Confessions of a SPA Junkie

Being told ‘please lie down and make yourself comfortable’ knowing that you will be in this resting position for a full hour has got to be one of life’s greatest pleasures.


I do not think of myself as a self-indulgent person. I generally do not do anything in excess, except when it comes to spas. A massage is the way I reward myself. It is how I treat myself for work well done, surviving punishing schedules and particularly for enduring frequent long haul travels across countless time zones.


This fresh beginning to a new year is probably filled with many of your well-intended resolutions. My suggestion to you for 2011 is to try a new approach. Instead of choosing a punishing gym schedule or further disciplining yourself with harsh diets, make 2011 the year of being kind to yourself.


That doesn’t mean you don’t have to exercise or eat healthily, but begin to learn the art of self preservation and pampering.


This approach is excellent for your health. Regular massage and pampering offers remarkable benefits to your body. The basic goal of massage therapy is to assist the body in healing and restoration. Massage stimulates circulation, which increases your blood flow, bringing fresh oxygen to body tissues. This can assist with the elimination of waste products such as lactic acid from muscle use, speed healing after injury and enhance recovery from disease. Other benefits are enhanced immunity, better lymph drainage, a soothed nervous system, improved muscle and skin tone and smoother digestion.


In addition to the pleasure factor, the finest benefit is reaped deep within your autonomic nervous system. Your body shifts from the sympathetic state to the parasympathetic state (or in simpler terms from the stress response to the relaxation response). It is only when your body is within this parasympathetic (relaxed) state that true healing and repair can take place.


Throughout your busy day, your nervous system is firing away on sympathetic overdrive, causing exhaustion, burnout and possible ill health. The catalyst for this unrelenting process is the hormone adrenalin.


Don’t get me wrong, adrenalin is a remarkable substance on which your survival depends. The most primitive level of your brain responds to danger by the release of adrenalin allowing you to fight or flee. It also fires you up for peak performance in the workplace. The only problem is that your body no longer knows how to switch off the sympathetic charge and adrenalin surges through your blood 24 hours a day, even while you sleep. In the long term, it strains your heart through the elevation of your blood pressure and heart rate, diverts blood away from the essential central organ functions and eventually overwhelms and exhausts your body.


This is where the value of meditation, breathing exercises or yoga fits in. Experiencing a massage is one of the most powerful ways of turning off the adrenalin for a while and allowing your body to shift into its natural parasympathetic state. The more frequently you experience this state, the more accustomed your body becomes to it and it may even kick in occasionally on its own.


Although I have been to 20 countries in the past year, my memories were a total blur of airports, lecture venues, hotels and taxis. Now, my travel memoirs are distinguished by something special.


I have managed to squeeze in more than a few massages, including a Java massage in Indonesia, a Thai version in Bangkok, Chinese acupressure in Beijing, Swedish massage in Milan, Shiatsu in Tokyo and a glorious Indian hot oil head massage in Bombay. When safely back home, a massage at my favorite hair and beauty salon is a pretty good option too.


If you can’t get to the real thing, get your partner to give you a massage and convert your bathroom into a mini-spa, filling your senses with healing balms and energizing oils. It’s a remarkably pleasurable way to enhance your health. Make this year’s resolution to pamper yourself a lasting one.