Review: The Orientist Spa @ Central World Plaza, Bangkok

Once again, I’m back in Bangkok, Thailand for a short weekend trip. This time, it is not for business but solely for leisure….. i.e. shopping, dining and most importantly, visiting a Thai Spa. Nice bliss from work anytime!

I have been to Bangkok so many times but was hardly familiar with Bangkok’s shopping malls. There were simply too many shopping malls, too many shops and too little time. I also tend to spend too much time at street markets, checking out Thai eateries and visiting spas that I hardly have time for shopping malls.

This time, like a good shopping tactician, I made plans to shop solely at the Central World Plaza. My online research tells me that The Orientist Spa is also located at the Central World Plaza, Bangkok. Further research indicated that The Orientist Spa is famous for using traditional Thai herbs and techniques to give visitors the full benefit of traditional Thai spa and massage traditions. This certainly sounds interesting and worth a visit.

There are three Orientist Spa branches in Bangkok and they are Ari Branch, Ladprao Branch and Central World Branch.  Each branch is conveniently located near subway stations in Bangkok. Since my target was The Central World Plaza, the Orientist Spa of Central World Branch was my target.

Central World Plaza
Central World Plaza

The Central World Plaza , a huge recently renovated mall, was formerly known as the World Trade Centre. There are two main big department stores in Central World Plaza, namely the Zen Department store and Isetan department store.In addition to these 2 key anchor departmental store tenants, you can find food courts, supermarket, cinemas, shops and plenty of restaurants. This shopping mall has more than 500 shops and no less than 50 restaurants. Many famous international brands and almost all Thai brands are well represented here.

It took me and my girlfriend some time to locate The Orientist Spa at Central World Plaza since the complex is so huge. The Orientist Spa is located on the 6th floor near the Toy R Us store. As we did not make any prior appointment, we thought we might just try our luck to see if there were any vacant slots.

The reception area of The Orientist Spa is bright and comfy with soft music and a strong herbal aroma floating from the oil burner. On each side of the reception area, there are comfy sofa for guest to seat and relax while waiting for their massage.

Reception area
Reception Area

We asked if there were any slots available for massage and the soft spoken lady handling the reception apologized that there were currently no empty slot till two hours later (we were at the spa around 1pm). She also explained to us their spa packages and we eventually booked for the next available slot. We went for further shopping and make short work of the two hours wait.

We started our spa session with a serving of cold flowered tea and was asked to choose the type of oil we would like to use for our massage. The 3 kinds of aromatic oil were their own in-house blend, Thai herbs and Lavender oil. Both my girlfriend and I chose our desired fragrance and shortly our masseurs greeted us with the traditional Thai ‘Wai’ greeting. We were then led to our treatment rooms.

Treatment room
Private treatment room

Surprisingly, the spa is quite big, I saw many treatment rooms along the walkway and one area solely for Thai massage as we walked to our dedicated treatment room.

I wanted to tell my masseur that I would like to take a shower before I start my treatment. However, before I could say anything, she asked if I would like to take a shower. This is so attentive.

We had opted for a 2hrs & 15 mins Orientist Refreshing Body Spa Package which consists of a Scrub with curcuma/grape seed, a facial mask with curcum and a 60mins aromatherapy massage.

Overall, I enjoyed the treatments. However, the initial part of the massage was not very comfortable as perhaps there was too much oil on the palm of the masseur and she slipped off twice in a row when she was trying to massage my back.  This caused some discomfort and I believe this was due to the lack of experience of the masseur.

Another setback was that the treatment rooms are not sound proof and I could hear the person next door chatting away with her masseur clearly. Either the spa should make their rooms more soundproof or discourage their masseurs from engaging in loud conversation with customers.

The Orientist Spa is perfectly poised as an exclusive relaxation oasis to relax and relieve tired and over-shopped shoppers and tourists in this large shopping mall. Do look out for it if you are ever shopping in this part of Bangkok.

Tips: If you are a tourist or first timer, the spa offers a 20% discount on top of the regular price.

