Soho House NY Wellness Week, Day 3: Rub Your Belly for Good Luck

03/30/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Soho House New York Wellness Week

Friday from 9am-2pm

Loretta Young; 

Loretta Young practices Arvigo Maya Abdominal Massage, which is a massage technique developed by Dr. Rosita Arvigo in the 1980s. This gentle massage technique is designed to noninvasively manipulate the internal organs. According to Arvigo, Maya Abdominal Massage can be used to address some gynecological problems, especially infertility and prolapsed uterus, and it can also be used to treat gastrointestinal problems along with an assortment of other conditions. Typically, sessions also include counseling which may encompass the use of traditional herbal medicines, steam baths, and other alternative medical treatments. 

60 min service: $85


When Cowshed Spa manager Jeanette Betts began making arrangements for the roster of practitioners Soho House New York planned to host as their Wellness Week "experts", she took recommendations from friends, queried members and their guests, and, after narrowing the search to the best NYC had to offer, went out and experienced each for herself. Surely, she must have had some incredible treatments, which makes the several practitioners she selected to be featured this week the crème de la crème. I have yet to disagree with her.

I've written thus far on Dr. Scott Jurica's integrative medicine approach to wellness, and Michelle Spina's cure-all acupuncture. While each of their treatments were intensely informative and wildly successful in my book, I have to say that my third and final holistic therapy was by far my favorite, if only because it was the one of which I was most skeptical.

Loretta Young practices Arvigo Maya abdominal massage, a modern adaptation of Ancient Maya healing techniques combined with modern knowledge of anatomy, physiology, and herbology. Through non-invasive massage, this technique gently manipulates the muscles and tendons that hold all the belly organs in place to bring all things back into alignment and promote proper functioning.

Arvigo Maya abdominal therapy was developed by Dr. Rosita Arvigo, a naprapath (someone who specializes in realigning the connective tissue) from Chicago who has spent the last 30 years living in the heart of Belize's rainforest. While there, Dr. Arvigo apprenticed Don Elijio Panti who, when he died at the age of 103, was recognized in his New York Times obituary as "the last Mayan master healer in Belize." And for those who might think such herbalist medicine antiquated, 25 to 40 percent of all our prescription pharmaceutical medicines--including birth control and aspirin, both of which come from wild yams--are derived from only 0.05 percent of the near 250,000 species of plants that have yet to be analyzed for their medicinal properties. Imagine what medical miracles are hidden in the remaining 99.5 percent.

Dr. Arvigo used the techniques and herbal therapies she learned from Don Elijio in developing the Arvigo Maya abdominal massage in the early 1990s. Those who wish to learn the technique today must travel to the workshops held at her campsite in the jungle (a workshop schedule can be found at; she also offers some in the States). During one of the week-long seminars, Rosita and her staff teach the art of self-care, stressing that in order to heal others, one must first be able to treat and understand the dynamics within one's own body, before beginning their technique instruction.

As part of the core curriculum at Arvigo's workshops, students undergo rigorous spiritual intensives. All ancient Mayan medicine is based on the gratitude one must show for the bounty that the earth provides by giving thanks to the God(s), and to the plants of the forest that work together in harmony to protect and prolong human life. (This I gathered through watching Sastun, a DVD Loretta lent me that documents Rosita Arvigo's apprenticeship with Don Elijio.) Recognizing a force that exists external and internal to everyone, and connects all life, is fundamental to possessing the true healing power offered in these therapies. In example, when she began her session with me, Loretta placed both her hands on my head (a common craniosacral initiation) as a way of introducing our energies and harnessing a universal energy and a higher power to aid in the healing process.

Though Dr. Arvigo's techniques have delivered results for a variety of gynecological and gastronintestinal ailments, the therapy is typically viewed as a fertility massage, and I was slightly less than eager to endure a half-hour of stomach-contorting towards such an end. But, as Loretta explained, women of all ages are thought to benefit from such work because, when we experience sudden whiplash or jerking, or repeated bouncing (such as in long-distance running), the uterus--which is held in suspension--can swing dramatically and become lodged in a sideways or tilted position, leading to reproductive complications including, but not limited to, PMS symptoms and, yes, infertility. And it never hurts to make sure everything in there is in good working order. Furthermore, it can also be beneficial for men, because you boys tend to hold tension and stress in your stomachs by tightening the abdomen, which affects digestion by squeezing the esophagus and impeding deep breaths. Convinced, I gave her the go ahead.

You could picture Loretta reading meditation protocols to babies: her voice is soft and soothing, and she looks the perfect picture of someone who has spent their life cultivating a serenity that pervades patient and practitioner. Half-Korean, half-Central America, Loretta has rich, cocoa skin, arabesque eyes, and a mane of shiny, black ringlets. Her hands are small and soft, but very strong from years of working first as a prenatal masseur, then progressing through craniosacral therapy into the abdominal work she now specializes in.

To begin my treatment, Loretta first spread essential oils over the palms of her hands and had me inhale deeply. She then increased energy flow within my body simply through light touch on the head and feet before beginning the actual belly massage portion of the treatment. I was worried this would be the harsh stomach pounding I've sometimes experienced as part of acupressure massages, but Loretta's technique was soft and firm and fluid. She would pull from one side of my stomach to the other, pressing her fingers deep into the flesh and pulling the underlying ligaments along with her in a gentle motion to coax out any entanglements or imbalances. Then she would massage in a clockwise circle around my naval to smooth the surface and refresh the kneading-then-smoothing cycle. It doesn't sound like much, and I'm not doing it justice, but it was one of the most oddly soothing sensations I've ever experienced. I quickly found myself melting into the massage table as she lifted pressure away from my diaphragm and esophagus and my breath grew deeper. Then she flipped me over and did a correlating back massage to complete the realignment. By the time it was over, I was comatose and ready for a good nap.

After I'd plied myself off the table and gotten dressed, I met Loretta in the spa's softly lit sitting area for tea and a brief chat to discuss what she finds special about the technique she performs (I knew I was a fan, but I wanted the professional perspective). While she's had incredible success with fertility challenged couples, I asked whether her massage could be good for someone who wasn't looking to get pregnant. Indeed, learning to increase awareness of the dynamics in the pelvic region, and becoming increasingly connected with the sensation, stimulation, and stasis therein can lead to, ahem, increased sexual satisfaction. As with any area of the body, the muscles need to be taught how to respond and relax at the appropriate points. Additionally, abdominal massage helps to loosen and relax the muscles that overlay all the core organs, increasing blood and lymph flow.

In keeping with her teachers' beliefs, Loretta is a huge proponent of self-care as a way to get to know one's body better and to continue the healing treatment on a more regular basis. I do want to learn--and she's promised to teach me--but half the fun is getting someone else to rub your belly for you, no? And Loretta is just the lady to do it.