There is something divine about a good massage. As someone who has suffered a bad neck and upper back for over three-fourths of my life (see post: Dealing with Chronic Pain) you can imagine how much better an excellent massage is to my poor, sore muscles. I am like a new person after a massage. I don’t have a darting, throbbing pain in my neck and my soul seems to finally find some sort of peace.
Unfortunately, like most luxuries in life massages are not cheap. In fact, I find it difficult to find anywhere decent to get a massage for under $120 per hour. In my book, as a stay-at-home mom with no income to call my own, I just can’t stomach dishing out that kind of money, even if my back hurts like hell. Thus I end up getting probably only one to two massages a year, usually as a gift from my loving husband or understanding mother who also suffers chronic neck pain.
Before heading over to China, my neck and back were really causing me grief. After a ten-year hiatus, I had to start physical therapy sessions again to try to manage the pain and strengthen my back muscles. It found it so incredibly frustrating to have to deal with this “pain in the neck”. I am an incredibly active person who can’t let a persistent pesky pain stand in my way.
Looking back, I am convinced that my 20 mile plus bike rides over the summer pulling my four-year-old daughter were the main culprit in ruining my back again. (I suppose I can also add in “getting older” although I try not to dwell on it). Stress and spending more time at the computer were also causing problems (hmmm….could it be all that extra time I’ve been spending blogging?). I was determined to go on my trip and relax a bit, and pray my back wouldn’t go into complete spasms on the flight. Having a good seat helped significantly, but passing out after four glasses of wine and falling asleep at a strange angle did not help.
Needless to say, when I landed in Beijing after a fifteen hour flight I could barely turn my head. I knew that it wasn’t a good sign but I had hope. For I had heard about the art of the Chinese Massage and I knew that the price would be right.
Chinese medicine has been practiced for centuries. Per Massage Today:
Traditional Chinese medicine is one of the oldest continuous systems of medicine in history, with recorded instances dating as far back as two thousand years before the birth of Christ. This is in sharp contrast to American or Western forms of health care, which have been in existence for a much shorter time span.
Traditional Chinese medicine is based, at least in part, on the Daoist belief that we live in a universe in which everything is interconnected. What happens to one part of the body affects every other part of the body. The mind and body are not viewed separately, but as part of an energetic system. Similarly, organs and organ systems are viewed as interconnected structures that work together to keep the body functioning.
Massage known as “an mo” or “tui na” in Chinese and Acupuncture have been integral parts of Chinese medicine for thousands of years and has gained worldwide attention and practice for many years. Chinese doctors believe that a network in the human body called “‘jing luo” serves as a passageway for vital energy and blood to reach all the parts of the body. The use of acupuncture and massage on pressure points and injured muscles can greatly relieve pain and maintain overall health.
As soon as I landed, I could hardly wait to explore and experience the art of the Chinese massage. My body was desperately waiting and begging. Yet, unfortunately other things got in the way such as the more important excitement of exploring a new place. Who wants to waste two hours trying to get a massage when I can walk until I drop and see as much of Beijing as possible? I reasoned.
Stubborn, defiant me waited until the very last minute; until I was at the “point of no return” in level and severity of pain and discomfort. I had walked for over eight hours long on our first day in Beijing, on hard concrete, constantly stopping to rub my back or do a quick neck stretch. I even laid on my “tension release” racket balls for an hour, drank several glasses of wine, took a pain reliever…. yet there was no relief. It wasn’t looking good.
The climb up to the Great Wall was amazing while I was doing it. Exciting, fun and pure adventure. Yet when I woke up the next morning I had hell to pay. I was in dire straits. I could barely move my shoulders let alone turn my head from side to side (I cursed myself and wondered how I ever managed to hike over 100 miles last year in the Himalayas! Could my body really have aged that much in a single year?!).
It wasn’t the way I imagined my vacation, suffering and wallowing away in pain. I had to do something. It was time to discover the art of the Chinese Massage, and fortunately the best place in town was right outside my doorstep.
The Dragonfly Spa, located only four buildings down from my hotel, is known as one of the top spas in Beijing. Knowing that made me initially hesitate, thinking that it would be pricey and snooty. But silly old me forgot the number one thing about China: The low-cost of labor.
When I walked into the Spa to check out the prices, I was instantly drawn in. The entire waiting room and spa smelled of roses, real fresh, fragrant roses. Hundreds. Thousands. A room aloft in roses. It instantly put me in a trance. The friendly, pretty receptionist handed me over a neatly printed price list. I swallowed before opening it and then to my shock and disbelief, the prices were insanely cheap. An hour-long aromatherapy massage with hot oils was only $35. The lesser hour-long “Chinese Massage” was a mere $16. They even had a neck and shoulder massage for an hour for $15. I could not believe my eyes or my luck. I was in the perfect place! I was in Heaven!
I desperately asked the receptionist if it was possible to get a massage that moment. It didn’t look too busy. I was the only one there. But I wasn’t sure because at home you have to typically book a massage at least a week in advance.
The pretty, young receptionist smiled reassuringly and told me, “One moment, please“, in perfect, beautiful english. She picked up the phone, dialed, and spoke rapidly in Chinese to whoever answered. “Please have a seat“, she said kindly. Within five minutes a small, petite woman walked in, smiled at me and lead me back to Heaven.
As I left the pleasant waiting room and entered the spa, I was instantly greeted by the healing, peaceful smell of lavender. The entire room was dark except for little candles that lined the stairs leading up to the massage rooms. It was the most incredible, pleasing synthetic flowery smell I’d ever experienced. It was enough to make my knees weak.
I lied down on my stomach in almost complete darkness and silence and let each ache and pain in my poor, overworked body relax. Sometimes I think it is best if the masseuse does not speak english. I tend to talk too much, even during a massage. That makes it harder to relax and simply enjoy the experience. Since I didn’t know Chinese and my masseuse knew little english, there was no conversation whatsoever. Just silence and total relaxation; something I think everybody in this world needs.
For someone so small, I was amazed by the strength of her touch. The hot, scented oils melted into my skin and sunk into my rock-like muscles relieving the tension that had been stored up for months. I closed my eyes and relaxed, enjoying each and every moment of Heaven. I didn’t want it to ever end. It was so wonderful.
Of course, all good things must come to an end. The sixty minutes were up, and I could barely move. My body felt like butter and my muscles melted into the massage table. I took my time getting up and was sad to leave. But I knew that it would not be my last time at the Dragonfly. For how could I resist the art of the Chinese massage?
For the next day I was going to indulge in the $15 one-hour neck and shoulder massage. And, little did I know there was a Dragonfly in Shanghai too where I would get a send-off massage before leaving China. Heaven comes in threes.
Stay tuned…there are more China posts to come. Not sure yet if it will be the post on “The Curse of the Asian Toilet” or one on the fascinating Hutongs, or old alleyways of Beijing.