Most people are aware of at least some of the benefits of massage: pain and stress relief, increased circulation, lower blood pressure, better sleep, and even immune system support and headache relief. Massage is an oft neglected but very important part of health and wellness maintenance. Stress causes or exacerbates so many of the symptoms and diseases that plague our daily lives. As I tell my clients, anything that helps you manage stress will improve your health. As a massage therapist, I want everyone to be aware of all of this, but there are several more things I’d like all my clients to know, answers to all the questions my clients have asked or maybe been afraid to ask over the 15 years I’ve been doing massage.
One of the things on everyone’s mind, especially if it’s their first massage, is the dreaded and awkward (only for the client though; nothing is awkward for me anymore) question: How much do I take off? The answer is simple: it’s up to you. My personal preference as a therapist is for my clients to take off everything. This is because undergarments, quite frankly, get in the way. Underwear often rides up high on the low back and impedes my massage in this important area. Who doesn’t have low back pain? I want to get in there and work those muscles, and it’s easier if I don’t have clothes in the way. Shorts on men usually cover up at least half of the thigh, so if you want your legs worked, it’s going to be easier on me if you ditch those. That being said, if you want to keep those undergarments on, by all means, do. It’s whatever makes you comfortable that’s most important. Needless to say, this applies to massage in a private room; chair massages are done fully clothed.
Lots of clients make small talk in the beginning of a session. I usually try to give short, closed-ended answers during these conversations, not because I don’t want to talk, but because I never want my clients to feel obligated to talk to me. Once again, this is up to you. If you want to talk I’m all for that, but remember, it’s your massage, it’s your time. If you talk, it’s pretty difficult to zone out and get to a Zen state, so if that’s what you came for, feel free to keep quiet. If you fall asleep, all the better for you. It’s perfectly appropriate and I assure you, you won’t be the first. Snoring is okay, too.
The one thing I do want you to talk about is pressure. Please do not be shy, as I missed the mind reading class in massage school, so I’m not the best at it. If it’s too much, you have to tell me. Please don’t lie there and suffer through it. If it’s not enough, tell me that too. The interesting thing here though, is that people seem to have no problem telling me to give more pressure, but seem to never want to tell me to back off. I’m not going to judge you by how much pressure you can take. There’s no contest here.
Speaking of judging, one of the things about doing massage that sometimes breaks my heart a little is when my clients talk themselves down, saying not nice things about their bodies. Of course, it’s almost always women, and they will say things like, “Oh, if you could just rub all that fat off,” or “if you could do something about that cellulite,” etc. What I want you to know is this: I am honored to have you on my table. I am honored that you allow me to touch you, and give you what I can to help you; whatever it is you need for this hour or hour and a half. I am never thinking judgmental or mean things about my clients’ bodies. I repeat, never. I can’t say all massage therapists are like this, but the good ones, the ones who come to this profession from a genuine perspective of wanting to help people and make them feel good, are. The same thing applies to your shaving or your need for a pedicure. It matters not at all to me whether you shaved your legs or when your last pedicure was. You are not on my table to impress me. This goes back to the underwear thing, too. If you are leaving them on, please don’t wear your prettiest/nicest ones. I’m always afraid I’m going to get oil on them and ruin them.
People like to ask me what my specialty is, and if I have to nail it down, it’s this: listening to my client and giving what it is they are asking for, not necessarily what I think they need, although I will try to educate. The problem with the vast majority of MTs is this: they cannot deviate from their routine. If the client needs or wants something different from what the MT does day in and day out, the client often leaves disappointed. I think as a rule, MTs like to give the type of massage that they themselves like to get. My main goal when I get a massage is to zone out. I like a meditative, mentally restoring massage. I want to get to that altered state, I want to escape the world for a little while and get turned into jelly, maybe reach some sort of spiritual epiphany, so that’s probably what I’m best at giving, but I will always do my best to give each client whatever it is that they are seeking for their massage.
I listen closely to my clients and I try to tailor each massage specifically to the client. Don’t be afraid to ask for whatever it is you want; deep tissue, light pressure, extra time on your feet, scalp massage; the more you tell me, the better job I can do for you. Some people don’t really know what they want, and that’s okay, but if you do know, don’t be afraid to speak up! I once had a very petite lady on my table who was booked for an hour and a half, and I couldn’t get much out of her on her preferences for the massage, so I thought to myself, I guess I’ll do her feet twice; when she’s face down and again at the end when she’s face up. She was rather small; there just wasn’t much of her to work with. After the massage was over, she said: “That was the best massage I’ve ever had, I’ve had massages all over the world, it’s part of my job to try out hotel amenities, and no one has ever massaged my feet like that, I wear heels all day, and I really needed that.” I was delighted that she had gotten what she needed, but I thought, Well, I wish you would have mentioned that, it might have been even better. She never said a thing about her feet, she just got lucky that I chose to spend lots of time there (I do like to think that I am particularly good at foot work, however). The bottom line here is that it’s your massage, and what I as a massage therapist want is to give you the best massage you’ve ever had. I hope I succeed more often then I fall short, and I hope to see you on my table soon.
"Without struggle there is no progress" -Frederick Douglas