Learning the Art of the Balinese Massage

I just got a massage. Or so I’m told. To be honest, after the first five minutes I was asleep, and if my session would have stopped halfway through, I probably wouldn’t have noticed—but that’s the point. A treatment geared towards ultimate relaxation, the Balinese massage is making its rounds as a fan-favorite among the spa-happy and relaxation-oriented. And while Bali’s Southeast Asian neighbors in Thailand have long held the crown of tropical massage magicians, it seems the small Indonesian island isn’t far behind.

Straying away from the deep-tissue stimulation popular in some other massage variations, the Balinese massage therapy is one that rests its laurels on firm but relaxing sliding movements and applied palm pressure. Honing in on alleviating muscle tension, the massage focuses on the shoulders, back, neck and legs. And for a person who often finds the reflexology-based massages a bit too biting, it’s a welcome broadening of my massage horizons. But lying down and falling asleep isn’t necessarily the best way to get to know the treatment, and so to fill in my hazily euphoric lapses of consciousness I enlisted the help of I Nyoman Suwendra, the director at The Spa at The Legian Bali.

But what I’m interested in first isn’t the treatment, there will be time to get to that (and hopefully back on the massage table), but the culture of massage on an island that has become, and is becoming, synonymous with it. Suwendra tells me that massage, or urut as it is called in Balinese, has long been a part of Balinese life, but not necessarily in the same way that the therapy is being touted across lux resorts in the modern age. Traditionally a rice-centric culture, the Balinese have long been working the muddy rice plots of the tiered tropical steps of a UNESCO-protected landscape from sun-up to sun-down, and as anyone who has stepped knee-deep into the mud with one of the many heavy wooden farm tools knows, it’s no walk in the park.

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