Whether muscles are tense from sitting hunched over a desk day after day at the office or overworked from pushing too hard at the gym, a massage can ease the pain and loosen up tight spots to improve flexibility. The symptoms of some chronic conditions such as back injuries or carpal tunnel syndrome can even be alleviated through regular rubdowns by a trained therapist, and massages are also known for calming stress and anxiety.
“People don’t realize that when they get busy, they get stressed, they don’t have time for a massage, they keep getting stressed and that tension keeps building,” says Dmitriy Lavender, a massage therapist at Hand & Stone Massage and Facial Spa who recommends an appointment at least once a month. “They don’t know why they’re not feeling 100 percent. They don’t make that connection that it could be because the muscles are so tense that they can’t let go.”
A variety of modalities are available at spas in Laguna Beach; when choosing which type to request, therapists say each has its own specific benefits and they’re often combined for a customized treatment. From encouraging relaxation to relieving pain, the following popular styles—Swedish, deep tissue, sports, reflexology and shiatsu—each address particular needs while offering a one-of-a-kind experience.
Unwind With Swedish
Known for its light pressure, the calming Swedish massage style is a popular choice at spas. “It’s a beginner’s massage for people who are not used to getting a massage on a frequent basis,” says Johanna Riert, spa manager at Aquaterra Spa at Surf & Sand Resort. She adds that this method is best for people who want to get into the “spa mood and Zen mood and just want to relax and want to be taken away.”
Johanna says Swedish massage can lower the heart rate, helping to relieve stress. “It trains the body how to relax,” she says. “… It trains your body to be in that state of mind.”
Effleurage—the long, slow, soothing strokes with light pressure—automatically makes the body more tranquil, she says. Similar to yoga, she explains, “it helps you to breathe better” by encouraging you to inhale and exhale more slowly and deeply. Johanna says it can even relieve headaches by bringing more oxygen into the body, as the pain may be caused by a drop in oxygen levels.
Swedish massage can also boost immunity; improve blood circulation; relax the muscles; keep the joints more fluid; and speed up recovery after an injury, she says. Although the style is “the most traditional massage out there,” Johanna says there are plenty of ways to customize a treatment with deep tissue approach in certain areas of the body or adding hot stones or other elements tailored to the client’s needs.
Alleviate Tension With Deep Tissue
At Spa Montage Laguna Beach, requests for deep tissue-style massages often come from guests looking for treatment that is a bit more therapeutic, says spa operations manager Cherie Rodriguez. “When they come in and maybe have aches and pains or tension in specific areas, a lot of times they will request a deep tissue massage because they are looking for more of a results-oriented style or approach to those tension areas,” she explains.
“… Physically, the pressure is a little bit more on the firm side and you can really feel the therapist working on the deep layers of the muscles,” Cherie says, adding that massages are often customized using deep tissue and other styles based on what the client needs or wants to achieve, from relieving overall tightness to a specific knot or tension area.
Some guests request deep tissue massage to address a structural imbalance, feeling tension in their lower back that’s actually stemming from their hips or knees, while others might feel tension in their neck and shoulders from sitting at a computer too much, Cherie says.
The deep tissue approach can even alleviate symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome, she notes. “That has a lot to do with inflammation of the neck and shoulders because the nerves that interlace the arms and hands are coming from and branching out of the spine in the neck and shoulder area. … So, for example, someone with carpal tunnel syndrome might request a more therapeutic style massage—the deep tissue-style massage—to really open up the neck and shoulder area.”
Although Cherie says guests will feel some relief after the initial massage, those with chronic conditions may be advised to come for more frequent treatments so the therapist can continue to make progress on relieving the symptoms. “And they might also give you recommendations for what you can do at home to support the work that they’re doing,” Cherie says. “… They might talk to you about your water intake or what you’re eating and how that affects your body. Or they might have you do some stretches.”
