Whether hot stone, shiatsu or traditional - the benefits of a rubdown are numerous, writes Donna McIntyre.
Sometimes the more things change; the more things stay the same.
Take massage. There are many different methods - hot stones, shiatsu, bamboo, Hawaiian, Thai, the list goes on. Yet the most popular massages therapies are still the traditional Swedish, offering relaxation with comfort from the sense of touch, and then deep tissue for those who like their muscle knots and aches sorted out.
Massage therapist Rachael Elliott-Jones says New Zealanders tend to regard massage as a treat - unlike the Americans who view it as a regular and important part of self-care. But massage is steadily growing in popularity in this country as its benefits become better known and more understood. (Rachael worked as a massage therapist on cruise ships for four years then ran her own business in England before becoming area manager for Forme Spa, which has branches in Auckland, Hamilton and Wellington.)
"Research shows that having massage in regular doses is more beneficial than sporadic massage, even if it's only 15 minutes," she says. "Once a week is perfect to reduce tension in the muscles but generally, people tend to have a massage once a month."
And Kiwi men, especially, approach massage differently to their American counterparts, often having a massage only if their partner books them in or goes with them, and they sometimes feel awkward with the hands-on touching.
That's where Rachael says the newer bamboo and hot stone massages are great alternatives for people wary of being touched by someone they don't know, as they involve less hands-on contact yet have the same therapeutic effect. Plus, in winter, the warmth from the heated stones and bamboo sticks adds to the comfort factor. Bamboo massages use heated bamboo rods in three sizes for smaller and larger muscle areas. The rods are rolled and manipulated over the muscle areas with varying pressure according to the clients' preference (one school of thought attributes this technique to the primate world, saying it was developed after Balinese monkeys in the wild were observed using pieces of bamboo to rub each other's muscles).
The best way to find a massage therapist is to ring around and ask what they offer, or ask friends and family for recommendations. The therapist should ask what you are wanting from a massage, any health concerns you have, where stress or aches and pains are and how much pressure you prefer. Where there is a choice of therapists, the centre manager will work out which massage style and staff member is best suited to you.
During the massage, communication is also key to getting the most out of the experience. Therapists should ask you if you need more or less pressure. Clients should speak up about areas that need more work - perhaps the shoulders, neck or the lower back. With sedentary jobs, people hold tension in their shoulders and necks, whereas parents of young children may have tightness in their back muscles from carrying babies and toddlers. Sporty people will have aches and pains relevant to their sporting code and manual workers may have tightness in legs, arms and back muscles from lifting.
Massage is beneficial to most people but there are some conditions where it should be avoided and these tend to be where the immune system is compromised. For example, people undergoing chemotherapy should consult their doctor first.
But for the majority of people, massage can only benefit the body and mind.
Also, interestingly enough in a country where we like to think we breed our men strong and tough, Rachael notes that it is generally women who can take the most pressure during a massage as their pain tolerance is usually higher.
* Encourages sleep
* Encourages lymph drainage which can help to reduce swelling
* Improves blood circulation
* Improves skin tone and colour
* Relaxes and relieves sore and tired muscles
* Improves the body's waste removal processes
* Improves and stimulating digestion
* Relaxation, which helps reduce stress, tension, anxiety
* Massage can improve self-confidence and self esteem
* Release of endorphins, the body's natural "feel good" chemicals
* Feeling of wellbeing.