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I found heaven in a whirlpool in Michigan City.

Water dripped on my head like a lovely thunderstorm, jets massaged my achy back and feet, warming purple lights pacified my soul. I had no frame of reference for the single-digit temps outside; I was engulfed in warmth; alone, the middle of a weekday, in my own private paradise.

I discovered nirvana again later that night in a dark room in Chesterton, caviar moisturizer on my face, my throbbing temples being rubbed — then again a few days later in Crown Point, cucumbers on my eyelids, a massage chair deeply kneading my most tender fibers.

As a public service, I was trying out popular men's spa treatments in the Region. I'm not ashamed to get a facial or a manicure. It turns out a lot of other guys in Northwest Indiana aren't either.

"When I started in the business (25 years ago), there were hardly any male spa-goers," said Peaches McCahill, a consultant for Spa Blu at Blue Chip Casino, Hotel & Spa in Michigan City. "Men now make up a significant portion of our spa clientele, 20 percent and increasing." That spa recently added a new service for guys: a beard trim and conditioning.

Many dudes now realize the health-and-wellness benefits of going to the spa.

Studies have found that massages help with things such as pain, anxiety, blood pressure, digestion, sleep and immunity.

Of course, that doesn't mean you should listen to the more outlandish claims of what these services can do; a Memorial Sloan Kettering researcher authored a 2012 report in Journal of Clinical Investigation decrying these after being told a facial would cleanse her liver.

But even on its own, relaxation has advantages for your health, even long-term ones such as reducing the risk of chronic medical conditions.

So it's not surprising that, in our increasingly wellness-focused culture, spa days aren't just for women anymore. The International Spa Association reports that nearly half of spa customers worldwide are men, up from less than a third a decade earlier. And in the U.S., 41 percent of spas surveyed by that organization last year said they planned to introduce promotions targeting guys.

Chris Valavanis, owner of Vanis Salon & Day Spa, said his location in Schererville (he also has one in Valparaiso) treats a lot of men interested in wellness because it's connected to Franciscan Fitness Health Centers.

"People come into spas for different reason than they used to," he said. "Some people are here for more of a treat and pampering. Some people are here just for maintenance — maintenance of their skin, body, brows."

He said about a fifth of his customers are men, ones "who care about how they look and feel, about their health."

Olga Pellegrino, director of operations for Vanis, said guys often come in to get waxed — mostly their eyebrows, but also their chests and backs.

I stopped by their spa last month to try out a manicure and pedicure — a "mani-pedi" in less macho speak.

My nail technician, Chelsea Leluga, told me she has a few male regulars. She said she's recently painted some of her guy clients' nails: a "manly man" blue before he went to Aruba, a grandpa with a tow truck he could show his grandson.

"My husband comes in here for a facial," said Becky Miles, a Munster property manager who sat next to me getting her own pedicure.

"I think that all guys should pamper themselves," Leluga said. "I think anyone should do this to make themselves feel good and less stressed."

I got a mani-pedi once before, maybe 10 years ago. I remember liking it, but that it was kind of painful.

This one was definitely not. It was gentle. Leluga mixed in massage with the cleaning and buffing.

"It's good hygiene," she said. "I feel like it helps with circulation."

Dudes often get pedicures for practical reasons, she noted: to have calluses removed, because we can't cut our own toenails. Nail technician Yari Creso, who called herself the "guy guru" for her ability to make male customers feel comfortable, said that after men come to the spa once — often dragged in by a wife or girlfriend — they almost always come back.

"I definitely think it's less of a stigma than it used to be," Miles said.

She's right. We millennials, the metrosexual, gender-fluid generation that we are, have less shame than our stoic, hidebound forefathers. Or maybe it's just the time we're living in.

Leluga, 28, said her dad gets pedicures; he loves paraffin wax, a warming treatment said to help with joint stiffness. A guy I met at Vanis who was getting a facial, David Schneider, is 72. Now retired, Schneider used to be the chief public defender for Lake County.

"To me it's relaxing, especially when I was working," he said. "It would be a getaway from the stress and tension of Crown Point."

