From London to Langkawi, for business or pleasure, Ritika Kocchar, 33, a Delhi-based marketing professional, just loves to travel. Wherever she goes, whatever her schedule, she always makes sure she has time for one thing—a massage. “It’s bliss,” she enthuses, “it’s very relaxing, calming and energizing.” For a long time, though, she didn’t really see it as more than a break.
She changed her mind during a holiday in Goa last January, when she opted for a Kairali massage. The masseur told her she had a neck problem that needed to be checked. At the time, she simply shrugged it off. Then, in April, “it really happened,” Kocchar recalls. “It started with a slight pain in the neck, which slowly grew unbearable. I had to stay off work for months. Perhaps, if I had heeded the masseur’s words and had got a check-up done earlier, the problem would not have become so bad,” she says.
Many stressed, exhausted urban Indians are increasingly opting for the rejuvenating powers of massage. And, catering to that need are the spas, springing up in every city. While our grandparents, and even parents, had to make do with the local massage lady who came home once a week, various spas and resorts offer today’s generation a huge variety of massages. “As a working woman, all my life I have found massages a wonderful way to relax and de-stress,” explains Harsaran Pandey, 60, a Delhi-based international health communication adviser. “I love to try out different massages while imbibing the ambience of the spas. The ambience also makes a big difference,” she adds.
As India goes global, there is a bewildering range of massages to choose from—from shiatsu to Swedish to Thai. What exactly are these massages, though? How are they different? And, how do you know which one is right for you?
The most familiar are, of course, our own home-grown Ayurvedic massages. The principle of Ayurveda is to work holistically to bring mind, body and spirit into balance. The uninitiated, who just want to relax, might wish to turn northwards to Scandinavia and try the Swedish massage. The more energetic or adventurous might prefer a Thai massage, which involves some pretty hard stretching.
Dry massage from the Far East that is increasingly gaining popularity in India is the shiatsu massage. Shiatsu literally means “finger pressure”—and, indeed, many people see this as the Japanese equivalent of the Chinese acupressure therapy. Then there is Balinese massage, drastically different in technique and outcome.
Another hot treatment today, literally, is a hybrid of Ayurvedic principles, European techniques and American innovation: the Hot Stone Therapy. It was invented in 1993 by Mary Hannigan of Tucson, Arizona, who has trademarked her particular style and calls it LaStone Therapy. Most spas, however, use their own version of the treatment. Exotic massages abound. Innovation is, indeed, the sign of the times—as spas try to outdo each other in offering the ultimate in relaxation and rejuvenation, massages are tweaked or combined with a number of imaginative and luxurious treatments.
Asian Roots, for example, offers a bridal package, including a floral bath. Amatrra offers “astroayurveda”, a personalized treatment package based on your horoscope. “My favourite, though, remains a good foot massage at the end of a long day,” says Pandey. Sometimes, simple pleasures are the best.
Ayurvedic massage techniques are based on Ayurvedic ‘doshas’ and ‘marmas’ (certain pressure points according to this system of medicine) and also makes use of certain oils. “In fact, all Ayurvedic treatments start with an oil application massage,” explains Praveen Nair, spa manager, Amatrra Spa in Delhi’s Ashok hotel. In general, it can improve circulation, provide relaxation and eliminate toxins from the body.
Practitioners of Ayurvedic massage also claim to be able to heal, or at least, help alleviate, certain ailments using specific techniques. For instance, Abhyangam is a special herbal Ayurvedic massage where, traditionally, the person sits on a ‘thoni’ (wooden plank) and two masseurs stand on either side and gently massage the body, starting from the head, in synchrony, using herbal oils. The benefits claimed from this whole-body massage include improved eyesight, better sleep, relief to those with rheumatism, glowing skin, increased appetite, reduced stress levels and greater immunity.
Some of these massages can be body specific. In Sirovasti, for instance, the treatment is limited to the head. It is said to be effective for migraine, chronic cold, sinusitis, rheumatism, arthritis, abscesses and wounds. Another whole-body masssage called Pizhichil is said to help those ailing from blood pressure, diabetes, joint pain and rheumatic, among others. “The advantage of Ayurvedic massage is that it can reach the deepest parts of the body, both due to the type of pressure applied and because the special medicated oils seep into the tissues,” says Nair. However, a consultation is a must before opting for such a massage because it increases the heart rate and is not recommended for people with cardiac problems.
From the Far East, this type of massage is increasingly gaining popularity in India. Shiatsu literally means “finger pressure”, and many people see this as the Japanese equivalent of the Chinese acupressure therapy. A shiatsu massage seeks to work on the body through application of finger and palm pressure on specified pressure points, and includes some stretching. Its proponents claim it helps alleviate depression and anxiety, as well as make the joints more flexible. It is also said to help detoxify the body.
