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Psoas Massage & Bodywork

A Whole-Body Tuneup

Just so you know, the psoas muscle is that unpronounceable little guy in your body that’s largely responsible for your overall mobility. It’s a barely acknowledged core muscle in your abdomen that is used in close to a hundred percent of all your movements -- and you can usually blame it for lower back pain and other achy muscular conditions, given its role in connecting the upper body with the lower body. But of course, San Franciscans who don’t know anatomical minutiae know Psoas as one of the city’s most highly respected massage studios.

Injury repair and one hell of a massage go hand in hand at this Soma bodywork studio, which caters to everyone from professional athletes to massage newbies. If you’re an athlete looking for a structural tune-up, a dancer interested in increasing your range of motion, or an erstwhile pencil pusher who simply wants a little relief from ergonomically induced pain, help is on its way.

Psoas is the brainchild of massage therapists Jennifer Lightstone and Scott Schwartz, who started the business back in 2003. At the time, the two recognized the sheer lack of rigorous, repair-focused massage studios, which tended to be outnumbered by day spas schlepping exorbitant services heavy on the pampering but light on the therapy. Jennifer and Scott both came from athletic backgrounds and knew what it was like to suffer acute, long-term pain, so the typical “spa massage” was strictly off limits. Now, five years later, the Psoas team numbers ten massage therapists and hundreds of satisfied clients.

The process of getting a massage at Psoas is refreshingly different from the ol’ thumb-through-a-menu-of-treatments-and-choose-your-desire. Considering that Psoas isn’t a spa but a “human body shop” where the therapists pride themselves on being well-versed in aches, pains and muscles, massages here are customized to fit your lifestyle. Clients are required to do an intake with their massage therapist that covers everything from their stress levels to body parts that need a little tinkering with.

The massage therapists, who are trained in a variety of fancy-sounding modalities, then decide what kind of massage is suitable for each client -- which means you might get craniosacral one time (if your body needs to be realigned to promote vitality) and orthopedic the next (to increase circulation so that injured tissues can heal more rapidly). Or you might want to bring your honey in for an adjustment -- yeah, Psoas does couples’ massage, too.

According to Jennifer, Psoas is particularly unique in that they exact rigorous standards compared to other massage studios. While many studios only require that their practitioners have 500 hours of education under their belt, Psoas requires therapists to have over 700 hours. In fact, Jennifer says, most of Psoas’ therapists have between 1,000 and 3,000 hours of training and 15-20 years of bodywork experience, placing them in the big leagues compared to a vast majority of bodyworkers.

They also come from a variety of different backgrounds that add a little extra street cred to their already impressive curricula vitae -- personal training, physical therapy, the traditional spa industry, and working with dancers, to name a few. Given the difficulty of finding practitioners with serious skills, Psoas now offers a training program for current massage therapists who want to learn how to work with clients with acute injuries -- which requires a more extensive knowledge of structural bodywork than many therapists are apt to get from their previous training.

The clients are a motley crew as well. While 50% are athletes, Psoas buffs run the gamut, so don’t be scared off by the sportiness of the place -- repetitive strain sufferers and curious out-of-towners can also partake of the offerings. The sprawling seven-room studio, whose rich hardwood floors, neutral tones, and refreshingly un-spa-like musical selections (that is, if you prefer jazz to neutral white noise) includes a special area where therapists teach their clients specific stretches and strengthening exercises.

“The point is to foster wellness goals for life,” says Jennifer. “We institute tailored maintenance programs so if the client is still experiencing some discomfort with a certain area, he or she has a bunch of at-home techniques to take care of themselves.” The focus on client education even led to the recent addition of another room where small-scale future classes in stretching and Pilates will take place.

While Jennifer describes Psoas as very “small scale” and predominantly supported by word of mouth, the commodious digs, which were recently expanded upon, could vie with any fancy-pants day spa. The difference? The place is tasteful but down to earth; people who come here are definitely in for some luxurious R&R, but all the same, it’s the kind of place you go in order to see results in your body, not to escape from the world.

When I visit, I’m there for a massage with Nora, one of the therapists who started out with the studio when it was in its infancy. My treatment room is modest yet spacious, and invigoratingly free of the lethargic ambience and over-scented air of some of the places I’ve been. After Nora learns that I tend to carry tension primarily in my lower back, neck, and shoulders, she goes to town with the kind of assurance and microscopic attention to detail it can be difficult to get upon a first meeting with a therapist. Rather than dilly-dallying over inessential parts, she focuses almost primarily on the areas of interest, working out my knots and subsequently giving me the most epicurean scalp massage ever.

Given the relative sunniness of the room (which faces the street) and the manner in which Nora’s ministrations make me aware of muscles I generally tend to take for granted, the massage has the effect of invigorating me rather than making me fall asleep. And of course, given that it’s the middle of the day and I have tons of errands to run, it’s nice to emerge from the bed feeling ready to face the world rather than feeling nap-happy.

While an hour or so of bodywork at Psoas might cure your ailments temporarily, therapeutic massage generally tends to reveal its benefits over time. Of course, given the amount of money we needlessly spend on stuff like our morning coffee fix, it shouldn’t be too much of a task to funnel the dough into areas where it most makes sense -- that stiff hip, for instance. I encourage you to pay Psoas a visit, and see if you can’t be convinced.