Sometimes there’s nothing more rejuvenating than receiving a magnificent massage. The perfect massage experience can reset your mind, realign your body and leave you feeling completely right with the world. For some people, frequent massage remains an absolute staple of their self-care routine, and for good reason. Therapeutic touch alleviates anxiety and depression, which happen to be the most prevalent mental disorders in the United States today. Research shows that massage therapy can also play an important role in the aging process by tempering the effects of dementia, high-blood pressure and osteoarthritis as explained in an article on the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) website. AMTA also ran an article rounding up research into massage’s ability to improve cardiovascular health.
When you can actually drop in and let go during massage, the results support profound healing. While it’s a good idea to develop a healthy relationship with an experienced therapist, I’m going to share how you can receive the best massage of your life, regardless of who is giving the massage.
After almost 15 years of providing master-level bodywork, I have discovered certain keys to obtaining maximum results from your session, whether your masseuse is your significant other, a recent graduate or a master practitioner. While the quality of the massage will always depend to a degree on the skill of your therapist, there are a number of ways you can take back the power and help yourself sink into the relaxation and bliss massage can offer.
Using these tips, I have been able to savor hundreds of massages around the world — and as an expert, I can be quite picky:
Before the session:
- Get your circulation going. Engaging in some light stretching or movement before your appointment is ideal for getting the blood flowing. Even a hot shower is a wonderful way to begin loosening up your muscles. This way, you already have a head start and your therapist can take you even further down relaxation road than if you arrived needing to spend ample time warming up stiff muscles.
- Arrive already relaxed. Many people rush through traffic to get to their massage on time. This is a huge mistake because it ends up costing them half the session just to stop their thoughts from racing. Make it a point to leave plenty of time for transportation and parking when you plan your trip. Walk up slowly, and engage in some deep diaphragmatic breathing, which will activate your parasympathetic nervous system, the setting that allows our bodies much needed rest. Think of this as the yoga of transportation. The more relaxed you are when you show up, the better experience you will have on the table.
- Communicate kindly. There are certain things you can say to your therapist that will inspire them to be more generous with their care. Demanding they work a certain way will not put them on your team, as they may feel you don’t respect their expertise. Neither will omitting your wishes and expectations, since they are not mind readers. You’re paying for the session, so ask for what you want. A simple ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ go far. Even adding, ‘I trust your intuition’ will help them to feel safe and encouraged to go the extra mile with you.
On the table:
- Switch off your mind. Most of us spend our entire day in doing-mode, focused upon tasks pushing productivity. On the massage table, relaxation is defined as a letting go of the need to do anything, including within the mind. Any thoughts about what you’re doing later, or what you did earlier, or what you have to do next week need to cease in order for you to release. Simply noticing that you’re in doing-mode is enough to bring your mind back into receiving-mode momentarily, which is required for that melt-y jello feeling you’re hoping for. Do this as many times as is necessary throughout your session.
- Visualize. One beautiful visualization that I guide my clients through helps them to activate their body’s receiving-mode. I tell them to imagine a warm and sparkling gold color raining down upon their entire body. I then instruct them to feel the warmth and glow of it being absorbed by their skin. Focusing on receiving this gold rain, will turn on receiving-mode and help you drift off into bliss.
- Let your body be heavy. The heavier you can allow your limbs, torso and head to be, the more relaxed you will become. When your therapist tries to stretch, adjust or move your arm, it should be completely limp, as if you were asleep.
- Focus on the body. The most effective place for the mind’s attention during massage is on the sensations in the body — the feeling of the sheet on your skin, the warmth of the breath expanding in the lower belly, the cool rushing sensation as it empties out through the lips. These sensations are the key to staying in receiving-mode.
- But don’t hover. Just as someone standing over your shoulder while you read causes you to tense up, if you follow every move of the therapist’s hands over your arching muscles, your body will also contract in a reactive response. It’s best to give the area being worked on space by focusing upon a different area in the body. Sensations to focus on instead are the ones mentioned above, such as the breath.
- Let your body warm up naturally. It’s actually common for people to ask for more pressure in the first 5-minutes of the session. Don’t ask for more pressure if you’re not in a state of total relaxation first. Forcing pressure against your tense muscles and mind only creates more resistance, and is not beneficial for releasing your stress. In fact, it may add more stress as your body fights back unconsciously. Know that it takes about 30-minutes for the body to warm up on average. As you relax, your therapist can naturally provide deeper pressure in a way that will accomplish the release and results your seek. If you find yourself deeply relaxed in both mind and body, but would still like more pressure, then feel free to make a request.
- Communicate any distractions. If the music makes you uncomfortable in any way, or the temperature of the room becomes too cold, let your therapist know immediately. These distractions will take you away from your body, and ultimately your relaxation. Even if a thought is hijacking your attention, you may share it if appropriate — not to initiate a conversation, but simply to get it out of your mind. For example, you could say, “I think I left my front door unlocked and it’s distracting me. I just wanted to say that so I stop thinking about it.”
- Turn up your breath in tough spots. When an area feels tender, the tendency is to hold the breath as a protection mechanism, when in fact the healing thing to do is to deepen and increase the breath. This will allow the tension to be softened and dissolved. Holding the breath simply holds the tension. If you are increasing the volume of your breathing and the intensity is still overwhelming, then just let your therapist know you that you need to lighten up in that particular spot.
After the massage:
- Take your sweet time. I can’t tell you how many people jump right up off the table. You shouldn’t budge until your therapist has left the room and you have taken at least five deep and slow breaths. Don’t rush while getting dressed either, or you’ll throw your nervous system back into the fight-or-flight setting associated with stress. Take it as slowly as you possibly can. Stretch out on the table. Enjoy your hard earned relaxation. Soak it up.
The ability to let go and relax is a much needed skill missing from our culture, as I witness via the majority of clients that come through my door. These tips will help you become a master of relaxation. If you practice them over time, eventually you should be able to drop in and receive a truly transcendent massage, no matter who is doing the hard work. Developing the capacity to successfully turn off the mind, communicate what you need and focus on the breath during massage will award you the skills to become a master of relaxation in your daily life, as well.
Nicole Casanova is a vitality coach, intuitive adviser and myofascial massage specialist. She deeply cares about anyone feeling burned-out at their job or in an important relationship, and she believes everyone should wake up basking in the glow of their glorious day. She is currently supporting the staff of a women’s addiction recovery and domestic violence safe home in Oakland, CA. She also co-facilitates spiritually nurturing meditation retreats in Paradise, Philippines bi-annually and leads vitality workshops in the San Francisco Bay Area. You can find more info at NicoleCasanova.com.