Location of The Orientist Spa @ Central World Plaza, Bangkok
Level 6, Asian Senses (Dazzle Zone), Central World, Rajdamri Rd, Patumwan, Bangkok 10330, Thailand
Size: Mid size spa with mostly private rooms. Hydro-massage bath and jacuzzi available in some of the rooms.
Mid size massage rooms. One area dedicated for foot massage and the other for Thai massage.
Friendliness: Polite staff and good massage therapists.
Pricing: Starts from US$20 for a facial, wrap or bath. US$40 for Body massage. Various spa and beauty packages available and starts from US$70.

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Traditional Chinese Medicine and Massage in Qatar

Qatar LivingThe popularity of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Massage has spread far and wide from the shores of China. This is true even in the Middle East where products and services from China are not always well accepted or respected.

In the basement of the 5-star Sheraton Doha Hotel and Resort in Qatar, along with classy hair and beauty salons, is a small Chinese traditional medicine clinic run by a qualified Chinese Physician. The clinic offers traditional Chinese treatment such as acupuncture, moxibustion, detoxification and cupping.

In addition, the clinic also offer traditional Chinese foot reflexology and Tui-Na massage as part of it’s services. You can tell that this is a very popular massage service in Qatar because despite opening from 10am to 10pm daily(except Friday), you can hardly find a free slot to make an appointment for treatment.

I tried the 1 hour foot massage. Before starting treatment, I was required to fill in a personal particular form and also to indicate if I was suffering from any medical ailment. I was also required to have my blood pressure taken. Despite having Chinese reflexology and massage all over the world, this was the first time I ever had to go through such scrutiny!

In respect of Islamic culture as practiced in the Middle East, the clinic was divided into a male and female section. The massage therapists are all from mainland China and I was told that female therapists may only provide foot and head massage to male clients and body massage will be provided by male therapists for male clients.

The 1 hour foot massage included a foot wash in hot water before the actual foot massage begun. The foot treatment was very typical Chinese foot massage and I had to ask the therapist to increase the strength and intensity of the massage. I was told that most clients here are Caucasian expatriates or local Arabic and their average pain threshold are not too high. Despite that, it was still a very popular service among both expatriates and local Qataris alike and the booking calendar runs over especially over the week-ends.

I was offered Chinese tea after the treatment. Because I speak Chinese, I was surrounded by the therapists after a while because quite a few of them are pretty home-sick and wanted to speak to some-one who was able to converse in Chinese as none of their clients could speak Chinese.

Unfortunately, despite being located in a 5-star hotel, the clinic was not well furnished and feel more like a run-down TCM clinic located in the poorer districts of Chinatown rather than the typically well designed massage boutique you can expect to find in a posh shopping mall or hotel. Hence, I did not want to stay long as it did not have the conducive environment I would like to relax in after a massage treatment.

This despite a whopping 180 Qatari Riyah(@US$50) for a 1-hour foot massage and 200 Qatari Riyah(@US$55) for a 1-hour Tui Na massage. You can pay half that price in Singapore or one quarter that price in mainland China for a similar treatment but in a much more nicer ambiance and greater facilities.

I guess it will be a while before I return.

Location of International Chinese Body Care House:
Sheraton Doha Hotel & Resort
Al Corniche Street, West Bay, Doha, Qatar
Size of Clinic: Small, with separate treatment rooms for male and female clients
Facilities: None. No rest area. No changing area.

Friendliness: Not that helpful if you do not speak Chinese.
Pricing: About US$60 for foot massage. About US$65 for TuiNa massage. Upmarket rates for a non-up-market environment.

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World’s highest concentration of foot massage shops?

PPPYou can literally find 20 to 30 foot massage shops side by side, floor by floor, at the People’s Park Complex in Chinatown, Singapore. Can this be the world’s highest concentration of foot massage shops?

People’s Park Complex has been around for nearly 30 years but remain a very popular shopping mall in Chinatown, Singapore. It is surrounded by other old-time popular shopping malls such as People’s Park Centre, Chinatown Point and Lucky Chinatown. These shopping malls are very popular with local bargain-hunting heartlanders of Singapore, camera-toting tourists and recently, new immigrants from mainland China.

The shops in these shopping malls are an interesting mix to cater for their varied clients. They range from traditional Chinese medicine shops, money exchange bureaus, clothing shops, shoe shops, bookshops, goldsmiths, jade shops, travel agents, electronic gadget shops, eateries and to our subject of study – foot massage shops.

You can find other large concentration of foot massage shops in other countries such as Bukit Bintang of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia or Patphong of Bangkok, Thailand but these are usually large massage shops and are found amongst various different types of shops.

