Words by Catherine Shih
Spend the day wandering around Taipei City, and you’ll soon begin to notice a very interesting cultural sight: signs for “腳底按摩” (foot massage) lined up every few blocks you go.
Although stemming from the ancient histories of China, India, and Egypt, this therapy, more commonly known as “foot reflexology,” recently became re-popularized in Taiwan through a Swiss priest named Josef Eugster, who saw firsthand the benefits on his then arthritis-stricken knees and begin actively practicing this therapy on others.
The philosophy behind foot reflexology
The philosophy behind foot reflexology is that all of the nerves in the body are interconnected through a unique system of 12 major meridians or pathways, and it is through massaging certain pressure points in the body that we can stimulate these nerves and in turn improve overall blood circulation, metabolism, and the endocrine system.
Some of the renowned benefits of this therapy are:
- Controlled blood pressure
- Improvement of liver function
- Alleviation of swollen feet
- Improved energy levels
- Better sleep
This week I was fortunate enough to try out five different foot massage spas in Taipei to give you the lowdown on what to expect and which might be more fitting for a busy, trotting traveler like yourself.
(Read also: The Taiwanese Spa Hour: Taipei’s Best Health and Beauty Spas)
1. 滿憶亭養生會館 M Spa
Located just a few blocks down from Taipei Main Station and tucked in a small alleyway is M Spa. With a relaxed, Bali-like atmosphere, it was easy to sit down and feel at home right away. Within five minutes of arriving, a woman named Jasmine introduced herself to me and gave me a pair of slippers and change of shorts to slip into comfortably. She then began to proceed with washing my feet in a rose-colored wash basin, all the while urging me to stop wearing flat shoes or sandals (I guess she could tell from the arch in my foot that it was already causing damage to my soles?!). After rinsing, I was taken to the third floor, where, unlike other foot massage spas with large seats jam-packed side by side, I was given an entire private room with a massage bed all to myself.
The most notable feature of the foot massage offered here was the hot stones package. Hot stones, or referred to in Chinese as “火山石” (volcanic rock) or “鵝卵石” (cobblestone), can be paired with the massage to enhance and promote blood circulation by first heating the stones in a small pot, and then using a vegetable-based oil to push and knead out any knots in the muscle. Although a bit painful at first, the kneading of the stones gradually became more bearable, and even surprisingly comfortable. The whole experience was topped off by a hot towel to cover my legs, helping with blood circulation and muscle relaxation while also useful for rubbing off any excess oil. It was deeply satisfying to say the least, and I definitely recommend this particular package to anyone who wants to experience something different from just the average normal foot massage.Book Now
2. 竹之坊養身會館 Bamboo Spa
The most newly opened out of all the spas, Bamboo Spa is located smack dab in the center of Zhongxiao Fuxing right behind the infamous SOGO shopping center. Most of their clients are women and nine-to-five office workers needing a quick pick-me-up after a long day of shopping or work. Right away upon arrival, I was given a comfortable pair of shorts to change into and ushered to a large comfortable seating chair with a warm basin of water already waiting for me.
The ideology behind the type of massages given here is that the location of where pressure is applied is more important than the actual pressure itself. A common misunderstanding that many foreigners have is that massages are supposed to be relaxing and free of any pain or discomfort. But, in reality (as the masseuse reassured me during my random outbursts of pain), the truly relaxing part is what comes afterwards, and not during. Although I came strictly for a foot massage, the masseuse was kind enough to throw in 10 minutes of a back massage after seeing how tired my shoulders were. He also then proceeded to massage my big thumb, telling me that this is the part that is connected to sleep (clearly, I haven’t had much of that because that was probably the most painful of all!) and lastly, finished the entire procedure with a nice, warm towel. The overall ambience of Bamboo Spa truly felt like an oasis away from the everyday hustle and bustle of the city – definitely a nice escape without having to actually leave the city!Book Now
3. 豪門世家理容名店 Dynasty
With 30 years of history under its belt, Dynasty is a must-have for many Japanese and foreign travelers alike coming to experience true local Taiwanese massage culture. Although located in the somewhat questionable “red-light district” of Taipei, it was an easy place to spot with all the tour buses lined up on the block outside.
That day I was greeted by a kind, older gentleman, Mr. Yang, or also known as Number 325 (the number “3” indicates “foot” as his specialty) who showed me to my own private room with my own expanding massage bed. Immediately, he explained the importance of lying down for a foot massage versus sitting up, the main factor being that energy transferred from the foot cannot proceed to the rest of the body if sitting up. A unique aspect of Dynasty is that all the massage therapists are trained in one specific skill category only; therefore, feet is feet and body is body. They are not interchangeable, and if you want both, you have to switch from one masseuse to another at the end of each sitting, making the experience all the more professional.
Due to my background (I am American-born Chinese, by the way), some of the massage techniques he employed were part-Western and part-Chinese, which made the whole experience feel very catered and personalized. At the end, I was given lovely, warm towels to cap over my toes and feet and a soothing cup of ”牛蒡茶” (burdock tea), helping with overall circulation and loosening of any remaining muscle tension left over from the massage. I would definitely say this is the perfect stopover while visiting one of the city’s most notorious districts.
4. 黃金腳足體養生館 Golden Foot
Walk into Golden Foot, and immediately you can sense the feeling of calmness and relaxation. Situated just a stone’s throw away from Taipei Main Station Exit Z8, Golden Foot is easy to find with its walking distance from many of the city’s major hotels. I was greeted right away with a very curious-looking blue potion called “蝶豆花茶” (Butterfly Pea Flower Tea), which is known to have anti-aging properties (perfect for the old soul in me).
The massage therapist I was assigned to, known as Number 6 (oddly enough, none of the masseuses go by their actual name or last name but instead use numbers), took one look at me and immediately realized my feet weren’t my real problem but my spine and back. All those days of hunching over the computer or texting on my iPhone have led to seriously bad posture, which can eventually lead to poor back muscle strength and support. He immediately began working on my back, including showing me different ways to improve my posture, such as using a yoga roller and various stretching and exercise techniques.
After working on my back for 30 minutes, he gently lifted my feet onto the soft cushion and began using the same tailor-made technique on my tired legs. Although I had originally booked the 60-minute foot massage package, he was able to access what my real problems were and cater them to fit my individual needs. As a result, I walked away feeling refreshed and like a whole new body had been returned to me, from top to bottom. The whole process was unique and memorable to say the very least. I would definitely recommend this place for someone who needs a quick fix after a tiring day of wandering around the main center!Book Now
Situated in the heart of Taipei’s glitzy, glamourous East District lies this gem of a massage spa. Named after the Japanese term for “happiness or pleasure,” it is easily recognizable for the average Japanese or foreign tourist. Being my last stop for the day, I was a bit apprehensive at first that I would be kneaded to the point of no return, but instead, I found myself pleasantly surprised.
The masseuse, Number 8, knew right away my concerns and was very gentle and understanding. The philosophy behind the
The overall ambience was very relaxing, as evidenced by nearly a third of the clients falling asleep around me. Additionally, each chair was equipped with USB outlets for charging your phone (very tourist-friendly!), which I thought was very considerate. If you’re tired of foot massages and prefer a full-on body massage instead, they also offer private rooms on the first floor and basement floor as well. This is a definitely a must go-to for anyone tired from a day of lugging around shopping bags in East District!Book Now
Interested in a Self-care and relaxation tour in Taiwan? Check out our Taipei Rest and Relaxation Tour for more!