Pilates exercise – move over aerobics!

Do you know what’s wellness and fitness exercise is hot with celebrities, yuppies and women today?

Yes, move over Yoga, boxercise and aerobics… the latest in-thing making the Hollywood and posh clubs round is Pilates. Huh….what exactly is Pilates?

Pilates (it’s pronounced pa-lah-teez) refers to a type of body conditioning exercise that used a series of controlled movements to strengthen the body and tone muscles. Pilates can help increase your range of movement, muscle strength, improve your mood and sense of well being, and provide you with greater flexibility and better posture. Pilates has been popular with gymnasts and professional dancers for many years.

One major reason for its popularity has to do with the fact that pilates can help increase strength, coordination, flexibility and endurance without adding bulky muscles. Pilates has lately become very popular among Hollywood actors as well because it effective in shaping and toning the body. Now, pilates has become popular among the general public precisely because of its reputation as an effective body sculpting and core strengthening exercise routine. In fact, most people who practice pilates on a regular basis report feelings of increased flexibility, tone, improved posture, mood, and overall better health.

It’s interesting to note that pilates has become popular with famous actors and athletes in light of its origins. Originally pilates was designed to treat immobile or otherwise bedridden soldier patients during World War I in Great Britain.

Joseph H. Pilates designed the pilates exercises. He was working as a nurse at the time and noticed a need for physical rehabilitation and therapy for injured and immobile soldiers. He designed the bulk of the movements and exercises that are still in use today. Pilates himself was born in Germany.

As a child, Pilates had been a sickly child. He was afflicted with asthma, rickets, and other childhood ailments that left his body weak and frail. He sought to make his body stronger by taking up several sports and becoming a dedicated athlete. Finally while working as a nurse during World War I, he developed the exercise regime that he would forever be associated with.

Like yoga and other mind-body exercise formats, pilates is linked to a philosophy of health and flexibility in both the mind and body. Pilates himself studied yoga and Chinese martial arts and incorporated aspects of these wellness practices into his format. Pilates made a strong connection between emotional and physical health and strove to produce a format that revolved around this fundamental principle. At the core of pilates is a strong philosophy centered on the attributes of focus, precision, concentration, control, breath, flow, and strength.

Like yoga, pilates is often practiced on a mat. Mat routines are common, and so is the use of various supporting accessories and tools. Mat exercises and routine are the most common way to practice pilates.

Training involves the use of various machines to strengthen and tone muscles. Most people who do pilates report that it can be difficult at first, but that the body slowly conforms to the practice.

This article is reprinted with permission from http://www.beauty-fitness-secrets.com.

Receive a FREE Pilates instructional DVD with courtesy from Lose the Back Pain Company


Family oriented Hot Spring Spa amongst the mountains, Taiwan

One of the fascinating features about visiting earthquake-prone countries such as Taiwan or Japan is that hot springs can be found almost anywhere in the country! It is not too difficult to spot hot-spring signboards while driving through the countryside in either country.

Hot spring visits in Taiwan and Japan are traditionally family or communal events; where entire families or communities share a hot spring. Of course, in recent years, many communal hot spring facilities have converted themselves to private room resorts to cash in to the younger population who are more willing to pay for privacy, comfort and exclusivity.

Entrance to Bunan Hot Spring
The hot-spring retreat is set against the green mountain

The Bunun hot spring spa is one of the hot spring spa in TaiDong(or Taitung), Taiwan that has kept true to the communal spirit of a hot spring spa. Despite being situated and surrounded by scenic mountains, it has remain a communal hot spring spa that caters to the young and old, rich and poor alike.

Bunun hot spring spa is more like a communal swimming pool complex than a relaxation spa. The only key difference perhaps is that instead of being in a man-made building and supplied with chlorinated water, Bunun hot spring spa is located in green nature and supplied by natural mountain hot spring water.

Hot Spring
The hot spring is set in a series of swimming pool

There are two main pools and several smaller pools with fountains and slides which you pay a NT150(US$4.50) entrance fee to enter. The water is clear, slightly warm(40C) and only a mild mineral smell and taste. To be honest, I had to double-check with the spa attendant that this is indeed hot spring water!

