I love massages – I would ask who doesn’t, but I know Rachel isn’t a fan (there’s always one…). However, whenever I’m asked what I’d like for my birthday, a massage is usually at the top of the list. It’s the ultimate indulgence – a way to schedule a whole hour of down time for myself, with the added bonus of spacey music, scented candles, and a professional working away at the knots in your back.
Apart from the physical benefits, and the mussed-up hair and pink glow you exit with (usually only achieved through a roll in the hay), there’s something about the dynamic of a good massage that I find irresistible.
First, there’s the giggle factor: you are naked and a stranger is lifting and contorting your limbs into alien arrangements, occasionally clasping your fingers or thrusting their greased palms towards your groin. Sometimes, your hand tightens unbidden around theirs. Awkward! At other times, you contemplate just how unsightly a particular body part might look at that moment. All the while, convention dictates that you should remain not only straight-faced, but preferably Zen-faced – and this requires a fair amount of concentration from someone who is ostensibly there to relax.
Then there’s the pleasure-pain continuum. I like a pressure that borders on masochistic – some of the best massages I’ve experienced have had me gasping and yelping while mentally egging on my torturer. There’s nothing worse than getting 15 minutes into a so-so treatment and realising you’re receiving the massage equivalent of a limp handshake. From then on in, all you can think about is how best to manage the situation – should you speak up or grit your teeth? Inevitably, you leave the treatment room more stressed than you entered. Likewise, a talkative masseur breaches massage etiquette, which dictates that half the pleasure comes from the opportunity for peace and quiet – I now tell the therapist I’m likely to get so relaxed I’ll fall asleep, thereby excusing myself from conversational attempts.
I’ve had some cripplingly embarrassing massages – top of the list an ayurvedic cringe-fest that bordered on foreplay; I went back to Juan with that uneasy feeling you get when you dream you’ve cheated on your partner. I found myself lying on a gym mat in the pitch black, face upwards and naked save for some flimsy paper knickers, with a strapping Italian bounding around me on all fours and vigorously rubbing various limbs. At some point warm oil was squirted onto my belly without warning. There was – I think – something that felt and sounded like toe-kissing (in the darkness it was hard to be sure). It was hideous – and anything but relaxing.
However, the majority of massages that I’ve experienced have been amazing. There was the post-wedding full-body workover in a Thai temple that left me stinging but walking on air. There were pregnancy massages that soothed both me and the baby. There was a session by the sea that restored my posture after three weeks hunched up in a hospital bed. And there was a full-body pummelling that should have required a safe word but was all the more fabulous for its ferocity.
So next time you have £40 to spend, resist the urge to hit up the high street, blow it on a blow dry, or treat yourselt to dinner out – instead, book some you-time. A massage is the quickest and least invasive way to knock five years off you; the laziest, least sweaty manner to get the endorphins pumping; and a physically relaxing chance to chisel out some headspace for yourself. Basically, it’s the best-value beauty (and mood) booster money can buy.
What have been your best – and worst – massage experiences?