Whether you call it wellness, wellbeing or self-care, there’s no doubt that the health industry has grown into something less about quick fixes and more about achieving a longterm balanced lifestyle, both physically and mentally. In recent years we’ve seen numerous companies and business embracing this outlook across London and one of our newest discoveries is MASAJ; a contemporary massage studio dedicated to redefining the concept of massage and providing a personalised bodywork service to city dwellers.
Founded by former publisher Scarlet Crawley, the MASAJ studio is a small, modern space in the heart of Hackney designed to be a peaceful haven in the middle of the city. The MASAJ team are committed to using natural, beautiful products that really work, and even blend their own range of massage oils to make each session personal.
The MASAJ belief is that massage is a powerful tool that can help to cleanse both the body and the mind whilst restoring anatomical balance and combating the negative effects of city living. We sat down with Scarlet to find out more about the story behind the space and how the power of touch can best be incorporated into our modern lifestyle.
Getting a massage is sometimes regarded as a privileged treatment or something reserved only for special occasions. Do you think this attitude is changing as people become more invested in ‘self-care’ and wellness?
Absolutely. In our experience, there’s been a real shift in the way people see massage and wellbeing as a whole. Many of our clients and community would traditionally have seen it as a luxury, but are now working it into their busy schedules and sometimes-tight budgets; stay-at-home dads, the health-focused millennial generation, people who work in jobs, like hospitality, which can take a real toll on the body. The beauty of our accessibility is we’re always finding and introducing new demographics into the MASAJ community.
With the Government’s push to raise awareness around wellness, and the importance of mental and physical health, helped by an increase in funding, there’s been a palpable change in the country’s attitude to beneficial exercises and practices.
How did you start in the wellness industry?
I spent years working in publishing and even though I enjoyed it and I think I was pretty good at it, something was missing. I began noticing how being at a desk all day and working into the evenings, meaning I was getting a bad back and didn’t have much of a social life, was affecting my brain and body. That’s why I took a step back and decided it needed to change. I enrolled in an Introduction To Massage evening course, which I’d always been interested in but mainly to ensure I occasionally got out of the office on time and it turned out it was not just fun, but something I was truly passionate about.
As well as being a positive focus outside of my then-job, it totally fascinated me and I knew I was going to massage once I qualified. As I learned more about the body, I realised the strengths of massage as a preventative rather than just a reactionary treatment, and wanted to do more to push that message. So I took the plunge and moved to Barcelona, massaged everyone for cheap, every hour of the day for a year, to get maximum experience, then moved back to UK and launched MASAJ.
What are the most common misconceptions about massage?
The most damaging is the idea you should come for a massage when you’re already in pain. Of course it can be useful, but it’s most important as a body MOT and check-in. It’s an understandable belief as it’s often still seen as a luxury due to the typically higher price point, but it’s not the right way to look at it.
That relates to another major misconception; that more money spent means a higher quality massage. My priority is the therapists, which I choose based on skill and qualifications, through a stringent vetting process. While some of the incredibly expensive in-house spas spend a huge amount of money on interiors and other focuses, rather than focusing on the treatments themselves. Instead MASAJ has a clean, comfortable, contemporary, minimal aesthetic that creates a calm space without unnecessary costs.
The industry has some bad connotations — namely nods to sex — and even, on a smaller scale, people have preferences for which gender therapist they have. That’s why I wanted to create a studio that celebrates the power of touch, without imposing gender or sexuality through a varied team of highly qualified therapists.
MASAJ is a unique space that combines an appreciation for considered design with a relaxed atmosphere; avoiding being too fussy or elite. When did you realise there was a gap for this kind of space in the industry?
While I was living in Spain, I did lot of market research into the London wellness scene, specifically around massage. There was a clear gap in the market for an affordable and approachable studio, so I wanted that to be the MASAJ USP. We’ve come up against various challenges but we try and stick to our original ethos and keep it at realistic price points.
I’d always have chosen a minimal space so it’s a bonus that it enables us to keep costs down, though in the future I’d like to expand that minimal aesthetic into interesting spaces that aid escapism away from the busy London.
Whilst massage is a practical treatment, you often mention both the mind and the body. Do you think that taking care of our bodies can have a direct impact on our mental health as well?
100%. The escape that comes with a treatment gives you the space to check in with yourself, allowing your subconscious thoughts to come into the conscious — it’s a case of clocking in to check out. It gives you time to realise your back is hurting or you’re feeling stressed and anxious. That’s why our consultations are so comprehensive; we want to know what hand you write with as well as how well you’re sleeping, so we can do the best for each individual.
Massage is ultimately a beautiful way to connect the body and mind, bringing you into your holistic self. Yoga has similar benefits, which is why we collaborate with studios and do team sessions with Au Natch on a weekly basis.
Are there any particular issues that you notice specifically affect those who live in the city?
Everyone is constantly forward-facing — on the tube, at a desk — and because of the London pace of London, we don’t counter the physical patterns our bodies get into. Everyone’s exhausted so we want to get home and chill out on the sofa or in the pub, rather than stretching and releasing the shoulders after being hunched over a computer all day, feeling stressed and anxious. Those repeat patterns can create tensions in the same muscle groups that will cause long-term problems in majorly important places in the body.
City living obvious takes a major toll on our mental health as well and there are proven benefits in massage. It comes back to the holistic thing; it’s a whole body focus and that relates to the mind. You can’t look after one without the other and when it comes to that kind of body MOT, you can’t do it yourself.
Why have you chosen to blend your own oils to use for treatments, and what are the different types?
I wanted to keep the menu simple, but customise our own oil blends making the most of the abundance of the wonderful range of benefits in the herbs and plants that make up essential oils.
That’s why I went for five options to allow the customer to choose which they most resonate with; there are more relaxing calming scents, like our No. 1, with lavender and vetiver then there are buzzier, more uplifting ones, like our No. 5 with peppermint, basil and citrus that are perfect for stimulating and awakening if you’re about to go to work or an event (though preferably you wouldn’t be drinking after a treatment). Then there are more practical blends, like our No. 2 contains ginger, marjoram and rosemary which get deep into the muscle fibres and our No. 4, with cedarwood, chamomile, jojoba and evening primrose, is ideal for sensitive skin types.
How would you recommend maintaining balance in our bodies in between massage appointments?
A daily stretch is the main thing; preferably in the morning, but not when you first get out of bed. Maybe have a wander and a glass of lemon water, then do it. Our therapists will often recommend ones you can do to help with your problem areas. Also it sounds a bit mad but water really is the healer of all things.
Keep active; whether it’s walking (the dog) or yoga classes, it’s really important. Yin yoga, which we’re focusing more on at MASAJ this year, through partnerships and within the team, is particularly good at working into the muscles.
And just take interest in your body if it’s hurting. Look after it - it’s the only one you’re gonna get.
You can book an appointment or browse the online MASAJ store here.
Words: Phoebe Grace Ede