Foot Notes

Clients can learn a lot from this ancient art

By: Jim Calio

I am sitting with my pant legs rolled up around my knees and my feet soaking in steaming hot water. The room is silent, even though 10 other people are undergoing the same treatment. Soon, someone comes and fills my teacup with more hot water. And then someone else comes and pours more of the fragrant, almost unbearably hot water into the tub with my feet.

This is not the first time I’ve had a foot massage in China, but it never ceases to amaze me at how relaxing it is, even therapeutic. Foot massage has been known for a long time in China, and, like acupuncture, is only now becoming accepted as a legitimate medical treatment. What used to be Western skepticism has been replaced by actual courses taught in U.S. and other non-Chinese medical schools.

Most major hotels in China offer foot massage, or zudi anmo, as part of their spa treatment programs. It is believed by the Chinese that the feet are the key to overall health, that if your feet, which you stand on, walk on and pound into the pavement all day long, are in good shape, you will be in good shape. It’s a holistic approach to medicine.

At the Marriott’s China Hotel in Guangzhou recently, my masseuse (I later had a masseur) was a small woman dressed in a yellow blouse, black pants with white socks and black slippers. She motioned me toward a Barcalounger, and then told me to sit up and turn around on a small ottoman placed in front of it. She began massaging my neck and shoulders, and when she was finished, I turned around and resumed soaking my feet.

After about 20 minutes, during which I began to get more relaxed and sleepy, she began with my feet, at first pounding my soles, then applying pressure to places I didn’t even know hurt. I drifted off, and when I woke up with a start, she asked “Okay?” thinking she had hurt me. I gave her a “thumbs up” and she continued with the massage.

When she was finished I asked her what ailments she thought I had.

“Your right lower back is very sore,” she said through an interpreter, and she was right. Before my trip, I had fallen hard on a staircase and I was still in pain, although it lessened somewhat after my treatment.

Tradition has it that the feet are connected to all the other parts of our bodies through 62 pressure points. These are not amateurs doing the massaging. Each one undergoes rigorous training for months before they are allowed to work on customers, and even then they are closely supervised. Some, according to my masseuse, are former medical school students who dropped out but still want to be in the healing profession.

The hotels have the most reliable foot massage services for the traveler, but there are a growing number of reflexology “stores” springing up in China. Prices start as low as $20. In an interesting quirk, many are now becoming to business what a day on the golf course used to be a place to bond and make deals.

For the weary traveler, however, especially after a day on your feet sightseeing, there is nothing more refreshing than a good foot massage and the chance to catch a few winks in a Barcalounger.


Here are a couple hotels in China offering foot massage treatments. (All hotels offer agent commissions.)

Marriott’s China World Guangzhou

The Peninsula Palace Beijing

Shangri-la Hotels & Resorts
Beijing and Shanghai