It seems everyone has superstitions about starting the new year. Most of these involve going to the gym immediately to kick off the month of January, which effectively angers the rest of the population that has been going all year. This year, I decided to embark on a relaxing entry to 2011 with my best friend that was visiting NYC. We set out to hit up the remnants of winter sales, stretch with a long yoga class and experiment with a reflexology massage.
The reflexology session was the first for both of us. The Eastern alternative medicine technique aims to release ailments and energy blockages in the body by use of pressure on the bottom of the feet. I became intrigued by the massage ever since I saw Anthony Bourdain do it on his No Reservations: Singapore episode. Though I always enjoyed the massage during a pedicure, I heard torture stories about reflexology treatments and Bourdain’s face throughout the episode confirmed that it would not be the most pleasant of massage experiences.
Undeterred we set out for Yan Mei Foot Reflexology Center in the heart of Chinatown where $20 will buy you a 30 minute reflexology session ($30 for 60 minutes, $45 for 90 minutes). We were ushered in and placed in a private room with two chairs. After a brief herbal bath a couple Chinese men sat down to examine our feet and start the magic. These men knew only three words of English, “No pain, no gain.” After their warning they began poking and prodding the bottoms of our feet starting with the big toe, which is supposed to correspond to the brain. Though traditional reflexology treatments don’t utilize any lotion or ointment, these guys used a bit of Vaseline as they worked their way around feet and up our calves. Let me be clear: this is a no frills experience. The therapists set a timer to our desired massage length, paper towels were used instead of real ones and our legs were sometimes propped up by a roll of paper towels to manipulate the angle of the massage. You can hear the discussions of other patrons and I’m sure they heard our fits of laughter as the reflexologist (is that their title?) tried to use sign language to convey our ailments. The entire process wasn’t as painful as I anticipated, but there were definitely pressure points hit in my feet that I was blissfully unaware of before the experience. As it concluded, the man looked at me and pretended to drink a glass of something and rub his stomach.
“Oh my god, he’s telling me I drink too much!” I shouted to my friend. I always knew Anthony Bourdain and I were kindred souls. Alas, the reflexologist quelled my worries and pointed to the area on foot chart to show that I had tension in my stomach, not my liver. Phew. Note: Most of these reflexology places only accept cash, so be sure to have some on hand so you don’t have an awkward conversation in Chinese that you don’t understand.
The best part about going to a reflexology sesh in Chinatown is that you are perfectly poised for a cheap soup-dumpling/ dim sum excursion as you float out of the massage parlor, fully refreshed!