The sheer range of exotic and ancient treatments available make choosing an experience in itself A GLANCE AT most spa treatment menus leave one spoilt for choice. There was a time when all you had to know was the difference between the usual staples of Swedish, shiatsu and aromatherapy. Fast-forward to the heady world of exotic treatments and ancient rituals available now, and spa-goers do not know which way to turn. Suffering from a knot in the neck? Stressed out? How do you choose the right treatment? 'It starts by being clear about what you want from a massage,' says shiatsu expert and body therapist Lawrence Brown of Body Conscious in Central. 'If you want to simply de-stress, Swedish and aromatherapy massages are ideal, which is one reason they remain popular and are found on most menus. However, if you have definite pains and problem areas, you may want to consider a deeper level of massage like deep tissue, Thai or shiatsu.' Generally speaking, there are only so many ways to do a massage, he says. The more common techniques, which also form the basis of Swedish massage, are effleurage (long strokes), petrissage (kneading of individual muscles), tapotement (percussive movements), friction (rolling of fingers) and vibration. Separately or combined, these movements are found in almost all forms of oil-based bodywork and in massages performed without oil or through clothing, such as shiatsu and Thai. Another clue to what a massage can be like is to consider the philosophy behind it. Most have origins in a specific healing philosophy or cultural custom. For example, traditional Chinese healing believes that qi, the life force in the body, must flow freely, and any blockages in the meridians can be remedied by applying pressure. This philosophy is the basis of therapies such as reflexology, acupressure and acupuncture, which tend to be more about applying pressure to key points. While they do not necessarily classify as 'pampering', these therapies contribute to overall well-being. Likewise, ancient cultural customs and practices are finding their way onto the trendiest spa menus. Treatments such as the Hawaiian lomi lomi massage, Ayurveda's Abhayanga massage and traditional Thai massage go way back and represent the healing philosophies of their place of origin. There are also massages directly named after the specific conditions they address. Common in this category are the pregnancy massage, a combination of Swedish and select oils to help relieve back ache and pain; golfer's massage, a combination of Swedish massage with shiatsu techniques to apply pressure on points to relieve muscle fatigue; and jet-lag massage for travellers, combining Swedish techniques and aromatherapy to aid sleep and relaxation. Generally, massage names are fairly straightforward, unlike the names of some spa menu treatments, which can be very hard to decipher. But do not despair if you find some titles misleading. Treatment descriptions explain the predominant techniques being used, despite the exotic-sounding names. An oriental massage can be a moniker for traditional Chinese acupressure massage or Thai-style stretching movements. An aroma-stone massage combines warmed stones and essential oils, based on the philosophies of hot-stone massage and aromatherapy. Spas now create their signature massages with a fusion of techniques to provide spa-goers with more than the usual fare. At Singapore's Spa Botanica, the East-West Blend massage 'captures the very best oriental and occidental traditions of massage'. Fleshed out, that means a mix of Chinese tui-na acupressure techniques with the soothing effleurage strokes of Swedish massage. According to spa manager Sheila McCann, it is the most popular treatment by far, with regulars signing up for weekly sessions. The recently opened Plateau spa at Hong Kong's Grand Hyatt offers a signature Plateau Massage that combines shiatsu, Thai and Swedish massage techniques with essential oils. The treatment borrows from the best of the most popular bodywork modalities. Spa consultant Maggie Gunning offers this advice: let your therapist know if there are any particular areas of your body that you want more work on, or whether you have a condition that requires extra care. A seasoned massage therapist should be able to recommend the right treatment or combined techniques to address your needs. And, if you are not sure, ask.