It’s a little known fact that the best foot massages start with the head. OK technically, first order of business is a hot herbal tea bath to soak tired feet. But in a traditional Asian foot massage, as tense foot tendons and muscles ease in the soup, a good masseuse is already at work needing weary heads, massaging tense temples, working stressed necks.
There are several places in Seattle to get a respectable traditional foot massage. Generally, $25 – $30 buys an hour of foot, back, neck and head relief. There are a handful of establishments in the International District at which we’ve had some success, but my new favorite is local family-owned, King Dynasty Foot Spa at King Plaza on MLK and Othello. King Dynasty gets it right every time: a clean, quiet room, fresh-smelling room – getting to it starting with the head and giving my muscles, glands, and nodes the attention they need, leaving me feeling completely relaxed, as if I’d had a particularly satisfying workout.
Foot massage has been practiced as medicine in China for thousands of years. The ancient medical text Huangdi Neijing was written by the Yellow Emperor (Huangdi), who is said to have lived to be over 100 years old in the third millennium BCE. In the text, the emperor recommends massage for medical ailments, and it has since been commonly performed as a treatment in Asia, in modern times in hospitals along with spas.
Local massage therapist Jennifer Kantzer of Balanced Massage explains the basics behind foot reflexology in “western” terms:
The main idea of reflexology is that the feet (hands and ears too) are a mini-map of the entire body. One example of this mirror image is your instep: The curves of your instep, from toe to heal, are the same five curves of your spine, in the same proportion.
So, looking at the bottom of someone’s feet, the big toe is the head, the joint of the big toe that curves back in is your neck, the ball of your foot is the very top of your back that arches out, the big long arch of your foot is your torso that curves in and your heal is your pelvis that curves out and then tucks back in at the very bottom. And with the feet together, the spine is in the center.
A traditional Asian foot massage typically begins with being seated on a foot stool, or sitting in a recliner, while soaking the feet in hot water infused with tea and herbs. While the feet are soaking, the masseur massages head, neck and upper back for approximately 15 minutes. Afterward, the person reclines in a comfortable chair while feet are dried and propped up on a foot stool.
The massage therapist then wraps one foot in a towel and then begins to work on the other foot. At this point, feet are massaged one foot at a time at pressure points on the bottom, top, and sides of the foot for 15-30 minutes. Massages are very intense and sometimes considered to be painful. Remember, they are considered therapy and not strictly as relaxation as they tend to be in western medicine. The traditional thinking is that if soreness is felt in a particular part of the foot during massage, it is believed the corresponding part of the body has a problem. Most massage therapists will make a point to make sure that guests are comfortable with the level of pressure.
After both feet are massaged, hot towels are wrapped around feet and the lower legs and thighs are massaged, stretched and joints worked to move any toxins to a place where they can be readily removed by the body. Next the massage therapist will have a person turn face-down in the recliner, which generally will have a hole for the face akin to a traditional massage table, and a back and leg massage follows. A cup of tea is often served before, during or after the massage to help hydrate and detoxify the body, and copious amounts of water are always recommended.
King Dynasty Foot Spa is at 6951 MLK Jr Way S, Ste 206, Seattle, WA 98118. Hours are: Mon-Thu, Sun 10 am – 10 pm and Fri-Sat 10 am – 11 pm. Walk-ins are welcome.