Away from the pools are the public access area which includes changing rooms, a garden terrace cafe, a BBQ area and a public tent area. The garden terrace is a nice area to relax away from the pool and have coffee amongst the hills.

This is a great hot spring to take your family to because the children will love frolicking in hot water with the slides and fountains but you may want to give this hot spa a miss if you are a alone, with close friends or a couple hoping for some private time in your own bubbling hot spa tub and a relaxing massage from skilled masseurs afterwards.

You will need to take a taxi or a public bus from TaiDong city. There are 4 buses a day and the journey is about 40 mins. (Bus company: 089-333023) You can also get a taxi (Call: 0932-664938). Private pickup from TaiDong airport or railway station can also be arranged at NT$500 for 4 people (Call: 089-561211 x 200)

Location of Spa: Bunun Village, TaiDong (Taitung), Taiwan
Size of Spa: Two large pools; several small pools with children slides and fountains Friendliness: Friendly
Facilities: Changing room, coffee house terace, BBQ and tent area
Pricing: NT150 (US$4.50) for all facilities. Swim cap and swim wear are compulsory and may be purchased at the gift shop.


Pain relief for the flesh and soul with massage

Oriental Pain relief patchesMassage therapy is a healing art form that combines the physical touch, pressure, stretching and other methods that are used to restore balance and a feeling of well-being to the massage recipients. Most of us have received backrubs from friends or spouses and can attest to the relaxing and pleasant feelings that are evoked during and after the rub.

Most of us receive these rubs from those who are not experienced in massage. Still the effort is appreciated and the benefits are wonderful. Think now about how much greater the benefit could be while experiencing the art of massage from someone who has been trained in how the body’s physiological and psychological elements can be stimulated by careful and knowledgeable hands?

Massage therapy is a holistic, drug-free healing art that combines the scientific approach used in the west with the intuitive and energy-based approach of eastern cultures. Therapists manipulate soft tissue in order to restore energy, maintain balance and put the body at rest while allowing the mind to be stress free.

In the hurried, fast-paced world so many of us live in today, it is not that uncommon for persons to be walking around with chronic neck and shoulder tension and pain. Massage therapy can help dissipate that uncomfortable tension.

Many of us go through our days doing repetitive motions. These motions fatigue our muscles and can lead to health conditions and injuries similar to what athletes’ experience. Moms who care for little ones and do housework all day do a lot of bending and lifting which can strain the lower back and legs. Secretaries and those who use keyboards all day can experience carpal tunnel issues with their wrists.

The healing properties of massage can help those who suffer from back pain, inflammatory conditions like arthritis and tendonitis, can relieve stress and stress-related conditions, help those who suffer from headaches and migraines, and relieve those who suffer from spasms, strains, and sprains. Massage can also provide relief from repetitive strain injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome. Circulatory and respiratory problems can find some measure of relief as well as those who are seeking healing from post-injury or surgical rehabilitation.

You can relieve such muscular pain through a licensed massage therapist. Your initial visit to a massage therapist will be to ascertain what can be done for your needs whether they be to reduce pain, or deal with a sports injury, or possibly to deal with an emotional issue or depression issue. The purpose of this initial call is to let the therapist know what your needs are and they to let you know how massage can benefit you.

** If you are suffering from chronic muscle pains and aches, you can also combine regular massage sessions with Oriental pain relief patches and ointments. It is very common in the East to use such medicated pain relief patches or “Gao Yao” on a regular basis for all types of muscular aches and pains. You can purchase these patches online at this pain relief website.


Hair wash and ‘free massage’ in China

If you are visiting China for a tour or a working trip and need a little ‘motivation’ before touring yet another gigantic historical/cultural monument, why not perk yourself up with a quick hair-wash and massage?

Hair wash in ChinaWhat most of us outside of China accept as a normal hair wash in a hairdressing salon has evolved into a highly sophisticated routine in China. You see, in the early days when China was still poor, the only way to get some hot water, some relaxation and peace from the ever-crowded home was to visit the neighborhood hairdressing salon.

