For those of us that give treatments professionally, we know that we were chosen to do so. If you've ever gone to a spa or salon and received a bad massage, you've met someone that chose the profession, and not the other way around.
Those of you that have asked some unwitting loved one to give you a shoulder massage when they didn't really want to, know what I mean when I say "to give a good massage, your heart has to be in it". I've found that a good massage begins with the the desire to give a good massage. That's not always as simple as it sounds. Sometimes you just don't feel like it. But if you would like to give a really great massage, whether you are a professional or not, I will tell you how to go about doing it.
Put everything else aside
This has a literal meaning, you must put both physical as well as mental things aside. The room that you choose should be clean and free from clutter, and so should your mind. This is where you make the decision that you will give the treatment that this fellow human being needs. This is where you part company with the needy side of you, and begin to offer your gifts to this person that needs your help.
Set the mood
Just by truly offering your gifts, you have begun to set the mood. But there are things that you can do to reduce both of your stress, and intensify a sense of restful calm with a little planning. You will see, that by giving a great massage, you will also be receiving the health benefits.
Think of all of your senses, and try to appeal to each one of them. Scent and vision are used the most before the massage begins. So be sure to have a pleasant scent in the air by using aromatherapy. Diffusers are great to have on hand so that you can use essential oils in any combination. Essential oils are live plant cells, that have gone through the distillation process. They are all-natural, and readily available. So please don't use toxic chemicals when you don't have to. You can also buy aromatherapy candles. And they can't be beat for adding a beautiful glow to the room. There's something timeless about using actual fire. In the winter, there's nothing better than a massage in a room with a fireplace. Whatever lighting you choose, keep the lights low, it's much more calming to the nerves.
Another natural element that can be to brought into the environment is water. There are beautiful choices of indoor water fountains nowadays. Hearing the sounds of water on a CD can be another healing sound. Massage is a cleansing process to the body and soul, and the natural sounds of water add to the feeling. There are many nice CD's to choose from today. Ask a massage therapist and they'll know what the good ones are.
My 'two rules' for clients
Anything that lends to a tranquil setting, is heading you in the right direction. In fact, I've always made a point of telling new clients my 'two rules' for a good treatment while I'm 'tucking them in', so to speak.
First of all, in a very soft, comforting way, I make it clear to them that this is 'their' time. And if they want anything changed, like the lighting, the music, anything, to please let me know. I tell them that everyone is different, and I want them to be completely comfortable.
This is usually the time when the new, inexperienced client will be thinking "what is she doing to me?" and " What does she want me to do?"
It's actually quite simple, I never need their help throughout the treatment (except when it's time to turn over). In fact the opposite is true. To push and pull and lift and move body parts, I need them to be completely loose and relaxed. Most of my clients are what I call givers (mothers, teachers, etc..) that love to help. I let them know that when they are tense (in helping mode), it makes it difficult for me to give them a treatment. Well, the last thing that they want is to be a burden for me, so they give in to the idea of relaxing easily. This is my semi-sneaky way of actually helping them!
I will sometimes give them visual examples, so that their mind will relax easier, like "Pretend that you are a rag doll", or "You are a piece of butter...melting on the sun". I may offer them more ideas like, "Picture yourself laying on a raft on a beautiful sunny day on a very slow moving river or on a lake. Feel the gentle flow of water beneath you." Or "Put yourself in a beautiful garden and smell the flowers". At this time you could even spritz some Rose hydrosol or any other beautiful choice into the air to help with the illusion. Talking is always a last resort. The best communication is done non-verbally whenever possible.
The idea that I try to convey, is that I want them to remove themselves mentally from the room, and that I am there to facilitate their healing and relaxation. A relaxed mind, brings about a relaxed body, and visa versa. Some people actually seek permission to fully relax, and I make sure to give it to them. With experience, clients no longer need that permission from others, and they are able to relax earlier in their treatment.
How to begin
I will tell you how to give a basic 'stress reduction' treatment that you can make you own, and change any way that you wish. If you have a professional massage table, you'll have the client facing down, with their head in the face cradle. You'll want to drape them from the lower back downward, with their feet on a long thin pillow to take the pressure off of their knees and lower back. Always consider the temperature that your client is feeling. Because they have more skin exposed, and they are lying still, they will have a tendency to be cooler than you will be. So don't hesitate to use blankets when needed.
Heat up your oil by either gently rubbing in between your palms, or heat slightly in a bottle warmer. Stand at the top end of the table, facing your client. Starting at the top of the back, massage the oil around the back to evenly distribute the oil. This takes practice. The idea is to lend a feeling of confidence to your client through your touch. Make your movements solid... yet fluid, firm... yet caring. If you have soft music playing, use the tempo to add harmony to the experience. Which doesn't mean that you necessarily have to massage to the beat. Just tie it into the movements, to add another dimension. This is just another part of the rich non-verbal communication that takes place in a good massage treatment.
