The feeling that you have at the end of a great massage experience is pure bliss. I say ‘massage experience’ because the whole experience of your treatment begins when you arrive until sometimes long after you’ve left. You may even want to make a day of it and get several services together (which is even better!). Some might say that your experience started when you spoke to the receptionist, that’s a great way to see the kind of operation you’re dealing with. On the flip side, a negative massage experience could be anything from a mediocre time, to a sense of being violated. The experience that you have will largely depend on finding the right spa, the right therapist(s), and knowing the basics about the various types of massage that are available. If you’ve never received a massage or body treatment out of fear, fear no more. I’m going to tell you how to make your experience a great one!
Choosing the right treatment
There are several basic types of massage, I will tell you about the most common. After reading the descriptions you will probably recognize the ones that will suit your needs.
Swedish: When most people talk about a professional massage, they are usually referring to Swedish massage. The therapist will use an oil or massage lotion, to gently and systematically go over the entire body, massaging and kneading until all of your muscles feel loose and relaxed, and the body feels energized and ready to conquer the world.
Deep Tissue: This type of massage sounds just like what it is, a massage of the deeper structures. It will work on such problems as chronic muscle tension and knots. The massage therapist will get into these area with firm pressure that will feel more intense, but it will work to realign the body and put it back into balance. This type of massage works over time so the results are cumulative. Make sure to drink lots of water throughout the next day or two after this treatment to flush out the toxins that will be released from the deeper muscle tissues.
Sports: This is the best form of massage to get the athlete back in action. It’s done with a series of moves similar to Swedish massage. This type focuses on certain areas of the body that need extra help, either by loosening up muscles and joints to increase range of motion, or to help heal after injury. It also increased circulation and lymphatic drainage and has a healing effect on the entire body.
Aromatherapy: Aromatherapy refers to using the properties of essential oils to help someone to relax, energize, or make any other specific physiological or psychological improvement. The therapist will add a few drops of essential oils to the massage oil to achieve the desired results. Essential oils can also be added to a diffuser or candle to scent the room.
Reflexology: This treatment is usually performed on the feet, but sometimes the hands. A series of relaxation movements are combined with a series of pressure in various areas of the foot. This is based on the Asian principles of each organ of the body having a corresponding part on the feet and hands. So as these points are worked on the feet or hands, the corresponding organs are getting the actual treatment. It has been practiced for two thousand years. You’ll find this to be an extremely relaxing treatment, it puts a ‘spring in your step’.
Shiatsu: This type massage comes from Japan. ‘Shi’ means finger, and ‘atsu’ means pressure. It’s based on the body pathways or meridians, just like acupuncture. This form of massage is done with your clothes on, and without the use of oil. The massage focuses on the body as a unit rather than individual muscles. The idea is to open up the pathways of energy or ‘chi’ (pronounced ‘chee’). You should feel alive and balanced after this type of treatment.
Thai: Thai massage is not for the weak of heart unless you are already familiar with it and feel inspired to try it. It is given while you’re fully dressed in comfortable clothes. The practitioner does not use a massage table, rather you will be laying on the floor. Your therapist will literally be sitting on you most of the time, pulling, lifting and manipulating each and every structure in your body. There’s a lot of crunching and twisting, and you’ll basically feel like a rag doll being tossed around. But in the end, every inch of you will have been stretched and cracked, until everything that can be popped, has been. This one is a real ‘release’ of tension.
Hot Rocks or La Stone: This is one of the latest massage techniques available. Warm, smooth river stones are systematically placed on the vertebra, in the hands, in between toes and other places to bring a sense of energy flow throughout the body. This is in conjunction with usually a Swedish massage. The warm stones give an added natural benefit to the massage. Some therapists use heated pillows (usually filled with Buckwheat, Flaxseed, Rice or Salt, sometimes mixed with Lavender buds, Hops or other relaxing botanicals). that can be placed in areas of extra tension like the back, neck, shoulders, or eyes. Warmth helps to soothe and relax muscle tension.
Finding the right place
The best place to look for your massage therapist is locally, since this is something that you’ll want to work into your life as part of your routine. Ask friends and family for advice on a good place in your area. They may not get massages, but they may go to a place where they are given and can give you a good tip. You want a spa or salon that is clean, comfortable, has a good reputation, and a professional, highly-qualified staff. The internet is a great place to look as more spas are getting online. Look for your local online Yellow Pages or a Massage directory to find local spas and visit every site you can. In the ‘old days’ we just had the phone for checking around. Many websites are very thorough and give a great representation of the spa, making it much easier to do your research. After you visit a few sites, you’ll know which ones sound inviting, and which ones you’re not sure about. Narrow down your list according to proximity, price, professionalism, site friendliness, or whatever else you feel is important. Now it’s time to start making your phone calls (or visits if you really want to be thorough).
