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The Magic Of Touch
A good massage can revitalize both the mind and the body. It can rejuvenate the muscles and energize them. Massage is very beneficial for relieving stress.
Its late morning on a weekday and most people I know are busy at work while I lie languidly on my stomach in a spa at one of Mumbais new hotels. The room is dimly lit, the air is scented with the fragrance of lavender oil and Im beginning to feel decidedly sleepy as the masseuse rubs my back with a amethyst crystal thats supposed to remove negative energy. She switches to using her finger tips after a while, asking in a cute Thai accent, "Do you like this or the crystal?" The crystal was cold," I mutter drowsily. "This is much better."

Ive loved getting massaged ever since I was a baby and my mother would rub me with warm mustard oil before a bath. After all, whats the use being a Third World citizen if you dont indulge yourself with labour intensive luxuries? Be it on the beaches of Goa or the hills of Rishikesh, Ive never let an opportunity for a good massage pass me by.

Massage has been around since the beginning of human existence, but its only recently that its become an area of innovation, with a new therapy being invented every other day. A massage is no longer just about getting your back rubbed-its a branded product, differentiated by the spa its done at, the technique employed and the exotic ingredients used. So if it comes up as a topic of discussion at a dinner-party which it frequently does, its always nice to know your effleurage from your petrissage and your Abhyangam from your Boreh and be able to say, "I tried the Javanese Royal at the Cleopatra when I was in Dubai last week and it was truly divine" or, better still, "Its a bit out of the way, but my personal favourite has always been the Thalgo thalas-sotherapy in Cannes."

Spas are generally of three types, the first of which is your neighborhood day spa. Then theres the resort spa, a part of every respectable hotel, whose services you can avail of on a holiday or a business trip. And finally, theres the stand-alone spa, where they more or less take you over and your whole day is a series of massage therapies.

These days, every spa offers a lengthy menu of massages and for the uninitiated, its useful to know in advance the nature of choices available. Massages are increasingly coming to be branded, but theyre invariably rooted in a few select techniques that are age old. My two hour long crystal massage, for example, was a variation on the Hawaiian Lomi Lomi or Loving Hands massage, which-is a long, slow massage with the masseuse giving you sweeping strokes across your body with her forearms and elbow. Its an especially mind-blowing experience if done by two people because you cant really focus on four hands doing different things. And if you happen to be getting this done in Hawaii, the masseuse may also do the traditional hula dance around the table as shes massaging you.

Another of my favourites is the Thai massage, which, incidentally, was actually invented in India during the time of the Buddha and later taken to Southeast Asia by Buddhist monks. Now, of course, every other establishment in Bangkok offers it and its come to be hugely popular among western tourists. The Thai massage requires the recipient to stay fully clothed, usually on a mat on the floor. And though it uses no oil, it tends to one of the more expensive offerings on a spas menu, mainly because it involves a much higher level of physical effort from the masseur. Here, you stay passive as the masseur gently stretches you into a series of yogic postures, which at times can seem like hes wrestling you.

Then theres the Indonesian massage, whose most popular derivative is the Balinese Boreh, which involves rubbing the body with a paste made of powdered sandalwood, cloves, ginger, cinnamon, coriander seeds, rice powder, turmeric root and nutmeg. Its a combination of massage and aromatherapy and even if your muscles refuse to destress at the end of it all, your skin will surely look better for it.

Moving West, theres the Swedish massage, invented by one Dr. Per Henrik Ling in the 1700s, whose clearly stated aim is to "relax muscles by applying pressure to them against deeper muscles and bones, rubbing in the same direction as the flow of blood returning to the heart." Unlike its Eastern counterparts, the Swedish massage has series of well defined steps, beginning with effleurage, which consists of the therapist using the palms and finger tips to give gliding strokes from the neck to the base of the spine and shoulder to fingertips. Next in the sequence is petrissage or kneading of the muscles, followed by friction, which is imparted by circular movements of the thumb and fingertips. Then theres whats known as tapotement, where the therapist strikes the muscles with the fist or edge of the palm and last in the sequence is vibration, where the therapist uses his or her palms to rapidly shake the back of the limbs.

The elements of Swedish massage are not difficult and might actually be familiar to those who have availed of the services of lay masseurs in India. But the massage brand that the country is best known for today is Abhyangam ayurvedic massage, also referred to as the Kerala massage, in the tradition of massages being named after places. For those interested in the technicalities, the Abhyangam is distinguished by the fact that its strokes work away from the heart whereas others, including the Swedish massage, work towards the heart. But really, what truly sets the Abhyangam apart in my mind is the prodigious quantity of oil it uses. For those who arent fond of oil, theres the Udvarthanam massage, which uses herbal powders instead. And for those who really love oil, theres Dhara therapy, where a steady stream of oil is poured on the forehead for an hour and the Nasayam, where its poured into your nose.

Every massage technique has elements of reflexology, where the hands and feet are massaged as a means of relieving tensions in other parts of the body. Reflexology by itself can be very therapeutic, though theres really no beating the full body massage.

Now that youre all prepared for an intelligent conversation on massage therapy, a word of caution- discussions on this subject quite often take a turn for the lewd, with everyone having a raunchy story to tell about a massage they, or "a friend" had once received.

Thats quite okay, because massage is all about touch-and its continuum stretches from pure healing to the purely sexual. The Kamasutra of Vatsyavana writes of message as a form of erotic foreplay and the best person to give you one is really not the professional masseur or masseuse- its your girlfriend, boyfriend or spouse.
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Posted on : 4/11/2005
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