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Top Bodywork Picks

Treatments Worthy of a Splurge

With all the unrelenting media coverage of bailout scandals, foreclosure fiascoes, and the generally dismal state of affairs, it seems a bit half-baked to justify emptying our wallets for pleasant yet inessential creature comforts. But while I’m all for downgrading to basic cable or saving your pennies instead of springing for a latte, some things are just too important to pass on: a damn good massage, for instance.

Too often, massages are seen as extraneous pampering -- great for a spendthrift weekend, but hardly a necessity. Think again. It goes without saying, we’re living in a time where suppressed outrage and tense muscles run rampant, and therapeutic massage may be one of the best ways to alleviate the overlooked symptoms that can, in the long run, lead to chronic health problems. Here are four therapists who understand a massage is about much more than mindless luxury.

Jennifer Brinn
Tucked into Noe Valley’s Purple Iris Healing Center, Jennifer Brinn’s bodywork practice is truly an urban oasis. Brinn, who is a certified Reiki practitioner and holistic massage therapist, specializes in treating the whole person rather than a set of discombobulated symptoms. Brinn’s multi-pronged approach to healing stems from her many years of studying meditation and yoga. Clients who step into her lair come for everything from injury recovery and post traumatic stress disorder to learning how to incorporate effective stress management techniques into their daily lives.

While Brinn’s massage techniques reveal her chops, it’s the Reiki that has most clients going back for more. Reiki, just so you know, is a Japanese energy-balancing modality that works to clear energy pathways (also known as chakras or meridians) and enable natural healing to occur within the body. While Brinn empowers her clients to see their bodies as sources of healing rather than machines that need to be “fixed,” her guidance is more about the facilitation of gradual lifestyle changes than heavy-handed suggestions on how to balance your energetic and physical bodies. Her extensive knowledge of Ayurveda, Chinese medicine, and a variety of other wellness traditions always makes a visit well worth the money.

What to splurge on: The “Balancers” treatment ($105), a restorative 90-minute combination of Reiki and wellness massage, preceded by a thorough consultation, that will work to combat stress and address other physical and emotional blockages; after you’re done, you’ll feel like you’re emerging from the best nap of your life.

Element Bodywork
Erika Campbell’s Union Street practice -- a sprawling, airy space that augurs instant relaxation -- is all about pain. Or rather, dealing with it in effective ways. Campbell, a down-to-earth woman who exudes strength and anatomical know-how, is particularly popular among the echelons of the injury-afflicted. From sports injuries to carpal tunnel to awful posture, Campbell’s toolkit includes all the necessary weapons for dealing with persistent pain, and it’s highly likely that she’ll find some kinks you’re not even aware of.

When I visited her, she asked me questions about my general health and examined my height, the way I walk, and my posture -- and noticed that one of my shoulders is higher than the other, which she assured me wouldn’t be the case when I walked out her door. (She was right.) Campbell is quick to point out that there’s a huge difference between bodywork and massage. Bodywork is the physical manipulation of the body to specifically treat injuries or aid in the improvement of general health and posture -- and it definitely requires a therapist who’s read up on her physiology.

What to splurge on: A 1.5-hour session ($185), especially if you’re dealing with serious pain. In the session, Campbell will work to strengthen your body by relieving soft-tissue restrictions. By the end of the massage, you might find yourself booking another session or purchasing some of Campbell’s delectably scented, handmade essential oils.

Mochi Massage
Since March of 2007, Winnie Chan has been kneading worn-muscles in her FiDi den of relaxation. Chan, who specializes in Swedish and Shiatsu, transitioned from a high-tension job in the corporate world, so she can empathize with her primarily white-collar clientele, who often rush in to see her between appointments. Despite its location, Chan’s dimly lit space is the perfect environment to unwind and give yourself over to her healing touch.

Chan is also a yoga teacher, and although she doesn’t customarily practice with clients, it’s likely that she’ll send you home with a stretch or two. She additionally tries to get even her busiest of clients to bring awareness to the little things they do throughout the day that have the power to affect their mental and physical well-being. The name of Chan’s practice is appropriate, as you’ll probably end up feeling like a delicious piece of mochi (a Japanese rice cake made of glutinous rice pounded and molded into shape) by the time she’s through with you.

What to splurge on: A 1.5-hour massage ($125) that uses a combination of modalities, from Thai to deep tissue, to get your body realigned and in tip-top condition. (FYI, if you book four massages, the fifth is free.)

Sandy’s Healing Center
Yoga teacher and healer Sandy Till has enjoyed a reputation for magic hands ever since working at Dmitra’s Spa in West Portal. Now, she balances her own Union Street practice with her work as a Forrest yoga instructor at Moksha Life Center. Like many other proponents of comprehensive wellness, Till is all about empowering her clients to help their own bodies to heal from things like lower back pain, thoracic outlet syndrome, and chronic fatigue.

This can come from an hour or two of private yoga instruction that enables clients to utilize methods of deep breathing and muscle relaxation while also contributing to general preventive health, or from a deep tissue massage with Till. Till’s medicine of touch is often complemented by suggested yoga stretches and an acute emphasis on self-care. Fans will all agree: her massages are thorough, precise, and luxurious. After one session alone, I felt as if my “writer’s neck” had receded altogether.

What to splurge on: A two-hour combination of yoga and massage ($160), which will positively promote structural integration, better-functioning muscles, and—seriously—your overall happiness.