The Steamiest Massage You Can Get

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How can you get more benefits from a massage?  Show up early.  Relax.  Spend some time in the steam room. And book a hot towel massage.

Hot, steamed towels are showing up more and more in the spa treatment room.  It started when therapists used steamed towels to clean off your feet before working on them -- good for the therapist and you.  Soon they started putting hot towels on your back before working on it.

 But it's gone even further with treatments like the Aromatic Hot Towel Massage at River Rock Health Spa in Woodstock, New York.

15 Steamed Towels -- One Sensational Massage

Nina Zamorsky, a master massage therapist with 20 years experience, uses between 12 and 15 hot steamed towels throughout the treatment, before she massages any part of your body -- your back, your thighs (back and front), then across your decollettage and shoulders.

 "The warmth and moisture of the towels make your muscle tissue more pliable,” says Zamorsky.  “Plus it just feels good."   Indeed, this massage is sensational.  It smells nice, too.  Nina gives you a choice of  three different therapeutic essential oils — relaxing lavender, refreshing eucalyptus, or uplifting tangerine — and sprinkles it over the rolled up steamed towels that are rolled-up and ready in the hot towel cabi.  It's subtle, but even just inhaling the oil at the beginning gives the treatment an element of aromatherapy.


Zamorsky moves through the massage in a typical sequence, starting face down.  Zamorsky introduces the body to her touch by laying the towels she firmly presses them into place to help your body relax and get ready for deeper work. “It’s my way of saying hello,” she says.  Once the muscles are warmed, the towels come off for a massage that starts with broad expanses of muscles before moving into more detailed work.

  Ninety minutes of masterful massage later, I was ready to book my next treatment. 

Hot Towels and Cold Stones at Mohonk Mountain House

There are so many ways to overdo it at gorgeous Mohonk Mountain House — hiking, skating, rock scrambling — that the spa invented a special treatment for people who ache all over.  It starts with a nice 15-20 minute soak in warm water infused with anti-inflammatory magnesium salts and sweet birch essential oil.  The bubbling hydrotherapy tub is lit a soothing blue, and the water that never cools off the way it would in a bath at home.  It helps you relax even as the muscles are being prepared for deep work.

Shiloh Pileggi is a 30-year massage therapy veteran who created this service to facilitate deep work, and I was fortunate enough to receive the treatment from her.  The treatment starts with a back massage with  Yoga Balm, made from organic oils, wild frankincense and Yakima peppermint that has a delicious cooling effect on your warm skin.   

After more back massage with an anti-inflammatory arnica oil, the therapist passes cool, round stones over your skin, which sounds funny but actually feels refreshing after the hot bath.  There’s a therapeutic reason for this: the contrast in temperatures between hot and cool helps stimulate your lymphatic system, which removes waste from the body.

  Shiloh actually had two different temperatures ready -- one just cool, and one in icy water -- because different people have different tolerances. Next come warm steamed towels — another temperature change that feels quite delicious. 

You flip over, get a heated neck wrap, and the therapist bends your leg at the knee so she can reach the entire leg and incorporate stretches that help her go deeper with less discomfort. This treatment spends quite a bit of time on the legs, in particular those pesky super-tight IT bands that goes down the outside of both thighs.  I felt unusually grounded after this treatment, and I would get it again even if I wasn’t sore.

Leave time to enjoy the chilled blueberry white tea and grapes the therapist gives you after the service.  The relaxation rooms echo the Victorian feel of the whole resort, and windows look out onto the mountaintop setting.