Going With the Flow. Or Not

Massages with aromatic oils, 'magic stick' treatment, weird music, body scrubs ... A day at the spa, which may not be everyone's cup of (herbal) tea.

Recently I dived into a world of terry cloth robes and herbal infusions. Along the way, I encountered eight hands and two feet, and a few bamboo shoots. Spa-hopping sounds like a mission that should arouse envy, but for someone who is turned off by the touch of a stranger's hand, it wasn't so simple. Quite a bit of aromatic oil and money were spilled on this massage journey, and in the end several important conclusions were reached: The "third eye" is important. Bamboo is bad. Mike won hands down - just tell him to turn down the volume - and you shouldn't let any man step on you, except for him.

It seems like lately everyone in the spa world is raving and moaning with pleasure about a treatment called Ayurveda. This slow-paced Indian massage involves oil being spilled on the body in three stages. These days many local spas are offering this exotic treatment, and among them is the posh Clay Total Spa in Ramat Hahayal in Tel Aviv. As part of the package deal offered at this orchid-filled place, one can combine this massage with a preliminary warm-up treatment called "the magic of water." The package deal costs NIS 320. Adding a pair of hands will hoist the price to NIS 490.

"The magic of water" - which includes a body scrub on a warm marble platform, a Swiss shower with 60 jets of water aimed at you, and a dip in a Jacuzzi with a waterfall that's supposed to land on your neck and massage it like nothing else - was, however, far from magical. And afterward Moshe, the masseur, sent me back to the lounge to wait. The place looked like the lobby of some successful high-tech company whose lights were dimmed, so that it assumed the atmosphere of a brothel. There I spotted Erez Tal (famous TV personality), looking pampered and glowing, on his way out. For me, this was only the beginning.

It wasn't long before Moshe reappeared, this time with Zahava at his side. The two led me down a hall to one of the treatment rooms, which had a subtly sweet Oriental aroma. The lights here were even dimmer than in the waiting room. The treatment is carried out in full nude, with only a sheet rather symbolically covering the body. As in almost any massage, the face is buried in a cushioned hoop. Four hands entered the room. They dripped warm sesame oil on me, beginning at the feet. Soon they working their way up, and before long reached the buttocks, where each pair of hands took one; it was a bit embarrassing. I hoped that my nervous giggles would be lost in the sounds of ocean waves and chirping birds that emanated from the irritatingly "spiritual" soundtrack playing in the background. I think that Moshe and Zahava didn't hear me ...

After turning over on my back things got more complicated. Zahava asked if I had a problem exposing my chest. I said no, but when the two approached that part of my anatomy I started giggling all over again. This time the waves and the birds didn't do the trick.

After a thorough and invigorating body massage, Zahava played with my feet and Moshe stood behind my head and spilled warm sesame oil on my forehead. For the uninitiated, a person's "third eye" can't really be seen, but it's there, between the two regular eyes, which I shut. At this point I discovered that my third eye is blind. I asked Moshe why, but he didn't have an answer. He did say his massage of my forehead would feel like a "flight to outer space." It's difficult to recall what he did, but I did experience a pleasant, out-of-body, floating sensation. The third eye still couldn't see a thing, but at least I felt it was now wide open. After the treatment ended, at the tea corner, Moshe reappeared and offered to brew me an infusion of lemongrass and wild ginger. Three men were sitting in the lounge, all in white robes and matching slippers. One of them was deeply immersed in the men's magazine "Blazer." The other two were Indian. I thought that maybe they knew the secret of the third eye, but I was too shy to ask.

Outside of Clay, darkness had fallen on the Levantine Silicon Valley. On the ride home there was horrific traffic. In a car to the right of me a woman was vulgarly chewing something which may have been salami or a chocolate bar. At that moment my third eye shut tightly. It's been that way ever since.

A stick in the back

In the lobby of Hotel Mitzpe Hayamim in Rosh Pina, the guests, wrapped in robes, wandered around, apparently intoxicated from an overdose of massages and herbal tea. Something about the place made you feel you were in some intermediate phase, between life and death, where everyone is waiting for the verdict, and in the meantime sipping tea like maniacs.

But I didn't come here to ponder life and death and herbal infusions, but for a bamboo massage. At the hotel's spa there is a wide variety of treatments spanning continents and centuries, and the latest addition is the bamboo massage. Why bamboo? "In Malaysia everything revolves around bamboo shoots: building houses, weapons, furniture and more. So why not well-being?" read the pamphlet. Among the "wonders of the treatment": relaxation, resculpting, drainage, flexibility, lymph drainage, cell renewal. A 45-minute treatment with bamboo costs NIS 260; it's NIS 310 for an hour.

