Rec course teaches Arundel couples about the hands-on art of easing stress

Massage among expanding array of programs, classes

February 14, 2000|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

Tami and Mike Gunther don't have a lot of time for themselves. He runs a trucking company. She's a stay-at-home mom raising the couple's four daughters, ages 5, 6, 8 and 9.

But Saturday morning, the Severn couple decided to carve out some quality time for each other to celebrate Valentine's Day. They packed up a blanket, a sheet and a pillow and headed to Magothy River Middle School in Arnold for some pampering at a "Massage for Couples" workshop.

For two hours -- freed from kids, dogs, jobs and other obligations -- the Gunthers and nine other couples learned to rub, pull, and stretch their partners, under the instruction of a certified massage therapist.

Most couples at the $20 workshop -- sponsored by the Anne Arundel County Department of Recreation and Parks -- said that a brochure's description of the class piqued their interest:

"Learn to help each other relax and get rid of tension, anxiety and job stress. Learn massage of the back, shoulders, neck, hands and feet by direct skin contact."

"We have a hot tub and I was thinking when we're in there, to do the feet would be wonderful," said Jane Piche, at the workshop with her husband, Gordon.

Mike Gunther is no a novice to the healing power of massage. He said he gets rubbed down twice a month by a professional.

"I'm hoping my wife learns how to do it, so I won't have to go and pay for it," he said. "I don't show my emotions that much, and it relieves my stress."

As couples entered the library at Magothy River Middle School, they picked up a bottle of massage oil and an instructional booklet. Workshop instructor and certified massage therapist, Rena L. Buckreis, dimmed the harsh fluorescent lighting, put on some soft piano music and lighted some small votive candles.

First to "receive" massages from their partners, the men stretched out on blankets on the library floor.

"At this point, please try to clear your mind of work, home and life in general," Buckreis told the group. "You just want to get ready to exchange massages."

Although "couples massage" may seem to be an unusual offering for a government recreation and parks department, community-based recreation agencies are moving beyond Little League, offering everything from qigong -- a form of meditation -- to dog-training.

Anne Arundel County's Recreation and Parks Department first began its "Massage for Couples" workshops last year. Although one workshop was canceled last month because too few participants signed up, four other winter workshops filled up quickly, said Jacque Hurman, a recreation supervisor with the county.

"There are people who want to be involved in fitness but don't want to do aerobics or kick boxing," Hurman said. "We're evolving constantly, because the needs and wants of the public are changing."

The recreation and parks department in Howard County also has some nontraditional selections, including seated chair massage, baby massage, aromatherapy and reflexology.

"We're trying to accommodate adults looking for something a little bit different, a little bit more affordable," said Cookie Kornstein, a program specialist with Howard County's Recreation and Parks Department. Officials base many of their program decisions on surveys and evaluations completed by participants, she said.

"That's what a lot of this stems from," Kornstein said. "We're not in the business of trying out every new funky thing."

During the massage workshop at Magothy River Middle School, instructor Buckreis demonstrated proper technique on another massage therapist, Dee Dee Adams.

She starts at the top, telling the women to stroke their partners' neck, from the base to the skull.

"The most important thing is to do no harm to the person you're massaging," Buckreis says, to some nervous laughter. "Make sure your hands are nice and warm, and of course, please do not bounce the head."

As the workshop continues, Buckreis guides the massage down the body, to the arms, hands fingers, feet and toes, using various touches -- the kneading stroke, the coin rub, the shoeshine and the foot sandwich.

"I promise that when you do this at home, you'll hear a lot of oohs and ahs," she said.

Halfway through class, the women switch places with their relaxed partners.

"My turn," said Lisa Ewald, a nurse at the Veterans Administration hospital in Baltimore. Her husband, auto mechanic Robert Ewald, takes over.

It might not have been the Canyon Ranch Spa, but the massage students seemed to feel they got their money's worth.

"It was really a well-spent $20," said Lisa Ewald.

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