Tried and Tested: Tuina massage wins a convert

A complete body rejuvenation using Chinese techniques of tuina massage, acupuncture and cupping have mixed results for our tester.

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WHAT I TRIED A body overhaul using the ancient art of Chinese medicine, involving a tuina massage, acupuncture and cupping.

WHAT I WANTED I have always been curious about traditional practices and wanted to see if this treatment lived up to the hype of devotees. Plus, after years of going to salons, I wanted a massage that actually felt like it was doing some good rather than just feeling I was being stroked.

HOW IT WORKS Traditional Chinese medicine works on the principle of yinyangism, which essentially means balancing different energies in the body. In tuina, the therapist uses vigorous kneading and acupressure to get the circulation going and energy, or chi, moving along muscles and meridian lines (energy lines associated with the healthy functioning of organs). Cupping has been glamorised in recent times by the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow but dates back to 3000BC. Small glass bowls have the air inside heated to create a vacuum, then are clamped to the body to form an airtight seal for about 15 minutes. The treatment is said to improve circulation and relieve muscular tension.

WHAT HAPPENED Tucked behind Zabeel Palace, the Dubai Herbal and Treatment Centre was opened in 2003 and treats both members of the Royal Family and the general public. With its clinical appearance and extensive in-house Chinese herbal pharmacy, it feels more therapeutic than spa-like. A brief but compulsory consultation with Dr Maria Alonso, who examines my tongue and pulse, reveals I have poor circulation and low energy levels, and she decides a course of treatment from more than 20 possibilities.

First up is the 35-minute tuina massage (Dh250). Dr Zhang Hung Xia does not speak English and I don't know any Chinese (and am no wiser after the intervention of a translator) but it turns out I don't need one as her magic hands work wonders. She kneads, prods and pinches me like dough as I lie fully dressed. It is occasionally uncomfortable but never painful, and within 10 minutes a warm sensation floods my back. By the end of the session I am as floppy as an amoeba, and the treatment has done more than any spa massage I have ever had.

The acupuncture (Dh200): I have never liked needles being stuck into me (who does?) and a course of sessions is said to be more beneficial than one alone. Used on my arthritic old-lady knees, it leaves my limbs heavy but pain-free after half an hour.

Finally, the cupping (Dh100), which gives an odd sucking sensation as the glass cups are clamped onto my back. I resist the urge to shake them off and lie for an uncomfortable 15 minutes feeling my skin is being plucked and pinched. They leave bright red circles when they are snapped off.

THE RESULTS I am a complete convert when it comes to the tuina massage and plan to return for more. As far as the acupuncture goes, I am convinced exercise would be a healthier way of dealing with my physical ailment. And while some friends swear by cupping, I am still on the fence.

Dubai Herbal and Treatment Centre, near Second Zabeel Road, Dubai, 04 335 1200, Treatments priced from Dh100 after a Dh300 consultation

Hidden Gem

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