At People’s Park Complex, the foot massage shops are small, and are literally next to one another, floor after floor. You can and will be accosted by massage shop proprietors literally every step of the way – calling for you to patronise their shops.

Most of these foot massage shops are small, between 2 to 4 massage chairs, with the biggest only with perhaps 8 to 10 chairs. Many shops are simply renovated, with few curtains or partitions for privacy and some even have massage chairs that seem to show much wear and tear.

These massage shops has sprung up over the last one decade, ever since foot massage became popular 10 years ago in Singapore. Many close down quickly only to be replaced by yet another similar shop. Many of these shops are staffed by middle age or old folks and their customers remain mostly middle-age and old folks and the occasional curious tourist. Most of them are relatively cheap; at about S$20-S$25 for 45mins to an hour, and they can hardly charge more due to the cut-throat competition and the basic amenities of their shops.

Will I patronise one of these shops? I doubt so; call me bias if you want but I don’t trust these shops. I started enjoying foot reflexology when I was working in China where they have raised foot massage to an art; what with foot bath, soft music, luxurious chairs and young and energetic foot masseurs who had trained for years in Chinese medical schools and understand body meridians thoroughly.

Many of the shops here look like they have been hurriedly put together, with old age masseurs who look like they just picked up the skills yesterday and reek terribly of Chinese ointment smell (tie da you). I also certainly do not fancy having my foot massaged while sitting close to a passage way where people are passing by every other minute!

If you are a curious tourist who may not have time to seek around for the best foot massage experience, you can certainly try one of these shops for that one time experience. However, if you are seeking a therapeutic experience in a soothing environment, then there are certainly better choices elsewhere.


Review: Kim Spa, Phuket Town, Thailand

Kim SpaOn my last trip to Phuket, Thailand, we rented a car and drove around this popular Thai tourist island. One of our destination was Phuket Town.

Phuket Town is an old town and the administrative centre on Phuket island. There are distinct Muslim, Thai and Chinese enclaves and it is clear that Chinese influence in the town is obvious with a good number of Chinese temples and Chinese old-time architecture houses.

Phuket Town is off the regular tourist route and the entire town was sleepy and quiet on the Sunday that we drove in. Tourists tend to spend more time in the beach where almost everything is available as well rather then to come to town. Tourists who do come to Phuket Town tend to congregate downtown where a few modern shopping malls, large bargain-price markets, fast food restaurants and souvenir shops were gathered.

Among these few busy streets were a couple of small but modern and clean spas. These spas offered almost similar type of treatments and prices were very competitive – even lower than those available at the beach.

I guess it was because there were only a few streets in Phuket town that tourists congregate so the local spa operators have no choice but to stay competitive. I was particularly attracted to one of the promotion package that Kim Spa, one of these small spas, offered. The spa and massage promotion package consists of a body scrub (60 mins), choice of massage (60 mins) and a facial treatment (60 mins) – a total of 3 hours treatment for the unbelievable low price of 900 Baht or US$30!

I was in Spa heaven and chose to try out Kim Spa immediately! Kim Spa has a nicely decorated reception and rest area. On the first floor, it has about 10 cosy massage chairs for foot reflexology and a small corner for a foot bath. The 2nd floor is for Thai massage (beds are on floor) and 3rd floor is for facial and other body massage treatments.

My hubby opted for a foot massage and Thai massage for 2 hours. I opted for the 3 hours spa promotion package. While waiting for my masseur to prepare the treatment room, I whispered to my hubby that I couldn’t believe a body scrub treatment can last for 60 minutes. I kept telling myself … how much time can one person scrub the body? Will my skin drop off??

Shortly, we were led by our masseurs to our treatment rooms. My hubby started his foot bath on the 1st floor which is an open area foot massage area. I was led to the 3rd floor which had private treatment room and en suite shower. My masseur greeted me with the traditional Thai way “sawadee ka” with both hands together and bowed.

Although language was a barrier, we had no problem “communicating” with each other by sign and body language. The masseur indeed did a thorough body scrub and for sure she took more than 40 minutes before heading me to to the shower. My choice of Swedish massage was, in my opinion, average but the facial treatment was indeed refreshing. The masseur went through 2 to 3 rounds of scrubbing and cleansing my face. She then placed many layers of cucumbers on my face that made me feel very “cool” and relaxed. The smell of the cucumber were so refreshing. The facial ended with a cold mask and facial massage.