Finding the right therapist
I was reminded recently why I always get such great therapists and other service providers at spas and salons. I was looking for a new place to get my hair ‘done’. After I had taken all of the steps that I mentioned above, I called the spa/salon that I’d found. I spoke to a cheery, upbeat young gal on the phone that was very helpful and made me feel great (First impressions count, see?). I quizzed her for several minutes about who was the best at what I needed. Who was busy, who did well with my hair type, etc… I was so pleased with her answers and the good feeling that I got from her, I didn’t hesitate in booking my appointment. When I got there, I was very satisfied. The spa/salon was everything that I’d hoped for, and my services were fabulous!
Use your senses as you speak to the receptionist, is she talking to you as a friend or is she being evasive. Some salons tell the receptionists to give new clients to the new (probably less experienced) employees. There’s nothing wrong with new employees, but why try someone new if there is someone else there that has more experience and may be much better? You might ask questions like… Who gets requested the most? Which one gets the most raves? Which one gives firmer pressure? Which one is more gentle? Is she nice? Who have you had treatments from? Would you go to them again? Why? Listen to the answers that you get, this is very important! If there is negative hesitation when someone is spoken of, remember that. If you get immediate positive feedback, write down names. Ask the questions that are important to you, so that you can narrow it down to your perfect choice. Remember, you don’t have to commit to anything there on the phone, you’re just calling for information. If the receptionist sounds like she is too busy to talk, don’t take this as the brush off. It’s a good sign that they are busy. Ask her to call you back when she has a moment to talk.
Another great way to find the right therapist is by asking your family and friends. If they don’t know of good ones, ask them if they have friends or family that know of any. You’re not looking for a friend of a friend that does massage. You are looking for someone that is great. A personal reference is the very best recommendation that you can find. When someone talks about someone that is great, they will get a happiness to their voice and a twinkle in their eye. That’s the sign!
Once you’ve found your therapist, make sure to book your next appointment as you leave from your first one. Massage appointments are something that you’ll want to do for the rest of your life. It will help to keep your body energy flowing properly, your muscles supple, your mind focused and your spirit soaring! Even if it’s once a season… Book your next appointment. Personally, I feel that if more people got regular massage, we’d have a better world.
Getting past your fears
If fear has been keeping you back from getting your first massage, let’s go through what some of them may be, so that you can prepare to tackle any obstacle that you feel may exist.
I don’t want anyone to see me naked!: How many of us feel that our body is perfect, even good? The number is unfortunately quite small. The notion of exposing your imperfect body to a stranger may be stopping you from getting a massage. What you need to remember is that this is not just any stranger. This is an individual that has studied their craft, and sees many clients with many different body types, just like a doctor or nurse. More than likely, you will be in the presence of a truly caring, compassionate professional, that has the desire to help you relax and heal. They will have you draped at all times, and will only pull back the sheet enough to work on certain areas at any given time. In the U.S. it is standard procedure to not include massage of the breasts in your treatment, so your private areas will never be exposed at all. Wearing underwear is perfectly acceptable, likewise, wearing nothing is okay too. Whatever you feel comfortable with is what you should do.
Will it be painful or ticklish?: Most of us have areas where we are a bit ticklish and all of us will feel pain in certain areas when the pressure is too great during the massage. Usually those that are afraid of the concept of not being comfortable during a treatment, are timid about speaking up and are afraid of feeling out of control in this situation. My advice is to take control, during this passive activity. Sounds like a paradox, but what I mean is that you must take the reins and know that you can speak up to your therapist at ANY time, before, during and after your massage. There’s only one way that your therapist can really get to know what your body needs, and that’s through communication. Sometimes the communication will be verbal like a simple “I’m very ticklish on the bottom of my feet”, at the beginning of the treatment. This will be a good time for the therapist to ask if you’d rather not receive any massage on the feet at all, or whether she can help you with some firmer pressure. The other method of communication will be through non-verbal methods such as tensing or jerking when an area is tickled or hurt. Please remember, EVERY body is unique and has different parts that have different levels of sensitivity. This is why it’s very good to find one therapist that can get to know what your body needs. After you’ve found her, your future visits will become more relaxing as all of your past fears dissolve away.
