Hot stone massage in Kuala Lumpur's coolest hotel
Reflecting pool foyer
(Hot Stone Massage, Hotel Maya, Kuala Lumpur)
Tracy heats the stones in a rice cooker then strategically applies them to my knackered back. No, this is not some bizarre form of torture worthy of the Aztecs but “hot stone massage”.
According to my “research” (Google), the heat from the stones works wonders, unwinding muscles, boosting blood flow to the zones under attention and releasing toxins while the supplicant experiences a sensation of calm.
If a stone, which should be made of river-smoothed, iron-rich, heat-retaining basalt, burns like lava, relax. “Fortunately, the human body has an excellent temperature gauge and a client in most cases will and should immediately respond in a negative way to an excessively hot stone, which tells the therapist to remove the stone,” my Google guide says.
Whatever the true sensual attributes of hot stone healing, it is good to be here at the Hotel Maya here in downtown Kuala Lumpur. The moment you enter the “lobby”, your stress levels drop.
Not just because of the aircon that generates a summer breeze instead of the Siberian chill that other hotels embrace but the ambience. Open-plan and intimate, the Maya charms the eye with bewitching flourishes like the corkscrew staircase, “reflecting ponds” and mattress-paved Martini bar that embodies the phrase “chillout zone”.
Certain heavyweight hotels whose names begin with “H” seem staid compared with the Maya, which appears determined to corner the boutique, Bohemian end of the five-star market. Oh to move in.
My pampering session unfolds upstairs at the spa that sets out its stall through its name: Anggun, the Malay for “elegance” or “stunning beauty”, which is almost as good as the rival KL spa called Forever Young Energy House. Starting out in the shower, I gingerly point the head of the hose at my feet and, twisting a lever, trigger a thunderous hair-parting blast from the fixed showerhead above.
The pummelling feels refreshing in contrast with the wimpy dribble delivered by other hotel showers. My subsequent 10-minute steam bath is pleasant but makes me puff, a fish out of water coming from a country where the prevalent vapour is freezing fog.
Aside from an initial wince-triggering sting, my hot stone session is torment-free. Nonetheless, partly because the stones do not come from the beginning of time and the depths of the earth but a faux-stones manufacturer, I don’t feel that wowed.
Nor does Tracy who says that a deep tissue massage does more good. Thankfully, the stones, which are sleek, black and about the size of a cell phone battery, merely represent components of the warm-up routine that gives way to hard thumb action, which triggers waves of shooting, soothing pain.
As her thumbs continue tracing arcs and touching nerves, I am glad that Tracy cannot see my face distort – the contortions are reserved for the floorboards. I squelch the urge to say “ouch” since the agony must be beneficial because, until now, I have spent a geological era pecking an office computer. Also, I have suffered more under the hands of the breed of practitioner who, after yanking your fingers from their sockets, kneels on your spine and drags your feet up over your shoulders in a bravura wrestling/yoga crossover.
Tracy keeps kneading my muscles, which have more knots than my stomach before a public speaking bout, and smears almond oil into the skin. During the process, something strange happens. No, my chakras do not start to hum. Nor am I overcome by a wave of euphoria.
Instead, above the wail of the pipe music coming over the sound system, a conversation between Tracy and I kicks in. Amazing. Until now, when beached on a lounger, I have rarely mustered more than a grunt.
Dialogue is hard because, for a start, you are usually facing the floor and do not know the therapist's first language. For another, it is hard to sustain a stream of words unbroken by “oohs” and “aahs” of pain or relief.
Today I try because Tracy, who is married to an Aussie based in the New South Wales city of Newcastle, readily discusses hot topics that demand engagement. We talk about men who ask for more than just deep tissue attention. We talk about how the word “spa” has been hijacked by wellness industry sharks to imply the ecstatic conclusion that the rogue males want.
We even talk about that part of the body for which there seems to be no sound word between the absurdly formal “posterior” and the popular Americanism that means “donkey” in the Bible. That part rarely gets the care it sorely needs, given that it contains the biggest muscle group (gluteus maximus) and a hidden muscle called piraformis.
Malaysians fail to take care of their bodies at all, according to Tracy, which is why so many keel over at 50. I can believe it. Whenever I walk into a KL café and ask for a low-fat version of something, that tack prompts even more bewilderment than telling a shopkeeper I need no plastic bag. The hassle is almost enough to make you go with the flow, forget your figure and drain a plastic vat of blue-coral yogurt bubble tea.
At Anggun, the tea served is that byword for energy, ginger freshly made from the root rather not a sachet and dispensed in a cup the size of a shot glass. With its peppery aftertaste still on my lips, I address a feedback form that asks me to weigh whether Tracy exceeded expectation or bombed.
How tough it must be to face that assessment after every client. That’s what I call pressure. It raises the question of who really needs the massage. Tracy or me?
Before I hop in the lift, truly going the extra mile, Tracy offers to dress the dog bite wound I sustained in Penang. Bless her.
Her parting advice is to drink heaps of water to release trapped toxins -- assuming my body contains any. I eat little food -- junk or otherwise -- and struggle to keep that down but absorb plenty of stress, indeed am doubtless a stress toxin factory. Or I was on arrival 50 minutes ago.
I feel calmer now as if I have been away from the world for a week. With luck, as I flop in the foyer reluctant to leave, I look “anggun”.
on 11 March 2008.
More Articles by DAVID WILSON
Twilight Platypus Tour
Golf followed by Balinese massage at a Borneo megaresort
Explore a form of massage with roots in the depths of Borneo's past
Early riser: David Wilson climbs into a wicker basket and takes to the skies the old-fashioned way.
David Wilson takes a gravity-defying trip in search of Sydney's aquatic wildlife.
Where cars go to die
The passions that rocked the sculptor responsible for The Kiss
Face-to-face with a cheetah in Australia's most boring city
The Michael C. Carlos Museum: cosmic curiosity cabinet