When my treatments were completed, the masseur led me to the reception area to relax and enjoy their complimentary floral tea. Overall, I must say this place is value for money, environment is neat and clean and most importantly, the staff were friendly and not pushy.

However, my husband who is an addict of hard massage was not impressed with their Thai massage and reflexology skills. He claim that the Thai and foot massage here were “too soft” and obviously toned down to cater to the many farangs(Thai for Caucasian foreigners) tourists in Phuket. He feels that shabby run-down massage shops run by old ladies offer the most true and authentic ancient Thai massage with the accompanying body-distorting poses, back standing and bone cracking twists. He feels that this is the ultimate form of massage! Funny guy!

Location of Kim Spa
Phuket Town, Phuket, Thailand
Size: 3 storey shop units with massage chairs on the ground floor and individual rooms on 2nd and 3rd level
Facilities: Toilet, shower and rest area

Friendliness: Polite staff and good massage therapists.
Pricing: Starts from US$20 for a facial, wrap, bath or body massage. Various spa and massage packages available and starts from US$60.


Qian Zu Ge or Thousand Feet Court, Singapore

Qian Zu GeA new massage boutique palor is in town and judging from it’s decor and type of massage and spa services it provides, seems to be a direct transplant of one of the higher-end massage boutique palor from Mainland China.

Qian Zu Ge or literally, Thousand Feet Court, is a 3 months old massage boutique palor located in Balestier Rd, Singapore. The 5,000 sqf massage palor is nicely decorated in traditional Oriental Chinese style with a service emphasis on Foot Massage, Foot bath and Foot pedicure treatments. Of course, there are also other massage services such as Chinese Tui Na, Thai massage, Aromatherapy massage to the less common Gua Sha, Ba Guan, Ear Candling and even Ear candling. Other spa services such as Facial services, Nail manicure and Nail art are also available.

(Note: Gua Sha and Ba Guan are specialized Chinese Traditional Medicine treatment meant to restore your body’s Yin/Yang balance. Gua Sha involves scrubbing your back with a horn scraper and Ba Guan involves using heated vacuum cups on your body’s accu-meridien points)

Foot MassageI visited this boutique with my husband on a late Sunday afternoon and there were only a few customers around. Once passed the reception area, there were about 10 luxurious Chinese-style massage chairs in the main hall and another 8 in a private room. The private room can be further compartmentalized into 3 smaller rooms with individual LCD TV where you can have some privacy if you come with a small group of friends. (See picture on left)

We were given a pair of loose Chinese-style shirt and pants to change into.

I opted for a Aromatherapy massage and my husband wanted a Thai massage. Unfortunately, the Thai masseur was not available and he opted for a Chinese Tui-Na massage instead. Incidentally, we were told that the Thai masseur is a Thai and the Tui Na masseur is a China Chinese. Plus point given for employing native masseurs because somehow, only native masseurs practise their art the best.

MassageWe were ushered to a curtained-off compartment with floor massage beds. The compartment was nicely decorated (see picture) and there were space for 4 body massage guests in privacy. We had a pleasant one-hour massage as the masseurs applied the right pressure; slow and smoothing for aromatherapy massage and hard and direct for Tui Na massage.

Overall, this is a nice massage palor with nice decoration, clean towers, soft music and good service. There are even 2 computers with internet you can surf while waiting for a friend or if you have finished your massage before them. The changing room is interesting in that you get those fancy round shower cubicles; complete with side nozzles and music while you shower.

There were however, a couple of issues we were not too happy about. While we were having our massage, some of the staff were chattering away just outside our curtained massage compartment. After 10 minutes of incessant chatter, I had to ask the masseur to tell them off. I came here to relax and chill out; not listen to some high-pitch incessant chatter that is so common of Mainland Chinese folks.

Another issue I absolutely hate was that two of the male foot masseurs were curl up in the foot massage chairs sleeping away! I don’t care how masseurs behave in their rest area or if they sleep during their off-duty period but to do so in front of customers is absolutely unacceptable! I hope the management of Qian Zu Ge realise this and stop this bad practice immediately!

