Sea, Sand, Shiatsu

Spa treatments at the Caribbean that give lounging on the beach a run or rub for its money.

Spa treatments at the Caribbean that give lounging on the beach a run or rub for its money.

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There’s something about spas and massages that just rub me the right way. The only feel-good hormones I can name off the top of my head are endorphin, serotonin, and dopamine, and I don’t even know if they have anything to do with the heavenly drift that accompanies the hours-long planking on a treatment table. My partner’s an unapologetic adrenaline-junkie, so let’s just say I’m a hormonal cocktail addict.

Common knowledge credits massages’ effectiveness in dealing with a host of ailments ranging from insomnia to high blood pressure and anxiety. I’m not sure how easy it is to have a medically challenged person lay still for an extended period of time, but I do recall a mind-over-matter story I heard over a decade ago, when a little boy cured himself of cancer by imagining a pac-man scenario where his body’s mutant cells being devoured by his immune system. Having said that, the story is undoubtedly distorted through time and memory glitches and in any case I take a very “cogito ergo sum” approach to my wellness treats. I think it’ll do me some good, and therefore, hand on heart, I emerge a different person every single time without fail. So when my partner was planning his sailing trip around the Caribbean, I took the opportunity to tag along and spa around the islands.

Cave woman

I guess spas are a “to each their own” type of indulgence, and I usually end to favor stand-alone establishments, but the Caribbean would force me to open my eyes to the ones situated inside resorts. One of the most unforgettable is the spa at The Caves in Negril, Jamaica, so-named for the limestone grottos scattered around the property. I booked myself a signature massage, and no matter how many suggestions I have heard since, nor how many images I have seen of similar locations, the experience was incomparable. Walking down a staircase carved into the side of the cliff is pretty unique, although also quite a challenge without the the luring seascape threatening to speed up the descending process. The massage itself took place inside a private sea cave at the bottom of the steps, with the previously distracting waves now lapping gently and, along with the treatment, melting me into a deep, holistic puddle.

The Dior way

For me, spas are in the business of selling an experience, and therefore should ooze a sense of location. The Dior Institute Spa (yes, Dior of Christian Dior) at The Cliff resort in St. Maarten, however luxurious the treatment and quality of products used, didn’t do it for me. I could’ve been anywhere in the world. All very high-tech with handheld micro-dermabrasion machines glowing a medical red, but when I’m on holiday, I want the cliche — sea, sun, and local charm.

Private rubs

Enter the spa at Como Shambhala Parrot Cay in Turks and Caicos. Two words — private island — this one complete with serene surroundings including rock ponds and lots of greenery. I opted for the Pizichilli Ayurvedic therapy and as with some other of their treatments, there is a choice to have one or two therapists working on your pressure points, and with just a 30 dollar difference. Suffice to say I’m glad I chose the latter.

Salus per aquam

On the days I didn’t have a pampering date in my diary, I did what was the next – or equally – best thing to do at the Caribbean. On our off-days, we’d spend hours on end walking along the beach (which, by the way, makes the calf muscle tense and ready for the next rubdown), dipping in the warm waters at will, and lazy times on the alabaster with a good book giving way to snooze attacks.

Evening plans more often than not included a soak in the sunken bathtub back at the villa. I’ve always thought ‘spa’ was an acronym for “salus per aquam”, Latin for “health from water”, but as I would learn from this trip, that piece of information is mis-leading. Though the healing powers of water had a lot to do with it, the term is actually derived from Aquae Spadanae, or the modern Belgium town of Spa.

From the perspective of a non-avid sailor, I must say The Caribbean is heads and shoulders above the Med when it comes to being a passenger, or as my partner likes to refer to my types, a “stowaway”. You can moor up at lux marina after marina (St. John was the only destination we visited that didn’t have a dedicated marina), and the islanders, as well as the island-adopters, are amongst the loveliest people in the world. And that’s not to mention the location – I’m pretty sure the very first wish you were here’ postcards were sent from the Caribbean. Glancing outside my apartment to more apartments across the road, it seems about time I booked myself a spa date for a city-life parallel.

Of the countless types of massage therapies available, some are popular the world over. Here are some of the most appealing:

  • Swedish Massage: A relaxing oil massage featuring four fluid strokes of Effleurage (gliding), Petrissage (kneading),Tapotement (percussive), Vibration (rocking) to increase circulation and loosen muscles, and regulate hormone production.
  • Hot Stone Massage: Popular with spa officianados, smooth stones are warmed and placed on various areas of the body to loosen muscle tissue before they are used to provide a deep massage with the help of lotion or oil.
  • Shiatsu: Also called the Japanese Massage, the therapist applies acupressure if using their finger and palms to unblock the energy and thus improve blood circulation and the nervous system.
  • Thai Massage: Popularly known as the “lazy man’s yoga”, the treatment is performed on mats or thin mattresses on the floor, featuring both shiatsu-like acupressure massages and held poses to stretch the muscles.
  • Foot Reflexology: This therapy is sought after not only for achy feet and legs, but with the idea that all nerve endings in the body are exposed in the feet and any organ can be treated through the pressure point-treatment applied on the soles, ankles, and on the top of the toes.
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