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Health Talk 

Salons and spas are known for their abilities to make people look better, but spas also offer therapeutic services that make people feel better, both physically and mentally. Ruth Marie Sperier, senior massage therapist and trainer at Belladonna Day Spa, (2900 Magazine St., 891-4393; www.belladonnadayspa.com) discusses that spot's new Thai Table Massage, which provides comfort to anyone who receives one but also is a good introduction for people who may be timid about getting their first massage.

Q: Why is massage so therapeutic?

A: It gets people back in touch with themselves. It helps you to slow your breath rate down. It reduces stress. It brings your heart rate down. It brings blood pressure down. It increases blood circulation, and it increases some lymphatic circulation. Number one is it helps to reduce stress. It helps you to relax; it helps you to become focused.

Q: Mentally as well as physically?

A: Absolutely. Some people, as soon as they get on the table, they relax. They get under the sheet, they snuggle up, their eyes close and they're ready to receive.

Q: What about afterwards?

A: Usually the smile is larger then -- from ear to ear. You can even tell [their stress is reduced] in their voice. When you first have dialogue with them they have a certain speed of speaking. Once they get off the table Š they're speaking slower, they're taking deeper breaths, their voice is not so high pitched. Their face is not so pinched or stern; it's softer, gentler.

Q: Being a massage therapist must be a great job to have.

A: It is. I get to go home at the end of the day knowing that I've done well. I get immediate feedback. Not too many physicians get that.

Q: Tell me about the Thai Table Massage.

A: What's very comfortable about Thai massage is you don't even have to get undressed. You do need to come in comfortable, flexible clothing. We don't call it "Lazy Man's Yoga" for nothing. We will flex the arms and flex the legs. We use a full range of motion.

Q: What's the theory behind it.

A: It helps to relax you, helps to reduce stress, and brings your body back into a state of equilibrium so your heart rate slows down, your blood pressure goes down and your breath slows down -- the same as traditional massage. The added benefit is that people who are new to massage and are uncomfortable with undressing don't have to Š and they still receive the maximum benefits.

Q: What are those benefits?

A: Thai focuses more on compression and range of motion. It elongates the muscles and opens up the joints and helps the muscles return to a normal resting rate. Many times Š our muscles are constricted from either repetitive motions or habitual postures. Once you experience a Thai massage, it opens you up. When you're open and balanced, you are going to feel more centered and more focused.

Q: Is this a combination of touch and pressure massage?

A: It's not digital pressure like you would find in shiatsu. It's some palm compression, some forearm compression, and then range of motion for arms, legs and torso.

Q: How often do people need to get this done to stay in balance?

A: I suggest people come in and get it done once a month. People think it might be expensive, but I say, what is quality of life worth to you? I think Americans as a whole are beginning to become aware of the quality of life. Once you have that, you are able to function at a more optimum level. Europeans have understood this for a long time; we're just starting to understand.

Q: Do you tell people things they can do to maintain themselves between sessions?

A: We will always give people suggestions as to what to do for their home care. You want the combination of your therapist working with you and your home care for optimal results. There are a lot of things you can do at home, whether it's using certain relief gels to take care of sore muscles, soaking in a tub or even using a candle for meditation. I like to encourage everyone to change their bathroom into a mini spa room. It's not that hard. You can get your candles, get your music, get your bath salts or bath oils, get your eye pads. You want to fill all your senses, whether it's cucumber on your eyes, sea salts in your bath, listening to music and soaking in bath salts. Get the whole environment so you can relax, get into focus and regain your center.

Q: You say the Thai massage is a good way for people to start. What else should they know? A: When someone comes in we always have them fill out a form. We always take into consideration their health, so if anyone has a rotator cuff injury or a reconditioned knee or disk trouble or anything, we ask that they give us that information. It doesn't mean you can't have the massage, it just means there are some maneuvers we won't do or we may alter the massage a little bit. We're here to take care of people; we want you to feel good. We want you to experience being grounded again, being centered. Once you feel that, you won't want to lose it.

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