Balinese, Thai, Swedish, Japanese and more global massage styles
Time Out Dubai staff
Balinese massage aims to create body and soul harmony through various methods, including acupressure, reflexology, stretching and aromatherapy. It uses various scented oils and involves a lot of stroking and kneading to help reduce stress, relieve pain and improve sleep patterns.
We tried: Four Hand Balinese Couple Massage at Dreamworks
The process: Upon arrival, we were offered green tea and water before being escorted into the treatment room, which was serenely lit with flickering candles and soft music. After changing into some fetching blue paper pants, we were introduced to the therapists, who instructed us to lie down and relax. Being a novice to four-hand massages, it took us a while to get used to having both our back and legs worked on at the same time, but it wasn’t too long before the excellent therapists had us in a state of dream-like bliss. We opted for a hot-towel rub down to finish and then enjoyed a few minutes’ relaxation before enjoying some light refreshments.
Pros: Easy parking in the busy Marina area (just call the branch when you arrive to gain access). In addition, staff are friendly and professional.
Cons: The treatment rooms are fairly basic. Dhs500. Various locations including Dreamworks Dubai Marina, www.dreamworks.ae (800 37 326).
Two more to try: Dhs250. Jebel Ali Golf Resort, Jebel Ali, www.jaresortshotels.com (04 814 5555). Dhs495. The H Hotel, Sheikh Zayed Road, www.h-hotel.com (04 501 8888).
Thai massage is a bit different from other massage types in that it uses no oils. You can usually keep loose clothing on and it’s more like an assisted yoga session. Developed by Buddhist monks thousands of years ago, expect your limbs to be flailed and knuckles and elbows to prod at your body. The results are meant to improve circulation, loosen tight muscles and relieve stiffness.
We tried: Thai massage at Assawan Spa, Burj Al Arab
The process: After frolicking in the palatial pool and taking full advantage of the spa facilities, we were led up some stairs to a treatment room with a traditional Thai bed and a jaw-dropping view, the floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Sunset Beach. The therapist informed us that the massage would be dry and involve kneading, body weight and stretching. She left us to change into the loose top and bottoms provided and we then got settled on the futon. Due to the contortionist aspect of the massage, we found it to be ideal for relieving tension and improving circulation with every twist and turn, rather than a totally relaxing experience.
Pros: The view in the treatment room is one-in-a-million.
Cons: It’s a hefty price for just 55 minutes. Dhs795. Burj Al Arab, Umm Suqeim, www.jumeirah.com (04 301 7338).
Two more to try: Dhs350. Aroma Spa, Dubai Marine Beach Resort and Spa, Jumeirah, www.dxbmarine.com (04 304 8081). Dhs645. Ritz-Carlton DIFC, Downtown Dubai, www.ritzcarlton.com (04 372 22220)
Also known as classic massage, this one uses light to medium pressure to stroke and soothe away muscle tension. Expect oil and long, gliding strokes as well as some taptotement (tapping with the side of the hand) and kneading. This is a good all-rounder (and a safe-bet for any rookie massage-goers) that can relieve stress, repair overworked muscles and help eliminate toxins.
We tried: Heavenly Spa Signature Massage at Heavenly Spa, The Westin Dubai Mina Seyahi Beach Resort & Marina The process: The treatment began with a gentle ring of a bell and our therapist’s instruction to leave all our stresses in a small basket he then placed outside the room. A heated compress was applied to our back, legs and feet, designed to relax muscles and freshen the skin, before we were asked how firm we wanted the ensuing full-body Swedish massage. Using oil, the therapist expertly worked his way from one part of the body to the next, concentrating on any particularly tight areas to loosen muscles and tissue, with the process also involving a small amount of stretching. While it’s a slightly more bracing massage, we enjoyed the sense that real work is being done, and we left feeling lighter and utterly relaxed.
Pros: An excellent choice if you’re feeling stiff and need a quick yet uplifting and effective massage to release tension. Guests also receive a welcome drink, access to the spa facilities as well as a choice of after-treatment teas.
Cons: None – we just wish we’d gone for the 90-minute option. Dhs420. The Westin Dubai Mina Seyahi Beach Resort & Marina, Umm Suqeim, www.westinminaseyahi.com (04 399 4141).
Two more to try: Dhs300. Yhi Spa at Melia Hotel, Port Rashid, www.melia.com (04 386 8111). Dhs525. One&Only Royal Mirage, Umm Suqeim, www.royalmirage.oneandonlyresorts.com (04 399 9999).
Chinese massage is known as reflexology. According to traditional oriental medicine, there are reflexes in the feet that correspond to each and every part of the body, and massaging these specific points is the basis of this healing massage. The benefits are said to include a boost in circulation, pain relief, and improved digestion.
We tried: Reflexology Massage at Talise, Jumeirah Beach Hotel
The process: The spa is tiny but first class. Babes, our therapist, was also tiny but her knowledge of the treatment was decidedly large. After a relaxing footbath and a quick consultation, we lay on the bed in our robe and she placed a scented mask over our eyes. We opted for the calming lavender oil and the room soon smelt divine. Starting off with what felt like light slapping on our toes, she then proceeded to push, prod and press at different points in our feet. She used a little bit of oil to keep movements smooth and before long we were almost asleep on our pillow. We felt a little bit of tingling on our head as she pressed certain pressure points on our toes, but overall the treatment was very relaxing.
