Traditional Chinese Massage

Whilst couchsurfing, my host recommended that we go for a massage at what turned out to be the biggest reflexology company in Malaysia. The Kaki Kaki Group offer a variety of massage treatments and seen as I’d never had one before, I chose Traditional Chinese Massage (TCM). Although the company had reflexology in the title I didn’t see this on the treatment list and I wonder if the term reflexology might have been used in a more general way – or maybe the way we interpret it in the West is different than in China. I can’t be sure.

After doing some research into Chinese Massages, I’ve found that TCM can include acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine and Tui Na (a push and pull massage technique), and in China it is actually accepted by the government as a form of medicine within hospitals. The theory behind this is, because it helps release energy blockages and helps to re-balance the ‘Qi’ (energy within the body). To find out more please click on the hyperlinks because this is a relatively new area for me so I can only give an introduction.

It’s very usual in these kind of places that they only speak Mandarin, even though most of the country speaks at least Bahasa Malay or English, so the treatment review is without the input of the masseuse. All questions that I had in regard to the treatment I have researched on the internet.

My research is set into three parts – description of the session, how I felt directly before and after the treatment, my overall review.

Grand opening

The Session

The massage centre had a grand opening – large glass doors entered into a spacious reception centre. The delicately carved wooden reception desk flexed in a curve in front of us and a smartly dressed man in black welcomed us in – in the polite and respectful manner that comes naturally to the Chinese people. We had a look at the different types of massages and I choose to have a hour and a half long Traditional Chinese Massage. As the therapist didn’t speak English I couldn’t ask questions about her procedure, needless to say there was no pre-treatment consultation. It was kind of like the ‘blind-date of massages’!

As there were three of us we opted to have a room with three couches aside each other. The couches were impressive – probably twice the width of a standard Western massage couch, they reclined from sitting up position down to horizontally flat and they were padded like a couch you’d have in your living room. As a standard they had a hole cut in the headrest to situate the client’s head during the treatment. The width of the chairs is so wide because in many types of Eastern massages the therapist is very versatile with their body, often straddling the client or kneeling beside them throughout the treatment, using her whole body weight to help her give pressure into the massage. The Chinese-Malay friend of my couchsurfing host informed me that most reputable massage parlours in Malaysia and China had these chairs as standard for this reason. My first thought – these need to get imported to England, but then again maybe not because I wonder if we’re just too ‘stiff’ as a culture to get involved in the same way that they do over here?

Massage couches

For this massage I was asked to change into loose clothing (of Chinese style of course) which was provided by the therapist, it was shorts and what could be described as a long t-shirt/blouse. I was then handed a cup of luke warm water to drink and then therapists left the three of us in the room to get changed. When they returned, my therapist asked me to lie face down on the couch and she covered my body with two towels – ensuring that I was covered from head to toe. She began by thumping her fists lightly into my back using the outer sides of her fists. She did this from the top of my spine to the bottom, then she did this across my shoulders and down my spine again – signal for the start of the massage. She then began to massage my neck and my shoulders. Rather than go in the same direction of the muscle, which is the way I have been taught to massage in the UK (Aromatherapy massage) and the way I usually experienced massages. This therapist pushed the knots across the muscle with her thumb, almost flicking them to loosen them. It was a little unnerving because when she did this I could feel the knot shift beneath her pressure, similar to the way it slips when pressure is added directly on top (which is the way I’ve experienced knots being worked on before). This movement of knots within the muscle always makes me feel a little nauseous – muscles flicking about in my body, ewwww but I know that it’s the way to tease them out so I lay there and concentrated on my breath to get through it. She moved from my neck and shoulders, down the centre of my back and down the muscles that are either side of my spine and then worked quite intensively on my lower back.

She then did this procedure again but this time went from the shoulders to the outer edge of my shoulder blades, back to the shoulders and then she actually worked on my shoulder blades. This is an area that seems to be missed in a lot of massages but for me it’s where a lot of tension builds up, especially down the sides where the tendons connect to bone of my shoulder blades. However, this therapist worked on these areas with a lot of pressure and even massaged the muscles at the back of my armpits too – another area which can have a lot of tension but is often missed. After this the therapist went down my back again, this time closer to the outer edge of my back and then back up to my neck again.

Throughout the whole massage she applied a lot of pressure and I would even say that some of it could be perceived as quite aggressive, however I do like a strong massage and I know that a massage which is somewhat painful during can be quite effective and a good release of tension. The therapist seemed quite adamant to work on the knots in my neck, and this also made me wince a little. When the little muscles in my neck have knots in it, they feel like little tense bubbles on thin strands of muscle. It makes me think of the types of bubbles you see on seaweed, but instead of them popping they only come out when pressure is applied and they are teased out. As it’s a delicate area and I guess most therapists avoid putting a lot of pressure on this area because of the fragility, so again, I find that these knots don’t seem to get much attention either. When the knots are worked on, it’s painful at first but feeling them disperse is very gratifying, much like when you pop those seaweed bubbles.

