KEEPING fit and healthy can be hard work sometimes, and we all like to give ourselves the occasional treat as a reward – with a nice relaxing massage high on the list.
Besides the straightforward sports rub-down, more exotic herbal treatments are now widely available around the country.
If you're in the capital and willing to have a little splurge on yourself here's one way to feel the benefits of medicinal herbs right down to your bones.
Based on traditional Thai methods, the Panpuri herbal compress massage at the Shelbourne Hotel day spa offers a combination of over 15 herbs steamed in a muslin compress and then applied hot to the body.
The healing concoction made of premium eastern herbs helps melt away muscle tensions and soothes aches and pains – well, that's the promise anyway.
The treatment is popular with elite sports people and those suffering from jet lag, says Shelbourne therapist Alanna Clancy.
"It's really good if you have back pain or stress," she promises.
It's a luxury item, and a visit to the spa is a bit of an outing in itself and a chance to visit the celebrated old Georgian hotel in St Stephen's Green, where you get a piece of Dublin history along with your stay.
The opulent spa takes up a major section of the second floor. It overlooks the north side of St Stephen's Green, and gives you a chance to sit in your robe and watch the busy pedestrians below.
The spa is only gorgeous – it's benefited from a recent revamp, and plenty of day-to-day Dubliners pay the odd visit to give themselves a bit of a celebration
"This is just fantastic," enthuses one man, thrilled at the combination of kitsch and history. Overseas visitors are equally impressed.
The hot compress massage comes with a choice of healing treatments and delicious smells, with the choice of a herbal combination of relaxing, invigorating and detoxifying. Sadly there's nothing to help you get a smaller butt or extra sex appeal, so we opt for the de-stress version.
The massage starts with the compress pulled gently up and down the body's meridians, or energy lines (I'm only telling you what they told me – I thought meridians were on maps), and it gets more pleasant as the muslin bag warms up.
The therapy is said to be excellent for common grumbles such as back pain, and also for arthritis and sports injuries.
The heated compress massage has been practised by Thai healers for hundreds of years. They say the warmth and blended herbs soothe and alleviate muscle tensions and trigger the body's purification and detoxification process. I found this meant a slight post-treatment headache, but it soon goes after drinking plenty of water.
The compresses are about the size of your hand, and they're pressed in gently, easing stiff muscles.
The hotel's health club has a great early-morning run at 7am through the nearby streets to Merrion Square and back, and this is a good way to work up to your massage treatment.
It's a pleasure to get the chance to spend a couple of hours in this secret oasis, and you emerge on to busy St Stephen's Green smiling and stress-free.
Try to make the feeling last the day – or the whole week if you can.
WE TRIED: Panpuri healing compress massage at the Shelbourne spa
DID IT WORK? Far-reaching herbal treatment, relaxing and comforting
PLUSES: Eastern massage and warm soothing compresses
MINUSES: Doesn't pack a deep-tissue punch
COST: 130 for one hour treatment – a pricey treat
CONTACT: www.massageireland.org for a national list of therapists, or the Shelbourne Hotel Spa www.shelbournespa.ie Tel 01 6634500