Restore Sore Muscles With Sports
For professional athletes, or anyone who feels sore after a basic workout, a sports massage may be the answer—although it’s not as soothing as most spa treatments. “It is not really a massage that’s easy to relax to,” says Dmitriy of Hand & Stone Massage and Facial Spa. “It’s very up-tempo.” As he explains, the therapist uses a cross-fiber friction technique, which involves a lot of “jiggling” that is not typically done with other modalities.
“You go perpendicular to the fibers of the muscle, basically just trying to release any lactic acid buildup,” Dmitriy says. “… It’s kind of like shaking the sand out of your swim trunks. You’re trying to get it out of there.”
Another goal is to break apart knots and “unglue” the muscles from each other. Sometimes after lack of use, failure to stretch or when someone starts working out and building the muscles, they get pushed, or “glued” together, Dmitriy explains. “So what you’re trying to do [with the massage] is go across the fibers and try to break it up,” he says.
It should be intense, but not painful; Dmitriy tells clients to let him know if it hurts too much, but they often don’t speak up. “Sometimes people think that it needs to hurt really bad for it to get fixed,” he says. “And what happens is they’re tensing up their body, which makes it worse. … You want to be around a seven, pain-wise, when you’re doing stuff like that and you have to breathe it in and exhale. When you exhale, that’s when it releases.”
Achieve Balance With Shiatsu
A less painful option is offered in the form of Asian-style shiatsu at Laguna Canyon Spa. “[Shiatsu is] an ancient form of acupressure massage,” explains spa owner Lucy Wojskowicz, a holistic health practitioner and massage therapist. “… It feels really good and often I incorporate some shiatsu in all of my massages. So there’s a lot of rocking and kneading and pressing that could potentially align the spine or give yourself an adjustment. Although that’s not our intention, it might just happen naturally.
“… Just like in acupuncture where they use needles, we apply pressure to those same meridian points to stimulate vital organs to bring about energy in the body and sometimes even increase an element that might be lacking or deficient,” Lucy says. These elements—water, metal, earth, wood and fire—each correspond to particular seasons, organs and emotions.
“Balancing the five elements in the body really brings the whole body to a nice homeopathic state where it’s healthy,” Lucy says. “In life, we’re constantly going through these cycles, so shiatsu helps bring all those areas into balance.”
In shiatsu, a therapist applies pressure to certain parts of the body to affect other areas—like the line running from the chest to the armpit to the thumb is the lung meridian. “Each line of the body relates to a specific vital organ,” Lucy explains. The method is believed to help alleviate back pain, headaches, digestive problems and stress.
Relieve Pain With Reflexology
Based on the belief that certain points on the feet, hands and ears correspond to organs and other body parts, the ancient art of reflexology uses light thumb and finger pressure applied to these areas to alleviate pain and symptoms from headaches to anxiety. Similar to acupressure, the goal is to flush out toxins and bring the “chi” (life force energy) into balance in the body, which will then allow any pain to subside.
“It’s really relaxing,” says Nance Garber, owner of Eden Spa and Salon, which offers this specialized service. “… It’s designed like a massage you would get on your back, but it’s on your feet. You’re looking at the feet as the body.” For example, the tops of the toes represent the head and the inside of the feet correlate to the spine.
At Eden Spa and Salon on South Coast Highway, a reflexology foot massage is offered in 30-minute and hour-long sessions in addition to an optional half-hour foot soak in a hydro tub and brown sugar scrub to warm up those tootsies while enjoying a glass of wine, coffee, tea or soda and donning a pair of headphones to listen to soothing music. “That’s a great way to start the reflexology,” Nance says. “… Your body’s relaxed and you’re ready to have those areas worked on because they’re warmed up.” In spring and summer, refreshing cold water foot soaks will be offered on the outdoor patio.
Notably, the spa donates 5 percent of profits to the Epilepsy Support Network of Orange County in memory of Nance’s late daughter, Eden Ablid, who had the condition. So spa-goers can feel good, not only from the reflexology treatment, but also knowing a portion of their money is going toward a worthy cause.
—Written by Sharon Stello