describe unless you experience it first hand. You’re the words person, maybe you can.” No pressure there then eh, Karen (s’cuse the pun)?
To begin with she started with my shoulders, and using her weight and forearms, pressed downwards, followed by release. This increased with intensity with each repetition. At its most intense and, just as I thought I couldn't take it, she would release the pressure and my body felt as thought it was rising upwards; a pleasant and somewhat unusual feeling. When it came to arms and legs, type and duration of the pressure applied was dependant on how much the limb accepted or resisted her manipulation. Relaxation and trust are key in this, but after a while I found both body and mind relaxing into the experience. In a third of the length of a full session, not only had the tight feeling in my shoulders disappeared, but both my back and neck seemed elongated and my posture had improved - all this in just half an hour! Sitting cross-legged and trying to muster up the desire to get up, I chatted further with Karen about her vision of collaboration with the healthcare system.
She tells me that these days the cure to an illness cannot always be solved with a pill or a week sitting at home; sometimes the cause goes much deeper. Sickness can be a culmination of many things, not only from the present, but the past too, sometimes even as far back as your childhood. Also, it can be carried over from one generation to another if not dealt with
If we start teaching children at school level, to recognize their body’s physical needs, weaknesses, excesses, and to be consciously busy with health from the word go, this could lead to an all round healthier life for them.
In the future Karen would like to see collaboration between what is considered the ‘socially acceptable’ medicine and the centuries old natural medicine that she practices. In a world of increasing stress, with doctors who have little time and where patients are generally seen as numbers or percentages, this would certainly help to improve the system as a whole. She believes that she can be instrumental in preventative medicine and help people to recognize, and thereby become responsible for their own health again: “I am the instrument - you will feel what you need to do.”
As a parting gift Karen very kindly gave me 3 samples of her specially blended teas plus a scent box containing one of her homemade oils:
Ya dom. And yes, I highly recommend that you treat yourself to one of Karen’s therapeutic massage sessions.
For a list of insurers who reimburse natural medicine by BATC therapists: here
For more information, take a look at Karen’s