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The Spa Less Traveled: Discovering Ethnic Los Angeles, One Massage at a Time

The Spa Less Traveled: Discovering Ethnic Los Angeles, One Massage at a Time

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The Spa Less Traveled: Discovering Ethnic Los Angeles, One Massage at a Time

284 pagine
3 ore
Dec 1, 2011


Los Angeles’ remarkable ethnic diversity has brought more than exotic food and rich cultural traditions—it’s led to a wealth of incredible (and incredibly inexpensive) therapeutic massage treatments. Gail Herndon and Brenda Goldstein, both health-care professionals, spent five years visiting Southern California’s Thai, Korean, Chinese, Russian, Japanese, Indian, and Hawaiian spas, and they share the details on their favorites. They explain the treatments and their benefits and tell you where to go, what to expect, how to tip, even where to park and where to eat in the neighborhood. A beautifully photographed and designed gift for adventurous Southern Californians.

Dec 1, 2011

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The Spa Less Traveled - Gail Herndon



Cultural Exchange, the Spa Way

We Googled. We Yelped. And we found that most of L.A.’s authentic ethnic spas weren’t getting a fair shake. That’s because they’re being compared to a different kind of treatment, the Swedish massage. Odds are you’ve had a Swedish massage; it is, after all, the most popular kind in the United States, a mild and completely relaxing treatment. But that’s just one experience, and it’s definitely not the way all massages were meant to be. After all, we’re in Los Angeles! There’s so much more to experience. Not only is the county of Los Angeles home to 9.86 million people, it boasts the largest Chinese, Thai, Korean and Japanese populations outside their home countries. So many of these immigrants brought with them meaningful customs and rituals. Just as you expect their languages and foods to be different, so should the anticipation for massage. And have we got some surprises for you!

The goal of this book is to help you understand each treatment and what’s in store for you. There’s nothing more enlightening than experience. Over the last several years, we’ve been privileged to be able to explore some of the purest ethnic enclaves in Los Angeles, rich in history and culture. And we were blown away. Visiting the places listed in this book is the only way to discover which spa treatments work for you. The more you try, the more you learn what you like… and don’t. Being informed about how a certain therapy may help you can make your experience more physically and emotionally satisfying.

Be sure to read the introduction page for each massage type, as well as the glossary.

Going to L.A.’s ethnic spas will open you to new worlds. Despite soft-drink billboards and American fast-food restaurants just down the street from the majority of the spas listed, they really do offer a good look into other cultures. The people who work at the spas may have left behind a country, but they have, in large part, re-created it in their businesses. So please don’t be put off by limited English and certain, shall we say, colorful habits. After all, you won’t find eggs cooking or underwear drying in the sauna at Burke-Williams! (You’ll have to read the book to find the place we saw that.) But your world will expand and your body will be transported.

If you picked up this book, you don’t need selling on the many benefits of massage. But we do want to sell you on the rewards of exploring the diverse cultural neighborhoods Los Angeles has to offer and to expose you to their respective body treatments. Think of this as your own cultural exchange program, without the passport requirement or heinous air travel. We’ll be your guides.

Escape. Explore. Enjoy!

Gail & Brenda

Chapter 1 – The Ethnic Spa Basics

Making the Most of The Spa Less Traveled

The Many Benefits of Massage

Speaking Spa: A Glossary

Spa Etiquette



Human Trafficking Prostitution

A Guide to the Icons


Spa treatments are all about relaxing, and it’s hard to relax until you know what to expect. So here’s our short list of what’s in the book and how you can make the most of it.

Glossary: A good place to start, particularly if you’re not sure which treatment you’d like to try, or even what is actually involved in a specific treatment.

Spa Etiquette: Reference this section for spa pointers, advice on tipping your masseuse and the panty/no-panty debate.

Chapters: Each chapter provides an overview of a particular ethnic enclave, a brief history of the community, a description of the signature treatments and a guide to a great massage.

Keys: Icons quickly convey the information you want to know without having to read through the text. At a glance, for instance, you can see the price range, if the spa accepts credit cards, how authentic the facility is and if it’s co-ed.

Authenticity: You can start your spa explorations closer to home, and then we’ll help you work your way to other neighborhoods for more authentic experiences.

Vocabulary: We translate some of the most frequent words you might need to know in a spa setting. Start with hello or thank you and build up your vocabulary. You’ll be pleased, and they’ll be impressed.

Why We Like It: These short and sweet summaries help prioritize your destinations and respective spa treatments. We’ve included suggestions for nearby shops and restaurants that you might want to visit while you’re in the neighborhood.

Recipes: We share a few simple recipes to help you re-create your spa experience at home.

Licensing: What you should know about training, licensing and certification.

Human Trafficking/Prostitution: This is a serious topic, and we felt it could not be glossed over. Read this section to learn what it is and what to do if you suspect human trafficking or prostitution.

