Originally published in Massage Bodywork magazine, August/September 2005.
Copyright 2005. Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals. All rights reserved.
The glow from the fireplace reveals a richly appointed oriental-style room. Fresh flowers adorn the side table, creating a foreground for breathtaking views of New York City. An inviting Chinese Kang bed, steam shower, and tub await as the robed couple enters.
Romantic honeymoon suite in an upscale hotel? No, actually it's the VIP suite in The Spa at Mandarin Oriental, New York. In addition to these luxurious furnishings, the VIP suite includes two massage tables and is used primarily for treatments for two.
A recent trend in the spa industry, couples massage is gaining ground as a frequently requested offering on many spa menus. Like The Spa at the Mandarin Oriental, many spas are investing heavily in couples' suites, creating rooms with a romantic atmosphere and honeymoon-like surroundings in an attempt to capture a piece of the couples market.
"Our couples massage program is tremendously popular," says Rick Joseph, owner and director of The Village Spa in Roslyn, N.Y. "It's the biggest part of our business."
Specializing in spa treatments for couples and groups, The Village Spa is getting extensive media coverage throughout the New York area and was even featured in a television news story in Japan. But in an industry where personal pampering is paramount, why would clientele want to receive massage treatments in the same room?
"The biggest reason most people sign up is for the shared experience. They enjoy being together and trying something new," Joseph says. "Often, both partners are new to massage. Getting a massage together in the same room seems to give them both the courage to try it. Other times, one partner -- usually the guy -- is shy about being in a room alone. When he can look over and see his partner enjoying the treatment, he is able to relax and feel comfortable." The Couples' Massage -- Two Tables
The typical couples massage consists of two tables, two clients, and two therapists. Massage tables are set side by side with enough room between for both therapists to work comfortably, so most contact between clients is verbal or visual. Techniques may vary, but the general goal of couples massage is relaxation. Gentle Swedish techniques are the norm.
While it's not necessary to synchronize strokes, timing remains important. Many therapist teams work on the same areas of the body at the same time. They may start with clients prone, working on backs, legs, and arms and then ask their clients to turn simultaneously. The key to successful couples work is coordination.
"If one therapist is slow in finishing, it means the other must draw out her massage so the massages end together," Joseph says. "This makes it tough for the therapist that's finished. What you don't want to have to do is start over on areas that you've already worked on. Couples massage requires therapists to stay on their toes -- they have to be present and aware of what's going on with their own client and aware of what the other therapist is doing as well," he adds.
The consensus among spa owner, practitioner, and massage educator is that couples massage has become a popular offering in spas. Whether it creates an opportunity for couples to share the intimate experience of therapeutic touch or a chance for clients to try massage for the first time with the support of their partner, the demand for the service is growing.
"I think it's exciting that spas and practitioners are finding ways to bring positive feelings and healthy touch to people who may have never experienced [massage] before," Schmidt says. By being creative in their offerings, practitioners and spas seem to be opening new possibilities for sharing the gift of therapeutic touch. Cathy Ulrich is a freelance writer, artist, physical therapist and Certified Advanced Rolfer. She maintains a private bodywork practice in Colorado and teaches workshops on intuition and personal energy management. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.