The treatment room was flooded with daylight, with a huge window overlooking a beautiful view. There was a heating device filled with warm stones and on top of them lay bamboo shoots in various sizes. The fiasco began with the routine procedure of placing my head, face down, in the padded hoop, but then the masseuse began to shower me with almond oil.

Her hands moved like those of a mediocre student in some school for alternative healing, but the main "sinner" here was the bamboo. The person undergoing the treatment gets to keep their underwear on, and for the most part is covered with a sheet. Although there isn't the embarrassing sexual element here, however, a more severe embarrassment prevailed in the room, relating to the bamboo.

The masseuse whipped out the first shoot and began rolling it on my back, like a rolling pin on pastry dough. She proceeded to roll it along my neck and limbs. But the bamboo wasn't good to me. It attempted to smooth things out, but instead crashed into my vertebrae, neck and shoulder blades. At Mitzpe Hayamim they promised that the "magic stick" adjusts itself precisely to all the body's curves and so on. In reality, it felt more like I was being run over by a callous Malaysian armored bamboo battalion.

"This treatment works better if you have more fat," the masseur apologized. I wanted to flip over, grab the bamboo shoot from her and break it in half.

The stick that has proved its value in building houses, furniture and even weapons is not pleasing for the back. At Mitzpe Hayamim they teach that "bamboo symbolizes "flexibility and strength, honesty and simplicity." To me, bamboo symbolizes foolishness.

The face massage was perhaps the most grueling stage of all. In a tsunami of almond oil, the masseuse rolled a tiny bamboo shoot over my face, slathering my ears, eyes, even invading my nostrils. I shut my eyes tightly and waited for the bamboo to return to its resting place on the warm stones. With bloodshot eyes and greasy eyelashes, like a lamb in an oily marinade, I went back to the lobby. "What happened to you?" asked the photographer. I told him we'd discuss it later.

In the lobby everyone was still brewing and brewing. Even after two days of shampooing and scrubbing, I found evidence of the foolishness I'd undergone in my ear.

Slice of heaven

Who would say no to being swept away into a stirring sensual dance? That's what is promised in the musical massage offered at the Villa Spa in North Tel Aviv. In a small orange two-story building on Yehuda Hamaccabi Street, with buses zooming by and releasing an endless stream of polluted emissions, the masters attempt to create a slice of heaven. The lighting is dim, and in every corner lay fake roses, scented candles, potpourri and crystals. With robe-clad women wandering around, the place looks like something between a dollhouse and a high-society brothel. The lady from the office made some herbal beverage for me.

Mike the masseur led me into a dark room. On the wall was an illuminated picture of a Thai man sitting in a lotus position with an empty expression on his face. Mike inquired what type of music I liked; after all, this was going to be a musical massage, costing NIS 290 for 50 minutes. I said jazz, blues, hip hop, classical, rock, pop. "So I'll put on world music," he said. He put on Oliver Shanti, and said the musician compiles mixes of world music. "There is music from all over the world," Mike enlightened me. "Even from Israel.

"Let's go with the flow," he said and slathered me with scentless almond oil, starting at the feet and working his way up. The treatment is performed with underwear and a concealing sheet, which is gradually peeled off. Mike is a masseur in his soul and he isn't ashamed to acknowledge it. What kind of massage does he do? "It's a mix. It's a massage of love. I do it out of love."

Evidently, Oliver Shanti's mix really is from all over the world. There were Jamaican sounds, Indian drums, and even some Arabic melodies. Actually, the music was somewhat annoying.

Mike popped knuckle after knuckle in my hands. At first I feared that I would leave the villa with something broken, but he, with his rich experience and undeniable talent, knows what he's doing. He even knows how to climb on top of people without their noticing. And so, I suddenly sensed that the palms of his hands had grown and lengthened and become heavier. I tried raising my head. Mike told me not to look. Are you stepping on me? Mike confirmed my suspicion.

"Don't let any man do this to you. No man should ever step on you," he commanded. So this should only be allowed in a musical massage? "Only I'm allowed. I'm the only one who does this kind of massage," he said, and sprang like a kung fu warrior onto the floor. "I'm hot," he exclaimed and wiped his shiny bald head with a towel. He claimed that he can knead a person to any kind of music. Shanti's mix had now taken a turn for the worse, with a horrid "ethnic" take on Vivaldi's "Four Seasons." I asked him what other music he had. "Himalayan trance,"' he said. "Put it on," I told him.

Mike himself was in a trance. He stepped, pressed, kneaded, drummed and played every muscle like a violin. It was difficult to keep track. The musical massage came to an end and the masseur wiped his pate again. "I am going to smoke half a cigarette," he said.