In the 60s and 70s when life was simpler, getting one’s hair washed in a salon was like giving a little treat or reward to oneself. Hence, it was not uncommon to visit a salon just for a hair wash and not a hair cut. Because of this simple demand, hair washing in China has evolved into a sophisticated affair where your hair is washed, your ears are washed, your face is treated to a wash cum facial massage and your upper body is massaged – all on the salon chair and usually by an apprentice or a junior hair stylist. Hence, what we take for a simple hair wash can take 45 mins or more in China because of all the additional ‘treats’ and you even get the option of chatting with the hairdresser or not!

Today, regardless if it’s a neighbourhood salon in Shanghai or a sophisticated classy salon in a Beijing shopping mall, hair washing in China remains affordable and retain all the previous extra ‘treats’ except that you now lie on a massage bed with appropriate opening for a hair wash while lying down instead of sitting up on a salon chair. The entire hair and face washing with a simple massage thrown in can be done without you getting up and down from a chair at all. Talk about sophistication! And all these extra treats for an affordable RMB20-30 or US$2 to 3.

So, the next time you feel tired or flustered in China, just walk boldly into any hair salon and ask for a “xi fa” or hair wash!

Location of Hairdressing salon: Any hairdressing salon in China
Size of Salon: From simple neighbourhood salon to sophisticated, classy salon
Friendliness: Usually Friendly
Facilities: Hair-washing cum massage bed; normal hair cut salon chairs
Pricing: RMB20-30 for a 30-40min hair and facial hot water wash with face and simple body massage included.


Hot footbath and massage for tired shoppers in Taipei, Taiwan

Ximenting Taiwan
Bright and busy Ximenting, Taiwan

Have you ever been to Ximenting (or Ximending), Taipei in Taiwan? Well, this is a pure shopper’s paradise with streets upon streets of both Taiwanese and International clothes, fashion accessories, shoes and cuisine. Shopping and dining here can be fun and of course, tiring, especially if you have bags and bags to carry about especially late into the night.

Well, within the vicinity of Ximenting, lies a massage parlor, ready to lure all Ximenting shoppers to it’s offering of a hot foot bath and soft massages after a hard day of shopping, dining or clubbing! You can’t miss their large neon signs, especially at night, with their name of Royal Bali Massage Parlor in large fonts. More importantly, the sign also says that it is opened until 3 am – an important consideration for late night shoppers and clubbers in this area.

Royal Bali
The bright lights at the entrance entice late, tired visitors

Most massage parlors in Taiwan are designed with an Oriental theme but this parlor stands out with it’s tropical Balinese theme. What attracts one most to this parlor is it’s attractive hot foot bath pond done up complete with volcanic stones, koi pond and tropical foliage. You put your foot into a ‘hot water hole’ just besides the Koi pond and relax alongside this tropical theme. This is as as interesting and as creative a concept I have ever seen with any massage parlor anywhere else in Asia!

Services offered here includes foot reflexology, manicure, pedicure, facial treatment and partial and full body massage. Prices are reasonable and all services comes with a hot foot bath and hot tea.

I opted for a 90 min aromatherapy massage and was pleased to find out that the massage comes with a free facial service! This was a nice upgrade and a terribly attractive head to toe offer for a very tired shopper…

Koi pond footbath
Dip your tired feet into the ‘rock pond’

I started with a hot foot bath. Check out the photo above for their very creative concept of having a footbath besides a Koi pond and tropical foliage. Note the Koi fishes in the pond and how even the water pipes are hidden and hot water looks like it was actually flowing from the pond onto my feet… Yes, I can sip hot tea and feel myself recharged for another round of shopping just by sitting here for 20 minutes… What powerful recharging capabilities a hot foot bath in a conducive environment can do!

After about 20 minutes, I was lead to a 2nd level to do my aromatherapy massage. There were about 10 small private rooms done in Balinese theme at the 2nd level. The massage was performed by a middle-aged Taiwanese woman – and for a moment, I was disappointed that it was not a real Balinese woman. However, I did not really had to worry because the massage was performed just as well by a Taiwanese lady and it was not long before I was quickly convinced of her aromatherapy massage skills.

