Los Angeles Times Article:
By David Colker, LA Times Staff Writer
The big, leather recliner on the showroom floor is not
terribly attractive, but it looks snuggly. So you sit down, ease
in and press a button.
This is not your father's La-Z-Boy.
They're a far cry from the old Naugahyde vibrating recliners that used to lull one to sleep as they gently trembled.
The shiatsu chairs instead have buttons to "knead," "pulse"
and "tap" your back into giving up stress. If the old chairs
were soothing hypnotists, these new ones are drill sergeants.
The Relax the Back chain of stores offers the Premier Shiatsu Massage Recliner, an especially ugly chair that you might want to hide in the home office or bedroom. It is also the most comfortable, however.
"The further you go back, the more intense the massage," says salesman Mike Johnston, explaining that as the body gets more horizontal, gravity lets the rollers dig deeper. The recliner moves back in a manner disconcertingly akin to that of a dentist's chair.
He pushes a button to start the programmed massage cycle that lasts 15 minutes. "You really don't want to go a lot longer than that in a session," Johnston says, and he's not kidding. The Premier goes right to work, with the rollers moving up and down with a strong motion that forces each part of the back, in turn, to arch upward.
Then the rollers start moving outward and inward in an almost pinching action that doesn't really hurt but feels very weird. I let out a little yelp.
"Welcome to 'kneading,' " Johnston says. "Everyone has the
same reaction the first time."
The rest of the massage is basically an alteration of
"kneading" and "tapping" on different regions of my back, butt,
neck and even head. The chair varies the intensity depending on
the area it's working on -- the neck gets the gentlest
treatment. The remote shows the specific areas the chair is
working as it goes and it also counts down the minutes.
At the end of the massage, I felt nicely loosened up, and I had a bit more range of motion. But I also could feel that my back muscles, especially on either side of my spine, had gone through a real workout.
"You want to walk around a bit and rest before doing it again," cautions Johnston. "If you overuse it, it can bruise you."
That's just physical pain. The psychological discomfort comes from the price -- $3,495, plus $200 for shipping. But at least you'd have the chair to help recover from sticker shock.
On to Sharper Image, where salesman Avedis Donigian seems to be waiting for me like my long lost brother. "You have to come sit down, relax," he says, gently guiding me to the Human Touch Robotic Massage Recliner that has an honored position in the middle of the upscale gadget store. "You are going to love this."
I do not love the look of this recliner with the science fiction-like name. Sitting on round pedestal, the chair has big, wooden, bowed arms that I guess were supposed to make it seem homier. It was a nice try.
But the chair is reasonably comfortable, even if it feels a bit weird for the legs to snuggle into twin troughs built into the leg rest.
Donigian pushes a button and the chair's preprogrammed cycle begins. The action is similar to that of the Premier, but wimpier. And there is no effective neck action. The calf massager, however, gives the best leg massage of any of the chairs tested.
Again, the cycle lasts 15 minutes. The price of this recliner is $1,499.95 for the vinyl-covered model and $1,799.95 for the leather.
The Brookstone chain sells the Panasonic Shiatsu Massage Lounger for $3,195. This one is a tad better-looking than the others. As for its massage action, it's better than Human Touch but not as good as the Premier. It does seem to reach a wider area of the back than the other two, but its remote is not nearly as easy to use.
There's one last stop to go in the chair test -- La-Z-Boy. Yes, the famed recliner line still has its massage option. Salesman Adam Simcoe says it can be incorporated into chairs covered with a variety of cloth fabrics, for a starting price of $1,000, up to a rather anemic-looking leather for about $2,500.
The massage feature at La-Z-Boy has not moved much beyond the vibrating, although it now has a "swell" option that makes the vibrating continually rise and fall in a manner that the old Rocket to Mars ride at Disneyland. It was disappointing, not comfortingly retro as I had hoped.
It was time to check out the human competition.
At Amadeus Spa in Pasadena, Kirsten Fox is a shiatsu specialist. Unconstrained by mechanical limitations, she works my shoulders, arms, chest and even face -- all areas missed by the chairs. She actively seeks out knots and pays special attention to parts of my back that seem especially stressed.
Of course, I had to leave home for the massage and listen to
insipid New Age music -- complete with the sounds of crashing
waves and sea gulls. The cost was $120, with tip.
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