By Kathryn Matthews
On the eve of Valentine’s Day, Chris surprised me with a lovely gift: a couples’ massage at Bodhi Spa in Hudson, New York.
I love massages—receiving them, that is.
For me, getting a massage is an occasional indulgence—one that helps alleviate cumulative stress or relaxes overused muscles. The benefits of receiving regular bodywork, however, are far-ranging, from helping improve circulation, reducing back pain, lessening depression and anxiety; to enhancing the immune system. A study published last September in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that the recipients of a single session of Swedish massage experienced measurable, biological effects, including a significantly decreased level of arginine-vasopressin (which plays a role in regulating blood pressure and water retention), and an effect on the immune system.
These days, massage is taken more seriously by Western medicine. According to a 2010 industry fact sheet compiled by the American Massage Therapy Association , among those hospitals that offer complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), massage rated highest as a CAM treatment option. Hospitals offered massage therapy most often for stress reduction (71%), pain management (66%) and cancer patient support (57%).
My husband gives excellent massages, but, after five minutes (tops!)—just as my body is yielding to the rhythm of his kneading fingers—he’ll give me a final send-off pat—deaf to my entreaties for “more, please!”…. And it’s over. Just like that.
Often, I’ve turned elsewhere for a willing—albeit paid—pair of hands. My various “hands-on” experiences range from being trussed in a warming herbal body wrap at a Calistoga spa, to a threesome Vichy session at Stowe Mountain Lodge, where two pairs of hands worked opposite ends of my body, as I lay prone under a rainfall of warm water.
Closer to home, Chris has joined me, on occasion, in my quest for sybaritic escape. In Manhattan, that’s taken us to a hideaway shiatsu parlor where a pair of nimble Japanese men knuckled and thumped us before treading the length of our backs, to petite Asian women, who unblocked our qi with surprising but effective force.
Upstate, in the Berkshires, several years ago, I had one of the best massages. It took place, fireside, in the elegant confines of a zen-like Tsao & McKown-designed suite at the Wheatleigh Hotel . My masseuse was a quiet, focused woman named Robin. Somehow, her strong knead and sure strokes seduced my tense, resistant body into peaceful oblivion.
It’s been my gold standard for massages ever since.
On a cold sunny Sunday afternoon, we entered Bohdi, a charming slip of a retail (downstairs) and spa studio space (upstairs) on lower Warren Street, and ascended the narrow hand-stenciled staircase. After our bespectacled masseuses, Courtney and Crystal, asked us a few preliminary questions, we were ushered into a treatment room, where we slipped out of our clothes and between the sheets of a heat-warmed massage table. Ahhhhhhhh.
The room, painted a gentle shade of lavender, was clean, spare and homey. Soft piped-in sitar music added to the soothing New Age vibe.
When I first placed my face into the face cradle, adrenalin still coursed through my body. My mind was cluttered, mired in a tangle of to-do lists. Courtney, who combines energy work with deep tissue work and Swedish massage, focused on my neck, shoulders and scalp, as well as my calves and feet, strained from navigating slick, potholed country roads during a nine-mile run the day before.
As she worked on me, integrating long, firm strokes with applied pressure on key trigger points, both body and mind surrendered to her expert touch. Devoid of distraction, other senses became finely attuned. The rhythm of her stroke, perfumed by lavender oil, seeped into my consciousness. Through my face hole, I noticed how the wide-planked pine floor boards gently creaked as Crystal and Courtney shifted their weight. A dog barked plaintively in the distance. I heard Chris’ appreciative groan as Crystal loosened a stubborn knot. Mine, too, as Courtney gently tugged and scrunched fistfuls of my hair while knuckling and kneading my scalp into relaxed submission.
When it was all over, I sat up and glanced suspiciously at my cell phone. Had an hour really passed?
Downstairs, Courtney (right) offered parting words of advice: “You hold all your tension in your head and chest. Try to balance that by grounding yourself more. Feel the energy of the earth.” Showing me how, she sat, back straight, feet firmly planted on the ground. Hmmm…not easy advice for this Type A personality to remember!
As we drove into the waning golden light of late afternoon, neither Chris or I spoke much. In our relaxed state, conversation required too much effort.
Once home, Chris, loose and energized, headed out for a walk. I retreated upstairs, lay my head down on the pillow, and drifted away.
Happily and deeply.