As of this writing, Qian Zu Ge is running a foot detox and massage promotion with OCBC credit card. I will recommend this Oriental massage palor if you want to spend a relaxing afternoon or would like a group massage with friends in privacy.

Location of Qian Zu Ge
221 Balestier Road, ROCCA Balestier #04-01, Singapore 329928, Singapore
Size: Mid-size massage palor with large common room and several private areas
Facilities: Internet PC, foot bath massage chairs, facial treatment room

Friendliness: Polite staff and massage therapists.
Pricing: Starts from US$30 for foot massage and US$40 for massage. Facial services starts from US$60. Discounted Spa and massage  packages for members also available.


Disappointing Kenko

Disappointing Foot MassageTen years ago, I remembered going to Kenko during lunch hours for shoulder and back massages whenever I needed one. It was a useful 20 minutes perk-me-up especially when work was hectic and stress-level was high. Kenko, then a small massage shop, was simply decorated and situated at Tanglin Shopping Centre, Singapore. The boss or manager was extremely friendly and the masseurs’ skills invariably good.

Since I stopped working around that area ten years ago, I had never visited Kenko. Over the years, I had seen Kenko move from strength to strength in Singapore – expanding into many branches and going up-market in decor, services and clientèle. I had wanted to try them out for old time sake but their new up-market prices stopped me each time. I would rather go to my regular foot masseur at almost half of what I need to pay at Kenko.

I was busy and had not had a foot massage for a long time. I happened to pass by Kenko in Chinatown one day. The nice decor and atmosphere lured me into the shop. I decided on a S$48 dollars for a 45 minute foot bath and massage.

The shop was nicely decorated and the massage chair was one of the most luxurious I have ever seen. Soft curtains, soft lights and soft music completed the mood. The male masseur assigned to me looked experienced and I was confident I was in for a comfortable foot massage from an experienced masseur.

The luxurious leather massage chair was fitted with a foot-bath; so there wasn’t a need to bring in a hot tub of water. However, the water in the foot-bath was only luke-warm and there didn’t seem to be any crystal or herbal essence added to the water; just plain, warm water. The foot bath had a couple of mild bubble-jets. It was nothing more than putting my feet into bubbling lukewarm water. It certainly pale in comparison with foot baths that I had done in many other places – especially the Taiwanese version where the foot bath are invariably the highlight of a foot massage.

My feet was quickly dried off and the foot massage started. I don’t remember any cream, lotion or powder being applied. The foot massage was weak, being a series of thumb and first finger presses; starting with the toes and then going round the feet. It was simply press, press, press and there were no deep second knuckle pressing, thumb presses nor any knuckle scrubbing so commonly expected of foot massage. There were also no massage of the ankle, calf nor knees except for a couple of tapping action.

Once one foot was finished, the same action was started on the second foot. No towel was wrapped around the finished foot so common in most other foot massage palours. The whole sequence finished quite soon and certainly did not feel like the 45 minutes that I paid for. The masseur then washed my feet before drying them again. This was where he made the mistake that you may sometimes come across when washing hair in hair salons; not ensuring the water was warmed up before starting the wash!

I was totally disappointed! This was certainly one of the worst foot massage I ever had and I suspect that the masseur was new, inexperienced or not well trained in foot massage. The shop was busy during the period I was there, with customers coming in and out for shoulder and body massage, but none for foot massage. I can only speculate that foot massages are no longer popular in up-market shops such as Kenko and perhaps the quality of foot massage had suffered as a result.

Even the ‘tea’ served to me at the end was not hot tea but plain cold water. I’m okay with either but why serve water in a tea-cup complete with tray when it’s just plain water? I or any customer would have expected hot green or ginger tea when served on a tea-cup as in the case for most up-market massage boutiques.

I paid up and left quickly. Once out of the shop, I knew for sure I hadn’t had a real foot massage – my feet did not have the warm, fluffy and tingling feeling I normally have after a good foot massage.

Luckily, it hadn’t become too late into the night. I decided that I needed to go look for a real foot massage elsewhere!

Location of Kenko Spa Boutique, Chinatown branch
211 South Bridge Road, Singapore
Size: Mid-size massage boutique palor with multiple rooms

Facilities: Toilet

Friendliness: Polite staff and massage therapists. Receptionist a bit pushy with selling massage packages.
Pricing: Ranges from US$35 to US$40 for massage only. Between US$85 to US$175 for massage packages.


