Balinese massage training methods and spirituality are creating a generation of therapists we could all learn from, discovers Maria Mason.
I have been fortunate enough to spend a month in Bali researching the deeply spiritual beliefs of its people and their traditional Balinese massage and body therapies. Bali is the island of the gods, a paradise where you find inner stillness. One of the breathtaking beaches I visited even had a statue of Ganesha where the locals came to pay respect, bringing gifts of flowers and incense.
Massage is everywhere in Bali, from the beach therapists walking the length of the golden sandy shores, to the destination spas where a slice of paradise awaits the moment you step through the beautifully carved wooden doors. This is the second most sought-after occupation on this tropical island, only pipped to the post by tourism in the larger hotels. You can expect to pay anything from £5 to £80 for a two-hour treatment depending on location – beach, street or spa.
Many of the girls on the beaches and street salons learned their craft from generations of family masseurs. Balinese people’s ability to retain their inner healthy glow and radiant skin is down to a time-honoured practice of using natural ingredients. But today, things are changing and training schools are being set up to offer proper certification to allow the girls more choice of where to work and how to earn better salaries.
I attended a training course in Balinese massage run by a great lady called Penny Ellis. She owns and runs the Bali International Spa Academy in Sanur, which is recognised and accredited by Cibtac, Babtac and the Indonesian Ministry of Education and Culture. All the women working there are Balinese and have a complete understanding of the traditional treatments they are teaching. Each school day starts with a yoga meditation class, to get you in the right frame of mind for learning. The women teach on a one- to-one basis and are patient and knowledgeable in all their treatments. They’re able to answer all questions and want you to really understand why the treatments work.
Balinese massage takes some of its influences from India, China and Asia. It starts with a foot-cleansing ritual followed by a massage with deep tissue strokes thatbegins with applied pressureover a batik. The therapists massage from toes to scalp then apply a traditional scrub using powders, herbs and plants. A flower bath and an application of a beautiful frangipani lotion complete the two-hour treatment.
You definitely get a feeling for the spiritual side of this massage and the respect the Indonesian therapists have for their clients. They start the therapy with meditation and breathing to relax both them and their client to create the right energy. I love being a therapist and having treatments and I think it’s important we remember in our own businesses that our energy is just as important as our technique.
The Bali Spa & Wellness Association broke the world record for most simultaneous massages last May on Sanur Beach, with 1,000 therapists, all dressed in matching purple and blue, each massaging people for 15 minutes – testament to the number of talented and dedicated therapists living on the island.
When I asked why the Balinese people are so very happy the answer was always because they value their beautiful island and all that they have. Being a therapist is without a doubt one of the best occupations to have and that sentiment shone through in every person I spoke with during my time in Indonesia.
Maria Mason is the owner of Bristol salon Beauty Time, a three-time Professional Beauty Award-winning salon, which opened in 2007. She regularly travels the world in search of treatment and service inspiration for the business.