Nothing much surprises me when it comes to massage. I’ve been pummelled with hands, elbows, feet; on the floor, in swimming pools, on beds of hay. But when I heard about a new massage using hot tiger striped clam shells I rolled my eyes. The Lava Shells massage sounded perilously like the ‘next hot stones’ – and, if I’m brutally frank, hot stones just never really set me on fire.
So I had my cynical hat rammed firmly onto my head when I walked into Body Image in Taunton. ‘Oh, you’re in for a treat,’ said the owner, Richard Butt. ‘It’s absolutely amazing.’ Yes, but he would say that, wouldn’t he?
My therapist, Gemma Impey, took a brief case history (the treatment is not suitable for pregnant women, anyone who’s recently had an operation and anyone with active cancer) and explained about the shells which were sitting, looking pretty unprepossessing, on a small table.
Palm-sized, they come from villages in the Philippines where the tiger clam is part of the daily diet (so effectively they’re recycled). They fit neatly into the hand and are very smooth, apart from a small ‘knuckle’ which can be used to probe into recalcitrant muscles.
A teabag-like sachet is popped inside each shell (three or four shells are used for most massages). This is the ‘LavaGel’ (a mix including algae and sea kelp) which, when combined with salt water, generates enough heat for an hour-long massage.
Lying on my back, swathed in towels, anointed with deliciously scented mango and green tea oil, I wasn’t sure what to expect. What I didn’t expect was the sheer heat of the shells. Emma started by pressing them into the palms of my hands and it was hard not to flinch. She explained that they need to be quite warm to penetrate the large muscles of the body but, if necessary, the heat can be toned down.
It swiftly became apparent that I had underestimated this treatment. Emma used both her hands and the shells, working deep into the muscles and fascia. ‘The heat allows you to go much deeper,’ she explained. ‘It’s a superb treatment for people who do a lot of sport.’
Gemma worked deeply into my stomach, explaining that it is a vital but often overlooked part of any treatment. ‘We hold a lot of stress in the solar plexus muscle and many people hold tension in their colon. On a physiological level this helps sluggish bowels, aids digestion and soothes IBS. It’s like a natural colonic.’ I winced as she worked along the top of my abdomen. ‘Are you a worrier?’ she asked. Does the sun set at night? Seems the belly area can act as an emotional weather vane too. ‘Tenderness on the left hand side can indicate a fear of letting go while on the right side can suggest a fear of new things,’ she explained. ‘Massaging this area can also help release a lot of emotional tension.’
She then plunged right into the pelvic floor – the massage can apparently help strengthen the muscles here and ease menstrual cramps.
I’ll be honest, I was impressed. I don’t like gimmicks and really thought this would prove to be one. But the combination of heat and good massage really does deliver the goods. After a 90 minute treatment I felt that deliciously weird combination of refreshed and relaxed.
‘Did you like it?’ asked Richard as I wandered out, in a happy little cloud. I nodded. You could almost see ‘told you so’ written across his forehead.
Lava Shells massage is available from spas and salons around the UK. www.sharedbeautysecrets; 01869 338890
Body Image, Taunton: www.bodyimagetaunton.co.uk; 01823 275626
Also wild and wonderful
- Luk Pra Kob – Thai massage involving kneading and twisting, plus massage with a hot herbal ‘bundle’.
- Chavutti thirumal – lie on the floor while the therapist uses his or her feet to massage you.
- Watsu – the therapist works on you while swirling you through the warm water of a pool.
- Biodynamic massage – therapist uses a stethoscope to listen to the sounds your intestines make while being treated.
- Lomi Lomi – Hawaiian massage in which you’re massaged with fingers, thumbs, arms, elbows.
To find out more check out www.wahanda.com