“Hmm…just plain regular please…”, I said to the massage therapist, looking at the pictures on the walls for any clues, and not exactly sure what Deep Tissue massage entailed.
I had a dinner meeting at the Legal Seafoods restaurant at the King of Prussia Mall in Pennsylvania. Having reached the venue quite early and not knowing what to do, I decided against waiting at the restaurant bar, and landed up at a massage shop in the Mall that specialized in Reflexology.
The King of Prussia Mall is the largest Mall in the US (in terms of retail space), with more than 400 shops ranging from huge department stores to small boutiques. This great Mall was named after Frederick II, the King “in” Prussia from 1740 to 1786, who was also known as Frederick the Great.
One wonders - how did one of the biggest malls in America get such a German name?!
Well, many Americans do hail from German ancestry. A little known fact is that the plurality (not majority) ethnic background of almost half the states in the US is held by Germans. And there are more than 25 cities called “Germantown” that were founded by German settlers.
I remember when we first visited the King of Prussia Mall 12 years ago, it had turned into one of our worst nightmares. We were looking to find the equivalent of the experience of the fancy malls in Singapore, a combination of shopping, dinner and entertainment. But there was a fundamental difference here. This experience was spread out "horizontally" over millions of square feet, offering with vastness of space, what is packaged "vertically" inside a multi-storeyed mall in Singapore.
A typical mall in Singapore has six levels above the ground for shops and four levels below the ground for parking. The entire shopping experience is effortless with the presence of elevators and escalators. When we first visited the King of Prussia Mall, we walked from one store to another, we crossed one plaza to another and kept walking till we were at such a distance from the car, that the long walk back with the weight of all the bags was quite an ordeal. Moreover I had forgotten where I had parked the car, leading to much unpleasantness.
“Just relax…” said the therapist as he applied pressure kneading the muscles around my stiff neck. I let out a small grunt of pleasure. In five minutes I had reached a state of relaxed stupor, and in ten minutes I was at peace with myself. This was a great way to relieve stress after a hard day’s work. The long hours in front of the computer was not good for the neck muscles. And the largely sedentary lifestyle did not help either.
I thought to myself - All the people who came up with the idea of massage as a form of therapy, have done great service to mankind. It seems massage therapy became popular in the US more than 100 years ago, it was first started by two physicians in New York based on techniques developed in Sweden. Americans spend billions of dollars on massage therapy and it is expected to grow each year.
I found later that massage therapy has a long history, and it was used for curing illnesses, well before we had medicines that can cure almost anything today. Massage techniques developed in China for more than 5000 years. A wall painting found in the Tomb of Akmanthor in Egypt that dates back to 2300 BC suggests that people practiced an early form of reflexology in the ancient times. Buddhist scriptures from 500 BC suggest Buddha had a physiotherapist who combined reflexology with acupressure and yoga!
There are dozens of massage techniques today, ranging from traditional Chinese massage focusing on acupressure points, to a Shiatsu technique where the therapist applies pressure with his feet on the receiver’s back, to Watsu where the practitioner and the client are both under water!
So what is a Deep Tissue massage after all?
Deep Tissue massage is an intense massage technique focusing on muscles below the top muscles. This is especially applicable for athletes. Basketball legend Michael Jordan is said to have a personal massage therapist who even travels with him. This technique could leave one sore with a new kind of pain due to the intense pressure applied.
“Ouch…” I winced with pain as the massage therapist used his elbow to put pressure on my back. Now, this was risky territory. Having once suffered from chronic back pain, I did not want to take any chances. I politely asked him to stop. Meanwhile I also remembered that I was running late for my dinner appointment. But stopping him was easier said than done!
I was 20 minutes into this massage, and he insisted on continuing for another 20 minutes. I had to firmly ask him to stop.
As I ran hurriedly to make it in time for my dinner appointment, I was reminded of the famous song from a 1957 Bollywood movie called “ Pyaasa” that has Johnny Walker playing a masseur, convincing reluctant customers for a “champi” (head massage). The song goes “Sar Jo Tera Chakraye…” (If your head spins and your heart feels sad, come my dear, do not fear…no matter what your troubles, try it out, massage your head, your fortune will shine!). I checked my messages to find that my guests were running late. Oh well, my fortunes were starting to shine already.