Should I tip?: If you are happy with your service, tipping is a nice way to show your therapist that you are grateful. 15-20% is the norm. Generally, massage therapists are not compensated with Medical benefits, 401 K plans, vacation time, sick pay, etc… So this is a nice way to say thank you for a wonderful treatment. You may have heard that owners should not be tipped, nor those working in their homes. I’m not sure why this is. I feel that a tip is a tip, and I give it freely to show my gratitude, no matter who gave me the treatment. After years of getting massages, I generally feel ripped off when I go to the doctor for healing. I’m there for a few minutes, the doctor touches and writes, he may prescribe something, then he leaves. I feel no better during or after my visit. Conversely, I generally pay the massage therapist much less for a full hour of personal, caring touch. I always leave with a greater sense of joy and vibrant health. You’re darn right I’m going to give them a tip!
I have a hard time relaxing: Sounds like you’re the perfect candidate for a massage! There are a few hints to get your mind and body prepared for a treatment. First of all, don’t use any stimulants before massage. So if you’re a coffee drinker, either go without, or cut your intake way down on massage day. The idea is to start the relaxation process before the massage. Get to your appointment early, so that you can sit and relax. Take nice relaxing breaths, and think about how special you are, and how wonderful it is that you have arrived for this well-deserved and very needed healthcare treat. The last thing that you want to do is rush around before your appointment and then run to your appointment either late or without any time to sit beforehand and unwind after driving. It will take your entire treatment to unwind, which completely defeats the purpose. Your state of relaxation is something that is multi-leveled. If you want to assign a number to each level, you could call complete and utter bliss (where you are bordering on sleep) a level 1. Running in from a hectic morning to get your massage would start you off at a level 10. If you started off your morning with a cup of herbal tea instead of coffee, and you listened to relaxing music in the bath, instead of doing last minute errands, you could start off your appointment at a level 6 or 7. It’s possible for someone to go from a level 10 to a 1, I’ve seen it! But these are seasoned pros that have made relaxation an art form. For most of us, we need to start at a lower level to really get to a 1 during a massage. I think that it’s an art worth practicing myself, don’t you?
I don’t want someone touching me: This is the one fear that there may not be an easy tip to solve. I have met people that just don’t want to be touched, they don’t get it, they don’t want to get it. I know that this group exists because I have met them when they come in as a ‘recipient of a gift certificate’. Usually one of their family members is trying to help them relax. But in most cases, it just doesn’t. There may be some psychological reason for this response towards massage, or being touched in general. But basically, if someone holds on to this concept, there’s not a lot someone can do to change their mind. I’ve thought many a time that I could change someone’s opinion about massage by giving an even better treatment. But there’s a sense throughout that the person just can’t wait until it’s over to breath again normally. Which makes complete relaxation out of the question. I’ve tried to offer various tips and tricks to take this type of individual deeper into relaxation, but to no avail. If you don’t like being touched, you more than likely won’t like receiving a massage. I would suggest coming to terms with the reason behind the feeling first.
What is a great massage?
A great massage begins in a great place and with the perfect therapist for you (which you now know how to find). It ends with your feeling of complete bliss and a profound new appreciation for your life and everything in it. Your body should feel light and loose and much better than when you arrived.
During your treatment, your massage therapist should make every attempt to send you to a very serene place that is far away from every day reality and the stress that comes along with it. Relaxing sounds are a nice way to achieve this, also a room that has soft lighting. All of the surroundings should be clean, fresh and simple with nothing that over-stimulates the mind.
Your therapist should be quiet and calm, never talkative or loud. They should be there for YOU, not the other way around. If they do speak, it should be for your benefit. If you find that your therapist is too chatty, it’s completely okay to say something like “Okay, I think I’m going to zone out now”, or “…take a little nap now” or whatever you feel is a polite way of saying that you’d like some quiet time now. Another time to speak up is if you are uncomfortable at any time. Don’t wait 2 seconds longer than you need to, if you feel any discomfort. Anything in the room can be changed to accommodate you (music, temperature, table settings, touch of therapist). I cannot reiterate the concept of ‘This is YOUR time’ enough. A good therapist will make each minute and each stroke count.
A great massage is worth every penny. My hope for you is that you eventually want to add other treatments to your massage to turn your one appointment into an entire spa day of relaxation. The more treatments that you have back to back, the lower your level of relaxation is bound to go. Your goal is to reach number 1! Now go do your own research and book that appointment today, you will be very very glad that you did.
Once you reach relaxation level 1, you will understand the ‘Spa Look’.