Many visitors to Thailand get to benefit from Thai traditional medicine during their trip. Thai massage is the treatment that gets the most attention worldwide; I’m not talking here about the special ‘soapy massage’. There are other parts of Thai medicine that are not so well known and one of these treatments is yuu fai (อยู่ไฟ).
The first time I heard out about yuu fai was three years ago when my son was born. We were living in my wife’s village at the time. Even though my wife had described in some detail what was about to happen the actual process took me by surprise. My mind was overloaded with the excitement of my first child; I failed to appreciate that this traditional medicine treatment was going to turn our house upside down.
Yuu Fai can be translated as meaning to ‘stay by the fire’. It is a traditional treatment that the mother undergoes following pregnancy in Thailand and Laos; it is most practised in rural locations like the Northeast of Thailand. The process of yuu fai is believed to help the mother’s womb and birth canal to fully recover following childbirth. It has been practised in Thailand for centuries.
We had stayed in the local hospital for two days following the birth of our son. It was with great excitement that we returned to our home. My in-laws had arrived there before us and had already started getting things ready for the yuu fai. My mother-in-law was to take charge of the whole treatment and was to be staying with us for the next few days; this was one part of the process that my wife had conveniently not told me about – it came as a shock. Don’t get me wrong, I get on great with my mother-in-law but I also value my own space. I had spent more time with my in-laws during the previous three days than I had in the previous three years; even though we lived in the same village.
My father-in-law and brother-in-law had arrived with the metal base of a bed which they placed in our front room. My mother-in-law was soon busy building a fire underneath the bed. This seemed completely crazy to me; why would anyone want to build a fire when the heat was splitting the stones outside. I suddenly felt extremely sorry for my wife when I realised that she would be expected to stay on this bed for the next few days and the only break she would get would be to go to the toilet and feed our soon. It seemed like a torture device. They were going to roast my wife alive.
My mother-in-law had collected bags of herbs and tree bark which she began turning into different concoctions. My wife would not only be expected to drink these but also wash herself in the different potions. This yuu fai treatment was planned to last one week.
We were two days into the yuu fai when my wife decided that she could not stand another second of it. This came as a great relief to me because not only was I worried about my wife, but also my mother-in-law was driving me batty- she was convinced that our house was full of ghosts and spent most of the day trying to keep them away from my son. I appreciated the efforts, but the constant chants had me on edge. My wife’s family were disappointed that my wife had given up on yuu fai without completing the full course but could see that my wife wasn’t going to be swayed. Peace was restored in our home.
I am not sure about the benefits of yuu fai, but I once mentioned it to an English midwife and she was very enthusiastic about it. It seems to offer some benefit for the healing process following pregnancy. A Thai village woman once confided to me that the main advantage of yuu fai is that it discourages the husband from wanting sex for the first couple of weeks following childbirth; this seemed a bit extreme to me. I was surprised that some men would want sex straight away after childbirth, but also that women would find the fire bed a good alternative – couldn’t they just say they have a headache?