When I read that the Lava Shell Tummy Treatment massage claimed to help "improve core stability and strength", I had my doubts. After all, how could a shell help strengthen stomach muscles? But I went along to try with an open mind.
I'll confess that despite my love of all things pure and natural, the unashamed glamour and glitz of Harrod's fifth-floor Urban Retreat spa is a guilty pleasure of mine. No matter whether you're popping in for a post-shopping, pre-party blow-dry (seriously recommended!) or spending definite dosh in the medi-spa, they always treat you like a long-lost friend.
I met up with Alison, from Shared Beauty Secrets, one half of the team who've introduced the joys of Lava Shell massage to the UK. I had lots of questions, but first I undressed down to my knickers and hopped on the couch. I was swathed in towels with my stomach exposed. I decided that as Alison was a seen-it-all-before therapist, I probably didn't need to suck my tummy in, so breathed out.
It's surprising how hot the lava shells are the first time you experience them. Not unpleasantly so, at all, but it feels incredible that just pouring seawater onto some minerals could have that effect. But it does. And very nice it feels, too.
Alison smoothed oil on my tummy and using warm shells in her hands, performed what felt like a very therapeutic massage on my stomach. While I was lying there, trying to work out if I liked it or not, Alison explained the theory to me.
The idea is that the core muscles wrap all the way around the body, so, if you have a massage on your back, you'll need to engage the muscles on your front as well to have a proper effect -- particularly if you want more than just a few hours' benefit. By working thoroughly on the front and the back, the muscles are engaged, muscle-memory kicks in and provides benefits that last for days.
As well as helping tone up the core muscles, this treatment also claimed to work as "a natural colonic". I found this part of the massage challenging, as Alison massaged her way around the colon area in a clockwise motion. Some areas felt almost painful but always, after a moment or so, any discomfort melted away thanks to the muscle-relaxing heat of the shells and the fluid smooth movements of Alison's expert fingers.
The final move was an Asian technique, a pelvic-floor lift, which was done by Alison sliding the side of her hand around the base of my tummy until she felt resistance from the muscles. The external stimulation of that band of muscles encourages them to tighten and tuck -- in the same way that using a toning table helps other muscles. After just 15 minutes of therapy time, I gratefully flipped over onto my newly-toned stomach and relaxed into 30 minutes of blissful hot-shell massage.
The strangest thing was that I could feel something still going on with my stomach muscles for at least another 20 minutes or so... I lost track of time, just enjoying feeling my usual keyboard-tense shoulders fall away from their usual position of somewhere near my ears.
But does lava-shell massage do what it claims? I rather think so, yes. Alison promised that I could expect to see my sluggish colon kicked into shape and she was right. As for the core muscles, I certainly felt like they'd had a work out, too. I felt more toned for a few days afterwards -- a first for a massage treatment for me.