I suck at relaxing. During my downtime, if I lounge outside or just read a book, my mind is saying, You should be working. You should be more productive. What about that essay you were working on? Should you apply for another job on Upwork? WHY ARE YOU WASTING VALUABLE TIME? Even when I think I’m calm, I’m not calm. My ex and I once played a relaxation game at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. To play the game you had to wear a crown that contained electrodes that read your brainwaves. Whoever had the calmest mind won. My ex and I sat at opposite ends of a long table that had a mini soccer field painted onto the surface. A ball in the middle of the table would roll towards whichever player had the most active brainwaves, and then the person with the calm mind would score a goal. My ex and I put on the crowns, turned on the game, and the ball bee-lined at me. I said I wasn’t ready and we should try again. Three times that bloody ball shot straight at me. Only once did it slightly falter, but then just careened right through the goal. My ex asked if I was super anxious. “I’m not!” I said. “I feel great. This is me calm.”
So when I came to Bali—practically Ground Zero for the Wellness and Relaxation movement––I told myself I should try to relax. Be on island time, right? And luckily my sister, Mary, a Bali local, has made it her personal mission to help me relax.
For our first stop on Georgia’s Road to Relaxation, Mary and I went to Lily’s Spa in Ubud. If Bali is the birthplace of wellness and mindfulness then Ubud is the epicenter. Thanks to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love, Ubud has exploded onto the scene as the place where everyone comes to find themselves, rejuvenate themselves, etc. etc. Yoga studios are more plentiful than Starbucks in the States and nearly every storefront has something to do with a spa, aromatherapy, reflexology, scalp massage, etc. with yoga studios, spas, and massage parlors. If you’re going to force relaxation upon yourself, Ubud is a good place to start.
Because Mary has lived in Bali for over a decade, I’ve been saying yes to anything she recommends. Following her lead, I chose the traditional Balinese Boreh treatment. The pamphlet described it as “a therapeutic blood circulation” massage for one hour followed by a boreh scrub and a flower bath. The spa was busy so the receptionist said we would have our massages together. I told Mary that the last time I got a couples massage was with my ex, and I couldn’t stop laughing the whole time. By the end of the hour long massage I was more tense than I had been at the beginning. My ex never offered to take me to another massage.
The massage room was in a bamboo lined structure behind the main spa building. The masseuse led me into a room with two massage tables and a large stone tub with a shower head. She gestured a sarong on the table and handed me small bag with rolled up cloth. She smiled and left, sliding the bamboo door shut.
The rolled up cloth was a pair of black, disposable knickers. I thought of a sexy, see-through diaper. I didn’t know if I was supposed to wear them or if they were optional. Did I need to keep my bra on? What about the shower? I was sweaty and grimy from walking around. At our first hotel in Ubud, I remembered hearing Mary say something about a shower and then a massage. Or was it the other way around?
I pulled back the bamboo door. The masseuse looked confused to see me again. “Am I showering and then putting these on?” I stretched the knickers in the air. The masseuse came inside the room. “Do I wear these and lay down?” I asked again. “Or shower first?”
“Yes to all three?”
“These,” she tugged at the knickers. “Wear and shower.”
Mary is fluent in Bahasa Indonesian so I’ve been relying on her to do a lot of the talking. I have a bad habit of responding in German (the only other language I know) whenever someone speaks to me in anything other than English. I’m also overly cautious about insulting someone because I can’t understand them. I smiled and nodded at the masseuse even though I still didn’t know what I was supposed to do. She left and I stripped down to my bra and knickers. I was just about to go full monty and jump in the stone tub when Mary walked in. I asked her about the shower. She looked at me like I was nuts, which I am because I am a person incapable of relaxing.
Finally unclothed and under our sarongs, Mary and I waited for the massages to begin. I pointed at a birthmark on my back. I asked my masseuse not too touch it because it’s incredibly painful with even the slightest amount of pressure.
One of my biggest fears during a massage is that I’ll start to smile from nervousness, but that the smile will be interpreted as being turned on and that’s just uncomfortable for everyone involved. Then, when trying not to smile so that I don’t look like a horndog, all I can think about is Monica Geller from Friends and how she moans sexually during massages. Then my mind turns to her whole “1, 2, 1, 2, 3, 3, 5, 4, 3, 2, 2, a 2, 4, 6, 2, 4, 6, 4, 2, 2, 4, 7, 5, 7, 6, 7, 7, 7” bit. From that point on it’s all downhill and I’m bouncing off the table from laughter.
With this massage, however, even when Monica Geller did pop into my head I was able to maintain my composure. For once I was calm and relax without even trying! Which, that means I was actually relaxed, right? Because I wasn’t trying to relax? I laughed a bit when the masseuse had me turn onto my back and she pulled the sarong down to my pelvis. I’ve never been so exposed during past massages. She massaged underneath and between my breasts and all I could think was, Don’t laugh, don’t laugh, don’t laugh, this isn’t awkward, this is natural, don’t think about Friends––oh but isn’t that 7, 7, 7 part funny? STOP THINKING ABOUT FRIENDS.
