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The Euphoric Balinese Massage

18 August 2015

Massage therapy offers a relaxing escape for both body and mind, and in Bali, this escape isn’t just a practice, but a way of life. I chat with I Nyoman Suwendra, the director of The Legian Bali’s spa, to gain a deeper insight into the world of Balinese massage.

I just got a massage. Or so I’m told. To be honest, after the first five minutes I was asleep, and if my session would have stopped halfway through, I probably wouldn’t have noticed—but that’s the point. A treatment geared towards ultimate relaxation, the Balinese massage is making its rounds as a fan-favourite among the spa-happy and relaxation-oriented. And while Bali’s Southeast Asian neighbours in Thailand have long held the crown of tropical massage magicians, it seems the small Indonesian island isn’t far behind.

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The Balinese massage emphasises sliding motions with heel of hands, palms and thumb pressure. Not a massage that will leave you grimacing in pain with deep tissue work, this massage is easily customisable and can be tailored to any guest’s needs or wishes.

Straying away from the deep-tissue stimulation popular in some other massage variations, the Balinese massage therapy is one that rests its laurels on firm but relaxing sliding movements and applied palm pressure. Honing in on alleviating muscle tension, the massage focuses on the shoulders, back, neck and legs. And for a person who often finds the reflexology-based massages a bit too biting, it’s a welcome broadening of my massage horisons. But lying down and falling asleep isn’t necessarily the best way to get to know the treatment intimately, and so to fill in my hazily euphoric lapses of consciousness I enlisted the help of I Nyoman Suwendra, the director at The Spa at The Legian Bali.

Suwendra tells me that massage, or urut as it is called in Balinese, has long been a part of Balinese life, but not necessarily in the same way that the therapy is being touted across lux resorts in the modern age.

But what I’m interested in first isn’t the treatment, there will be time to get to that (and hopefully back on the massage table), but the culture of massage on an island that has become, and is becoming, synonymous with it. Suwendra tells me that massage, or urut as it is called in Balinese, has long been a part of Balinese life, but not necessarily in the same way that the therapy is being touted across lux resorts in the modern age. Traditionally a rice-centric culture, the Balinese have long been working the muddy rice plots of the tiered tropical steps of a UNESCO-protected landscape from sun-up to sun-down, and as anyone who has stepped knee-deep into the mud with one of the many heavy wooden farm tools knows, it’s no walk in the park.

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Left: I Nyoman Suwendra, the director of The Spa at The Legian Bali. Right: Spa treatment facilities overlooking the ocean at The Spa at The Legian Bali.

“Massage in Bali comes from necessity rather than pleasure,” explains Suwendra. “After a long day in the field, the Balinese will prepare warm oil and massage themselves to alleviate much of the tension that builds up throughout a day.” He explains that this has been the case for as long as he knows on his leafy equatorial island, and it is only within the past 30 years when Bali began expanding as a tourist destination that massage became commercialised. Lucky for the traveller who stumbles into a spa here, massage isn’t just a money-making opportunity in Bali, but a cultural mainstay.

Tuberose is also one of the often used ingredients for massage essential oils.

Each GHM spa features a selection of customised massage oils formulated and blended in-house using indigenous plant extracts.

After getting to know the lay of the land a bit better, I dive into the intricacies of the massage with Suwendra. I explain that the Balinese massage I got was so good that I don’t remember most of it, and that I’m not actually sure what they did, or even if they did anything after I went to meet with the sandman, to which Suwendra chuckles and gives me a bit of insight. “The whole idea, as you already know,” he says, “is relaxation.” It’s almost entirely done with the palms and thumbs, he explains, and is a massage that employs heavy uses of the sliding techniques with a bit of Swedish effleurage thrown in. Never digging too deep, nor pushing or pulling too forcefully, the massage is designed to be user-friendly, in that much of the time Balinese massage can be tailored to the individual guest. “If it’s all about relaxation,” Suwendra adds, “then why wouldn’t we allow the guest to customise as much as possible?” In this way, explains Suwendra, at The Spa at The Legian Bali, the Balinese massage is intended to be a jump-off into a custom-tailored massage that will leave any visitor feeling enraptured upon finish.

It’s almost entirely done with the palms and thumbs, he explains, and is a massage that employs heavy uses of the sliding techniques with a bit of Swedish effleurage thrown in. Never digging too deep, nor pushing or pulling too forcefully, the massage is designed to be user-friendly, in that much of the time Balinese massage can be tailored to the individual guest.

For all of this dynamism in the massage, however, masseuses need to be fully prepared to know how to alter and shape the Balinese massage movements into a tailored package. “The techniques take about a month to learn,” explains Suwendra, “but for a masseuse to really succeed, they must have a deep understanding of the human anatomy, and a wealth of experience. Only then will they be able to give a proper Balinese massage.” And lucky for me, my masseuse met all of the requirements, at least for those blissful first five minutes.

For those seeking a truly Balinese experience, make your way to The Spa at The Chedi Club Tanah Gajah, Ubud for a traditional Balinese massage overlooking the island’s renowned rice paddies.

The Balinese massage is more a set of techniques than a set itinerary, and much like life in Bali, it’s elegant yet unorganised, relaxing yet firm, and adventurous yet sleepy. This set of techniques that rose to prominence through the quite-literal grassroots is catching on quick, and when you knock out in five minutes because of the sheer relaxation, you understand quickly why. A salubriously intoxicating affair, the Balinese massage is here to stay, and let both muscles and Thailand be warned.

Note: The Balinese spa treatment is available at all GHM hotel spas. For more information, or to book a session, please contact The Spa at your selected property through www.GHMhotels.com.

(Featured image: Essential oils are combined with any number of massage therapies to bring a number of results. From energising to relaxing in nature, essential oils are a key ingredient to any worthwhile massage.)

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The Eurphoric Balinese Massage
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Massage therapy offers a relaxing escape for both body and mind, and in Bali, this escape isn’t just a practice, but a way of life. I chat with I Nyoman Suwendra, the director of The Legian Bali’s spa, to gain a deeper insight into the world of Balinese massage.
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