Index: Stuck in traffic? Turn to our handy index of spas by neighborhood to learn where you might pull off the freeway and get a massage. The best stress relief possible!

One important note: We’ve done our best to bring you the most up-to-date information, verifying everything prior to printing. Please know that hours, websites, pricing and the like are subject to change by the owners and are outside our control.

Many hundreds of massage facilities blanket Los Angeles County, but if they didn’t pass muster with us, we did not include them. This is not meant to be a comprehensive book—it’s a curated book. If you have a favorite that didn’t make the cut, e-mail us. We’d like to meet you there, and we may possibly include your spot in the next edition.

Most importantly, use this guide with a friend. You can be braver together (this is particularly helpful when the two of you do Chinese cupping), you can laugh together (a given if you both take the ice-cold plunge after the Russian platza treatment), you can feel safe when exploring together, and you have someone with whom to practice foreign words. Spa going is so much more enjoyable when shared. And that’s how we wrote this book.


Even a single massage can have a measurable benefit, and if you can incorporate more of them into your life, all the better. Massage directly impacts the muscular, nervous, circulatory and immune systems. You can enjoy treatments singly or in concert with other therapies. Massage is not a self-indulgence, but rather it should be a regular (even weekly) part of your routine of self-care, good health and Wellness.

Many scientific studies have detailed the good things massage does for the body, but we’ll give you just a brief list. If you’re curious about something specific, look online for the most up-to-date research.

Detoxes your body

Reduces depression

Alleviates mental fatigue

Reduces heart rate and blood pressure improves the body’s immune response

Lowers levels of stress hormones [which can make you gain weight]

Increases blood circulation

Relieves pain

Reduces muscle fatigue

Combats insomnia

Relieves physical fatigue improves digestion and elimination

Relieves headaches due to eye strain and tension

Boosts levels of endorphins and serotonin, which control pain and regulate mood

Since this is a book about our personal experiences, we can tell you what benefits we’ve noticed since beginning our research.

Our circulation has improved, and as a result so has our skin tone.

We’ve had no trouble sleeping. None whatsoever.

Due to its stretching nature, Thai massage has improved the flexibility in our legs and hips.

Being alone with our thoughts in a sauna or hot tub helps us problem-solve and recalibrate for the next day.

The bottom line is this: We’ve learned how to relax, which has given us more balance in our lives. Like you, we’ve struggled to take time for ourselves. But we’ve moved into a place of unabashedly enjoying our time having treatments, because they make us better equipped to handle stress and put life’s problems into perspective. We invite you to join us, at the spa and on the journey toward improved health.


As we’ve traveled L.A. (and the world) to experience various ethnic massages, we’ve learned that they have a lot in common. These are truly healing arts, practiced for generations as part of a larger lifestyle approach to good health.

Prenatal, lomilomi and Swedish are fully relaxing massage choices. This book, however, is primarily devoted to therapeutic massage. This type involves more specific manipulations of the body, addressing the nervous, circulatory, lymphatic and other systems. We hope reading about these types of massages makes you more comfortable and ready to try something therapeutic and/or enjoyable.

Acupressure: This traditional Chinese method of massage uses the fingers to apply pressure to specific areas of the body along meridians, or channels, to impact the body’s energy. Meridian points are found all over the body, including the face, head, fingers and toes. Pressure on these meridians releases muscle tension and promotes healing by improving the flow of energy throughout the body. Specific points along the meridians are also used in acupuncture. You might also see this called shiatsu massage.

Aromatherapy: Typically an add-on to a massage, aromatherapy involves the scents of essential oils, primarily from herbs and flowers, which are both inhaled and applied to the body. Most essential oils require a carrier oil to allow them to be applied directly to the skin. Depending on the scent, the effect can be both physically and emotionally beneficial. Essential oils can address headaches, sore muscles and indigestion, among a host of other conditions. Peppermint, for instance, is particularly reviving for sore feet. As you gain experience with aromatherapy treatments, it will become easier to see the connection between scent and emotions. Specific scents can ease fatigue, anxiety and grief, for example. A good therapist can suggest something for your particular need.

Ayurvedic Massage: Also known as abhyanga, Ayurvedic massage is typically performed by one or two therapists who anoint the entire body with a warmed herbal oil, the base of which is typically sesame oil. The massage both begins and ends at the head. After the massage, some oil remains on your body and hair, which is why a warm shower is part of this service. It is part of the Indian approach to health care, which integrates massage, herbs, yoga and meditation. Ayurveda is a Sanskrit word that translates to science of longevity. A primary tenet is that there can be no physical health without mental health, and vice versa. One of the benefits we’ve noticed following this massage is a deep night’s sleep.

