When you first see Papa Nyoman, he doesn’t strike you as an extraordinary healer. In fact, he looks very ‘ordinary’ – he’s diminutive, thin and sports a pair of unremarkable glasses. Cigarette poking under his 80s-era moustache, with loose blue singlet and long fisherman pants, he could be an accountant on vacation.
The only thing that gives him away is the line of people waiting to have his treatment. People from all around Bali, indeed the world, come to Papa Nyoman for his reflexology, a craft he has practiced for 20 years. In the two days Mesi visits him, he treats a Russian couple, a young Chilean, a woman from Botswana, a slightly unadjusted Singaporean and me, while she is there.
We find Papa Nyoman in the Sandat Homestay, which he runs with his wife in downtown Ubud. He greets us warmly, finishes his cigarette and takes us into the healing room at the back of the compound. The room is very much like him: unassuming. There is only a hard single bed, for the patient, and a chair for him. The walls are mostly empty, except for an altar and two large paintings (both painted by him – he teaches art at the local university). The whole set up is lit by bright white fluorescent lighting.
I’ve never tried reflexology before, and I keep an open, mildly skeptical mind to what could happen. I’ve been having problems with tightness in my back, neck and shoulder blades – nothing major, but it’s a general soreness from working too much on my laptop which puts me for prolonged hours in a bad posture. I also have a headache, and some mild Bali belly.
“Get up on the bed, lie down, relax” he says with a toothy smile.
He grabs my feet and moves them around gently, warming up the ankles. All of sudden there’s an immense pain in my foot.
“AAAAhhh!” I scream. It’s excruciating. How can such a small man cause so much pain??
“Back problems”, mumbles Papa Nyoman. He’s pressed upon one of the points on my foot that connects to the back according to reflexology theory. It causes pain on that area of the foot, which indicates that there is problem in my back. He’s right on that account.
He proceeds to test the rest of my body by applying pressure to different parts of the foot. He’s like a mechanic at a worn engine, testing with his hands, digging away with two small wooden instruments and applying oil when necessary. I let out screams intermittently to which he replies repeatedly, “No pain, no gain!”
Some points cause huge amounts of pain, others less, and others none. Each tiny movement from him makes me wince in anticipation – will this be a problem area or will I be okay? I scream and breathe deeply. After a while he diagnoses problems in my back, neck, head, shoulders, stomach and adrenals (I’m overstressed from work). All of these are correct. But he also diagnoses knee problems and throat soreness, which I’m not immediately aware of. Throughout Papa Nyoman has a happy, almost childish demeanour, as he goes about his business, laughing and joking.
As he continues, he presses on the same points and the pain slowly diminishes, signalling that the ailments are becoming better. When he finishes I get up feeling a bit light on my feet and strangely relaxed. My headache is still there, slightly, but the back feels better.
Papa Nyoman lights a cigarette and sends me off, with a smile, into the warm Balinese night.