Expert Tips on Massage: Making Therapeutic Choices
Massage is one of the remedies available to us for many of the challenges of the modern world. Even in a single session, we can experience appreciable reductions in stress hormones, improvement in immune system function, and better overall resilience. Massage therapy helps us cope, and in the right circumstances, it can also allow us to more effectively develop a healthy mind-body-spirit connection.
After all, some of the ailments we experience today can include overwhelming physical and emotional pain, weight gain, frequent illnesses, blue feelings, increased anxiety exhaustion, and inability to rest effectively — the list goes on and on. These uncomfortable symptoms of the fight or flight response may have even come to feel almost normal. The imbalance of our stress hormones, including cortisol, can create a domino effect of symptoms that can have long term effects on vital organs and functions of the body.
To counteract this imbalance, a therapeutic massage, body treatment, or even a spa day can be meaningful self-care. Just knowing that you’re able to schedule some time for a massage may bring on waves of relief. Claiming time for yourself, making the appointment, and devoting funds toward self-care mean you are prioritizing your needs.
Whichever way you book your session, whether you’re using an app or calling for an appointment, bring self-care into every part of the process. So whether you’re a frequent flier in the spa world, or a newbie to receiving massage, it can be helpful to have some success strategies on hand to maximize the benefit you receive from your experience. Use discretion when making a decision about the hands in which you are literally entrusting your body.
The Professionalism of Massage Therapy
Modern massage therapy has become its own healing arts profession with standards for practitioners. I have personally witnessed changes in the landscape of massage therapy and healing change since my early days as a massage therapist and bodyworker in 1995. When I first started practicing, massage therapists had an entertainer’s license (think the seedy side of entertainment). Thankfully, this has been upgraded to the standards of education promoted by the nonprofit licensing body California Massage Therapy Council (CAMTC). Finding a credentialed therapist allows you to know that someone has fulfilled a set of requirements for the practice of therapeutic massage.
Options for Every Budget and Body
There are places to choose for every budget and every state of mind. You can head to Koreatown where you will find countless Jim-Jil-Bang traditional spas. Or you can venture to a local strip mall where you can find a chain promising deals if you sign up for monthly services. You may visit a massage therapist at your chiropractor’s office. Another option is to visit one of the famous high-end spas that are as much a part of the Los Angeles landscape as the Hollywood sign. There are also a variety of apps that guarantee same-day service for booking.
Seeking Referrals for Massage
You may have your go-to therapist or you may be looking for someone new to work on you. One of my favorite methods for finding a therapist who is a good match for you is to ask around. Check in with those connected friends who are a good source of advice. Obtain referrals from healthcare practitioners or providers that you trust. See if you connect with someone at a health fair or other venue. If you are at the gym and someone comes out of what they describe as their best massage ever, ask for the therapist’s name.
Choose a Healer
Price alone isn’t a guarantee of good service. The experience level of therapists at even high-end spas can vary. Choose spas or facilities that have respectful relationships with their employees or contractors. And look for practitioners who view their work as a healing art. Whenever you can, take the time to interview or talk to the person who will be working on you in advance.
Use discernment. Would you feel comfortable with someone working on you if they smoke, eat junk food, or have a negative outlook on life? What if there are communication barriers? Whatever your own gender, think about your comfort level with the gender of the person working on you. In addition, ask yourself if it is really worth it if you come out of your massage feeling worse due to a toxic energy exchange or because the person was robotic in the way they approached the treatment.
Ask Questions When Booking
When you call ahead for an appointment, you can request to speak to someone who can both accurately describe the services and can tell you about the providers who may be working with you. Ask the person on the phone if they’ve received a treatment or know a provider or therapist personally. Look for places where there is personalized service and where the people at the front desk or answering the phone have had the treatments so they can tell you in their own words what it is like. Filter out situations where it sounds like the staff might be trained to tell a prospective client what they think they want to hear. The experience you have making the appointment may give you a feel for your in-person experience.
The environment in which your receive a massage can affect your experience. Look for something clean and serene, where you feel at ease. A healing holistic environment from beginning to end is something that many spas are famous for creating. A comfy heated table, spotlessly clean sheets, aromatherapy, a quiet calming environment, high-quality products used during the treatment and nurturing aftercare should be the norm and not the exception. If you’re looking for a more casual setting where treatments are not necessarily done in private rooms, be aware of what promotes your personal relaxation and restoration. In some settings, you may want to be prepared to bring your own oils or lotions if you want to make sure of the product quality.
Even Attention is Healing
Just like any healthcare provider, you want to trust that the person touching your body is fully present and their attention is focused on you. This focused presence and attention has healing benefit. While a lot of attention can be put on the different types of massage modalities, a skilled and intuitive therapist will listen to the body and be guided by it.
One of the most important things you can do is to tell the therapist, prior to them putting their hands on you, as much as you feel comfortable about your current situation. This can, and should, be related to your body, mind, and spirit. Begin a massage with a conversation about how you are feeling and your needs.
Be Aware of Boundaries
During a therapeutic massage, by law, a client must always be draped and covered with a sheet. When working on a specific area of the body, the practitioner will move the sheet to uncover it. At no time or under any circumstances will the breasts or genitals be exposed. If you find yourself in a situation where it feels like the practitioner is getting too close for comfort in any of those areas, stop the session. You always have the right to get up off the table and leave.
What to Wear Under the Sheets
As a massage therapist, clients have often asked me, “underwear on or off?” During a treatment like Swedish massage, going without underwear can be preferable to allow for a more fluid flow. But, if you are more comfortable with underwear, keep it on. The most important criteria during the treatment is your feeling of safety.
Gain More with Gentle Techniques
There may be a temptation to take the “no pain no gain” mentality into a massage. But people who feel that this is the only way to approach a massage may actually benefit more from a calming, gentle treatment. The beauty of hands-on bodywork is the simple act of nurturing, conscious touch can begin to relax and release knots in the body and mind that have been stuck for what seems like an eternity. Along these lines, listen to the messages from your body. Don’t let your mental expectations or preconceived notions talk you into the deep tissue when your body really desires a more calming experience like a Swedish massage, an Ayurvedic Abhyanga, or a gentle lymphatic drainage technique.
Give Yourself Enough Time
In general, the professional hour for a message is considered to be 50 minutes. In many high-end spas, the clock begins when the practitioner picks you up for the treatment. Arrive early so you can benefit from the full time of the treatment, especially if the schedule is for a 50-minute session. You can definitely receive a comprehensive full body massage within 50 to 60 minutes. That being said, make sure to communicate your needs to the therapist to ensure they can cover what you need most. Set up reasonable expectations.
If you don’t have the time to drop in, 30 minutes can be sufficient to address pain in a specific area of the body. But when you can, set aside the 80 or 90 minutes for a longer treatment. This length allows the practitioner to work on any specifics and to cover the whole body in a way that feels complete. In my own practice, most of my clients choose 90 minutes. This is the optimum time to relax, release, and reach that bliss point.