Banya: A banya is a Russian sauna heated by rocks that emit an intense heat. The temperature often exceeds 200°F, the upper limit for most types of saunas. The traditional banya involves a ritual. After showering, head to the banya and lie down on one of the lower benches. The higher up you move in the sauna, the more intense the heat. Lying down will allow you to stay longer and achieve more physical benefit—the idea is to stay as long as you can. It’ll be easy to get a good sweat going. When you’ve reached your limit, rinse off in the shower, then run to the closest cold pool and jump in. The ritual involves repeating this process several times. If you’re up for it, you’ll find you can build up a tolerance for a longer stay in the banya, and then you’ll definitely be looking forward to the cold plunge. When your body is sufficiently loosened up, typically after your third trip to the banya, a platza follows. (See Platza.)

In the banya at Vöda Spa; photo by Edward Duarte

Body Scrub: A.k.a. total body exfoliation. Koreans take the gold medal for perfecting this art of skin polishing. Masseuses wear mitts designed to scrub the dead skin cells from your entire (and we mean entire) body. This procedure is not for the shy, as you are typically one of many naked women lying on tables in fairly close proximity. The masseuses, all donned in their working garb of black bras and matching panties, scrub, rinse and scrub again before rinsing, oiling and rinsing again, all in preparation for the big milk-bath finish (and by bath we mean they pour milk on your wet, naked body). As the tables are all lined up, there’s something assembly-line about it, but there’s no denying the results—softer and smoother skin, just like a baby’s.

Cupping: This ancient Chinese technique involves using small cups to create suction on the body by generating a vacuum. Typically the practitioner extinguishes a match inside a glass, plastic or bamboo cup and immediately places it on your back along the meridians. This forms an air-tight seal, causing the blood to rise to the surface of the skin. The process is supposed to open the meridians and allow your internal energy to move freely throughout the body. If the cups are left alone, an even stronger suction is created, which pulls your skin into the cup. It looks like mini-cupcakes under a glass, depending on your level of back fat. Our favorite method is when they use a little oil on the back first, which allows the therapist to move the cups around, creating a pleasant suction feeling. Cupping may be used on your neck, shoulders and the backs of upper arms. After the cups are removed, you’ll be left with dark red circles, like hickies on your back. The longer the cup stays in one place, the more intense the circle color. These will last a couple of weeks, which is why you might choose this therapy during the winter months. Any backless, strapless or even short-sleeve outfits may set people to talking! The treatment should not be painful, but you may feel a little discomfort as skin is pulled into each cup.

Deep Tissue: This technique involves slow-moving strokes with deep finger pressure on stiff areas, including the neck, back and shoulders. The intent is to realign the deeper layers of muscles and connective tissue, thereby releasing chronic patterns of tension and pain and, it is hoped, improving mobility and body alignment. The massage stroke may go with or across the grain of muscles and tendons. You may recognize some of the same strokes from Swedish massage, but because the pressure is deeper and concentrated, it is more intense and can sometimes be uncomfortable for short periods. If you prefer a lighter touch, this is not the massage for you. However, if you have knots or chronic muscle tension, this focused method might be very beneficial.

Hot Stone: For centuries, the Chinese, Native Americans and Hawaiians have used heated, smooth, palm-size stones during massage. Stones are most commonly placed on the forehead, stomach, chest, back and along the spine and are both left to rest and gently used during the course of the massage. Wherever they are positioned, the seeping heat relaxes the nervous system, and a subtle warmth spreads. Made of a particular kind of volcanic rock, these stones hold their heat for a long time. Oil is used to transfer the heat from the stones to the body. The warmth often brings pain relief, and you’ll also benefit emotionally, because the warmth reduces mental fatigue. You may also notice an improvement in muscle function, because hot-stone treatments typically improve circulation.

Thai stretching at Lamai Thai

Indian Head Massage: This is part of a holistic Ayurvedic bodywork system from India, where the head, neck and face are massaged with the purpose of clearing blocked energy channels. The theory goes that blocked channels cause negative energy to build up, contributing to illness and pain. You may be fully clothed or asked to remove your top to allow the masseuse access to your shoulder blades, where the massage typically begins. It includes the upper back, shoulders, upper arms, neck and, finally, the head. The movements flow smoothly, and the pressure to the head is quite gentle, sweeping away stress and tension. Oil is used on your head, so plan your outing accordingly. Choose this type of massage if you have insomnia, suffer from headaches or eyestrain and/or hold tightness in your jaw, neck or shoulders. Another name for this type of massage is champissage.

Jim Jil Bang: These Korean family saunas typically have two distinct areas. The wet area is where you go first to shower, get a body scrub, soak in a tub and/or take a sauna (dry or wet). Since clothing is not allowed here (that’s right, you’re naked), it’s for women only. Please do not bring a bathing suit—aside from not being necessary, it’s not allowed. The men

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