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Massage in Moscow
Text by Stephanie Droop

here is a bewildering array of massage available in Moscow and at times it can seem as if almost anybody is offering to stroke or pummel your body. You can get a massage in most $ tness centers, beauty salons or clinics. Here we try to describe the main forms and help you choose what is right for you.

Massage has been used since ancient times in most countries to keep soldiers and sportsmen in good condition, to improve health and to aid relaxation. In the Soviet Union in the 1930s a specific physiotherapy massage technique was developed by Ivan Mikhailovich Sarkizo-Serazini and is used today as the basis of sports and medical massage. While European and Russian massage is more centered on rubbing the body, Eastern forms of massage concentrate more on ‘points’ – pressing specific points on the body to open and close flows of energy.

Traditionally massage is divided into medicinal, sporting and relaxing massages. Sporting massage is a vigorous activity to warm up the body before sport and to help cool down after it. It keeps particular joints and groups of muscles toned and helps avoid injury and strains during sport. It can also help healing and to reduce in% ammation and bruising in localized areas. Try or your local gym.

Medical massage is practised in clinics and always by a qualified specialist. It focuses less on muscle tone and more on improving circulation of blood and lymph around the body. It is therefore lighter in touch because lymph lies between the muscles and the skin. It can be effective in treating many illnesses and disorders: low and high blood pressure, arthritis, and even depression and anxiety. This is because good blood and lymph circulation is vital for overall good health. Getting a massage has a huge positive psychological effect because the very act of surrendering your time and body to someone’s capable hands itself makes you feel as if you have been ‘sorted out’. Depending on the extent of your ill health you can go to a clinic for up to a week and use massage as part of a whole course of treatment, drop in for a one-off session, or even make an appointment to have a trusted masseur come to your house with his or her own massage table.

However, the most popular type of traditional massage is for those who are generally healthy but want to relax and forget the world outside while toning their body and circulation. A relaxing massage uses essential oils and can be as vigorous or as light as you wish, aiming to both remove tension from your body and to give you the pleasurable sensation of touch. Most masseurs pay special attention to the feet, back and shoulders because lots of tension is stored in the shoulders and the feet bear the weight of the body. Most beauty salons have a whole range of relaxing massages and if you are into the banya then there is usually a massuer on duty in the banya who can make sure you are thoroughly de-stressed. Spa Palestra or Tan Chinese salons are reputable chains.

In recent years the anti-cellulite massage has become very popular: this is a very energetic massage, usually on the buttocks, hips and thighs, that aims to stimulate cells and dislodge the fatty deposits between them. It is not for the faint hearted and can even be painful. It involves manual manipulation like vigorous rubbing and squeezing the flesh as well as the use of special jars that are placed on the skin to suck out the air and other contraptions such as those made by LPG. Another form of anti-cellulite massage involves rubbing the body with special mineral gel then wrapping you up in a thermal blanket to let the minerals tone the skin. Salons recommend that you sign up for a course of these massages, once a week for a month, then a break before another course. Many sites claim that anti-cellulite massages can not only remove the ‘orange peel’ texture from the skin but also help you to shed inches and pounds. We would urge you to be sceptic of such claims because scientific evidence suggests that massage can aid weight loss only when accompanied by a balanced diet and exercise.

Another popular trend in salons and spas is a hot stone massage, where round pebbles are used to rub oil into your skin. The hard round texture of the hot stones is a wonderful difference from human fingers and thumbs, and the soft clink of the stones is relaxing. Salons go to great lengths to make a relaxing environment, with soft music and lighting, and the tension and cares of the city just melt out of your back. Sensation becomes focused as the stones move slowly and steadily over your skin and as you become aware of your body in new ways, your mind empties and becomes peaceful.

The massage market in Moscow is like any other diversified market, with a confusing array of specialist products. This is because everyone wants to make sure that their product stands out from the crowd. Some salons say on their sites that they offer more types of massages than they actually do, for example vitamin or hydro massage, playing on the human desire to appear knowledgeable about new and niche products.

Newer trends at the moment are Thai massage which is more similar to yoga in that you do it clothed, and the specialist manipulates your limbs in different ways to stimulate and tone your joints; and Lomi Lomi Hawaiian massage where the masseur uses not only his hands but also arms, shoulders and elbows, as if dancing on your body. Another change is that where once beauty salons were the territory of women, now many more men are into pampering themselves and taking care of the condition of their body and mind.

The typical cost of a massage is 1,500 rubles for an hour although anti-cellulite costs a bit more because of the special equipment used. More upmarket salons charge more, especially those with English-speaking staff like the Expat Salon (4,250 rubles for a hot stone massage; A massage is normally an hour or an hour and a half although shorter if for a specific part of the body like the back or feet.

Other places to check for English-speaking salons and gyms: 4

Massage is not advisable if you have thrombosis, stomach upsets or vomiting, skin infections or broken skin, serious heart defects or malevolent tumours. Pregnant women should also avoid strenuous massages.

When choosing a place for a massage bear in mind that newspaper ads that say simply ‘massage’ and any that show pictures of girls are usually sex services rather than qualified specialists. Normal common-sense rules apply: shop around various sites and choose one that is well designed and professional. Even though a salon or spa is a brand, bear in mind that people are all different and massage style will vary from specialist to specialist. You may have to shop around until you find your favorite masseur and you can always ask for them again. Massage is a very intimate process and involves putting your naked body in someone else’s trust. It should always be a pleasurable, relaxing experience and you should never have to suffer pain or embarrassment. It is a common misconception that if it doesn’t hurt then it isn’t working: this is not true because an expert will know how to find and touch the necessary points in a comfortable way. You should agree with the masseur what you want and expect beforehand and it is perfectly alright to give guidance during the actual massage. Massage is an ideal way to relax, improve your overall wellbeing, focus on your senses and experience the benefits that the contact of another person’s hands can bring, and Moscow is a competitive place to experience it.

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