Find peace in the city with exotic massages including Swedish, Thai and Indian
If working hard has left you keen for a break, but you’re all out of holidays, then look no farther than Seoul. For exotic, blissful relaxation in the big city ― on a range of budgets ― let your mind travel and your body experience the pleasure of some of the world’s best massage traditions.
Swedish massage at the Grand Hyatt Seoul’s spa. (Grand Hyatt Seoul)
Peaceful, authentic Thai full-body
Thai massage uses deep pressure and stretches and is based on the idea that air, or “lom,” enters the body and travels along a myriad of “sen” or vessels. Therapists manipulate these sen lines and combine this with positions akin to yoga.
Located in a sleepy residential enclave of Gangnam, Rai Ra offers a truly restful taste of this globally recognized treatment.
Set in a house, the atmosphere is welcoming. You are greeted by floral decor and a living room complete with fireplace. Therapists here are Thai, making for an authentic experience.
In place of a massage table, Rai Ra use mats on the floor ― as in Thailand. Customers also wear pale pink Thai trousers with matching T-shirts if they opt for the country’s traditional massage, known there as “nuat phaen boran,” or ancient manner massage.
After carefully covering you in warm towels, leaving just a candle in the corner and a softly-dimmed bulb for light, the massage begins, feet first.
Slow and expert, the therapist maneuvers your body with full use of theirs. With a moderate level of pressure, the massage incorporates not only hand techniques, but also knees to knead buttocks and feet to ease down on heels.
Ever-gentle, the therapist sneaks in some more precise deep tissue work ― with special concentration on the shoulders ― but there is never a hint of pain.
Ending in a cross-legged position and a dream-like state, this soothing massage helps you happily drift off to the idyllic beaches of Thai islands.
An hour’s full-body massage at Rai Ra costs 55,000 won. For more information and directions call (02) 567-4711.
Indian head treatment for clarity
“Champissage,” or Indian head massage is said to unblock pockets of negative energy. Particularly recommended for those suffering with achy necks and shoulders, they are also said to help clear the mind and improve mental clarity.
“This treatment helps stimulate the auto-immune system of the body by relieving stress-induced tension and filling the body with positive energy,” explained Sarah Kim, Team Leader of AWAY Spa at the W Seoul Walkerhill.
Tricky to find in Korea, Indian head massages are a real treat ― especially for those who work hunched in front of a computer.
Amid an ultra-modern, plush white setting, the AWAY spa experience starts with a firm shoulder, neck and chest massage, kneading away knots.
The therapist begins on the head slowly, working a sesame aromatherapy oil ― infused with menthol and lavender ― in circular motions into the scalp, one small section at a time.
Gradually, pressure and speed intensify. Using whole palms, each side of the head are rubbed in grand, sweeping motions. The movements then become faster, honing in on acupressure points ― some shooting a tingling sensation down the back of the legs.
The treatment culminates with a warm head wrap and gentle arm stretches. From here, customers are guided to the W Chill room, for a choice of hot and cold teas, five channels of chill-out music and the chance to lay back and fully enjoy a moment of calm.
An Indian Head massage at the W Seoul’s AWAY Spa starts at 120,000 won for 60 minutes. For more information call (02) 2022-0450 or visit www.wseoul.co.kr.
Japanese Shiatsu for health and healing
Shiatsu, Japanese for “finger pressure,” is a rejuvenating massage using precise, rolling motions and compressions to promote the body’s flow of energy ― ki ― and therefore good health.
“Shiatsu’s principles evolved from a hybridization of traditional Japanese massage, Chinese medical practices and ‘Western’ anatomy and physiology,” said Dr. Sean Kim, CEO of Sky Wellness Center in Itaewon.
The clinic focuses primarily on corrective and chiropractic treatments, but therapist Lance Kim offers more massage for relaxation, fusing his Korea-influenced techniques with other traditions.
