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A Dose of Tranquillity to Counteract Your Holiday Headaches

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The frenzy began during that last trip to the mall early Christmas Eve and didn’t end until the final football game the day after the New Year began.

I vaguely remember eating Christmas dinner somewhere in between, and I think I bought a new dress for New Year’s Eve. Automatic pilot must have taken over when I attended the last of the many family dinners, engaged in friendly conversations at a few small get-togethers and prepared for another holiday extravaganza because precise descriptions of times and places elude me. Yet in all the frenzy, I never stopped accepting more invitations.

You could say it was a typical holiday.

And like most people, as 1995 rolled in, the holidays ended and life resumed, I found myself stressed out like never before. Work was just a day away and I was stricken with a bad case of the too-much-food-and-not-enough-sleep blues.

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Looking for a way to relieve my woes, I turned to massage. Although the thought of lying naked on a table as a professional masseuse kneaded my muscles until they were as soft as Play-Doh had never appealed to me in the past (if a fire broke out, what would you do?), but a sore neck, dull pain in the crown of my head and an overloaded holiday made me put aside any reservations.

A telephone call was all it took, and I had an appointment with Rachael at Massage Masters in Sherman Oaks.

The center’s brochure boasted, “Welcome to the wonderful world of relaxation"--something I had never before experienced and was nervously anticipating.

Dressed in a white terry-cloth robe, I waited for my masseuse, Rachael Cudlitz, in the women’s locker room. She tapped on the door, gave me a warm smile and led me to a dimly lit room. Sounds of leaves rustling and water flowing played softly on a stereo system and eased some of my anxiety about my first encounter.

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I relaxed even more as I slipped onto the massage table and placed my face into a doughnut-shaped pillow designed to perfectly align the spine.

The first thing Rachael said as she placed her warm, well-oiled hands on my back was, “Wow, you have a lot of tension in your back.”

No kidding.

But in minutes, her knowing hands began to move over my back, massaging knotted muscles in my neck and working her way down to the lower curve of my spine. She stretched the muscle tissue slowly, her nimble fingers moving in a circular motion, only releasing pressure when I groaned in pain.

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“You know, you have a lot of layers of stress,” she said softly. I told her of my holiday madness and found that I wasn’t the only one in need of relaxation.

Rachael, a massage therapist for two years, said holiday seasons are usually quiet with people out of town or entertaining family. But this year, her workload increased from four to eight hours of massage daily, which she attributes to stress over the holidays.

“It has really been unusual for us to be this busy,” she said. “But I was talking to another therapist and because stress management is very popular today, we thought that people were probably focusing more on themselves.”

More mothers with young children who throw out their hips while carrying their kids are coming in for a relaxing break from their hectic lives. High-pressured lawyers, their jaws tight with stress, and computer and phone users are also coming to have their bodies soothed by her touch.

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Rachael typically sees two types of stress--physical and emotional. “Emotional stress can be more painful to work out because physical stress lasts for the hours that you work out, but on an emotional level, the stress builds up and it is there all morning and night,” she said.

“Massage is very relaxing,” she continued, as she hit a sensitive area underneath my shoulder blade, drawing a slight grimace. “And it is nice to have that physical contact with someone.”

Yvonne Masser, a 27-year-old mother and client of Rachael’s, made an appointment for next week hoping to soothe some of her stress symptoms.

“I have two young boys, a lot of sleepless nights and playful days, and the massages really take me away from it all,” Masser said.

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Holding down a managerial job and tending to her sons, ages 3 and 1, drove Masser to include massage in her weekly relaxation routine. But the holidays brought a new urgency. “It has been really busy this holiday season and massages really calm me down,” she said.

Another client of the massage center bought massages for relatives in town for the holidays. “About 10 of them came in a matter of days,” Rachael said with a laugh.

Sounds like their holiday must have been similar to mine, I thought, as we ended our session and I headed to the dressing room.

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Half an hour and $29 later, my body felt fluid and my head a little lighter. Rachael sent me off to begin my New Year just right.


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