Despite the fact that I don’t really understand how a television works, I like to consider myself a “man of science.” To me, that means no mysticism, no witchcraft, no healing crystals and especially nothing referred to as a “detox.” But sometimes, my curiosity gets the better of me, and when I saw a service that claimed to be able to remove all your bodily toxins by squeezing them out of your feet — the “ionic foot detox” at new-age medicine style spa Cleansing Concepts, in Long Island — I couldn’t resist doing a little exploring.
The company advertises that this service will, in just 23 minutes, pull out the toxins from my entire body through my feet, thus rejuvenating me. Among the laundry list of toxins they claim could be exorcised are parasites, secondhand smoke, pesticides and something called “heavy metal toxicity,” which is also 100 percent a phrase scrawled in Dave Mustaine’s “awesome song titles to use on next album” notebook.
I was expecting such a procedure to occur somewhere cool and new-agey — on the drive there, I envisioned some sort or temple or ultra-minimalist treehouse. Instead, I pull up to a nondescript office building with 10 or so other businesses sharing the space, the spa itself located in a tiny office with the name of the company on the door.
The lobby is a calm, greyish-blue, serene photography on the walls and a big crystal on the reception desk. The friendly receptionist asks for my name, looks me up and down and inquires if I’m here for the colon cleanse. Trying not to look offended, I explain that I’m actually here for the foot detox and a session on something called the “Chi Machine.”
This, according to the spa’s website, is a device that “relaxes the nerves and muscles, improves energy flow, as well as relieves tension in the back, neck and shoulders.” Additionally, the Chi machine will enhance the effects of any other “detoxing” procedure, which is why I have decided to do it before my foot bath.
Now, while I freely admit my cynicism for the mystical/supernatural, I do at least have some level of respect for the idea of “Chi.” The notion that the universe requires balance and that we’re surrounded by energy makes some quasi-logical sense to me. That said, the idea of a Chi “machine” reminds me of Qui-Gon Jinn’s Midichlorian detector in The Phantom Menace: A device that, much to the chagrin of Star Wars fans, turned the Force from an energy that binds all things into something that could be quantified through a simple blood test. Likewise, a machine that you can plug into a wall to somehow fix your “Chi” feels like a misunderstanding of what Chi even means.
The machine itself is a small, rectangular device with a foot rest on top of it. (The gadget will look very familiar to fans of Breaking Bad, as relentless charlatan Saul Goodman is regularly seen using one in the series).
From the back, a courteous attendant comes out and escorts me into a tiny room featuring a massage table with the chi machine at the end of it. She instructs me to remove my shoes, put my ankles on the footrest and put my hands at my sides. The machine, she says, will “move me like a goldfish” for 10 minutes. I lie down, position my feet and wait for the healing powers to begin.
The attendant flicks the machine on, and it instantly starts to shake much more vigorously than I expected. Rather than a soothing rotation of my feet and legs, the little sucker shakes my whole body. Yet, it’s not uncomfortable: In fact, I kind of like it.
She leaves the room as I remain there with my ever-so-slightly oversized belly jiggling in the air. I stare at the drop ceiling above me and try to clear my head. For those 10 minutes, I make a point not to look at my phone and just enjoy the soothing powers of the Chi machine. Which I do, until it snaps off with a loud “click.” There’s no wind down: Just “off,” as though I’ve jumped off a treadmill.
While I don’t know if the Chi machine has aligned all of my particles or whatever, I quite enjoyed that little device, and I understand why Saul Goodman would want one around when having to deal with Walt on a daily basis.
Now, though, it’s time for the main event. The same attendant escorts me to the foot bath area, tells me to remove my socks and sit on a bench above a sink, the kind you might see used in a pedicure. Next to the sink is a small device that looks like a humidifier, and attached to it, a wire leading to a small cylindrical object that appears to have copper wiring wrapped around it.
