Not all massages are created equal. That's a given.
But why is it that some massages are relaxing, others a relative waste of time, and some downright painful?
The Accidental Travel Writer had lunch with Aurora Brahami, spa director of the Nusa Dua Spa at the Nusa Dua Beach Hotel & Spa in Bali.
Over a light and yummy meal of Balinese cuisine at the resort's open air fusion restauant, Aurora offered some valuable insights into what distinguishes a good massage from a great massage.
The person doing the massage, should not be soothingly stroking you one moment, and then pummeling you the next. She should maintain the same rhythm throughout.
“Good therapists usually have a relationship with music,” Aurora says.
“When I am recruiting, I ask if they have a talent. If they say they can sing, I ask them to sing for me. That's what distinguishes a good therapist from an excellent therapist – a natural sense of rhythm.”
The therapist should maintain bodily contact at all times. That means keeping at least one hand on the body – even when applying oil or stones. That is one of the reasons that everything should be properly arranged in advance. They shouldn't have to leave you to get things.
“If both hands are removed, it breaks the connection,” Aurora says. “When reaching for something with one hand, the other hand should maintain touch with your body.”
Therapists have a tendency to focus on one area at a time – such as the neck or the shoulders or the back. Ideally, they should continue movements across the entire body, continuing all the way to the table.
“This creates a generous amplitude of movement,” Aurora says.
I never quite thought of it in quite such eloquent terms before, but I know exactly what Aurora is talking about. A stroke that starts on the back and continues all the way down the legs, to the feet, to the toes, to the table … pure bliss!
I have frequent massages in Shenzhen, China, and the first thing staff do is turn on the television, and the first thing I do is ask for it to be turned off.
When some of the therapists arrive, they immediately turn it back on again. If I complain about the noise, they turn down the volume and read the subtitles.
Many of the therapists also like to chat, which I sometimes enjoy. But I've noticed that when they have something to say, they stop their movements, which I find annoying.
According to Aurora, both of these activities are wrong.
“Therapists should concentrate on what they are doing,” she says. “They can't do that if they are chatting or watching television.”
Application of Oil
Oil should be applied relatively early. And it should be applied slowly.
“I don't know why everyone gets this wrong,” Aurora says.
“Oil should a applied slowly, using the same slow strokes as the rest of the massage.”
How many times have you been asked if there was any part of your body that required special attention, and how many times have you been given the same standard issue massage, with your special requests totally ignored?
I don't know about anyone else, but it happens to me all the time – especially at five star resorts.
“A massage can have 40 steps, and all of them must be completed in one hour,” Aurora explains.
“If a therapist is being evaluated, she will lose points if she doesn't complete each one of these steps. There is no time for her to 'freelance' if she is to complete all of these steps.
Aurora believes that one third of the time – roughly five minutes of every 15 – should be left for the therapist to do her own thing.
“There should be enough time for her to focus on the personal needs of the guest,” she says.
“This also helps the therapist to avoid boredom.”
It's interesting. I've had massages both at luxurious five star resorts and at mass market store front massage parlours, and this is what I have noticed.
In terms of maintaining the right rhythm, keeping contact, and concentrating – this is where the mass market massage parlours need improvement. But they are also far more likely to pay special attention to problem areas when requested to do so.
Most of the massages that I have had a five star hotels do exactly as Aurora says – they have me fill out a lengthy form, listen to my special requests, and then studiously ignore them.