I've always fancied trying a hot stone massage, but they often seem to be prohibitively expensive and until recently, were largely to be found on the treatment menus of pricey spa resorts.
So, having already encountered the delightful Tash at the Sensory, I was interested to note that hot stone massages there came in at less than forty quid, which is easily what you'll pay for the standard version in the city centre, so despite it sounding a little like something they'd do to witches in Medieval times, I booked.
I'm definitely now a convert, not so much for a soothing and relaxing experience, but for the kind of times when your back feels like a big tangle of knotted rope and no amateurish efforts from friends or lovers are going to relieve the pain. As far as I'm concerned, hot stone massages are the efficient, fast way to sort out scrunched-up back muscles.
I'm not sure what I was expecting from the stones themselves – probably something quite large being heated up using, say, hot water or... something. Who knows. What was actually entailed was something more akin to one of those bread making machines that were fashionable a few years ago – a sort of table-top electrical device which could have been made by Tefal or Swan or some other distinctly unenchanting white goods brand. The stones were a lot smaller than I imagined, too, small enough for Tash to hold in her hand and basically use to deliver a massage, as if they were her hands and fists.
So the difference is not so much in the techniques of massage used, but simply in the heat – which was a bit of a shock and slightly too much for me to start with, but which can be controlled to an extent by putting the stones in cool water (I think; I was face-down at this point). Applying the hot stones in this way basically does what a nice, relaxing, warming massage does in terms of heating your muscles and causing them to relax – but it does so a damn sight quicker and more thoroughly, so if you're dealing with, for instance, a tree-root back like mine it can release hideous amounts of pain and tension in a fairly short period of time.
As I've kind of said, this isn't the most relaxing or pleasurable experience to be had on a massage table, but it is bloody effective and, certainly in this case, not much more expensive than a normal back and shoulder massage.
The one downside to the second of my two visits for hot stone massages here was the jobsworths who run Sunlight House – a rather impressive 1930s building on Quay Street. Apparently chaining bikes to their faux-heritage lamp-posts on the stone flagged area near the entrance is Forbidden, leaving little option but the use the less convenient – both for cyclist and pedestrian – signpost on the main street itself. Take note, Bannatyne's, your landlords are busy pissing off the customers.
Contacts: Bannatyne's Health Club, Sunlight House, Quay Street, Manchester, M3 3JU. Tel: 0161 8323227. Hot stone massage £38