Would I lie on a slab of heated stone for 30-60 minutes?
I pondered over this question for about 2 minutes. I’m a believer in trying everything at least once, except in certain cases, and I have had heated stone massage before; therefore, my hesitation lasted for as long as it took me to google “Ganbanyoku”, translated as bedrock bathing or stone-slab bathing. For others, it’s heated stone therapy.
Heated stones had been used throughout history as a form of treatment. Credit is generally given to the Chinese, Native Americans, Indians, Egyptians, Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders in the current use of stones in healing various ailments. This doesn’t discount the local practices of other cultures, only that they are not as well-known.
Proponents of Ganbanyoku in Japan trace the practice to the time when people visited the Tamagawa natural hot springs in the Akita prefecture, as far back as the 1680s. People with various ailments would lie on bedrocks of radioactive Hokutolite mineral as hot springs with a flow rate of 9,000 at 98 degrees Centigrade per minute heated the stones.
In my research, I found that the main difference between other heated stone therapy and that of Ganbanyoku is the use of heated stones that naturally releases Far Infrared Rays (FIR) and negative ions. As I was clueless about FIR, I turned to Google and discovered that FIR had been used as a form of therapy over the years. The National Center for Biotechnology Information in Bethesda, Maryland published at least 3 studies on the uses and effects FIR on wound treatment, skin collagen renewal, etc. I was mindful that these studies were conducted in controlled environments and like any alternative forms of therapy, FIR therapy is not widely held by the medical community.
Still, I was intrigued by what for me was a new thing, I accepted the invitation from AT Marketing Consultancy to the opening of the Ganbanyoku Hot Stone Therapy at the Far East Plaza. I was glad for the link provided on the email on what to do since I was afraid of doing something inappropriate.
I loved the How-To-Ganbanyoku illustrations from their website. They were so cute and reminded of why I am a Japanophile.
On Friday, 3 November, I deliberately made myself semi-tired, window shopping at Tang and checking out the Christmas decorations. The Chipmunk’s version of “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas” played in my head. I wanted to get the full benefit of the therapy and arriving well-rested would not do.
When I arrived, Ms Greta Ng, the vivacious proprietor greeted me. I filled out a form with the usual questions about my health, similar to what you’d fill out in other spas. I was advised to visit the bathroom prior to the therapy then I was given a bundle consisting of a bath towel, a face towel, a loose top and shorts, and a locker key.
I removed my shoes and placed them in the shoe locker. This part was similar to my Jimjibang experience in South Korea where guests remove their shoes prior to entering the bathhouse proper. I’ve never been to an onsen so Jimjibang came to mind, though Ganbanyoku is entirely different. Tricia Lee, Ms Ng’s niece, guided me inside the spa. The dim lighting and wooden floors added to the overall serenity of the place.
Before I went inside one of the 3 hot rooms, Tricia demonstrated additional ways of doing the heated stone therapy. Aside from lying on one’s stomach, she told me to stretch out one arm above my head with the other one bent on my side, my cheek on the slab, then to switch arms after a few minutes. For the last 5 minutes, she said to sit on the edge of the raised slabs with my feet planted on the floor and my palms flat on the stone by my side.
Okay, I thought. I could do this, as I blew air on to my already sweating face.
“And don’t take a shower after,” she said.
Ehm…I wasn’t sure about that.
The instant I laid down, I thought I was getting scalded. The heated slabs were hot! I had to use the towel but after lying there for some time, my body started getting used to the heat. Even though the illustration said to be on my stomach for 5 – 10 minutes, I spent equal amounts of time on my back and on my stomach. One of the staff gently knocked on the door and informed me when the time was up, and I walked over to the rest room.
True to Tricia’s words, my sweat wasn’t sticky at all. Instead, my skin felt as if I put powder on it. “Silky sweat” was what they called the perspiration during the therapy. The sweat was odourless because of the negative ions released, which acted as anti-oxidants and prevented the oxidation of the sweat.
While I cooled down, I took the opportunity to speak to Ms Ng. “I’m 17, not 70,” she chided her niece who revealed the latter’s age. She proceeded to regale us with the story of why she decided to set up Ganbanyoku. She had been suffering from severe aches and had been seeking different types of treatments to try and alleviate the pain. During one of her usual morning exercises with a group of ladies, somebody introduced her to the concept of Ganbanyoku.
She went to Fukuoka, Japan to try the heated stone therapy, an alternative yet traditional and holistic healing. After a few days, she felt re-energized; the therapy relieved her backache.
“At my age, I should be at home, in bed…but the hot stone therapy has enabled me to be more mobile and independent in my daily activities. It has helped to reduce the pain and stiffness throughout my body and I find that I have more strength and energy than before,” said Ms Ng.
Her niece recounted her own experience and the benefits she’d seen after using the hot stone. She saw improvements in her sleeping habits after one-and -a-half-month of the hot stone therapy.
“I thought it would be great if I could bring this to Singapore and let others benefit from the natural healing of Ganbanyoku at a very affordable price,” added Ms Ng.
Determined to be authentic, she insisted on using Tensho Seki stones found only in Kyushu, Japan and engaged Gonda San from Granitec Co. Ltd in Fukuoka, Japan, who were specialists in stones to install the 16 slabs in her spa. The slabs took four weeks to arrive and were shipped by Tricia’s company, RAK Logistics, to Singapore. The stone beds were smooth, the appearance somewhat similar to marble, and were heated 24 hours.
Ganbanyoku is suitable for anyone, young and old, seeking a place to relax and rejuvenate. Some of the benefits cited in the continuous use of the heated stone therapy are improvement in blood circulation, aids in muscle recovery, increases metabolic rates, encourages weight loss, among others.
As for me, once isn’t enough. Good thing Ganbanyoku gave me 10 free sessions. =)
I’ve been to 5 sessions now including the first time.
For the other sessions, I learned something new each time. Here are some of them:
- Make Sure you Remove your Bra – obviously, this is for the ladies. I got too excited to start the session and forgot I was wearing my bra. I know what you’re thinking. How could I possibly forget? Well, I did and it got soaked. If you’ve ever known what it felt to walk around with a wet bra, you’d know it’s not very pleasant.
- Meditation Takes on a Whole New Meaning – with the dim lighting and the heat, I was able to practice deep breathing which led me to meditation. The sweat didn’t even bother me on the 3rd session.
- Heat makes the Body Pliable – I was fortunate to have the space for myself a few times when the others occupants finished their sessions. Instead of my usual meditation, I did yoga. I managed to do some leg stretches, child’s pose, and a baby crocodile. The heat allowed my muscles to be flexible.
- Ganbanyoku did Make me Sleep Better – on the 4th session, I finally achieved the deep sleep that eluded me. Normally, I would toss and turn; my sleep broken by intermittent wakefulness due to noise or heat or H moving too much. That night, I slept like a baby and woke up refreshed.
- Having Someone with Me Made the Experience More Fun – I dragged H during my weekend session since I wanted him to experience it. H loves his sauna and had often waxed poetic about Russian banya. I had fun prepping him and for the most part, he enjoyed it. “It’s good,” he said. “But I don’t understand why you have to go somewhere warm when it’s already hot outside?” I even managed to chat to another recent convert, John, a Singaporean who works at a bowling alley. He learned about the place from his friends. It was his second visit and he was looking forward to his next session.”It would be better if you’re with friends. It will be more fun since you can chat,” John said.
When I left, I heard some laughter in one of the rooms. People seemed to be having fun.
Far East Plaza, 14 Scotts Road, #02-29, Singapore 228213
Business Hours: 9.30 am to 9 pm daily
Contact Number: +65 6208 9357