To be effective, a reflexology practitioner must be certified and understand the meridians related to each pressure point. Most spas offer reflexology, and the treatment typically lasts approximately 30 minutes. It’s important to have a conversation with your reflexologist beforehand to discuss your “issues,” whether it is constipation, a tension headache or trouble sleeping.

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In “bodywork,” as practiced at Haven, painful physical manipulations are just one part of a package of techniques explicitly designed to evoke and provoke emotional expression and vitality. While a participant lies on the ground breathing hard, two facilitators may be applying extremely painful pressures to key points in the body, deliberately pushing the participant well outside of his or her comfort zone. This may launch people out of emotional ruts (fairly dramatically), relieving intense emotional denial and suppression, and leading to vivid insights and profound new body awareness. BACK TO TEXT

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Friction strokes work on deeper muscles than the techniques previously described. The friction technique is a pressure stroke and is the deepest that is used in Swedish massage. The massage therapist applies pressure by placing the weight of his or her body on the flat of the hand and the pads of the thumbs, knuckles, fingers, or the back of the forearms, and then releases the pressure slowly and gently. This movement should be a continuous sliding motion or a group of alternating circular motions.

During the 1990s, I observed at least seven foot reflexologists at work during health expositions. In most cases, the process appeared to be an ordinary prolonged foot massage with little communication between the practitioners and their clients. But at one exhibit, the practitioners claimed that they could reduce stress, cleanse the body of toxins, increase circulation, assist in weight loss, and improve the health of organs throughout the body. On another occasion, I underwent a 15-minute session in which the practitioner felt my foot for diagnostic purposes and then massaged it for "therapeutic" purposes. During the previous year, I had had severe shoulder pain caused by an inflamed tendon that was rubbing against a bony surface inside my left shoulder joint. Thorough medical evaluation had determined that the appropriate treatment was arthroscopic surgery in which a drill is used to shave the bony area that was impinging on the tendon. The reflexologist claimed that he could detect the shoulder problem by feeling my left foot, that it was caused by stress, and that pressing on my foot—perhaps for a few sessions—could solve the problem. His "treatment," which lasted about 10 minutes, consisted of massaging the foot and from time to time, pressing hard on the ball of my foot, a procedure that was quite painful. The "treatment," of course, did absolutely nothing to help my shoulder. A few months later, I had the surgery, which cured the problem immediately and permanently.


A couples massage allows partners to experience massage together in the same area as one therapist works on each person. Some spas turn this into a romantic event that can leave guests starry-eyed, setting the treatment in a special room or suite large enough for two, beachside underneath the stars, or in the couple’s guest room at a hotel or resort. For an extra-special touch, rooms reserved for side-by-side massage treatments may feature cozy spa fixtures such as fireplaces, shower facilities, Jacuzzis, and dual soaking tubs, and some spas offer irresistible amenities like champagne and strawberries as a sumptuous treat. Many spas offer treatments à deux so spa-goers can share a pampering experience with a significant other, but a couples massage isn’t just for romantics—mother-daughter duos and best friends may also enjoy side-by-side services. For couples, this form of massage can offer a double dose of benefits. The tandem treatment invites couples to get a bit closer and reconnect, and it can enhance intimacy and teach each partner how to take care of the other. Plus, select spas allow lovebirds to get in sync by offering sessions that teach massage techniques. Pampering and rejuvenating facials, massages, and other treatments in a half- or full-day increments can make up a whole spa package for couples. For more on Couples Massage, see our guide.
Reflexology (or foot reflexology) is a therapy based on the principle that there are small and specific areas of innervation in the hands and feet that correspond to specific muscle groups or organs of the body. In this system, the nerve endings in the extremities provide a “map” of the rest of the body. Examples are the base of the little toe representing the ear, or the ball of the foot representing the lung. Through the application of pressure on particular areas of the hands or feet, reflexology is said to promote benefits such as the relaxation of tension, improvement of circulation, and support of normalized function in the related area in the body.

For starters, you bear in mind the things described above that tend to cause ugly pain, and you avoid that kind of therapy like the plague. Then you look for some clues that painful pressure is okay. Here are at least three reasons why unpleasantly intense pressure might be therapeutic — “bad pain,” but not ugly. In each of these situations, it might be acceptable to tolerate sensations so intense and painful that the only thing about them that is pleasant is the part where it stops.

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That is, regardless of all other considerations, a massage therapist must talk to you about pressure, respect your preferences (they are more important than any treatment ideology), and be careful about stumbling into areas that need much less pressure (for comfort) or much more pressure (for satisfaction). Far too many therapists make the mistake of setting a “default” pressure for a client early on, and then using roughly that much pressure everywhere.

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