I had already spent a few days in Beijing before getting my first approach to Chinese medicine. It happened when I was walking through Wangfujin’s cold winter street with a friend who has been living for six years in this country. After an exhausting shopping afternoon, he told me: “Let’s have a massage, it’s really pleasant”. Instantly, the image of some nice Chinese girls wearing traditional clothes came to my mind. I imagined myself in a warm room that relieved me from the inclement weather lying on a comfortable massage bed. Their silky hands giving me a kind and soft massage while I listened to some calm music.

chinese foot massage pic

Foot massage

When we arrived at the massage parlour, a boy and girl wearing jeans received us into a cool room. To my desolation, there were four sofas that did not look as agreeable as a massage bed. My companion started to talk in Chinese with the masseurs, whilst I inspected the room. The first thing that caught my attention was the “massage menu” on the wall. It started with the Chinese foot massage, I thought: “it would be delightful to have one of these, certainly if it is like a pedicure”. The list continued with massages for the legs, shoulders, back, for the whole body or for three parts to choose. Everything was quite normal for me until I looked at the bottom of the list, where the most expensive massage was: “Cupping Therapy (may left burn marks) 280 RMB”. This was the first time nobody was going to blame me of choosing the most expensive thing on the menu!  I wonder who wants to pay for getting burned!

When my friend finished chatting, he told me that we were getting a Chinese foot massage. As soon as we had seated, the therapists brought big buckets with warm water, and put our feet inside. Then he added: “Sometime this hurts, so you have to say téngtòng that means pain in Chinese”. After that comment my whole idea of the relaxing and having a delicate massage totally flew away and anxiety pervaded me. The masseur started from my neck and shoulders. At the beginning it was pleasant, but then he moved some muscles from my shoulder as if he was kneading dough. I looked to my friend and he seemed to enjoy it. Then the massager took my feet out of the water and dried them with a towel. He started pressing the top of the foot from the ankle to the toes. For the moment it did not hurt. After a while, he started pressing the back of my ankle really hard. I was trying to remember the word pain in Chinese, but I could not. As if that was not enough torture, he started pressing the top of my toes mercilessly. I felt tickles and pain at the same time and I tried to resist. I was looking forward to the end of the session, but I felt curious about the complete massage so I stayed quiet. Suddenly, the boy left and came back with wood batons and started tapping softly my feet and legs.  It was an unexpected and a really pleasant way of finishing the massage after all.

Once we were outside, my partner asked me if I enjoyed it. I could not answer what first came to my mind, so I replied: “Quite so… it was quite heavy for me”. When I got home, I could not avoid looking on the internet in order to get more information about it. I wanted to understand what the benefits from all this pain was. After a few seconds, I found out it has a lot of benefits for the whole body and a scientific background. Ancient Chinese people believed in the concept of energy flow or qi (in Chinese). Their balance is fundamental for human body wellness. It is believed that, emotional and physical problems are the result of the blockage in the energy flow that has to be eliminated through identifying and massaging the right pressure points of the feet. Using this concept, strokes and methods of this foot massage aims to remove the blockage and stimulate the flow of energy. This kind of therapy has been proved to improve circulation in the limbs, reduce stiffness, lower stress and anxiety, fight against asthma, constipation, sinusitis and migraine. It also improves sleep, reduces headaches and improves the whole immune system.I felt relieved that this painful experience had some meaning.

Feet reflexology map

According to Chinese medicine, the sensory nerves of the internal organs that spread throughout the body are mainly gathered around the soles of the feet.

We, western people, have a whole different paradigm about health. We are used to living in hurry, not hearing what the body needs and respecting it. The occidental health paradigm is based in action against the illness, instead of preventing it. We believe the body is like a separate entity from our mind. The human being is a whole element: mind, body and soul are interdependent. What I am now is the result of the thoughts through my mind, the feelings I have experienced and the state of my body. In the traditional Chinese culture, people don’t wait to see a doctor until being ill. They visit him periodically in order to stay healthy. Our culture has a lot to learn from the ancestral Chinese Medicine. From this experience, I have learnt we should not waist the opportunity of learning new things from other cultures.

In Spanish we have the saying: “Para ser bella hay que ver estrellas” which literally means: “To be beautiful you have to see the stars”, and “seeing stars” refers to what happens when somebody is in such pain that their view reduces to a light or something like seeing stars. Instead, Chinese culture says: “To be healthy you have to see the stars”.