Was he ever embarrassed, as a guy, to go the spa?

"I don't even think twice about it," he said.

News flash: Men also like massages.

After the euphoria of my whirlpool experience in Michigan City, I found myself face down on a massage table, CBD oil being rubbed into my extremities, for some deep-tissue action.

Massage therapist Barb Loeffler said people used to think of massages as a luxury; now they're a necessity, with all the sitting and typing on computers Americans do.

It turns out my biggest problem area is my shoulders, the result of what I'm doing as I write this, hunched over, staring at a screen. Loeffler helped me get out some knots, showed what I could do at home to keep them at bay. The encounter was more like a visit with a physical therapist or chiropractor than an indulgence.

Next, I headed over to Serenity Salon & Spa in Chesterton for the "men's fit" facial, one specifically designed for the boys. Spa director Julianna Rospond explained that guys' skin is different than women's — thicker, rougher, more hydrated — so their skin treatments have to be different.

"I think the stigma is going away," she said of fellas hitting the spa. "People are very stressed in this area. You're also exposed to a lot of pollution" — the spa serves men (and women) who work in the mills — "A lot of these treatments are detoxifying."

I arrived for my facial, changed into a robe, lay under some blankets and was told I didn't have to do anything but relax.

Since the room was dark, I had no idea what Rospond was doing to my face — the only hint was when I scratched near by ear and she said I wiped some of the caviar lotion off — but it felt heavenly.

This was like no other facial I've ever had. Past ones were quite agonizing in fact; I mostly thought of them as acne excavations. This one featured massaging of the head and shoulders, even the feet (not sure what they have to do with the face, but I wasn't complaining). It was soothing, tranquil, an hour of pure bliss.

"The world's not getting any less busy," Rospond said. "You've got the take the time for yourself."

Of course, going to the spa isn't cheap. If I was a trust-fund kid who didn't have to work, I'd be there all day. Alas, my dad drove a truck for a living.

But deals for spa services can be found on places such as Groupon. And as the benefits of "self-care" emerge, these treatments can be thought of as preventive health care, potentially heading off medical issues (not that your insurer is likely to cover them).

I, for one, realize I need to at least make massages a more regular part of my life. In the days after the one at Blue Chip, I realized I felt happier — and the only difference was that I'd gotten the deep-tissue kneading. Massages release "feel good" hormones such as endorphins and dopamine, so how are they any less effective than, say, an antidepressant or an opioid painkiller?

For the sake of objectivity, I also tried a Swedish (i.e. "girly") massage at State of Mind Salon & Day Spa in Crown Point. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but it was by no means some feathery rubdown. The masseuse, Alli Schwab, worked my muscles and pretzeled my legs and arms to great relief. Of the two types of massages, I may have preferred this one (though the deep tissue probably has more lasting benefits. See: pain now, pleasure later).

State of Mind owner Pattie Kobe said guys usually opt for the more vigorous, sports massages.

"The ladies still visit the spas to relax. Men visit the spa out of necessity, for range of motion. They can't turn their head all the way to the side or move their shoulders. They look at a computer screen all day or do heavy lifting," she said.

She said her male clientele has increased to 40 percent from 20 percent  in the last half-decade. Her salon now has a barber.

"I think there's a need for the physical part of wellness for men that maybe they didn't understand or weren't educated about five or six years ago," she said. "It's socially more acceptable to take time to get a massage or go get a pedicure."

Like Schneider, the public defender, I could care less about being judged for going to the spa. I'm not in middle school; no need to prove my masculinity.

If something can help me chill, get me out of my head for a bit, maybe relieve some pain and tension, who cares what anyone else thinks? That seems to be where our society is at nowadays, and that's a good thing.

So go on my brothers, get your nails buffed, your face exfoliated, your feet covered with hot oil. Hold your head up high — especially after the masseuse gets rid of those kinky knots in your upper back.

15 Northwest Indiana health and fitness trends to try in 2019

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Health Reporter

Giles is the health reporter for The Times, covering the business of health care as well as consumer and public health. He previously wrote about health for the Lawrence (Kansas) Journal-World. He is a graduate of Northern Illinois University.