I do love myself some spa treatments. My idea of a good life includes regular massages, along with mani-pedis, facials and a perfect haircut.
But my wallet can’t handle the high prices that most day spas charge (plus it’s hard to find all these things when you’re on the road as much as me). It’s not relaxing if you’re worried about your bank account. So as a compromise, I seek out the student clinics at massage schools, where you can usually get a quality treatment from a beginning practitioner for a very reasonable price. Going to student clinics also usually takes you into hip neighborhoods that you might not normally find if you get a massage at your hotel.
Now some people might worry about having a student work on them. And friends have asked me about the supervision that the students receive. In about 80 percent of the massages that I’ve received, the students were as professional as a regular masseuse. If there is a general problem, it’s that they can tend toward being tentative. But the students are there to learn – you almost always fill out a comment card at the end, so making sure that you have a good experience is part of their grade. If you don’t like the amount of pressure you are receiving, speak up!
To find a student clinic in Seattle, I googled “massage student clinic seattle” and came up with the Cortiva Institute. The school is in South Lake Union, a neighborhood that’s still in flux with plenty of apartment buildings and not too many services. People say the area will pick up once Amazon moves its headquarters there, but for now, it can feel a little industrial, especially in the evening.
The Cortiva Institute allows you to book appointments on line, a real plus. It’s $35 for a 60-minute massage. You have to pay a fee to park in their lot, but you can find parking on the street (free after 6 p.m.)
The decor at student clinics can vary. I’ve gone to schools in Minneapolis where the massages were done in gorgeous 19th century buildings and a clinic in Austin where you were in the same room with 15 other people. If this bothers you, call the school directly or check out their website to see what the set up is.
Cortiva’s lobby appeared upscale and spa-like, with leather chairs and a water feature in the corner. As with most schools, I was given a questionnaire to fill out when I arrived. Unlike other clinics, however, the main instructor came out into the lobby and introduced himself to those of us preparing for the 8 p.m. massage. He briefly explained again that these massages were part of the students’ grade, and that he’d be checking on their progress during the massage.
A student named Meghan called my name and we walked into a pleasant room called Oak (all of the treatment rooms are named for trees). We sat down and she went over my chart in surprising detail. I told her that i carry stress in the usual spots that a computer-bound professional has: shoulders and lower back. I also mentioned the occasional bursitis that I get in my hips. She came up with a game plan for the massage that included more of a focus on my back, along with some work on my neck and reflexology for my feet. I was a little surprised that she outlined such a specific plan; most student massages that Ive had tend to stick to the usual full body routine, regardless of what your needs are.
And she proved true to her word during the massage, spending much more time on the zones that needed work (like my neck and wrists) and less time on others (I can’t stand it when masseuses touch my abdomen). I vaguely heard the door open at one point, which I assumed was the instructor, but he didn’t say anything. At least in Meghan’s room, the school didn’t have that cheesy jungle and bird music playing – while it’s nice if that music stays in the background, I’ve had massages where it’s more distracting than relaxing. She also asked me about the pressure a few times, which I liked – nothing is worse than a practitioner who pummels your body without asking if you’re comfortable with pain. I also appreciated that she wasn’t so heavy on the massage cream (and doesn’t use any on your head).
At the end of the massage, Meghan went out to get me water as I dressed. She then sat down with me and told me about her recommendations for next time, including a hot pad on my lower back to warm up the muscles first and some stretching exercises for my bursitis. Very detailed for a masseuse who is still in school.
All in all, it was one of the more enjoyable massages that I’ve received this year. Cortiva has a frequent customer card where if you buy 9 massages, you get one free. I’m definitely taking advantage of that offer. They also don’t allow their students to take tips, which is a little unusual. Typically I give 20%, as the rates are so low (and the students are really working for their degrees).
Other student massage clinics that I’ve tried around the country:
Massage Arts Center of Philadelphia. What I like about Massage Arts is that you can choose from different levels of students, if you aren’t comfortable with an absolute beginner (of course, you’ll pay more for more experience). I usually book a more experienced associate here; a 60 minute massage is $50 and a 90 minute massage is $70. My husband and I last went in June and had great treatments.
Potomac Massage Training Institute, Washington DC. This school in Friendship Heights also has varying levels of expertise. Rates start at $37 for a 60 minute massage by supervised students and go up to $55 for recent graduates. While the massage here was fine, the clinic’s layout isn’t quite as relaxing and spa-like as Cortiva or Massage Arts.
Aveda Training Institute, Minneapolis. I absolutely love getting treatments at this school near St. Anthony Main. The Institute is housed in a gorgeous Beaux Arts building and some of the treatments that I’ve received here have ranked among the best I’ve ever had (particularly the facials). They do tend to use a lot of oil for the massages so don’t expect to go anywhere afterward where you have to look nice. 60 minute massages are $45; 80 minute massages are $55.
Austin, Texas. There are more massage schools here than almost any other city in the country. I don’t have a specific rec, but if you are going here for SXSW or just for fun, check out a clinic.
Next: I get a facial from students at the Gary Manuel Aveda Institute on Seattle’s Capitol Hill.