Getting a massage seems straightforward enough—you lie on a table and let a qualified therapist employ massage techniques to soothe your body—but a surprising number of people aren’t entirely sure what is expected of them during a massage. No doubt, differences exist depending on the therapist, the venue, the type of massage, and so on, but there are some general tips that would probably apply to many massage situations. Below are a number of things to keep in mind for your next massage, in order of importance—in terms of resulting a session that you will find effective and enjoyable—rather than in the chronological order of a given massage.
- Undress to whatever level you feel comfortable. There is no right or wrong; you just want to do whatever is going to allow you to rest most easily. A few things to consider when deciding how much clothing to remove, however, are that (a) by Illinois state law and the training of any reputable therapist, you will be completely covered during the massage except for whatever isolated area is being worked; (b) if women leave their bras on, it is next to impossible for the therapist to do any long flowing strokes; (c) if shorts are worn, the therapist may be impeded from doing effective work in the glutes and/or hamstrings, for instance; and (d) absolutely none of this applies if you are getting a chair massage or a massage in an open space!
- This is your time to relax! Try not to worry about anticipating what the therapist wants you to do—mostly, what the therapist wants you to do is let your muscles go slack. If the therapist needs your head or a limb to be in a different position, she will move it for you. There may be times when the therapist will want your assistance—for example, when it’s time to turn over—and at those times, she will explain what she needs you to do. Otherwise, just try to be. Forget about thinking, forget about moving: just feel. Of course, we are not all equally skilled at letting go, but that’s the goal.
- Communicate. As with any good relationship, clear and honest communication is a key component. Before the massage, take time to speak with your therapist about what you are looking for in terms of outcome and about what you want your massage experience to be. In general, talking during the massage is not expected—and can actually detract from your being able to fully relax—but if the massage is not proceeding the way you had hoped or if anything gives you pain or otherwise makes you feel uncomfortable about the massage, let your therapist know. Massage therapists are knowledgeable about a variety of techniques, but each of us experiences them differently. Because everyone’s level of sensitivity is different and because our preferences are unique to each of us, it is difficult for the therapist to know what feels good and/or effective for you and what doesn’t—unless you tell him. This also applies to temperature: if you feel too warm or too cold during the massage, let your therapist know so he can take steps to make you better able to enjoy your massage.
- Following the massage, ask the therapist for self-care tips if she doesn’t provide them. Are there stretches that would be helpful for relieving or preventing particular muscles issues? Are there things you can do at home to alleviate remaining muscle pain? What tools are effective for addressing recurring muscle pain?
- While not required, a clean “work surface” is much appreciated by the therapist. It’s not always possible, of course, to arrive at your massage appointment sweat- and odor-free (I’m thinking, for instance, of Chicago’s notoriously hot and humid summers), but whatever efforts you make along those lines will be beneficial to the therapist and, therefore, ultimately to your massage.
- If you have long hair, consider putting it up in some way that will keep it out of the way. Doing so not only keeps your hair from getting oily, but it also allows the therapist to focus on the work at hand rather than on repeatedly trying to move your hair aside.
In sum, your main responsibility as a client is to help make it possible for your therapist to give you the best massage of which she is capable. In the unlikely event that you find yourself in an unredeemingly unpleasant massage situation, remember that you always have the option to end a massage early if it seems you and the therapist are just not on the same wavelength. However, when you keep in mind the above points, you are giving both yourself and your therapist a fair chance at achieving a satisfying outcome.