How to make sure you get a great massage
Have you ever had a massage where you felt frustrated because you didn't get what you wanted? Or you just didn't connect or feel at ease with the therapist? And no matter what you did, you couldn't relax? That's the worst! I know how it feels because I've received countless massages and all kinds of advanced bodywork. Since it's also my profession, I can say for sure, that it's just as disappointing for the therapist as it is for you.
In the beginning of my career, I would blame myself when it seemed I'd failed to "make someone relax." Over time, I realized that I'm only able to do my part, and like any relationship, the person receiving massage has a role to play as well. But it doesn't do any good if massage therapists do nothing more than say "relax" when the person on the table is clearly not relaxed.
Eventually, I learned that no one can make anyone else relax. Relaxation is a state of being - not of doing. So, we therapists must go beyond demanding, "Relax!" We have to help our clients learn to interface.
The term interface is a relatively new buzz word in bodywork. Texas based massage educator, David Lauterstein describes interfacing as, "A revelation in body therapies because it establishes a clear guideline for the choreography not just of the body, but of the mind-heart-spirit."
When your therapist begins to establish touch, they are consciously seeking an aware response from you. That forms a two way connection. And that is the crux of interfacing.
The basic concepts I offer as advice to facilitate interfacing are center, breathe and communicate. This advice comes from more than a decade of experience both as the giver and receiver of innumerable massage therapy sessions.
Concept 1 : Center
Showing up ready to receive a healing bodywork session needs to include more than taking a shower and wearing comfortable clothing. The most important thing is for you to take a moment in the beginning, even before you feel hands on your body, to center.
We talk about centering a lot in holistic circles. The simplest way to think of being centered is this: I am here, now. When we are here now it means that we're not thinking about where we just came from or what is going to happen in the future. We are not worrying about other people. We are intentionally looking inward, to our own unique experience as it is at that moment.
Super easy, right?! Or not. Depending on your personality, constitution, life circumstances and experience - centering could feel easy breezy or nearly impossible. But don't worry if it feels like a struggle at first. Just put this concept of centering into you mind. And each time you go for a massage, gently think to yourself, I am here, now. And let that be enough to set the intention for being totally centered and present for the duration of the session.
When to center:
Before the massage starts - while you're in the waiting room, getting on the table, before touch contact
Throughout the massage each time you notice your attention drifting away from yourself in the here and now
Concept 2 : Breathe
We all breathe. Yes, we certainly do. So why then does it feel like we're holding our breath? Imagine the primitive human ancestors hiding from dangerous animals. If you're in danger, what do you do? Hold your breath. Think of any scary movie. Hiding in the closet, you better hold your breath! It's all about survival.
Similarly, when we're under stress, we don't stop breathing but we subconsciously breathe shallowly. When your massage therapist places their hands gently on your body, you may hear a deep inhale and exhale as they take the first deep breath of the session. This is an unspoken invitation for you to join. And if you answer the invitation and allow the fullness of your breath to emerge, you'll notice that you immediately begin to let go of tension and sink deeper into yourself.
When to take a deep breath:
On the first point of contact
During transition between long or intense massage strokes
To release tension whenever you sense it is ready to go
Concept 3: Communicate
Before diving in, I want to address the "what not to do" aspect of bodywork communication. When you go for a massage, it can be automatic to unconsciously assume the role and communication habits of a typical 'customer' as prescribed by our social norms. In our society customers are always right, businesses aim to please, and satisfaction is guaranteed. Customer' mentality can, when we carry them into the bodywork session, limit healing possibilities.
In one instance the client specifically spells out what they want the therapist to do. Like exactly what modalities, amount of pressure, areas to work on and for how long etc. You can imagine how a therapist would feel limited or constrained by rigid expectations.
In the other scenario, the client gives no real indication of their internal sensibilities and just says something vague like, "Work on whatever you find." But because they had unconscious, or unexpressed preferences and needs, they are displeased when the therapist doesn't figure out what they really wanted all along.Of course, massage therapists share an equal, if not greater, role in establishing the framework of helpful communication. But we're focused on your (client) perspective right now.
So, what kind of communication helps us interface in a more helpful way?
Bodywork invites us to step into a symbiotic relationship. To fully interface and get the most out of massage, it is important that both client and therapist listen attentively to each other, and tune in to the bodymind receiving healing. Letting go of expectations, of agenda, and just beginning to listen to your body's rhythms and feel the subtle responses - that's what interfacing is all about. And when you notice these movements, realize that you can put words to them. Communicate to the therapist what you feel so that they can use that information to further understand how to help facilitate healing.
Turn your attention to the place that is being touched
Then begin to imagine what is around that area
Notice front back, side to side
Try to see an image (not necessarily a literal, but an artistic or figurative image) of yourself as a bodymind being
Let it all meld into one perfect symbiosis so that sensation is both felt and heard
Put your observations into words to give the therapist clues to what is happening in your body
Use expressive words: warm, cold, releasing, opening, spreading, radiating
Describe connections, eg. "While you're massaging my neck, I feel a radiating warmth down my arm and a feeling of release in my shoulder."
And likewise, use your powers of observation to check in with your body before the session begins. Provide clues to what you're feeling, and let them know what your most pressing need is for the session. For example, "I feel tension in my low back and have a mild headache. I'm also anxious from a long work day. I'd like to be free of these pains and feel more connected and at ease in my body."
At the end of the session, when asked how you feel, avoid empty words like "good" or "okay". Express yourself. "I feel relaxed and whole. No pain when I move." or "I feel overwhelmed and tired. It's like I'm still stuck." (You have permission to speak the truth even if it's not glorious praise of the therapist's work. Now and always - speak your truth!)
When to communicate:
Before the session begins
Throughout the session to offer useful observations
After treatment is complete
I encourage you to forget about chiding yourself to "relax, relax, relax." Instead, try turning your intention to interface. Look for the connection between your (body+breath) + the therapist's touch. Feel the connections within your own body, as you're centered and present. Bring awareness to your breath, feeling it from the inside. Listen to the rhythms and vibrations of your physical being, and find simple words to speak your experience so that it can be shared with your massage therapist. It's all about connection.