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BW Businessworld

Sounds Good, Feels Better

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As spas grow in popularity, the range of therapies they offer is diversifying with astonishing and, sometimes, perplexing results. For the stressed-out corporate denizen who never has enough time, choosing between a Thai and Swedish massage can lead to some delightful confusion. So, what do exotic spa therapies really offer? First, a personalised consultation determines a combination of therapies specific to the needs of each individual and then, nutrition and exercise work in conjunction with therapy. In fact, many of the therapies detailed here induce better sleep. "One of the best cures for stress is to relax the mind and re-introduce quality sleep into a patient's life," says Mark Sands, spa manager, Ananda in the Himalayas. We take a look at what distinguishes the Australian Moor Bath from an Ayurvedic massage...

Scent Of A Therapy
The effect of aromatherapy is very similar to that of hydrotherapy. But, instead of water, a soothing massage is employed using detoxifying essential oils that permeate directly through the skin. Essential oils are diluted into a base oil (typically sunflower or wheatgerm) — a drop of essential oil is all that is required for 30-40 ml of base oil. The massage also exfoliates the skin, particularly if it is prescribed as a full body scrub with, say, natural sea salt. Washing off afterwards with an intense shower will leave you feeling like "a ripe fruit".

Thai Or Swedish?
Sometimes described as the lazy man's yoga by practitioners, there is no oil used in a Thai massage. Comfortably clothed (kurta-pyjamas, for instance), the therapist takes the guest through a series of postures along the body's energy lines with a lot of emphasis on stretching. Prior consultation leads to specific and gentle care for problem points — say, the lower back or the neck region. Typically, guests emerge from a Thai massage session with a perceptible difference in the way they hold their shoulders, which are clenched from hours of hunching over computers — the unlocking of the muscles relaxes and loosens the body in a visible way. This is a rejuvenating massage and will not leave you sleepy or tired.

In a Swedish massage, oil is liberally employed but, unlike aromatherapy, no essential oil is used. Typically, the masseur spreads sunflower, grape seed or almond oil in gentle motions that focus on stretching and kneading muscles by manipulating them over the bones for the entire body. It loosens and soothes cramped muscles, and relieves stress without inducing tiredness.

Photograph: Ananda SpaHot And Cold
A hot-and-cold stone massage is another highly effective de-stress therapy. It works in two ways: as a masseur works on other parts of the body, specially selected volcanic stones and marble, which are elaborately prepared by warming in sunlight and cooling in moonlight, are positioned on the body to impart energy. As the guest lies on his stomach, hot and cold stones are alternately placed down the spine and across the bridge of the neck, where they remain easily. The stones reduce puffiness in general, and act like a cucumber would when placed around the eye region. The alternating heat and warmth induces an unusual sensation and stimulates blood circulation. A stone massage has a soothing effect on the muscles.

Fingers And Thumbs
Shiatsu, which means finger pressure in japanese, requires the application of pressure using only the fingers (especially thumbs) and palms to the central and autonomic nervous systems. The therapist uses one hand to ‘listen' (to disharmonies such as stiffness or slackness in the body) and the other to ‘act' (on the sort of pressure that provides relief), resulting in a combination of diagnosis and therapy. It is particularly sought after for stress-related problems such as migraine and joint pains, and for general improvement in health by boosting the immune system, the first body function to be affected by a high-stress, sedentary lifestyle.

Water-relief
Relieving stress through water is certainly a good idea. In fact, hydrotherapy is a particularly pleasant way to rid oneself of the excesses of caffeine and alcohol. It helps in detoxifying the body by directing showers of water at specific pressure points in a particular cycle at varying temperatures, which improves circulation. Warm water is infused with essential oils (rose, vetiver, black pepper, juniper, lavender, or a combination of them) and they enter the bloodstream both from the massaging action of the water and by steam inhalation. Hydrotherapy also helps in treating physical sprains, chronic arthritis pain and mental stress. At the end of it, hydrotherapy will leave you feeling a little tired and sleepy, but not exhausted.

Ancient Secrets
There are chiefly three ayurvedic treatments that spas prescribe universally, even without the recommendation of a physician: Shirodhara, Abhayanga and Pizhichil. All are very relaxing therapies that induce sleep and provide relief from insomnia. Shirodhara is a sublime experience where warm oil is dribbled steadily and continuously over the head. Abhayanga is a vigorous, synchronised full-body massage executed by two masseurs simultaneously. Pizhichil is a luxurious oil bath where generous quantities of medicated oil are poured after a warming oil application that stimulates the skin. A hot steam bath after these treatments helps the body absorb the herbal oils and completes the process of relaxation.

Painful joints, another common corporate malady, are lubricated lavishly. The sesame-seed oil used for pouring and massage is mixed with herbs, which are determined by the dosha type to which the patient belongs. Because it is a diagnostic tool, Ayurvedic practitioners would not, for example, recommend Nasyam (where medicated oil is infused into the nostrils) unless the guest has a sinus-related problem. Combination therapies, however, lead to better results. For example, Udwarthana, which is a dry herbal powder massage, not unlike the western salt scrub, exfoliates the entire body and increases the efficacy of Abhayanga and Pizhichil if it precedes them. Kadivasti is especially recommended — a small, semi-circular oval well is built with herbal powders at the base of the spine and warming oil is poured into it for absorption. This therapy addresses problems of the lower back, arguably the most common malady of the modern corporate lifestyle.

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 17-08-2009)