As part of Balance Garden's "Third Spaces" column; where we discover, explore, and share places to unwind and recalibrate; Kate Lois Elliott checks out East London's Masaj- a refreshing new take on massage parlours
Back pain is a thing, especially for Londoners. I read a shocking statistic the other day that said that musculoskeletal problems were responsible for 22.4% of all sick days in the UK (ONS via London Evening Standard). The daily grind can leave us tense, stressed and physically drained. As someone who has suffered from back pain on and off for the last five years, I know that if you experience any sort of chronic pain then exercise, stretching and relaxation are usually the best for maintaining a hold over it.
I do yoga, I have had some miraculous experiences with acupuncture, and I’ve worked with physiotherapists. However, when the stress builds and you need a bit of TLC, then a good massage has a certain soothing effect: you're warm and relaxed, and your happiness is taken care of by experts for an hour, like a hot bath whilst listening to My Dad Wrote A Porno.
I haven’t enjoyed a lot of massages that I’ve received in spas. They’re often too soft and I leave feeling like nothing has happened, other than that I’ve just been rubbed with scented oil and had a sort of nap whilst listening to a Celtic Moods compilation. I also tend to feel quite apologetic about it, like when a friend massages your back and you don't want to get too comfortable because you know it will last about a minute and a half and they don't really want to be doing it anyway.
When I heard about Masaj I knew I had to give it a try.
Masaj, originally formed in Barcelona, aims to get away from the traditional massage parlour experience (tick) and aims to offer refuge to combat the negative effects of city living (tick). The studio is way out east, near Bethnal Green and Cambridge Heath, so a bit of a trek those of us who living North or West.
The boutique is located inside the Gossamer City Project - a community of start ups, shops and local businesses that all work in ‘containers’ with metal outer shells and power socketed, shiny insides. It's super cool. We’re definitely in East London. Don’t follow google maps and do what I did - wander down an empty side road and dance around in zig-zags with your head in your phone until you find the back entrance to the space. Instead look to the right of the only hipster coffee shop in sight and turn into the clearly marked main entrance on the main road, maybe not so hidden.
I receive a warm welcome, my therapist asks my name, gets me a glass of water and gestures for me to sit. I fill in the pre-massage forms (with a golden pen - it’s the little touches) and I look around. A range of carefully thought out natural products are for sale, including some Masaj candles, plus some books, including one about every day sexism and The London Wellness Guide. The space is small, but chic and beautifully designed.
They offer a range of treatments, a blend of different massage styles that include Thai, Ayurvedic and sports massage, all delivered in their unique ‘Masaj’ style. I opted for a holistic massage, but would be happy to go back for a deep tissue one day to combat some specific aches and pains.
I then go into the treatment room and am asked to pick my choice of oil, I opt for the energising one, as tempted as I am by the classic lavender. They also offer post exercise blends. The scent isn’t overwhelming, like it can be with some massage oils, and it isn’t lathered on, just the right amount. The music too is chilled, not at all patronising and has no panpipes.
I was still expecting to immediately fall into that counter productive state where I don't feel I’m allowed to relax or let go whilst someone else is working so hard next to me - but here I didn’t. I felt present enough to let go and enjoy the massage without worrying about falling asleep or that my bum was sticking out. The massage itself was blissful. I felt very comfortable with my masseuse, like we were working together to fix my body and my job was to relax. She used a range of techniques, and though it wasn’t as heavy as a deep tissue massage, I could feel the muscles being worked. She also stretched my legs and my neck. The experience felt very personal to my own needs.
Afterwards I was treated to my choice of energy shot (I opted for a very strong ginger one) and given some advice on how to loosen up the tension in my back, just as you would with a physiotherapist. At the end I was given some aftercare advice and a huge hug.
I'd recommend doing this at the weekend, or on a day where you have no to do list. You’re working on yourself, so take the time you need to get the most out of the treatment. I was so relaxed on the way home that I forgot to flag down my bus and once on the tube missed my connection. I went home, lay down with on my back on the sofa, and didn’t care about doing anything of any consequence. I was very much transported away from the stresses of a city lifestyle, into the world of chill, toxin release and the new series of Orange is the New Black. Job done.
https://www.masaj.me From £35
Disclaimer: Balance Garden receives no payment for this review or reviews of this kind. We may on occasion be asked along as guests to try our new products and services for free, but we will never recommend anything to our readers that we don't believe in, and that doesn't fit with the Balance Garden ethos.
Kate-Lois Elliott is an actor and writer. She has worked at XYZ Magazine Brighton and Mouth London. Kate was the assistant editor for The Shapers Project book with The Creative Society, Jazz FM and Mishcon De Reya, has had her short fiction read out on Wandsworth Radio/Either-Author and had her work staged at Theatre 503. She regularly champions first time playwrights with her company Backbone Theatre, who run workshops and readings at London venues. Past Backbone productions have played at the Roundhouse, The Bush Theatre and the Blue Elephant Theatre, Camberwell. (Spotlight: 2212-9084-8035). http://www.kateloiselliott.com/