One interesting addition was the use of hot pads for the back while massaging the arms and legs. The use of the heat pad keeps the back relaxed at all time and soothe the back while other parts of the body was being massage. What a good idea!

All too soon, the massage came to an end and I was lead to another room for the facial treatment. It was a normal facial treatment but what was different was that the facial therapist is a young man rather than a lady. I have never seen a man doing facial treatments anywhere else in Asia!

Location of Spa: Ximenting, Taipei, Taiwan
Size of Spa: About 12 foot massage chairs, 4 manicure tables, 12 private massage rooms and 1 facial room over two levels
Friendliness: Friendly
Facilities: Individual treatment rooms, hot water pond
Pricing: NT2,000 (US$70) for a 90mins aromatherapy massage with free facial cleaning


What is Thai Massage?

One of the more unique massage available is the Thai Massage. Unlike other forms of massage, Thai massage actively involve the massage recipient, in a variety of massage poses. Both therapist and customer often comes out sweating after a massage session but for those who are prepared for such an active role, nothing feels more invigorating than after a Thai massage.

In fact, Thai massage is in a class of it’s own altogether that Thai massage therapist often specialise in Thai massage alone and are not familiar with other forms of massage. Similarly, massage therapists who often already have a few massage certificates, often do not have Thai massage certification because it is not an easy massage technique for the therapist.

Thai massage is actually a type of massage that goes by many names. Some refer to it as the Thai Ancient massage, Thai bodywork or Thai Yoga. Thai massage actually owes much of it’s technique to some of the basic ideas expressed in Ayurvedic medicine.

Ayurvedic medicine is the traditional type of medicine that is used to treat many different things in India. Since Ayurvedic medicine incorporates the usage of Yoga for some of the treatments, Thai massage incorporates it as well, asking the patient to put their bodies into various Yoga positions throughout the course of the massage. The massage is performed with the patient in pajamas, seated on a mat.

Firm rhythmic pressure is used throughout the course of the massage, and the practitioner of the massage focuses on hitting the ‘Sen Energy lines’ that are located in an individual’s body. The massage is one of the longer forms of massage that you may want to consider partaking in, with the full treatment often taking over two hours. During that time, many different parts of the body become involved – the pulling of your fingers and toes, cracking of your knuckles, and the practitioner actually walking across your back are some of the more offbeat steps of the Thai massage.

Massage oil typically isn’t used during the Thai massage, but some practitioners employ the use of a hot compress containing herbs in order to assist them in their art. Oftentimes throughout the treatment, the practitioner will use their feet to perform the massage as opposed to their hands, a step that many find unconventional but quite useful for the therapy.

Many people choose to visit Thailand in the hopes of receiving an authentic traditional Thai massage. Luckily, the United States dollar goes a long way in Thailand, and as of the writing of this article, one could expect to pay roughly eight dollars (US$8) in order to receive the full massage. The massage may be performed on a one-on-one basis or in a room with dozens of other individuals receiving the treatment at the same time.

Thai massage has gone international with the world becoming a global village. You can now find Thai massage in USA, Europe of Australia quite easily but somehow, it is never quite the same as receiving an authentic Thai massage in Thailand itself. Many people swear by the Thai massage technique, so it is definitely a type of massage that you may want to consider.


Filipino masseurs in Xiamen, China

1969 Spa boutiqueWestern-style luxurious Spa boutiques are beginning to make their presence felt in the land of Tui-Na, Acupressure and Foot Massages. You can usually find one or two of such spa boutiques in the main shopping mall or shopping street of any mid-size and above city in China.

1969 Spa boutique is supposedly a branch of a similar spa boutique chain from USA. Their main spa boutique in China is located at Xiamen, China and they occupy their own 3-storey building. This is an upmarket spa boutique and it is not unusual to see Tai-Tais (rich local housewives), executive-type, model-type and expatriates walking in and out of this spa boutique. Some of the receptionists even speak good English; a rare exception in China…

Front entranceThe lowest level of the spa is a reception area decked out in luxurious furnishing. The second level is a treatment area for ladies and the third level, a treatment area for men. This is rare in China as most spas are gender-segregated as they chase after their respective market audience. High-end western-style spa boutique such as this one tend to cater to the ladies market only in China and it is a pleasant surprise that both men and women can actually enjoy beauty and massage treatment in the same spa.