Once the oil is distributed, start at the top of the neck and gently run your thumbs down the spine to the lower back. Feel as you go, and be careful not to push too hard. This area is tender at the beginning of the treatment, and if you're not careful, you'll lose the client's trust, and they will not be as apt to relax. While still at the base of the spine, run both palms up the middle of both sides of the back, then out onto the arms on both sides at the same time, and then bring them back together in the middle, ending at the base of the scull. Repeat this process a couple more times. Now, after moving your position to the side of your client, cup your hands and do a slow, rhythmic drumming motion up and down the spine, across the shoulder area, and down the arms and back. Next you can focus in between the shoulder blades, using gentle kneading motions with your thumbs, and alternating the two hands in a kneading motion in various areas. Gently do circular motions with your thumbs up the soft tissue that surrounds each vertebra, beginning at the lower portion of the back. Keep your motions fluid, and never remove your hands from your client. Even if you need more massage oil, keep one hand remaining on the client at all times. Glide your hands up to the top of the vertebra and move your own position to the other side of your client, and repeat the smooth, kneading motions that you just did on the other side.
It's so important to invest yourself in what the client is feeling. The more massage that you've had yourself the better. The more able you are to 'feel' what you are doing, the better. In other words, the more ability you have to put yourself in your client's place, the better treatment you'll be able to give. You'll eventually come up with your own series of movements on the back, neck and shoulder area. Since every body is different, you'll find that every massage will be slightly different, no matter how much you like to stick to a regular series of movements.
To complete the back segment, position yourself at the top of the client again (like when you began), and do the same movement that you started with (the thumb to lower back, palms up to top of shoulder area, down the shoulders and back to the center). Do this 3 times, very slowly. End the segment with your hands going up the sides of the head, make a couple of slow circles, and gently grasp the hair and run your fingers gently through and out. If you do it correctly, the client will not even be sure when you've let go of their hair.
Remove the excess oil on the back in a way that feels great, and says to the client physically "We are finishing this part of the treatment, soon it's time to wind into the next". Place a towel that has been soaking in warm water and the scent of your choice (Eucalyptus or Lavender would be nice choices). Lay it down the spine and gently press with your hands (this feels really good). Let it sit for about a half a minute, and wipe off the excess oil in firm, yet gently strokes. Put a nice soft dry towel over the same area to collect any excess water and gently press. Gently put one hand at the base of the neck, and the other at the base of the spine and hold for about a minute. If you've done everything correctly, you should feel a gentle flowing current going down the spine and the client's breathing will be slow and relaxed.
Turning the client over for round two
At this point, the client feels so good, the last thing that they feel like doing is lifting a finger. But you want them to turn over. Remove the pillow from under their feet, and remove the draping that they are wrapped in, while making sure that they are not uncomfortably exposed. In a gentle voice, say, "At this point I'm going to ask that you roll over very carefully so that we can continue your treatment." Be right there to help guide them and make sure that they are safe. Don't talk, don't make them think any more than they need to. Immediately rap them up in the sheet again, leaving their arms and upper chest area exposed. Cover each arm with a towel forming a "V".
The best position for you to be in for the next segment is seated, so a stool that's set at the right height is going to be helpful. Get comfortable, and notice where your client is holding the most tension. If it is in the neck and shoulders, apply oil to your hands, fold the two towels down to expose their upper arms, and slowly start a shoulder area massage by placing both palms at the top of both shoulders. Gently, slowly, press down alternately on both shoulders as if to say, "we are going to be bringing these down". Don't do anything that is forceful. When first beginning in any area, always work your way into the area in a way that says "I'm working with you, not against you".
If the client has tension in the face, they more than likely hold it in the scalp area too. So sometimes I like to begin with a massage of the scalp area. When this area is massaged well, it's true nirvana! You may want to begin with just a drop or two of an oil that has had an essential oil blended into it. Rub it somewhat quickly to bring it to it's fullest aroma, then cup your hands about 3-4 inches in front of the client's nose. Be careful to do this slowly and thoughtfully, you don't want them to get nervous or feel claustrophobic. Sometimes it's nice to say something like, " Take a nice gentle breath". Just the addition of the fresh scent is enough to take someone to a whole deeper state of relaxation. But to begin the second phase of the massage in this way, sends a message deep into the brain, that this is a special experience. These are the gifts that you bring to your client. The ability to sense what they need, when they need it.
Use a light touch and do circular motions with all fingers throughout the scalp. If you are not already skilled in massage procedures in the neck area, please don't try turning the neck or doing anything that could potentially harm someone. Neck injuries can have serious consequences. So again, please don't do anything that twists or cracks the neck in any way. If you already have been trained in neck manipulation, you will know what to do to bring release to these areas. For others, go directly to the lower neck area. You can make alternate circular motions on either side of the spine with both hands. This is where most people hold tension, and can be quite effective in bringing all-over body relaxation.
Another nice way to begin the shoulder massage is by placing both hands like an upside down "V" on the upper chest area, with your index fingers side by side. Have the tips of the fingers start small alternating circular movements, while slowly moving outward, eventually bringing both hands into mirror imaging of what the other is doing. This should be done extremely slow. The chest holds a lot of tension, and feels so good when it is released. This movement really brings the attention of the client directly to that tension, and will hopefully have the client breathing a nice deep breath before you are done.
