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Stillpoint Wellness Center

Pushing the Reset Button on Knotty Muscles

"Are those birthmarks?" a girlfriend asks, noticing the cascade of perfectly circular bruises across my shoulders as we suit up for a swim in the rooftop lap pool at UCSF's Mission Bay campus. The next day at Gray Whale Cove, a different friend exclaims, "Oh my god, what happened to your back?" and while at the Jay N' Bee Club later that night, another slyly inquires, "Um, what have YOU been up to, young lady?"

Sweet Relief
Well, aside from a lot of summertime swimming and sunning, I'll tell you what I've been up to: I've been hunting for results, and I found them last week in a top floor Victorian on Union Street, at the new Stillpoint Wellness Center. I've been walking around with plum-sized purple circles on my back all weekend, but my shoulder muscles haven't felt this free in months -- even years, perhaps?

You see, I have knotty shoulders. Not your average, everyday knotty either -- we're talking serious repetitive strain injury from computer use, the kind that flips the bird at a one-hour Swedish relaxation massage and keeps on hurting afterward (regardless of how delicious the actual rubdown may be).

So after my first, mind-melting one-hour massage with Andrew Castellanos, the certified Shiatsu practitioner and co-owner of Stillpoint, I wasn't surprised when my back woke up angry as usual the next morning. But I remembered what Andrew had told me post-massage with a calm, assured tone: "Next time, book a 90-minute massage and we'll try some cupping at the end."

Cupping + Massage = Magic
I'd only had cupping once in my life (sans massage), but I was game; back in 1998, it was literally the only thing that provided significant relief from a neck injury that had been misdiagnosed by my Western doctor. I'm not alone; patients for thousands of years (including Gwynnie Paltrow, Britney Spears, and Denise Richards) have sported the purplish, circular hickeys that result from this remarkably effective Chinese medical technique. (Of course, "fire play" fetishists have their fair share of fun with cupping, but you can look elsewhere for that sort of thing.)

Spherical glass cups with rounded, wide mouths are gently heated and placed on the skin, creating a forceful suction vacuum. Blood, lymph, and Qi are pulled up through the cross-hatched muscle fibers, which displace on a micro level and are replenished with fresh blood and nutrients. Basically, you're pushing the reset button on ganked-up muscles.

It feels excellent, too; after a knot-kneading Shiatsu session with house-blended essential oils, AIMC-trained Castellanos pushed the heated glass cups up and down along my spine, the suction creating a deep, "reverse" massage. It's no overnight cure, but it's the most results-oriented treatment I've had in years, and I'm booking my next appointment ASAP.

Holistic Innovation, Living Room Feel
Opened in early 2008, Stillpoint delivers serious holistic wellness services like massage, life coaching, chiropractic care, private yoga and meditation, as well as more innovative spa offerings like acupuncture for facial rejuvenation. Craniosacral facials are a hot ticket of late, administered by Andrew's wife and partner, Charis; the two met in the neighborhood years ago, while both were working at the chic Union Street Apothecary.

The comfy reception area and five treatment rooms at Stillpoint have a familiar, living room aesthetic, with hardwood floors, wood moldings and mantles, velvet curtains, and wood-shuttered bay windows. It's cush enough to please the ladies, but simple enough not to turn off the fellas, and the pricing is streamlined and reasonable.

The Castellanos and their business partner, holistic therapist Kerstin Marie Wheale, take great pride in having searched high and low for only the best practitioners, and they carry top-end products from Epicuren, SkinCeuticals, and Designs for Health. It's a haven for spa mavens who've learned at long last that while day spas are great for steaming, sauna-ing, and plush bathrobes, it's crucial to have a line on some real-deal results, too.