Published: Friday, March 29, 2013 at 4:33 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, March 29, 2013 at 4:33 p.m.
You’re face down on a padded table and the gentle sounds of waterfalls cascade through the air. With the lights turned down low, you take in the aroma of eucalyptus and lavender and feel the warm touch of oiled hands as they press down on your back, kneading their way to your neck.
Whether you’re looking to relieve tension, ease aching muscles or improve sleep, at this time of year, as holiday preparations work themselves to a fever pitch, a relaxing massage can be a welcome treat.
According to the Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals (ABMP), the largest national professional organization for massage therapists (www.massagetherapy.com), massage therapy now is the most requested service in spas. And stress relief is one of the chief reasons cited for getting a massage.
Kyler Pettry, lead licensed massage therapist at Avant Garde Salon and Spa in Gainesville, says a massage relaxes and refreshes by loosening tense muscles, improving circulation and helping the lymphatic system flush toxins from the body.
Over time, you may even see lasting changes in the way you handle stress. He explains that many people aren’t even aware of the many ways they physically respond to emotional stress. But a massage therapist can help you be more aware of where you hold tension in the body, whether it be holding the shoulders a certain way or locking the knees.
“We have eyes in our fingertips,” Pettry says. “I can tell you where you’re tense...” As you become more aware of your response to stress, you can then take steps to break the cycle on your own.
Massage also can help you sleep better at night by calming your nervous system, according to Paul Davenport, a licensed massage therapist and co-owner of the Florida School of Massage.
Gainesville is blessed with a plethora of spas, health centers and private clinics that offer a wide variety of massages from licensed massage therapists. For an online listing, type in the keywords ‘massage therapy Gainesville, Florida’ in your preferred search engine, or look under ‘Massage Therapy’ in the yellow pages of the phone book. Davenport says to look for a massage therapist who listens to you and who is willing to adjust his or her pressure to your comfort level.
Pettry says most spas offer the classic Swedish massage for relaxation, and some, like Avant Garde, add another dimension with aromatherapy — the use of scented massage oils and lotions used in ayurvedic medicine to bring the body into balance.
A “stress-fix” massage is essentially an Aveda massage that incorporates a special blend of stress-reducing aromatherapy, including lavender, lavandin (a form of lavender), frankincense and vetiver (a relative of lemongrass with an earthy aroma).
Fusion stone massage incorporates hot stones and moisture. Smooth basalt stones (volcanic rock) are heated to 140 degrees and then either wrapped in a towel and placed on the body or held in the massage therapist’s hand and moved over tense muscles to loosen and relax them. Pettry says the heat in the stones penetrates deeper than the pressure of fingers alone.
“The benefits of massage are cumulative,” Pettry says, adding that most people can reap those benefits with a 60- to 90-minute massage once a month. Those with chronic pain, postural problems or who are recovering from injury may need to have a massage as frequently as once a week.
Massages start at about $65 for an hour-long session. If you have a prescription from a physician or chiropractor, your insurance may cover a portion of the cost.
If you’d like to try a massage at a reduced rate, call the student clinic at the Florida School of Massage to schedule a session. Students perform the massages under the supervision of teachers at about half the market price. “It can be a great way to get an inexpensive introduction to massage,” Davenport says.
Different strokes for different folks
Davenport says there are four basic categories of massage — and hundreds of variations on them.
Swedish massage: This classic massage is used mainly for relaxation and stress relief, and is the most common type of massage offered by spas. “It’s the feel-good massage,” Davenport says. The massage therapist uses kneading, stroking, and circular motions of his or her hands, along with gentle pressure, to increase blood flow and release tension in the superficial muscles of the body.
Deep tissue massage: Also known as connective tissue massage, focuses on the connective tissue attached to the muscles, which can develop “knots” or adhesions when chronically stressed. Deep tissue massage is useful for those suffering from chronic muscle tension associated with injuries, poor posture or stress. The massage techniques used are similar to those for Swedish massage, except the massage therapist applies more pressure and uses slower strokes. You may experience some muscle soreness for a day or two after.
Energy massage: Acupressure, Japanese Shiatsu and polarity therapy fall into this category, in which the therapist focuses on certain points along energy meridians in the body used in acupuncture from China or ayurvedic medicine from India. The massages, which also may incorporate aromatherapy and other modalities, are meant to relax and reinvigorate you and restore balance in the body.
Neuromuscular therapy: Also known as trigger point therapy, the therapist focuses on specific points in the muscles that store tension, often leading to headaches, muscle spasms and other problems. “You can trick the muscle into letting go by applying pressure to these points,” Davenport says.