Your next motion will be using your palms to go halfway down the arms and back up to the bottom of the neck. Make circular motions between the shoulder blades (where most people hold most of their tension). You should start to feel more movement in the shoulders and arms, and neck at this point. Do some "pushing" movements in areas like the tops of the shoulders, both from pressing down towards their feet, and down towards the floor in the outer shoulder region. Also alternate sides as you gently push down and stretch that area. When you push down on one shoulder, the neck may want to pull down as well, so gently put your hand at the base of the scull on the same side. Otherwise the client may feel that they need to tighten to counteract.
So you can see that you're doing a series of kneading, doing circular movements, pushing, and all the while... 'feeling' what the client is feeling. The ability to 'feel' what the client feels is an important skill that improves with time and practice. Once you get good at it, you'll feel as though you've received the treatment yourself. It's a case of getting so good at giving, that eventually you begin receiving as well.
Develop your own style
Anyone can tell you how to massage, and what steps to take, in what order. But the best way to create any massage treatment is to make it your own. We each think, touch, and feel differently, so we each bring something different to our treatment. That's why as a client, you may have different massage therapists that you like to go to for different reasons.
But no matter what your personal style is, you must put the client first. That way you will be able to give a more instinctual form of treatment. There is a flow that takes place in a great massage. At the end of a great treatment, it feels like a giant wave has come through the room and washed everything clean. There's no recollection of space or time, and you feel as light as a feather.
How to end
All signals should be there that the client is in a deep state of bliss. You'll see a steady relaxed breath that is slow and rhythmic. And you will see a nice solid heartbeat. You'll notice that the deep beautiful breathing is now coming from the stomach area, rather than the chest area. I've always made it clear to my clients, that snoring is one of the most beautiful sounds that I can hear. This means that they've given themselves completely to the experience. Another sound that is beautiful is gurgling in the stomach. I've had many new clients that will apologize, or make mention that they must be hungry, or that they've just eaten. Actually, I've heard these gurgles so many times over the years, that I know it is a natural event. It just means that the client is giving in to the process, and their stomach muscles are relaxing and allowing the natural flow that wants to take place.
When it comes time to end your treatment, it should be just like you started it, in a slow, but firm, humble, yet confident way. Always end the treatment by slowing down the pace and lightening up the touch. You are giving non-verbal indications to your client that the treatment is slowly coming to a close. I generally always end at the top of the head, because this symbolizes a feeling of completeness. The client leaves with a feeling that they have been relaxed, refreshed, and respected.
I will then go to the feet and gently hold them firmly, so that the client can sense a feeling of becoming grounded in the present. This brings the experience from head to toe. No matter what, do this in a relaxed way, and do not rush the importance of this final step. Wait until you sense that the client is ready for you to let go. You may see them take one nice long breath, or they may just smile. This is a signal that the wave has come through, and all is well here on earth.
Use all-natural products
I'd like to offer one more word of advice about your choice of products. All-natural products are those that have all of their properties intact, and have no synthetic (possibly harmful) chemicals. You are working on a natural body, therefore it only makes sense that all-natural products will work in harmony with it. Good choices for your massage oil are Almond oil and Jojoba (which is actually more of a fluid wax). Coconut oil works well, but needs to be in a warmed state to be fluid. They all add the perfect amount of "slip" to your massage, work beautifully to soften skin, and don't interfere with whatever scents you choose throughout the treatment.
I feel that essential oils are God's gift to the massage experience. They are actual living cells of plants that have been extracted, usually through the distillation process. Look for pure "essential oils". Costs vary from one type of essential oil to another, but you only use a drop or two at a time because they are so potent. So in the end, they are not as expensive as you may think. Use them with great care. I would certainly recommend buying some good books on this subject before you ever invest in any.
Once you know enough about essential oils, you will find them to be a pleasurable means of bringing in the sense of smell to your treatment. There are a myriad of choices, including various blends that you can come up with. Scent works on a very primitive area of the brain known as the limbic system. So when you choose the correct scents, your client will be taken to a whole new realm of existence. Learning to use essential oils is a lifelong process that can be quite rewarding.
You'll find new and interesting ways that you can add essential oils to your room in the way of a diffuser, hydrosol sprays, and candles. You'll also find that you can add different EO's to your massage oil according to their own properties and the effects that you are trying to achieve. You may want to use something anti-bacterial and anti-fungal on the feet, something stimulating or heating on the back, and something exotic or refreshing on the scalp. Try not to get stagnant. Listen to your client when you ask them what their favorite scents are. Experiment, and grow.
I wish you the best of luck with the treatments that you give. Massage is something that I believe has never been given the full credit that it deserves. I've been to many doctors that didn't even come close to giving me the health benefits that a single massage can provide. I look forward to the day that it will be a part of everyone's healthcare regimen.
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