The therapist went down my outer back once more before proceeding to intensely massage my buttocks, and again she applied quite a lot of pressure here. I guess it was necessary because there is naturally a lot of fat on top of these muscles. She moved from my buttocks down my legs, pressing down first, then repeating the same motion but massaging deeply with her palms down my thighs and my calves. She worked on my calves quite a bit and flicked the knots again horizontal to their natural direction, much in the same way that she had done on my back. She then worked on my feet quite lightly and finished my feet by pressing down with her palms into the arch of each foot. She then went back up to my neck to continue to flick the muscles there – they were getting a little sore at this point and I was worried that she could have been overworking them. She then lightly crossed my shoulders, massaged into the back part of my underarms, then proceeded to massage down my arms. She worked in a pressing motion first, the massaged with her palms, then flicked the muscles with the knots, and she was very consistent in her movements throughout. She ended each arm by pulling the tips of each finger and then got my attention and motioned for me to turn around.

At this point she spoke to my friend in the next massage chair in Mandarin. My friend then asked me if I had trouble sleeping or if I’d experienced a lot of stress lately. I asked her why the therapist was asking this and it was apparently because she could feel a huge amount of tension in my upper body, predominantly my shoulders and neck. I explained the kind of emotional distress I’d experienced in the last year and I saw that when this was translated back to the therapist she nodded her head in acknowledgement. It’s quite well recognised in the East that emotional stress leads to physical tension in the body so I guess this made sense to her. I thought she might have picked up on this because I could feel throughout the massage that she was very responsive to the tension. She made sure that she pressed very deeply where she could feel it was tight and kept returning to my upper body, I wondered if she could feel the knots as deeply as I could.

Once I was face up on the massage couch she only worked on my shoulders and head, starting off with a pressing motion again and then working rigorously with her very strong fingers. She worked on my shoulders again but this time it felt a little different because I was on my back, the she proceeded to massage my head, pressing her fingers deep into my temples and different areas on my head. I recognised the areas that she focused on because they were the same areas which are used in acupuncture – the top of my forehead, the top of the nose in between my eyes as well as the indented temples between my eyes and my ears.

To finish the massage she tapped various points on my head and then worked down my body first in a pressing motion with her palms, then again by thumping with outer edge of her fists. Seen as this was the way she had began the massage I knew that this was signifying the ending of the treatment. She then said thank you, nodded her head slowly and then left the room to allow for the three of us to get changed back into our clothes.

Kaki Kaki Group Reflexology

Pre-session sense check (4 Feb 2016, 9pm –  1 hour before treatment)

Physically – Throughout the day I’d had woken up with usual pain that I sometimes get in the left side of my upper body, my shoulders were stiff and I had tried to loosen them up by doing some yoga, physiotherapy exercises and I had also tried to meditate on the area. I had slept well (seen as I was in a lush air conditioned apartment) and earlier that day I’d done 20 lengths in an Olympic sized swimming pool so overall my body was feeling a little bit tired but refreshed at the same time, having done some exercise. It’s not often I get the opportunity to swim in a pool whilst travelling, let alone one of that size.

Emotionally – I didn’t have any strong emotions going on before the treatment, at least I wasn’t aware of any. At most I sensed that I felt a little bit of low confidence, but that’s a feeling that I have often these days so it’s almost become normal to me. I guess I had probably been thinking about the situation I’m in with regards to relationships – ex boyfriends and my inability to commit. If you read my blog post on Emotional and Physical Energy you’ll understand why I connect this physical feeling to this ever circulating issue.

Post-session sense check (4 Feb 2016, 11.30pm –  1 & 1/2 hours after treatment)

Physically – Straight after the massage I ached quite a bit and my neck felt quite sore. It was also pretty late in the evening so I was feeling generally tired from the day’s activities, so after one last game of pool with my couchsurfer host I went to bed. The following day I felt better and my muscles actually felt really refreshed, my neck still hurt a little bit but overall my muscles felt a lot looser. I made sure that I drank plenty of water in the next couple of days to help hydrate my muscles because I know that if I get dehydrated that this can affect the tightness of them and I wanted to feel the benefits of my massage.

Emotionally – I was aware that I felt a little spaced out after the massage but also very relaxed. I did feel a little bit of sadness and I wasn’t sure why, but I feel like the massage brought this up to the surface. At the same time I felt quite content with everything, as weird as it sounds I felt like an emotional weight had been lifted off my shoulders as well as feeling a physical loosening.

Overall Review

This massage was quite a hard and forceful one, although the therapist was only a slight woman she was able to apply quite a lot of pressure, at least that’s how I felt. From what I’ve learnt through Aromatherapy and Reflexology massage, sometimes the client can feel like a lot of pressure is being applied when it isn’t and that’s because the area is already sore from the build up of tension. Seen as I was unable to converse with the therapist it’s difficult to clarify whether or not she was applying as much pressure as I perceived her to be.

Either way I personally think the massages which are quite intense and hard are also the ones that can be the most beneficial in terms of releasing tension. Clearly these aren’t always enjoyable throughout but, no pain no gain right? If you’re looking for a relaxing or gentle massage than I don’t think this one is for you, but if you have a lot of emotional or physical tension built up and you’d like an intuitive therapist to pummel it out of your body then I think this one may be worth a try.

If you like this Therapy Review, please check out my Blog, my Sketches and my Therapies.