The boreh scrub is a mixture of herbs and spices meant to increase blood circulation. It felt like the masseuse was rubbing wet sand all over me, but when she brushed it off it was like she was peeling off my old skin (not in a Game of Thrones kind of way, but more of a I’m a brand new snake! kind of way). I have no idea if the scrub increased my blood circulation or what that even means, but if you want to try your own boreh scrub at home I recommend it:
4 teaspoons of sandalwood powder
2 teaspoons of clove finely grounded
2 teaspoons of ginger powder
1 teaspoon of cinnamon powder
1 teaspoon of coriander powder
2 teaspoons of rice powder or flour
1 teaspoon of nutmeg powder
1 teaspoon of mineral water or your favorite flower water
Combine all the ingredients together and pour in a bowl or glass container.
Gently massage this exfoliating scrub all over your body before you shower with a gentle body wash and rinse.
Repeat once or twice a month.
At the end of the massage the masseuse led me to another massage room, where a stone bathtub had been filled with warm water, the surface covered with floating marigolds and carnations (it’s actually a flower called patcha, but I can’t find out what that means in English, but they looked like carnations). I climbed into the tub and narrated the entire process to the masseuse: “So I just climb in this totally naked, yeah? Like, I can’t take the towel in with me? Do I wait until you’re gone––oh screw it. And now I’m getting in the tub. Oh this rim is very high. And now I’m stretching. Man this is attractive––oh my goddddddd I’m climbing into the tub, trying not to slip.” Once I was finally in the tub the masseuse set a cup of tea on the flower. She pointed at the shower head. “Flower then shower,” she said. She left the room.
I am here to tell everyone that we have been doing baths wrong this entire time. A giant bathtub full of warm water and flowers is the ONLY way people should shower. For the first time since I was ten I felt so relaxed. I mean, so chilled out that the fact that I didn’t know when the masseuse was coming back or when Mary would be done (because my cloths were still in our original room) didn’t bother me at all! I just floated in the water (because the tub was too long and deep for me to rest on the edges) and swirled the flowers with my hands and feet. It was AMAZING.
At this point I was feeling pretty confident about my chilling out capabilities. I’m in Bali! I’m traveling, which I love to do. I’m on an adventure. And, not to suddenly take this down a depressing path, I’ve lost a lot over the past fourteen months and I feel like I’ve gotten better at letting go/trying to appreciate life more. With all of these factors combined, maybe now I’ll finally be able to layback and relax!
Flash forward to the next day when Mary and I decided to be extra indulgent and get another massage. We went to a spa in Seminyak, where you could get a variety of massages: scalp, hands, feet, full body, etc. Mary signed up for a foot massage. Since I write and text a lot (oh hey there, Millennial) I went for hands.
Two masseuses took Mary and me to a dimly lit back room. There were about fifteen plushy lounge chairs, half of which were full of people getting foot or scalp massages. Two people were either sleeping or they were just that relaxed.
Right away my nerves shot up. There are other people around? I started laughing as the masseuse led me to my chair. He kicked the footstool out and moved the headrest back so that I was laying almost vertical. I stared at the chandelier on the ceiling. Don’t laugh, don’t think about Monica Geller. Don’t laugh, don’t think about Monica Geller. As soon as the masseuse grabbed my arm I realized my mistake with choosing a hand massage: with a foot massage he would just be staring at my feet, with a hand massage he would see my face and my giant-ass grin.
While my left arm was massaged, I drummed the fingers of my right hand. At some point I realized I was so tense that my back was arched out of the chair. I laughed when the masseuse pulled at my skin; not because it tickled but because I thought about how normally I don’t want a guy noticing whether or not my arms are flabby and here’s this man just pulling at me like I’m Gumby. He asked if it tickled. I lied and said yes. Then I had to laugh every time he pulled at my skin or else (in my diluted mind) he would know I was lying. A lady in a neighboring chair started snoring and that just made me laugh even more until I had to bite my lip.
Before he started working on my right arm I tried a new tactic to relax: I pulled out my cellphone, turned on my music, and listened to the dulcet sounds of Jason Derulo’s “Talk Dirty To Me.” It was better than Enya!
By the time Mary and I finished, she was blissed out and I was as rigged as a tree. Maybe Lily’s Spa was a fluke or maybe I have finally mastered the art of not laughing during a massage where the masseuse and I aren’t staring each other in the face. Personally, I’ve always thought I should be allowed to choose my own soothing massage music, and next time I will default to Mr. Derulo once again.
Next on the Road to (forced) Relaxation: scalp massage and foot massage. My god I hope I don’t accidentally kick some poor masseuse in the face.
*Recipe and directions from http://www.organic-beauty-recipes.com/balinese-boreh-scrub-recipe/