East Meets the Wild West

While the days of the wimpy massage may be fading, a growing number of us are looking to the spas for relief from nebulous complaints like bottled up stress, fatigue and anxiety. But for some, the thought of a massage conjures up images of a buff Swedish masseur named Hans wrestling our muscles into submission until we beg for mercy. So what do you do when you want more than a feel-good massage but prefer to pass on a deep tissue rubdown that has you clinging to the massage table?

Look to the East. Eastern massage modalities, such as shiatsu or Thai massage, focus less on attacking a specific physical ailment and more on identifying and alleviating the source of that ailment, says Sarah Williams, massage therapist and manager of Millennium Day Spa & Salon. Sarah, who fuses Eastern techniques with traditional Western therapeutic mainstays depending on a client’s needs, explains that Eastern therapies are born from the centuries-old belief in energy flows. As energy travels along the body’s meridians (energy channels), it can become “stuck” or imbalanced and manifests as any variety of malaise from back pain to low energy levels. So before you make that next massage appointment, consider an Eastern-based therapy. It may be just what the doctor ordered.


More than just fancy footwork, ashiatsu combines elements of barefoot shiatsu, Thai massage and Western therapies to deliver a deeply penetrating back massage. While holding onto overhead wooden bar supports, ashiatsu practitioners use body weight and foot strokes to apply compression along strategic points in back muscles. This deep tissue workout addresses both energy flows and musculoskeletal issues.
Get it at:
Golden Door Spa at The Boulders, Carefree
Healing Arts Day Spa, Mesa

Tui Na

From the 3,000-year-old practice of traditional Chinese medicine, tui na (“twee nah”) focuses on the body’s energy systems. Practitioners use hand techniques such as rolling, grasping, pressing and rubbing methods to stimulate energy gateway points throughout the body and unblock areas where ailments are lodged. Therapists may also use herbal-based Chinese liniments to warm or cool the skin depending on the client’s needs. Practiced in Chinese hospitals, tui na treats everything from digestive disorders to golfer’s elbow.
Get it at:
Agave, the Arizona Spa, Scottsdale
Phoenix Institute of Herbal Medicine & Acupuncture, Phoenix

Tibetan Massage

Tibetan oil massage practitioners use both hands to deliver a slow, symmetrical and deeply penetrating therapy that allows muscles to gently release on their own. Through concentrated breathing and energy exchange, both the therapist and the guest will go into a slight meditative state during the treatment. Tibetan massage has been used for centuries to improve blood circulation and promote detoxification.
Get it at:
VH Spa at Hotel Valley Ho, Scottsdale

Thai Massage

Traditionally performed on the floor in loose clothing, the 2,500-year-old practice of Thai massage combines yoga-like stretches and rhythmic compression with gentle rocking to move toward a state of calmness and spiritual well-being. The therapist works along the body’s major energy channels to release blocked energy, relieve tension, and increase awareness and tranquility.
Get it at:
MyoSymmetrix, Scottsdale


An east-west fusion of water therapy and shiatsu, watsu takes place in a pool of warm water that not only helps to relax muscles but with its freeing of movement, is an ideal medium for passive stretching. Gentle, gradual twists and pulls relieve the pressure the spine places on nerves and helps to fix any damage caused to organs serviced by those nerves. In water, participants can support and brace stretches with their own body.
Get it at:
Santuary Spa, Paradise Valley
Aji Spa at the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass, Chandler

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