Conversation with a Chinese Massage Therapist

Body meridianI met Liu Lu when I went for a foot massage in a small shop near my house.

Liu Lu was my assigned foot massage therapist and it was soon obvious that she was a notch better than most local foot massage therapists I had experienced in Singapore. I struck up a conversation with her…

Liu Lu is from Shandong, China and had recently move to Singapore to continue to work as a massage therapist. She grew up in Wei Hai, Shandong, China and had enrolled in the Shandong College for Traditional Chinese Medicine in Jinan for a massage therapist diploma.

Liu Lu explained that one can qualify to be a traditional massage therapist in 3-years in most Traditional Chinese Medicine College in China. The courses she had to study were rigorous and included studying the body meridian, acupuncture, guasha, tuina, bagua, accupressure, reflexology, detoxification and others. She also had to do a one year internment in a Chinese hospital before she could graduate as a fully qualified traditional TCM massage therapist. (Note: Traditional Chinese Massage is fully endorsed as a form of medical treatment in Traditional Chinese Medicine treatment)

After graduation, Liu Lu worked in a different number of massage palors in Wei Hai and Yantai, China. She picked up other massage related skills such as slimming and beauty-related massage skills in these commercial massage palors.

Liu Lu also related that foot massage treatment is slightly different between China and Singapore. In China, no foot massage is ever started without a soak in a hot water hub added with Chinese herbs. The foot massage therapist may also use a reflexology stick which is much more painful then using just bare hands and knuckles. A complete foot massage also include massaging the ankle, calf, thigh and knee which is again not quite practised in Singapore.

She was also disappointed that her other traditional massage skills such as tuina, bagua and guasha were not popular in Singapore or other parts of the world despite these being time- honoured traditional Chinese massage skills.

Personally, I can only hope that with more Mainland China therapists coming to Singapore and other parts of the world, the standard of foot reflexology and Chinese Tuina massage will improve greatly as these Chinese therapists are highly trained in the holistic approach of massage as a total concept of well-being in Traditional Chinese Medicine.

If you would like to try out Liu Lu’s massage skills, do check out the shop she works for in The Icon, Tanjong Pagar Rd, Singapore.

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The history of foot reflexology

Foot relexology meridian chartFoot reflexology aims to prevent or treat health conditions through the application of pressure to specific points reflexes on the feet. The underlying idea of reflexology is that areas of the feet correspond to other parts of the body, and by stimulating those areas; you can heal and detoxify any part of the body. Becoming more common these days is to also apply pressure to the hands, ears and even the face.Reflexology and many similar treatments have been used for thousands of years in places like China, Thailand, India and Egypt. It wasn’t until the early 20th century, when an American physician named William Fitzgerald suggested that the foot be “mapped” to other areas of the body to diagnose and treat medical conditions. This process was originally called zone therapy. He strategically divided the body into 10 zones, each zone representing a different organ or body system. He then proposed that gentle pressure on a particular area of the foot could relieve pain, tension and promote healing in the targeted zone.

In the 1930s, a nurse and physiotherapist named Eunice Ingham, further developed these maps to include specific reflex points. It was at that time that zone therapy was renamed reflexology and the name has stuck ever since. Modern reflexology charts include pictures of the feet with diagrams of corresponding internal organs or parts of the body. The right side of the body is represented in the right foot, and the left side, in the left foot. Reflexology is used by a vast array of health care providers today, such as massage therapists, chiropractors, podiatrists, physical therapists and even nurse practitioners.

The Theory
The theories behind reflexology have not been proven. However case studies do produce convincing evidence that the therapy is effective. One proposal, begun by the ancient Chinese, is that the body contains an invisible life force(chi), or energy field, represented by meridians, that when blocked result in sickness. The Chinese believe that stimulation of the foot and nerves can unblock and increase the flow of vital energy to various parts of the body, which promotes healing.

Modern doctors, who have studied the Chinese body meridian principles, put forward scientific theories that reflexology, massage and acupuncture causes the release of endorphins, which are natural pain killers produced by the body, stimulation of nerve circuits in the body, and the promotion of lymphatic flow or the dissolving of uric acid crystals leads to pain relief and curing of certain pain and illnesses.

What do you think?