Shiatsu. Swedish. Thai. Rolfing. Abhyanga. Balinese Foot Massage. Reiki.
It sounds like the Monty Python Cheese Shop Sketch, doesn't it?
I've been a massage advocate since I can remember. Everywhere I've lived, everywhere I've traveled, I always hunt out local massage therapists. There are an infinite variety of massage styles, and each country seems to have it's own methods and techniques. It consistently amazes me that there is so much possible variation in 'massage modalities', when you assume there must be a finite number of ways to knead sore muscles.
During a lovely couples-massage my wife scheduled in honor of our wedding anniversary last night, I wandered through the room in my memory palace dedicated to massages I have received, and thought I'd share a fraction of them that seemed worth sharing.....
- Hotel Nikko Mexico City, 1997. When the 250lb man, oiled from head to toe, wearing a speedo, walked in to give me the massage, I should have fled. Make a note of that for future reference.
- Palo Alto (although now in Los Altos), Athlete's Advantage, 1997. The massage therapist who became a good friend over many years, Tim. This guy's deep tissue work is amazing. Know the elbow. Fear the elbow.
- Napa Valley, 1998. A Calistoga day-spa with lava mud-baths and foot massage. The young lady who did the foot massage evidently found the chakra connected to my libido, which required Buddha-like concentration and determination not to respond to. A great learning experience.
- Hotel Melia Sol Bali, Indonesia, 1998. Never let them talk you in to a Balinese foot massage. I hobbled for three days. I swear they perfected this method as a torture technique over hundreds of years.
- Four Seasons Jimbaran Bay (Bali), Indonesia, 1998. Always let them talk you into the Coco de mer (which was named something much more Balinese when I partook). It was premature enlightenment.
- Peninsula Hotel, Bangkok, 1999. Sore from travel, I call down to the spa asking to schedule a massage. 5 minutes later, a 4' 10" octogenarian woman is at my door, hunched 60 degrees left from holding the portable massage table. My first Thai massage, and without question the best massage of my life. That lady SCHOOLED me, the massage veteran, for two hours. I was like putty in her hands, and I swear I was a good three inches taller when she was done.
She refused a tip. I would have bought her a house.
- Marriott Champs Elysees, Paris, 1999. My father and I are traveling through Europe, and since he shares my love for massage. The hotel sends up a remarkably competent French woman, who massages my father and I in succession, with her style somewhere between Rolfing and Swedish. Although she speaks no English whatsoever, she manages to break a smile when my father returns from the automated teller machine downstairs complaining that the machine did not indicate the value of his withdrawl in dollars instead of Francs. (pre-Euro).
- Rome. 1999. Same trip with dad, we call the concierge to have them suggest a massage therapist. Two hours later, a gentleman who was evidently either a personal trainer at the local gymnasium or a gigolo knocks on the door and administers a very questionable massage technique. Luckily, both pops and I escape unscathed.
- Auberge du Pere Bise, Talloires France, 2001. My wife and I, on honeymoon, are sore from sightseeing and ring for a massage therapist. The accent is so thick, and this gentleman's technique so holistic, my wife and I still make jokes about his encouragement to 'Feel your breath' sounding identical to 'let me feel your breasts'.
- Imperial Hotel, Tokyo, 2001. Japanese massage (shiatsu-esque) while laying fully clothed in bed, adminstered standing by very prim and coiffed Japanese massage therapist. Dont move. Dont even breathe.
(out of sequence, although it just occurred to me) early 1990s, Newport Beach California. My mother treats me to an aromatherapy massage by a professional massage therapist-friend of hers who has oils, massage props, etc. It was about 90 minutes of heaven. When I returned home smelling like the Newport back-bay at low-tide, my ex-wife says 'What, did you two have sex or something?'. My response? "Better!"
- Kona Hawaii, 2004. Trip with pregnant wife, eldest daughter, and friends. Fairmont hotel has Thai massage. I end up in a private cabana facing the ocean with a Buddha-disposition-gentleman older than my father, administering Thai massage on me for 90 minutes. Not one to forget.
- Beijing, some strange establishment opposite Peninsula Beijing, 2008. Some co-workers and I hear about a great foot-massage establishment down the street from the hotel. We find about two dozen of them, and wander into one that leads us down stairs into an increasingly questionable den. The three of us receive our uninspired foot massages, and one colleague opts for the 'fire cupping' service ( 拔罐) to suck the toxins from his body. He returns the following day looking like he narrowly escaped the clutches of a giant sea octopus, with bruises that look like large hickies covering the whole of his back in splotches. I understand that they persisted until he had been home with his wife for 24 hours and received the brunt of her assault, then subsided.
I have many friends in the massage business, all with the best stories from their training and practice. I've received countless relaxing massages, a number of crucial physical therapy massage treatments after various injuries, some 'running for the plane' airport chair massages, and even the couples massage last night from the lovely young lady with great technique whose shoes smelled like Marlboro light cigarettes.
I think that, just as you can understand a culture so much more by learning their language and customs, eating their food, and watching their arts, you connect at a deeper level by experiencing their local form of touch therapy. Perhaps to completely understand a culture, you need to use all your senses.