New in Hong Kong: massage technique that purportedly aids fertility

Treatment purportedly used by the ancient Mayan civilisation in present-day Mexico corrects abdominal problems such as an out-of-position womb. Two city spas now offer the massage.

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 November, 2015, 6:15am
UPDATED : Monday, 16 November, 2015, 10:12am

For more than a year, Shoshana Weinberg had tried different ways to get pregnant - from drinking raspberry tea to consuming an alkaline diet (and having precisely timed sex, of course) - but nothing worked. Then, one day, through a friend, she heard about Dana Amelia, a centenarian healer living in a small Mexican village on the border with Belize.

Weinberg, then 33 and working as a spa consultant in Mexico, paid a visit to Amelia. The elder woman massaged Weinberg's abdomen using a traditional Maya technique that had been passed down through her family. At the end of the treatment, she tells Weinberg: "This month there'll be no blood."

True enough, in February 2008, Weinberg was pregnant with a boy.

A couple of years later, now living in Hong Kong as Asia-Pacific senior spa director for Four Seasons hotel, Weinberg longed for another child. Yet again, she had trouble conceiving. By chance, one of the hotel's therapists, Erlinda Enaje, also knew the massage technique that Amelia had used on Weinberg. It had been passed down through Enaje's Filipino family through the generations.

Weinberg had the massage again, and that month she fell pregnant with a girl.

Convinced of the efficacy of the treatment - a few others have also conceived after getting Enaje's treatment - Weinberg has officially introduced the massage to the Four Seasons Hong Kong's Spa menu: the 90-minute Heritage Healing Treatment.

This ancient Maya abdominal massage technique is not new to Hong Kong. Its modern adaptation, Arvigo therapy - created by Chicagoan Rosita Arvigo who has spent the past thirty-something years living in the heart of Belize's rainforest learning from natural healers - was introduced in this city 2½ years ago by Jenny Ostling.

Ostling, a resident practitioner at The Sanctuary healing centre, says some of her clients have unexplained infertility and, in many of these cases, she found the uterus of the woman to be malpositioned.

"Once we move it back, they get pregnant," says Ostling. "I have had several cases where we have only done one treatment for this to work."

Ostling says the therapy has worked for some other clients with more complex reasons for infertility, such as polycystic ovary syndrome, endometriosis, uterine fibroids and blocked fallopian tubes.

"Arvigo is about creating flow in the abdominal area," she explains. "Things like a malpositioned uterus can affect the flow of blood, lymph, nerve, chi. By getting things flowing and realigning organs, we can help the body do what it does best - which is to heal itself.

"Much like the concepts of traditional Chinese medicine, stagnation is the creator of pathologies in our bodies, and once we unblock those road blocks, the body begins to heal."

Dr Charas Ong Yeu-theng, consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at The Women's Clinic, says she's "not entirely clear" how Maya abdominal massage would improve fertility.

"I'm sure there's some traditional wisdom in the massage. From what I have read and researched upon, it could be due to an improvement in blood circulation, release of endorphins, and improvement in the relaxation of body and mind when you're having the massage," Ong says.

She says a woman's uterus can be anteverted (titled forward towards the bladder) or retroverted (tilted backwards towards the spine). While most women have an anteverted uterus, she says having a naturally retroverted uterus will not impair fertility.

Some tilted uteruses, however, do not occur naturally and could be due to a disease such as endometriosis, infection or prior surgery. "These are possibly the reasons why some people may have mistaken that it's the tilted uterus that has created a fertility problem," Ong says.

Maya abdominal massage is just one of many alternative methods she's come across that women use to boost fertility. Others include acupuncture, homeopathy, herbs, reflexology, aromatherapy and alternative diets.

I’m sure there’s some traditional wisdom in the massage ... It could be due to an improvement in blood circulation, release of endorphins and the relaxation of body and mind
Dr Charas Ong

Apart from acupuncture, Ong notes that evidence supporting the other methods are either scant or non-existent. Acupuncture, when done by a properly trained professional, has shown in studies to help restore hormonal balance in the body, which leads to enhanced fertility.

"These days, infertility is common. Many couples would opt for hi-tech methods like IVF, but a growing number of people are also trying alternative and mostly natural ways to boost the function of their reproductive system," says Ong.

Acupuncture didn't work for Elisa Tan, and neither did Maya abdominal massage, traditional Chinese medicine, nor fertility medicine or IVF. For 2½ years, 36-year-old Tan had tried to get pregnant but couldn't.

Then she saw a third doctor. A laparoscopy showed that Tan had severe endometriosis which covered her bladder. The doctor cleared the excess tissue and during her next cycle, both her frozen embryo transfer succeeded and she fell pregnant naturally with fraternal twins.

"Finding a good doctor really helps," says Tan, who is due in December.

While Ong does not discourage trying alternative methods to boost fertility, she advises that couples who have not conceived after actively trying for a year seek help from a gynaecologist to investigate the underlying cause.