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The art of the massage.

Ebony; 8/1/2004; Hughes, Zondra

THE massage has always endured the dubious reputation of being a luxury reserved solely for the rich and those seeking a risqué rendezvous at the hands of a relaxing stranger.

But now, more than ever, the massage is kneading its way into the mainstream with everyday people getting rubdowns in record numbers. Adding credence to this ritual of touch are the scores of health practitioners who are creating an unprecedented level of legitimacy in the medical field.

Some health experts argue that the rhythmic touch of massage--at the hands of a professional masseuse or masseur--has physical and mental benefits, making it the cornerstone of rehabilitative medicine and a major selling point behind the multimillion-dollar holistic health industry.

According to the American Massage Therapy Association, therapeutic massage has been found to lessen the symptoms of insomnia, arthritis, asthma, chronic and acute pain, sports injuries and stress. And a recent American Hospital Association survey found that among hospitals that utilize complementary alternative therapy, a whopping 82 percent surveyed use massage therapy for pain management and relief.

The word must be getting out in the 'hood, too, as national statistics indicate that nearly 20 percent of all adults have had a massage within the last year, and about one-third of them are African-Americans.

CNN Headline News health anchor Kat Carney began getting professional massages about two years ago, and today she swears by her bi-monthly treatments. "I used to be really tense, especially from working in the news industry," Carney says. "Sometimes, I didn't realize it when the tension was there, especially around my neck and shoulders."

On a whim, Carney received the Thai massage because she heard that it relieved stress. Today she loves the Thai massage technique so much that she vacationed in Thailand to, in her words, "experience the most authentic version available ... all day, every day. They say that the Thai massage is the lazy man's yoga. You lie on the floor mat and the masseuse is sometimes standing on you, or walking on you. He is pulling you into different positions and you just relax into it," she says. "I received 4-5 hours of massage every day for 12 days. I've never been so relaxed. All my stress is gone."

Massage moves: Rejuvenate, relax, renew

If you're a novice, you may not want to begin with the strenuous Thai massage treatment, advises licensed, nationally certified therapist Amber Blevins, assistant spa manager of the Relache Spa at the Gaylord Texan Resort and Convention Center in Dallas.

"The Swedish massage, a basic, all-over massage, is great for first-time clients," Blevins says. "Time Swedish technique is more therapeutic, and it allows you to get comfortable with massaging. This technique improves your circulation--which is the No. 1 benefit of massage--and also assists with stress, sleeplessness or headaches."

Other popular massage techniques include the therapeutic deep-tissue massage that penetrates the deeper layers of muscle to relieve past injuries or chronic pain; the healing stone massage, which incorporates smooth, warm river stones to caress the body in sequence with your masseuse's moves; and the Shiatsu massage, a fully-clothed massage that utilizes the Japanese pressure-point technique to reduce tension.

Stop making excuses--go pamper yourself!

So what's holding you back from the throes of pure relaxation?

Here are a few popular excuses:

NO MONEY. You don't have to wait until payday to get a massage--many salons offer affordable massage treatments to suit your taste and budget.

In Chicago, the Honey Child Salon and Spa offers the "Twenty Minute Table Tune-Up" a 20-minute relaxing massage (fully clad) for just $25. If you're going to need a little more than that, you can also opt for the $150 "Tandem" massage treatment, where two therapists rejuvenate your body simultaneously.

NO TIME. Time is money. And if you have even less time than you do money, you can still get access to a set of soothing hands.

In California, the Health Spa Napa Valley offers several "compressed" spa packages for clients on the go, such as the 25-minute "De-Stress Massage" that concentrates on tension-retaining areas such as the neck. Many spas all across the country recognize that you shouldn't have to spend hours at a time to get a little relaxation unless you absolutely want to, and offer similar spa indulges that you can experience during your lunch hour.

NO BABY-SITTER. Do you need a baby-sitter? Okay, many salons offer big, playful romper rooms for your children--complete with qualified attendants--so that busy morns and doting dads can go and relax in peace.

NO SPOUSE-SITTER. Need a baby-sitter for your grouchy spouse? Okay, many newer spas offer spa treatment rooms exclusively for couples so that the two of you can unwind and relax together.

GUILTY CONSCIENCE. Every working Sister may feel a pang of guilt whenever she considers doing something for herself. Blevins says that you need to get over it. "It's normal to feel guilty because motherhood is a full-time job," she says. "But ... the more you receive, the more you'll have to give to others. You can't take yourself out of the equation."

And Bettye Odom, owner of Bettye O. Day Spa in Chicago, says it's essential to take that "me" time so that you can rejuvenate and be ready to take on life's next challenge or even enjoy life's next pleasure. "Especially with African-Americans, there's always someone else who we're concerned about. You have to learn to be a bit selfish--treat yourself well, so you can be good to somebody else," says Odom, who opened her South Side spa in 1978. "You should try to do it every day if you can afford it, every week if you think you can afford it, but at least every couple of weeks."

STRESSED ABOUT GETTING UNDRESSED? You don't have to take your clothes off to enjoy a good massage, says avid massage recipient Kat Carney. "Call your spa ahead of time and talk with your massage therapist," she says. "Let him or her know your concerns about getting undressed. Remember, you can always wear your undergarments or even a bathing suit and still receive an effective massage."

Blevins agrees, adding that you can also choose the person who will give you the massage. "Have a one-on-one conversation with the therapist, and tell him or her that you'd prefer to wear your undergarments. And you can always request a male or female. You should be totally relaxed about your experience."

How to get the most from your spa experience

1 Make sure you are dealing with a certified, licensed massage therapist operating out of a clean, reputable salon.

2 Visit your doctor prior to scheduling a massage to make certain that you do not have any pre-existing health conditions that could be aggravated. Also, give your massage therapist accurate information about any injuries or health concerns that may be worsened by stretching or rigorous, rhythmic touching.

3 Do not eat prior to your session.

4 Communicate with your therapist before (i.e., letting him/ her know your needs), during (i.e., letting him/her know if you feel any discomfort or if the room isn't suitable to your taste) and after your massage. Let your therapist know immediately if you feel there is inappropriate action going on.

5 Arrive at least 30 minutes before your appointment so that you can unwind; if you're running late or arrive in a rushed state of mind, it will be harder for you to relax during your massage.

6 Relax your body. Take a deep breath and let your masseuse/masseur do the job. Tightening your muscles during a massage is counterproductive.

7 Drink hydrating fluids immediately after your massage, Also, unwind in a quiet room or rest area to fully absorb the benefits of your session.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Johnson Publishing Co.






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