We all know it feels good but can massage change the way your body looks?
“We began by burying crystals in the earth,” says Jeannie Bourke, founder of Venustus. She’s walking me through the new holistic spa space in Sydney’s Paddington, which opened in June. “We then worked energetically up from the ground, choosing the most ancient material of all – metal – for our three-metre-high staircase. It works as a direct portal to the moon and sun.”
I’m trying to match her fizzy energy but, honestly, I just want to lie down in one of the four egg-shaped treatment pods, close my eyes and be massaged into oblivion.
“Your immune system is bruised and your energy is… anxious, drained,” senior masseuse Haruko tells me. She’s worked at Venustus for 20 years (it was previously located two doors down) and reads me in a heartbeat. “Yes, my lymphatic system doesn’t work properly,” I tell her, spreading out my puffy fingers and lifting a swollen ankle. “I’m always carrying excess fluid.” She smiles and says, “So we’re going to go slow, gentle.”
Haruko begins by loudly inhaling and exhaling. Is this for my benefit or hers? Intimidated, I inhale deeply and discover that I like it. “Breathwork,” Bourke tells me later, is “the process of deep rhythmic breathing that moves us out of fight or flight and into the parasympathetic nervous system”. That’s the “rest and digest” state to you and me and it beats being told to “relax”.
The soundtrack of crashing waves, chimes, light rain and birdsong floats over us while Haruko kneads my shoulders and I feel myself liquify. She switches up and begins gently rocking my hips.
“Rocking helps relax muscles, calm the nervous system, open up the joints and bring the body back into balance,” explains Bourke afterwards. “It also releases endorphins in the brain, which can reduce anxiety and tension.”
After what seems like hours – I can’t tell anymore – Haruko focuses on opening then draining my lymphatic system by gently pressing on my fingers, ankles, legs, chest and neck, basically wherever there are lymph nodes. After placing heated stones on my back in order to loosen contracted muscles, she swaddles me in linens and I feel reborn.
And then it’s over. I look at my de-puffed fingers and toned legs. A muted joy spreads over my body and – dare I name it? – a slight feeling of increased energy.
Taking my hand in hers, Bourke encourages me to drink lots of water and keep moving so those lymphs keep draining. Of course, I forget and feel hungover the next day. But that’s somehow validating, proof that whatever toxic sludge may have been stuck in my lymphatic system has finally been released.
Image credit: Milly Mead