Blindfolded, beaten ... and (eventually) loving it

Conal Hanna finds the cure for sore feet after a long trek is to give them a beating.

It sounds like a nightmare but it wasn't. This really happened. I was on assignment in Borneo, where I was led into a small room, told to lay down, and blindfolded. Then someone very slowly, very methodically tried to break my ankles with their bare hands.

Certainly my attacker had taken me by surprise. Juni, my Balinese-trained masseuse, had initially been so welcoming, with her polite smiles and ginger, lemongrass and honey ice tea. She invited me into a suite, removed my shoes and set to work washing my feet.

Perhaps the ankle thing was revenge. You see, only an hour earlier I'd been trekking in the sort of muddy rainforest you might mentally associate with Borneo. I'd showered, of course, but the unfamiliar sensation of a stranger scrubbing between my toes made me hope I'd done a good job.

It started with warm water, to which Juni added a fragrant drop of lavender. Then she lathered up my feet with soap, gently caressing them. This was followed by a salt scrub - more tickle than rough - and a peppermint oil rub. Yes, this was living.

To the sound of gentle relaxation music and the ocean at the door, I was led over to the massage table. My eyes were covered, a bell rang and Juni set upon my feet like a boxer looking for an early knockout.

First, she stretched my foot up towards my shin, while I waited for the sound of snapping Achilles to interrupt the lapping waves. Next, the points of my feet were hauled back the other way, providing an insight into the feeling of being stretched on a rack.

At about this time I took a peek from beneath my eye wrap. I had my suspicions that Juni was just the foot washer, and had been quietly displaced by a 120kg masseur who rated his job satisfaction by the severity of my flinches. I was to be disappointed, however; it was indeed Juni, a woman half my size, who was causing me such pain.

It's a fine line though, isn't it? After my ankles were yanked up, down and quite literally all around, they felt tremendously loose and relaxed. And I'm happy to say everything from there on in was far less invasive. Juni started with my toes: squeezing them, pulling on them, running her fingers along the knuckles. She then moved to the top of the foot, an area all but neglected by the amateur masseuse but on which Juni spent a long time, kneading her fingers along the lines of each little bone. It was like she was massaging my skeleton.

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It was curiosity more than anything that had motivated me to try a foot massage. You see, I thought I knew about foot massage. Like Jules in Pulp Fiction, I considered myself a foot f---in' master. One look at the massages on offer, however, showed I evidently wasn't. How, I wondered, could you spend a whole hour just massaging someone's feet?

I soon had my answer. Juni's well trained hands deconstructed every individual muscle and bone in my feet. After the top, came the sole: the ball of my foot, the outer, in step and hard heel. Only then did she begin to massage my whole foot, bringing together every component like a mechanic might reassemble an engine piece by piece.

By the time the bell rang again to signify my time was up, I'd plunged into a deep state of relaxation. If the eyes are a window into the soul, the soles are the secret passage to nirvana.

An hour earlier I'd been worried about walking out, and in the end I didn't. I glided.

Conal Hanna travelled to Malaysia courtesy of Tourism Malaysia and Malaysia Airlines. He stayed and enjoyed a massage at the Damai Puri Resort. See www.tourism.gov.my and www.malaysiaairlines.com.

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