Pros: Friendly and knowledgeable staff, helps to de-stress and the 45-minute treatment is easy to squeeze into a busy schedule.
Cons: None, unless you don’t like someone touching your feet. Dhs360, Talise Spa, Jumeirah Beach Hotel, Umm Suqeim, www.jumeirah.com (04 348 0000).
Two more to try: Dhs420. Satori Spa, Bab Al Shams, www.meydanhotels.com (04 809 6232). Dhs170. Feet First, Dubai Mall www.feet1st.com (04 339 9369).
Sanskrit for ‘the knowledge of long life’, ayurveda is an Indian medical practice believed to be more than 5,000 years old. It is based around the idea that the body is made up of three elements that are best translated as energy forces. Ayurvedic massage is believed to promote relaxation and stimulate the lymphatic system.
We tried: Elakkizhi Ayurvedic Massage at Softouch Spa, Kempinski Hotel Mall of the Emirates
The process: The Ayurvedic oils used in this full-body massage smell intense, rich and botanical, and we enjoyed taking in the aroma as our therapist gently applied the blend to every inch of our body, starting with our feet and legs, then moving on to our chest, arms and back. The massaging technique employs long rhythmical strokes vigorously repeated over and over. After 40 minutes hot roasted leaf bags were introduced, used to quickly strike and then rub the skin, once they’d cooled to a more comfortable temperature. Again, the delicious, earthy smell was a highlight. The final minutes involved a brief yet relaxing head and face massage.
Pros: The leaf bags add an extra, welcome element to the massage and, along with the oils, are what make this treatment stand out. It’s relaxing, refreshing and undoubtedly beneficial.
Cons: The hotel is undergoing renovation at the moment, so you may hear some drilling. Also, the spa needs to reassess its choice of music to accompany treatments – theme tunes of the likes of The Ipcress File and American Beauty are inappropriate in our opinion. Dhs750. Softouch Spa, Kempinski Hotel Mall of the Emirates, Al Barsha, www.kempinski.com (04 409 5909).
We tried: Indian head massage at Cleopatra Spa, Wafi
The process: Lying face-down, the treatment began with a 15-minute back and shoulder massage, our therapist first rubbing a combination of lavender and chamomile oil into our skin and then proceeding to smoothly and firmly knead away tension and stiffness using long, sweeping motions. The following 15 minutes were dedicated to the head massage, this time using a rich, earthy blend of oils, which was worked into our hair and scalp using swift finger movements that sent pleasant tingles down our spine. Despite the energy put into the massage, we had drifted off to sleep by the time it came to an end.
Pros: It’s a welcome change having so much attention focused on your head and, despite the treatment only lasting half an hour, you’ll leave surprisingly relaxed and invigorated. Make sure you try the fiery ginger tea afterwards.
Cons: You’ll need to wash your hair to get rid of all the oil (on the plus side, they have Elemis bath products), so it’s not ideal if you need to dash off right after the treatment. Dhs275. Cleopatra Spa, Wafi, Oud Metha, www.cleopatrasspaandwellness.com (women’s spa 04 324 0000; men’s spa 04 324 7700).
More to try: From Dhs400. The Oberoi Dubai, Business Bay, www.oberoihotels.com (04 444 1444).
Shiatsu (meaning finger pressure) is a Japanese form of massage that is performed without the use of oil and involves stretching and breathing techniques and acupressure. This type of massage can usually be performed without undressing and can be good for anyone suffering from specific ailments or lacking in energy. We tried: Shiatsu massage at The Ritz-Carlton, Dubai
The process: The shiatsu massage is listed in the ‘relax and de-stress’ section of the spa’s menu, so a cup of chamomile tea was offered on arrival to start the soothing process. We were encouraged to change into the regular spa attire of a robe and disposable underwear before being asked to lie on an authentic tatami floor mat. As for the massage itself, we found it quite intense. Even after asking the therapist to use less pressure, the pulling, pummelling and prodding was hard – this certainly isn’t one for the faint hearted and probably not a good choice for rookie massage-goers. That being said, immediately afterwards we did feel energised, and shiatsu does get easier with practise.
Pros: It’s energising and the spa is very serene, with a lovely Eastern/Western blend of decor.
Cons: For first-timers, it’s quite intense and we wouldn’t call it relaxing. However, our therapist did explain that different people react to the release of trapped energy in different ways – so maybe it was just us! Dhs480. The Ritz-Carlton, Dubai, JBR, www.ritzcarlton.com (04 399 4000).
Two more to try: Dhs375. Senso Spa, Radisson Blu Dubai Media City, www.radissonblu.com/hotel-mediacitydubai (04 366 9111). Dhs490. One&Only The Palm, Palm Jumeirah, thepalm.oneandonlyresorts.com (04 440 10 10).