Hot stone therapy
A hybrid of Ayurvedic principles, European techniques and American innovation, most spas have their own version of this form of treatment. Essentially, in this type of massage, hot basalt stones are placed along the spine, in the seven ‘chakras’ of the body, while a masseur uses gentle strokes, usually of the Swedish massage. The heat from the stones helps the muscles relax faster than in a traditional massage.
The more energetic or adventurous prefer this kind of massage. It essentially involves some pretty hard stretching and is ideal for raising energy levels. In this, also called Thai yoga massage, the therapist uses his or her hands, knees, legs and feet to move you into a series of yoga-like stretches. Many people say Thai massage is like doing yoga without any of the work.
“It is a completely dry massage, with no application of oil,” says Negi. It is, initially, tough on the body. Such massages increase muscle flexibility, tone the body, strengthen the joints and also claims to boost immunity.
A word of warning, though: The vigorous stretching involved means it is not suited for people with cervical or lower back pain.
By applying pressure on energy lines and points, and with a vast array of passive stretching movements performed with the hands, feet, knees and elbows, the body experiences profound relaxation, peripheral stimulation of internal organs, increased flexibility and flow of energy. It is performed on a futon on the floor, with the client in comfortable clothes.
A typical Thai massage lasts about two hours and covers the whole body. It is a unique and deep massage that transforms the body to a more flexible, relaxed, lighter and less painful being.
Unlike the Thai and shiatsu, this massage from East Asia uses Balinese oil and deep pressure. Monica Negi of Delhi’s Asian Roots says, “It is a deep tissue massage, which helps those who have knots and pain in the body.” The pressure applied is hard so that it reaches the last layers of the tissues.
Ashok hotel’s spa manager Praveen Nair says, “This triggers blood circulation or lymphatic drainage.” The benefits: better circulation and improved immunity. It also eases stress.
Most spas have a further variation of this, such as the Balinese Boreh. Here, a Balinese massage is followed by a Boreh wrap, made of warm spices such as cloves, cinnamon, sandalwood, ginger and others. Another variation is the Javanese Lulur, where the massage is followed by a Balinese scrub called Lulur scrub, which includes rice, turmeric and various herbs that are known to enhance beauty and also have healing properties. The massage improves circulation and energy levels.
This type of massage, says Monica Negi of Delhi’s Asian Roots spa, “is gentle, with long sweeps, for those who just want to relax”. It puts pressure on muscles by rubbing them against deeper muscles and bones in the same direction as the flow of blood returning to the heart. Such massages shorten recovery time from muscular strain by clearing the tissues of lactic acid, uric acid and other metabolic wastes. It increases circulation without increasing heart load. Swedish massage also stimulates the skin and nervous system, and soothes the nerves.
• Amatrra Spa, The Ashok, 50-B Chanakyapuri; Tel: 24122921/26
• Asian Roots, B-5/15, Safdarjung Enclave, opposite DLTA and Deer Park; Tel: 41652576/77
• Ayush Therapy Centre, C-51, Shivalik, Panchsheel Geetanjali Road, Malviya Nagar; Tel: 26687878, 26674642
• Kairali Ayurvedic Health Resort, 120, Andheria Mod, Mehrauli; Tel: 65664447, 26802106
• Kairali Ayurvedic Health Spa, C-33, Panchsheel Enclave; Tel: 26491803/04
• Sva Salon and Spa, Gauri Kunj, ground floor, behind ‘Little Italy’, Juhu Tara Road; Tel: 26607326/28/68
• Quan Spa, JW Marriott Hotel, Juhu; Tel: 66933610
• Franck Provost Spa, 4th level, Aryston Centre, opposite JW Marriott Hotel, Juhu; Tel: 67021440.
Also at 1st level, Landmark, Pali Danda Road, Bandra (W); Tel: 67036971
• Golden Palms Hotel and Spa, 31/32, Nagrur Village, Tumkur Road; Tel: 23712222
• Angsana Oasis Spa and Resort, Doddaballapur Main Road, Addevishwanathapura Village; Tel: 28468892
• Soukya, Dr Mathai’s International Holistic Health Centre, Soukya Road, Samethanahalli, Whitefield; Tel: 7945001/02, 57680473
• The Spa @ Leela, Leela Palace Kempinski, Airport Road; Tel: 25211234
• Ayurvedagram, Ayurvedic Health Resort & Spa, Ayurvedagram Heritage Wellness Centre; Tel: 65651090.
This is not an exhaustive list—most major five-star hotels in all metros now have spas that offer a variety of treatments
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