She places the cylinder — which she refers to as an “array” — in the water between my feet and explains that this will remove the toxins from my body. She once again ensures I’m comfortable, then leaves me alone. This time, though, I’m completely uncomfortable: I’m sitting on something called a “Biomat,” which feels like a malfunctioning car seat warmer. Still, determined as I am to get the full experience, I don’t register my discomfort. Instead, I sit there on the agonizing fire-mat, praying the sheer volume of sweat dripping from my ass and balls doesn’t get me electrocuted.
(Later, the attendant would explain to me that the biomat was lined with healing crystals that would relieve pain, then showed me the small pockets of crushed amethyst in the mat. Of course, fucking crystals.)
As I sit with my feet in the bath, I do notice that almost immediately the water is becoming somewhat muddied with a greenish color. But I also notice that none (and I mean none) of the sediment is coming from my feet. Instead, the steady stream of colorful gunk is coming from the “array.” Ever suspicious, I ask the passing receptionist why it looks like the materials are not, in fact, coming out of my feet: She politely explains that the array is “acting like a magnet,” pulling the toxins from my feet through the array.
After 23 minutes, the ever-hospitable attendant returns to help me read the results of my foot bath, similar to how a fortune teller might read your palm. She hands me a reference sheet that breaks down what each kind of excretion represents. About 30 different excretions are listed, and next to each is an explanation of what it was in your body. Dark brown water, for example, means colon by-product, while dark yellow water means bladder toxins and “tiny snake-like creatures” (?!) were worms and parasites.
We examine my overall orange-hued, cloudy water. She tells me that this color is from joint toxins, while its oily nature is from cholesterol. The blue cloudy things she points out are apparently from my prostate, the white flakes she spots are from yeast (like bread and pasta), the brown flakes are from my skin and the somewhat disconcerting black flakes are from heavy metals from computers and cell phones.
But could any of these be even slightly true? It’s certainly true that I do spend a lot of time on my cell phone, and I love carbs, too, so those two make sense. But as for my prostate and cholesterol, I have no problems that I’m aware of. Additionally, other things that it seemed should have shown up, didn’t. For example, I’m prone to kidney stones, so I would’ve expected to see some “reddish green” water, going by the information on the sheet. And since I enjoy the occasional beer, I would’ve expected at least a few liver toxins.
Still not really understanding how my feet were purified, I ask the attendant to explain just what went on down there for the last 23 minutes. She explains that the humidifier-like thing charges the array, which then creates a low-intensity ion field in the water by splitting the water molecules. This field, she continues, creates an electrical current that accesses the primary meridians in your body through your feet. Having done this, the ion field changes the charge of the toxins in your body, allowing them to be released, then draws them into the array to be spat back out in the variety of “flavors” listed on the guide.
If this sounds like Midichlorian talk to you, you’re not alone. But to be sure that I wasn’t just being some sort of cynical asshole, I later gave a call to George Preti, a specialist in human secretions at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, to ask him his thoughts. His answer was brutally simple: He didn’t understand how a “foot treatment could possibly cause the release of the myriad of biological materials they list. Who says those things are ‘toxins,’ and why would they cause the water to turn muddy?”
It wasn’t, in other words, an encouraging endorsement of the machine’s power. A little further digging online led to a more logical conclusion: The gunk was likely from impurities in the water, as well as the array itself, which may have been corroded.
No more convinced than when I arrived, I dry off my feet, put my socks and shoes back on, thank the staff, pay my $60 and leave.
As with most of the self-care business, the most important thing isn’t the science so much as how you feel at the end of it, and despite going into this process with obvious skepticism, I do feel as though I tried my hardest to at least enjoy the experience. While I don’t believe the Chi machine affected my cosmic energy in any way, it loosened me up a bit. I couldn’t get over the fact the gunk was clearly not coming from my feet in the foot bath, but my feet and legs did feel kind of cool and tingly. Was that because they were now toxin-free? Doubtful: I otherwise felt pretty much the same, right down to the stiff neck that had plagued me all week.
All in all, I realized that the best thing I could do for myself was go home and detox myself in a way that I knew for a fact was 100 percent effective: Watching Breaking Bad with a beer. At least that way I know that’s not really doing anything practical.