‘Just relax’ rasped the sturdy Estonian lady as she pummelled essential oils into my lower back with what felt like a club, while I struggled to wriggle my crushed skull into a comfier position in the face hole.
The Baltics are renowned for having some of the best spa facilities in the world, but my second ever massage was less than relaxing.
The first one hadn’t been much better – in a wooden hut nestled into a Thai beach I’d hoped for a tension-easing rub down, in reality I had my toe knuckles popped by a fairly unconvincing lady-boy, who then proceeded to rearrange my spine with her elbow. Or his elbow, I’m still not sure.
A few years later and having tried a few more massages on my own turf here in England, I love them. As someone that’s vulnerable to bouts of depression and anxiety I’m constantly on the look-out for ways to calm my mind and improve my mood when the mental illness tsunami comes to town – massage therapy has really soothed me during some turbulent times. Once you get used to the weirdness of having a complete stranger grope your naked body, and can survive the embarrassment of that time you nervous-twitch-kicked your masseur in the face, it’s pretty great.
And not just because it feels nice – the physical and mental benefits of massage therapy are endless. Here are just a few…
1. Reduces anxiety – we store bucket loads of tension in our lower back, shoulders, abdomen, and neck. Relieving these areas allows the mind to let go of anxiety and, you know, float off to Shangri-La on a wave of serenity and zen.
2. Improves posture – forget circumnavigating the living room with a book on your head (it’s normal to do this, right?); massage helps the spine and its surrounding muscles to become more flexible and supple which can improve posture.
3. Increases circulation – all that poking and prodding allegedly helps blood move through congested areas thus removing toxins. Nice.
4. Promotes mental alertness – I’m told that although a massage can bring you into a state of deep relaxation, you should also expect to feel reinvigorated and mentally alert. An optimum time for working on the five-year world domination plan, no?
5. Enhances skin health – nevermind that Jojoba and Kukui sound like potent crack derivatives from the foothills of Peru, massage oils can do magical things for skin tone. As well as soothing body tissues, muscles and joints they promote healing, moisturise and nourish the skin. Some are even associated with aiding in hair regrowth.
6. Human touch – ‘touch my bum, this is life’ sang the Cheeky Girls, and those Transylvanian rascals had a point. As human beings, we all respond well to the touch of another person – and a massage can fulfil this simple human need, leaving you radiating calm and wellbeing.