Some people collect shot glasses when they travel. I collect massages. Whenever I go somewhere, I get a massage, not at the fancy hotel spa, although I’ve had a few of those, but in the small locally-run places. I’ve been rubbed down by blind men in Cambodia, stretched into pretzel shapes during Thai massages on the beach in Koh Samui, and been massaged on the deck of a cruise ship in Halong Bay by a girl much more interested in giggling and texting her friends than rearranging my muscles. I’ve had deep tissue couples massage in Mexico that was so deep that I thought my lungs were bruised and one in Peru with a soundtrack of a political rally complete with gunshots. All in all, I have a lot of experience letting other people help me relax.
What I’m terrible at is getting massages regularly when I’m at home. I whole-heartedly believe in the preventative holistic benefits of massage but when I get home from a trip, life takes over and my good intentions of doing personal maintenance falls to the wayside. But not anymore. Now, I have a secret weapon–the Asian foot massage place right down the street.
Now if you are unfamiliar with reflexology or Chinese foot massages, then you may be surprised at the, shall we say, vigor with which the practitioners work. This is not your soothing spa-like environment. There is no hot oil. There are no bathrobes. This is a large room, filled with what looks like wide reclining beds. Massages are done with your clothes on and focus on pressure points to relieve tension. It can be a bit painful at the time and deep breathing is advised but it’s also very effective. And best of all–it’s very affordable.
But despite the lack of a pampering environment, I love these places. My massage therapist spoke very little to me. He didn’t ask if he was pushing too hard. He just started in and felt the problem spots and started addressing them, working through my knotted and crunchy muscles using ancient techniques and what feels like sheer will.
As a new mother, I’m finding a world of new aches and pains unrelated to the actual child birthing process and entirely centered on the act of raising a child. Everyone knows that being pregnant is uncomfortable but no one tells you how your back will ache when leaning over to pick up your precious 14-lb bundle of joy for her 4 a.m. feeding. This kind of pain is caused by repetition–soothing, burping and contorting my daughter into the right positions to feed, get her clothes on or her diaper off. It’s demanding work that no one really prepared me for.
But now I have my secret weapon. I have a massage shop where I can pop in with 20 minutes notice, receive a thorough massage that, while it may hurt at the time and leave me a little sore in the morning, will eliminate my issues by the following afternoon. I can go for half an hour or ninety minutes and I can do it for a price that allows me to go more than once a month. I love spas and have the utmost respect for the massage therapists in this city, many of whom I frequent as well when I have the chance but it’s nice to know that in a pinch (of the neck) there’s a place that can fit me in immediately. No frills, no aromatherapy, but it gets the job done.
I’ll continue to collect my massages abroad, lulled by beach breezes or hot stone slabs but maybe this time, I’ll be a little more relaxed when I get there.