Los Angeles has a thriving Korean community mostly concentrated in what’s called Korea Town, a vibrant, commercial hub of very successful retail businesses. Apart from the expected gyoza stalls, Korean barbecue joints, and clothing stores specifically catering to petite Asian women, the definitive attraction of the neighbourhood are its celebrated spas offering traditional Korean treatments for mind and body relaxation.
I signed up online for one such session at a spa recommended by my daughter. A lower-back pain- had been bothering me for a while (the result of gruelling 11-hour stints at the computer), and I decided that their “Nirvana Massage” which promised to realign the body’s meridians would perhaps do the trick. Here’s the experience:
The spa is strictly for women only. The catch is that once you’re inside, you have to – ahem -disrobe…completely! After you’ve nerved yourself into doing the needful, you are escorted to the treatment area. You get over the shock of all the casual display of, er… buffery, and, desperately clutching your towel to yourself, step in – to alternately cook yourself in the saunas, and cool down with plunges in the treatment pools. When the therapist has determined that you’ve been tempered to the right degree, she calls you into the inner sanctum for a scrub.
You lie fish-like on a slippery rubber-covered slab, and the therapist, herself stripped down to her working uniform of a black swimsuit, sluices you with scalding hot water and begins her business. She’s ready with her tools of torture- scrubbing mittens lined with what feels like sand-paper, and boy, is she determined to get you clean! She pries and pokes, she scours and exfoliates, and short of scraping you with a potato peeler, she does everything to make sure that every inch of your skin is scrubbed, buffed, and polished.
A final rinse and you escape with your flayed skin to the massage rooms.
Aaah- the promised Nirvaana massage- you relax face-down on the table, breathing in the calming lavender fumes and letting the soothing notes of the new-age music wash over you. Soon, your poor, sore muscles will be gently massaged into relaxation….
Fooled ya! The masseuse arrives; she has obviously trained with the Korean Secret Service and does not mean to go easy on you. Cruel fingers prod and probe and quickly find your vulnerable spots. She digs and pummels with arms and elbows, and all the ancient torture-techniques of the Orient are put into play. Your muffled howls and protests are met only with soft giggles. The agony continues for about an hour, and just when you’re convinced that your soul is about to leave your body, the pressure miraculously eases. Nurse Ratched changes gears and now rubs you down with some herbal emollient. The back and limbs are thoroughly massaged, each muscle is gently pressed, every tight knot kneaded till it slowly relaxes. Heated stones with mystic powers are placed on your spine and rolled over your shoulders. Your bones absorb the healing warmth and let out a deep, thankful sigh! The masseuse grabs your hair and gives your scalp a tingling rub. The tension has ebbed from your head, your muscles have relaxed into a grateful liquid pool, and your body feels like it’s floating.
You thank the assassin/angel as she sends you off with a hot cup of strengthening tea.
You head to the saunas again for a final bake in the Himalayan Salt Sauna. The hushed room is bathed in soft amber light filtering in though the salt panes-like the diffused luminosity from a stained-glass window. You lie down on the floor on heated pebbles which gently warm your bones. The charcoal blocks lining the ceiling act as cleansers. The sauna waves penetrate your skin and into your being. The toxins absorbed by your body slowly leach out as you sweat. You wish you could remain in this soothing cocoon forever… Relaxed, your body and spirit freed of stress, you drift off into a honey-amber doze….
Soon, too soon, a whisper from the therapist reminds you that your twenty minutes are up.
You get dressed and head out, your body rejuvenated, your soul cleansed, and your Qui energy restored!
PS- I’m hooked! My back-pain is gone, and I’m doing it all over again next week…