The holidays present many opportunities for renewed connections and gift-giving. It’s a festive season, but it can leave some feeling frazzled. After days of shopping, baking, decorating, and wrapping, a massage is a surefire antidote to sore muscles and seasonal stress. If the idea of a post-holiday massage sounds good to you, it would probably sound good to your loved ones, too.
Giving a massage as a gift is a sweet way to demonstrate your concern for the recipient’s wellbeing.
Studies have shown that massage really does work. It stimulates the vagus nerve, the part of the parasympathetic nervous system often referred to as the “rest and digest” system. The American Psychological Association reports that stimulating the vagus nerve has been shown to alleviate stress, depression, and anxiety and to decrease migraine pain and lower blood pressure.
WHAT KIND OF MASSAGE?
Gifting the right kind of massage may involve some research. It’s a smart idea to ask a practitioner about their approach before you purchase a gift certificate.
There are several common types of massage that can be interpreted differently from practitioner to practitioner.
It’s the most popular type of bodywork, and its goal is relaxation. Swedish massage improves circulation and flexibility while easing tension.
This type of massage has a deeper focus to release chronic muscle tension.
“Massage really does treat what ails you,” says Liz Zabel, co-manager of The Emerson Resort & Spa in Mount Tremper. “It can help you feel de-stressed, restored, uplifted, and calm the senses.”
In his or her practice, a massage therapist may incorporate other therapies into the session, like heated stones, aromatherapy, or hydrotherapy. Michael Ryan, the lead massage therapist at Mohonk Mountain House in New Paltz, says the best massage for relaxation and stress reduction is the Swedish, but he occasionally adds other therapies
to boost the relaxation response.
“By incorporating temperature variation, aromatherapy, or hydrotherapy into this massage technique, therapists can enhance relaxation and increase overall calming effects,” he says.
CJ Hartwell-Kelly of Buttermilk Falls Inn and Spa in Milton says the best type of massage they can recommend for relaxation is the therapeutic technique, applied in their Millstone Farm package.
This form of Japanese bodywork uses pressure and manipulative techniques to adjust the body’s physical structure.
This practice involves applying pressure to the feet and hands using thumb, finger, and hand techniques.
This is a light massage that provides physical and emotional benefits.
“The Millstone Farm massage would be my top recommendation for relieving stress,” he says. “The therapeutic technique incorporates lavender, which is grown right on our property and is known for its calming and relaxing effects.”
Whether the gift recipient has previously had a massage or has never experienced one is a factor that may help determine which type of massage to purchase.
“It’s such a subjective thing,” says Ani Kaiser of Birch Body Care in Kingston. “If someone previously had a massage, they probably know what they like. But for the first time, a light, featherweight massage can be perfect.”
Another factor to consider is the length of the gift massage. Massages are usually offered in 30, 60, 75, and 90-minute sessions.
“Thirty minutes is a good place to start for someone who hasn’t had a massage before, but for someone who has, a half-hour is almost a tease,” Ani says.
Adding a technique or two to the overall therapeutic package can extend the length of the treatment. That’s the case at the Mountain Float Spa, which primarily offers flotation therapy.
“We have a standard package—which is also our most popular package—called our ‘Float Sandwich,’” says Joey La Penna, co-owner of Mountain Float Spa in New Paltz. It’s a 60-minute Swedish or deep-tissue massage followed with or preceded by a 60-minute float.
If all else fails, most massage businesses will allow you to gift a generic certificate so the gift recipient can choose a massage on their own. If that’s the case,onsider including this article when gifting the certificate!
“In an Ayurvedic Indian oil scalp massage, we pour aromatic oil on the head, massage it into the scalp, do pressure points there, as well as massage the neck, shoulders, and décolletage.” —Liz Zabel, The Emerson Resort & Spa
SPECIAL FACTORS TO CONSIDER:
The state of the recipient’s health can help you decide which type and length of massage to purchase. Is your uncle frail, elderly, or possibly recovering from surgery? Is your friend expecting a baby?
Many therapists offer special packages for expectant moms that can include a facial and a pedicure or a special body pillow to increase comfort. An expectant mom massage might focus on swollen ankles and the lower back. Mommy-to-be massage does require specialized training, however.
“Prenatal massage is the only massage that should be performed on a pregnant woman,” CJ says. Scalp therapy or reflexology can relax and rejuvenate an expectant mom and might also suit a person who is frail and not feeling well.
“In an Ayurvedic Indian oil scalp massage, we pour aromatic oil on the head, massage it into the scalp, do pressure points there, as well as massage the
neck, shoulders, and décolletage,” Liz says. “You can relax, chill out, and just be.”
MAKE SURE THEY’RE LICENSED
The Hudson Valley has a wealth of massage options. Be sure the massage therapist is licensed by the state, which will be the case at all reputable establishments.
“There are places where massage therapists are not trained, and the danger is that the person getting the massage may have an underlying issue—such as a herniated disc—that could be further aggravated by a massage,” Ani warns. “Taking blood thinning medication can result in some people bruising easily.”
Up-to-date licenses should be displayed at the place of business.“New York State requires yearly continuing education, which means if your therapist is licensed, you are fairly certain that you are receiving services from a qualified therapist,” says CJ.
A massage therapist may incorporate other therapies into the session, like heated stones, aromatherapy, or hydrotherapy.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions when buying that gift certificate. Massage therapists and spa professionals are trained to address your concerns.
“The more communication the better,” Liz says. “Ask as many questions as you need.”
Since the best gift-giving incorporates some research, you may want to try out a few local spas and massage therapists yourself. It’s a good way to start the new year relaxed and rejuvenated.