This spa offers beauty treatment, detox and rejuvenation treatments and massages. It is interesting that beauty and detox treatments are handled by local Chinese therapists but the massages are provided by Filipino masseurs. This is both a testimonial to the massage skills of the Filipinos as well as frank admittance by the spa management that the local Chinese has not reach the necessary skills and expertise to provide Western-style massages such as Swedish massage, Aromatherapy and Deep-tissue massage.

In addition to about 12 treatment rooms per level, there are jacuzzi, hydro-bath and a relaxation corner in each level. There are ushers in each level and they will guide you around, provide tea and generally tend to your well-being at all times.

I did not have time for anything but a 2-hr massage by the Filipino female masseur. The Filipino masseurs are glad to have English-speaking customers and they would love to chat. Most of them are in China for a 2-year contract and they could fit in well in China because Chinese food is not a problem. Majority of them would have picked up a smattering of Chinese by the end of their two year contract.

The Filipino masseurs provide a massage which essentially combines Swedish, aromatherapy and Thai massage techniques. If you love massage, this would be an ideal combination and with the naturally soft and wonderful skills of the Filipinos, you have reached massage nirvana in China!

Location of Spa: HouJiang Dai Rd, Xiamen, China
Size of Spa: About 25 treatment rooms over 2 levels
Friendliness: Friendly
Facilities: Individual treatment rooms, showers, jacuzzi, hydrobath
Pricing: RMB198 for two hours massage (Promo prices); RMB398 for rejuvenation package


What is Swedish Massage?

One of the most common massage found in Western-styled spa and massage centers is Swedish Massage. Swedish massage is also known as classic or therapy massage and is one of the most basic and fundamental massage certification that a new therapist would need to qualify for to work in a spa or health center.Swedish massage is a set and variety of techniques or methods that help to achieve relaxation of the muscles and to help achieve a better and increased rate of circulation. The main use or purpose of Swedish massage is to:
* help to release toxins from the body’s muscles
* help to increase oxygen flowSwedish massage utilizes techniques that apply stokes with pressure applied in the direction as the blood would flow as it returns to a person’s heart. The pressure is applied to bones and muscles with various types of techniques. These techniques are:
* Shaking motions
* Tapping
* Friction
* Effleurage
* Vibration
* Kneading
* Long strokes

Each of these methods or techniques of massage has a stroke that can offer benefits in different ways. And these can be further defined as 5 main strokes such as:
* gliding which is called Effleurage
* rubbing which is called Friction
* kneading which is called Petrissage
* pounding which is called Tapotement
* shaking which is called Vibration

First, the therapist would attempt to concentrate on relaxation which would utilize gliding the palms, fingertips, or thumbs. This would be the Effleurage stroke. Further they would use kneading with the fingers, thumbs, or hands and this would be the Petrissage stroke. Along with this, the therapist would use lotions and or oils to help the process. The process usually involves a body massage covering the whole body that ranges from between 1 hour to 1.5 hours.

With the Effleurage stroke, the goal is to find the muscles that are tense and this gives a person time to get comfortable as they lie face down and are massaged from the neck all the way down the back to the end of the spinal column.

While with the Petrissage stroke, the therapist is striving for the achievement of a deeper relaxation and works to Warm-Up the person body for more intense massage. This technique will involve the muscles being moved or lifted away and upward from the bones. This will help to figure out how much or how deep the pressure applied will need to be. This will possibly lead to other massage strokes that will allow for various benefits.

The many and various benefits of utilizing Swedish therapy are:
* lowers blood pressure
* increases circulation
* relax the mind and body
* helps with digestion
* helps to relieve colic
* helps clear up congested lungs by breaking up mucus
* helps to stimulate a slower breathing pattern
* improves muscle flexibility
* helps to improve the durability of the muscles
* helps to ease tension and stiffness within the muscles

If you are new to massages or just want a relaxing, uncomplicated massage, then a Swedish massage would certainly be an ideal choice.