‘Nice to be touched’: Boutique stretching thrives amid COVID


Pandemic-weary Americans starved for human interaction and physical touch are taking advantage of a growing wellness option once reserved for Hollywood actors, rock stars and elite athletes: boutique stretching.

“It’s like a workout, but you feel way more flexible,” a masked Kelly O’Neal, 51, said as her leg was being pulled across her body during a recent session at a newly opened StretchLab studio in Centerville. “I get plenty done after I get done here because you just feel like you’ve warmed up really well.” She said her legs and feet ache after her shift at a grocery store in southwest Ohio — often plus overtime because of COVID-19 demands.

Others cite some intangibles offered by assisted stretching during the coronavirus.

“It’s really nice to be touched. It is,” said Laura Collins, 39, who visits a StretchLab near her home in White Plains, New York twice a week. “We’re being deprived of social interaction, we’re being deprived of hugs and people who are familiar, and … it’s just so comfortable being there.”

Even before the pandemic, assisted stretching studios — with names such as Stretch Zone, Stretch Pro, LYMBR and Stretch(asterisk)d — often featured just eight or 10 widely spaced tables in a shared area they say is conducive to good air circulation.

Kory Floyd, a professor of communication and psychology at the University of Arizona, said activities that provide social interaction and some relief for “skin hunger” can help people manage stress better. A lack of casual touch — holding hands, hugging, putting one’s arm around somebody, shaking hands — can have a significant negative impact, Floyd said.

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