Imagine reclining in a private room, harps playing in the background, scents of rose and sandalwood swirling about you, and a therapist massaging each muscle, deeply.

A CNN anchor recently referred to relaxing as decompressing. I laughed when I heard his new references to the same old bane of modern life – stress. In that news piece, counselors advised people to forgo happy hour (perhaps not every time) and visit a spa or golf course to eliminate stress.

Decompressing? Call it what you like, we're all looking for ways to live healthier. And when doing nothing means living healthier, there's no better news. Imagine reclining in a private room, harps playing in the background, scents of rose and sandalwood swirling about you, and a therapist massaging each muscle, deeply. Only a fool could pass that up.

Apparently, Puerto Vallarta suffers few fools, because locals and tourists alike frequently indulge in sensual treatments. Spas range from those in hotels to independent massage clinics to earthy spa havens. Not comfortable going out for a massage? A therapist from the Shanti Healing Center or Spa Express can meet you where you are.

Regardless of the type, each spa addresses all five senses in its own way. Most spas have a tranquil, if not heavenly, setting. The sounds of classical, Celtic, Asian or New Age music help you forget the outside world and drift into another state of mind. At posh indoor spas like the Quinta Real, fresh flowers and aromatic oils are used to invigorate each room. At an outdoor setting, leaves rustling, birds chirping or chimes tinkling might be the only music you hear – but the space has been carefully designed for unwinding.

At Terra Noble, Jorge Rubio has created an essentially outdoor spa to "awaken the senses.” Everything there, especially the pre-Hispanic sweat lodge, strikes a first-time visitor as remarkable. Many hotels and spas throughout the city have also set up massage beds outside. And why not? Natural qualities flowing from the jungle and bay around Puerto Vallarta could never really be bottled.

After choosing an ideal setting, the vast menu of treatments can appear to be something from a restaurant. At the Qualton Hotel alone, open the broad folder and discover 13 types of massages, nine different facials, 12 body treatments, and 24 salon services. At most spas, full-body therapeutic massages, aromatherapy and hot stone treatments emerge as the favorites for relaxation.

Wanting something else? How about an algae or Mayan mud body wrap to rejuvenate sun-drenched skin? Or, how about a sea glow exfoliation for a silky touch that will make you wonder if it's truly your own skin? Perhaps a rejuvenating or deep-cleansing facial will provide a vibrant new look, perfect for holiday photos or a fresh start back to work.

Whatever you choose, it should reflect your needs at that particular time. "Treatments address all three parts of the body,” says Pascale Chabert of Acqua Day Spa, “the mechanical, the chemical and the energetic.” She explains that shiatsu balances the body at certain pressure points, like acupuncture but without needles, whereas lymphatic drainage is a very gentle massage, designed to relieve puffiness caused by traveling or diet. A reiki massage aims to energize the client.

For those with a spiritual bent, a temazcal could be a powerful choice. At Terra Noble, a shaman like Tonatiuh can lead you through an experience that aims to heal and purify the mind, body and soul. Inside an igloo-shaped adobe hut, the shaman uses volcanic clay, water, stones, herbs and fire to perform a pre-Hispanic group ritual. A combination of the shaman’s application of mud and water to each body, his ongoing chanting and the intense heat and medley of aromas in the hut make the two hours unforgettable. Many clients approach the temazcal with some angst, but gradually relax as they embrace the process.

At Velas Vallarta, Pilar Napoles has a simpler approach, "If you want to sleep, we can make you sleep. But if you need energy because you have much work to do, we can give you energy." For some, it seems, spa treatments have become a way of life. "Many people see massages as necessary,” says Araceli Machuca of Millenium Massage, “not just as a deluxe treatment anymore. Of course, other things – like exercise – can also take stress away, but massages help a lot. People feel what their body needs and they come back to relieve stress. Even doctors and psychologists are sending patients for massages."

When the treatment ends, most clients leave the room reluctantly – the feeling is just too good. I spoke to one woman who claimed to actually feel lighter after her full-body relaxation massage. Of course, one treatment doesn't alter everything in life, but it sure provides a fresh perspective. After each massage, clients are reminded to drink lots of water or energy drinks like Clorafila Liquida to help cleanse the body. In many spas, nuts and dried fruits are offered for energy.

In the past 10 years, spa services have become increasingly popular in Puerto Vallarta. A decade ago there were very few choices of either spas or treatments; today it’s a hedonistic galaxy. So who’s been taken away by the trend? You might imagine women are the primary clients. Surprisingly, massages and facials are popular with both men and women, women only slightly leading in numbers.

More surprisingly, many children are having regular therapeutic massages. Typically, the boys and girls are around age 12 or older, but some are younger, and they're thoroughly enjoying their foray into the adult world. In fact, I’m told some of them are making long massages a habit while on vacation, not accepting their parents’ (and grandparents’) resistance to the full 75 minutes!

Clearly body and beauty treatments are no longer an elite treat. We’ve all discovered their rich benefits. With so many shoppers out there, the list of spas and services can only grow, and the demand for something new will no doubt give rise to other decadent treatments. Rumor has it one spa in town plans to add chocolate, fruit and rose body wraps to its menu. For now, we can only dream of it.