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March 28, 2014 7:43 pm

First Person: Ada Barak

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‘I use snakes to give body massages’
Ada Barak at her farm in Israel©Jonathan Bloom

Ada Barak at her farm in Israel: the snakes 'seem to come alive when they feel human skin'

Snakes seem to have a sixth sense for seeking out where a human is feeling pain. After a few minutes, they gravitate towards the injured area and move around on the same spot. Even I can’t explain why, and I’ve been handling snakes for more than 30 years.

When I do a massage, I place five snakes on a person’s back, all at the same time. The largest will be 8ft long, a king snake, and good for soothing stiff muscles. Most of my customers know what to expect when they come here for the treatment and aren’t afraid but sometimes the therapy is bought as a surprise present – and then people can be scared.

I live on a plant farm in Talmei Elazar, near Haifa in Israel. When I left school I worked as a teacher with handicapped children. It was a good job but I like being outside and started a business importing and selling rare, carnivorous plants.

They fascinated me and I noticed that people wanted to know more about them and see how they feed. I decided to start giving lectures on the plants. I would take small animals along too, such as snakes, lizards and rodents – creatures that lived alongside the plants.

One day in 2006 a lady came to one of my talks who had fallen off a horse and injured her neck. I let her pick up a snake and it wrapped itself around her shoulder. After a few minutes she said the pain had weakened and the snake had relaxed her muscles. It made me think that perhaps there were some benefits to a snake massage.

I set up a massage room and I was amazed how quickly word spread. I don’t have a website and never advertise but the phone keeps on ringing.

I always ask my clients to remove their outer clothes and lie down on their stomachs on my massage table. It doesn’t matter where the pain is coming from, I always start by placing the snakes on people’s backs. Clients can be really tense but they learn to relax because snakes are slow and there is no sudden movement.

The snakes go wherever they please – under the body, or around the head and face. A massage can last for up to an hour and costs about £65. If my customer falls asleep then the snakes usually fall asleep too. Sometimes I have to wake people up because I have another customer waiting.

Now and again I massage couples together and, although I have 10 snakes of my own, for that I have to borrow more from a friend. Obviously all the snakes I use are non-venomous. Most are albino corn snakes, king snakes and milk snakes.

I think the snakes enjoy massaging because they are moving over a warm body. They seem to come alive when they feel human skin and it makes them more active. If they start to slither off the table I just put them back on the client.

Many customers come back to see me time and time again, even if they’re not injured. People fly in from all parts of the world to find my little farm. I’m 60, and as long as people want a snake massage, I shall continue. A few years ago I was flown to the US with my snakes to appear on a chat show. The audience went crazy. I was also featured in National Geographic magazine, even though there is no scientific evidence that the massages work.

Funnily enough, one of my staff on the farm suffers from ophidiophobia, or fear of snakes, so she decided to have a massage to try and cure herself. We started the session and she sat up and ran out screaming. Unfortunately, a small snake had slithered into her pocket and disappeared with her.

I don’t have a family of my own but my relations are fascinated by my work. My cousin is a doctor and she thinks it’s crazy, although she has never been on my table and cannot explain why people feel better afterwards. Babies aren’t afraid of snakes but we soon learn to fear them, so really our phobia is all in the mind.

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