In bright and professional environs, clients are asked to complete a form about their health prior to their session to ensure maximum benefit. The staff here ― Koreans and expats ― are extremely knowledgeable.
After changing into shorts and a T-shirt, the therapist begins, placing slow but strong compressions along the length of the body. For him, the massage is an active affair, as he uses hands, feet and forearms to achieve the desired result. For the client, it is a fantastic way to unwind.
The massage is recommended by the clinic for people with back, neck and shoulder pain, as well as headaches, insomnia, stress and a host of other complaints ― and it’s not hard to understand why. Lulled into a deep relaxation during the massage, the gradual end to the session ― arriving through satisfying stretches ― leaves you feeling light and supple.
Shiatsu massage at Sky Wellness costs 69,000 for an hour for one person, with a reduced rate of 62,000 won each for a couple. For more information and reservations call (02) 749-4849 or visit www.skychiro.com.
Developed at the University of Stockholm in 1812, the classic techniques used in Swedish massage are now used as a foundation for many other massages around the world.
In particular, they are “effective in improving the blood’s circulation and releasing muscle pain by stimulating the outer muscles,” said Jeon Sook-jin, team leader at the Grand Hyatt’s spa.
The Swedish full-body here is for all-out pampering, as down to every detail this experience is luxurious.
The Spa is designed on a natural theme, blending hues of cream and white for its soothing color scheme, with a mix of fresh white flowers adorning each room.
As this is an oil massage, clients are requested to undress in the adjacent, well-equipped, shower room first. Beginning face down, you are treated to the aroma of cleansing frankincense through the face-hole in the massage table.
To the sounds of one of eight tranquil background tracks such as “calm” or “classical,” the masseuse begins by enveloping each foot in a warm, wet cloth, before gently rubbing a soothing balm into them.
Then the sweeping, sunflower-oil-coated strokes, typical of Swedish massage, begin. Working toward the heart, the hand-waves work their magic from tense backs down to tired, knotted calves.
The knee work here really stands out. The therapist walks a delicate line, with encircling finger tips, between lingering sensitivity and rippling tension release.
After a period of relaxation, and a dash of energizing face mist, the therapist gently eases you to a sitting position. From here you are free to rouse yourself slowly in a nearby arm chair, with rooibus tea and macaroons for refreshment.
The Classic Swedish 60 at The Spa costs 145,000 won. For more information and reservations call (02) 799-8808 or visit http://seoul.grand.hyatt.com.
Invigorating Chinese foot rub
The ancient practice of foot massage in China goes back about 5,000 years. It was originally intended for healing within Oriental medicine, rather than for relaxation purposes.
Using the principles of reflexology, it focuses on acupressure points on the feet, which are said to correspond to other parts of the body. A toe massage, for example, is said to clear sinuses.
Hongsuryeo is a dedicated Chinese massage shop in Apgujeong. The friendly staff here all hail from China.
Quiet and atmospheric, with warm, Chinese-themed decor, customers are ushered directly into one of the treatment rooms to change into the shorts and T-shirt provided.
To begin, feet are plunged into a steaming hot lemon soak, and you are left to luxuriate and unwind, coddled in a warm blanket.
The massage itself takes place with the customer lying face-up on a massage table. After moisturizer has been liberally rubbed into both feet, the invigorating massage starts.
Both fast and vigorous, this is one which should leave you feeling sprightly and refreshed. The strong rubbing motions ensure that you feel the boost in circulation, even as you lay motionless.
Using a quick combination of techniques, the therapist alternates the intriguing mastery of acupressure with rolling leg motions.
To get the blood to flow from tired and weary feet, a particularly impressive move ― quick and firm ― begins at the ball of the foot and continues up past the ankle and right up the lower leg.
The session culminates using elements of sports massage.
An hour-long Chinese foot massage at Hongsuryeo costs 55,000 won. For more information call (02) 549-1005.
By Hannah Stuart-Leach (email@example.com