My name is Jody, and I am a massage addict. I have had lovely ones in Los Angeles, muscle-busters in Byron Bay, Arab-flavoured joy in Jordan, inspiring rejuvenation in Israel and the utterly blissful in Barbados. I have been pummeled in St Petersburgh and un-kricked in Kuala Lumpur.
I have very good reasons however for permanently craving the hands-ons magic that the best therapist can muster - I am not some cupcake-chomping, facial-fixated, pamper-junkie.
I have had major back problems for a decade. If you want to play trashed-body Top Trumps, I have severe arthritis in my lower spine, two prolapsed discs, piriformis syndrome, sciatica, with nerve damage in my left leg as a result of my wayward vertebrae into the bargain. Then factor in being the kind of journalist who struggles to log off from their laptop and you have typing 24/7 into the bargain - I've had two serious bouts of debilitating RSI and really don't want it again.
I have had various amounts of physio over the years which have generally helped, though you only get a max of around 10 sessions at any one time either privately or on the NHS, acupuncture (useless), osteopathy (okay as they eventually guessed after six years that I might have prolapsed discs and suggested I got an MRI), chiropractic (okay) and various airy-fairy nonsenses that just cost me loads of money and left me frustrated with no relief from the pain.
Pilates and regular gym sessions keep everything functioning and a daily Tramadol helps too. But what I need to feel like a normal person is regular massage, which sadly isn't available for the likes of me on the NHS - even though anecdotal evidence says it's increasingly being used in hospitals and hospices to help patients cope with illness because a lot of the benefits are now being scientifically recognised.
Believe me, it helps. The kind of massages I am talking about though are not the frivolous strokey-feely sort with whale noises as a soundtrack, they can actually hurt. They need to. The therapist needs to unkink and realign muscle fibres that have been inadvertently trained through injury/bad posture/overwork/strain into spasming in a certain fashion - which can throw your body totally out of kilter. Firm, expert pressure can bring even the most tired and aching physique back to life.
When my problems were finally diagnosed, a doctor found I'd lost two inches of muscle in my left leg because of the way I'd been walking in a subconscious attempt to cope with the constant agony. Along with specific physio exercises, proper therapeutic massage really helped me get back to relative normality and maintenance sessions are invaluable to my wellbeing.
Sometimes I want a more basic muscle-smashing approach, sometimes a proper physio massage, sometimes I indulge myself with a five-star spa experience and sometimes I'm happy with a quick 20 minute rubdown sat in a chair.
Whichever I choose I always feel so much better afterwards, even if it was uncomfortable during the treatment (the stretching, bending and being physically walked on during a Thai massage is not for the faint-hearted) but I would give anything to be able to afford an hour-long massage every single week.
Even if you don't have rock-hard shoulders, a bunched-up back, frozen-ass arms and a body that needs ironing, anyone can truly benefit from massage. As I hobble off into 2013, I can't stress enough if you really want someone you love to have a happy Christmas, or a brilliant New Year, treat them to a proper session. Not only will they love you for it, they will feel utterly brilliant after.
MY TOP PLACES FOR MASSAGE IN LONDON
Wokingham Complementary Therapies - www.complementary-therapies.biz
The wonderful Karen and Sue visit the offices of The Huffington Post UK to give us vital in-chair massages once a fortnight to fight the after-effects of laptop abuse. They're lifesavers.
London Thai Therapy, Marylebone - www.thailondontherapy.co.uk
The lovely Yanapat has truly magic hands and I can't recommend her Thai massage enough - though any permutation she prescribes (sport, hot stone, etc or a personally-tailored mix) will sort you right out. My new favourite regular haunt.
Thai Square Spa, Covent Garden - http://www.thaisquarespa.com/
The best spa massage I have had in sometime in stunningly beautiful surroundings. Book here and you get some delicious tea and a heavenly footbath ceremony as part of the session. Plus they have some amazingly cheap deals for Christmas and the New Year despite its five-star services - this gorgeous place provides massage luxury.
Mac's, Maida Vale (with another branch in Primrose Hill) - http://www.macs-salon.co.uk/
Another regular place for me, their holistic aromatherapy or La Stone deep tissue massage is brilliant - and you get a glass of fizz after to properly relax. Really wonderful.
APPI, Kilburn (with branches in Hampstead and Wimbledon) - http://www.ausphysio.com/
The best sports and physio massage in town (company co-founder Glenn Withers sorted out some of Team GB at the Olympics) but it WILL hurt! Ask for Tegan too if you can - she's incredible.
Relax, Brewer Street, Soho (another branch in Covent Garden) - http://www.relax.org.uk/
Great place to just pop in for even just 10 minutes (or up to 45 mins) if you need to unwind in a hurry with an acupressure chair massage. Full body massages and a range of treatments (Swedish, La Stone for an hour or more are also topnotch but need booking in advance.) I've been going for years and I love it.