10 Ways to Get More Out of Your Next Massage Therapy Session
by Evangeline Hemrick
I love receiving an excellent massage as much as I enjoy giving one. My regular sessions keep me feeling great so that I can give my clients the quality service they deserve. Anticipating my appointment and how good it will feel is part of the pleasure. If you are committed to your health, you’ve already discovered the benefits of a regularly scheduled massage. Here’s how to get the most out of your time on the table…
1. Take advantage of time to BREATHE
Sometimes the things that make us feel the best are the simplest and most overlooked healing remedies. I find this to be the case with one of our most valuable resources that’s available to us twenty four hours a day: our breath. Breathing properly is not only the best remedy for stress, anxiety and tension, but it’s also a useful tool to enhance the benefits of your massage session.
It’s hard enough to find the time to schedule a massage much less finding time to retrain your body how to breathe better for stress relief, nervous system rebooting, detoxification and weight loss. But here you are…on the table with nothing else to do. Why not focus on breathing better while you enjoy your massage?
If you simply pay attention to your breath while your therapist works, you’ll tune into places of tension and discomfort in your body. Mindful breathing is also a great way to calm your thoughts, especially if “monkey mind” (distracting thoughts on a continuous loop) keeps you from relaxing. A lot of my clients say to me, “I just can’t seem to slow my thoughts down when I get a massage!” The solution to an overactive mind is in the breath. My yoga teacher taught me that the mind controls the body but the breath controls the mind.Here’s a tip: while you’re lying on the table, just observe the in and out pattern of your breathing. Notice what parts of your body move as you breathe. Remember to give yourself permission to breathe any way you want to, observing your normal breathing pattern without judgement. You can’t do this exercise wrong. This isn’t one more thing on your to-do list that you have to get “right”. Relax into the fact that you’re doing it right as long as you’re paying attention. As you get more comfortable doing this awareness exercise, you can develop a more intentional breathing practice. There are countless breathing techniques you can learn as you advance. But for beginners, just noticing your breath and making a conscious effort to breathe deeper will work miracles during your massage session.
2. Turn off all your electronic devices
In today’s over stimulated electronic world, take advantage of your massage time to unplug completely from all technology and outside communication. This is your sacred time and you work hard for the minutes and dollars you spend on your regular massage. Why give this time away to the rest of the world when you have carefully carved it out for yourself? There is much research available that proves how hearing the slightest vibration of a text or email alert takes your brain into a state of higher activity, activating fight or flight in your nervous system. One of the greatest benefits of massage therapy is that you get to take a break from fight or flight (sympathetic nervous system activation) and enjoy the benefits of rest and digest (parasympathetic nervous system activation). Keeping your phone on during a session deprives you of much needed restorative time to recharge your battery. This healing space and time belongs fully and completely to YOU and the world will go on if you don’t answer your phone for an hour, I promise!
Of course there are always exceptions that call for leaving your phone on for a specific reason and that’s understandable. But if you always stay available for work or family issues during your massage time, you’re cheating yourself out of your own restorative experience. If you claim this time for yourself, you’ll be more useful to everyone in your life as you emerge from your session refreshed and recharged, ready for the world!
3. Schedule your session time with YOU in mind
Sometimes we all need quick bodywork for pain relief and when it comes to scheduling, we’ll take what we can get! But if you’re re-booking a regularly scheduled time with your favorite therapist, put some thought and intention into the best time of day for your massage. If you can allow for a sweet moment to process the work you’ve received, that deep relaxation can settle into your body. Your post-massage down time may just be a few minutes outside in nature or a few moments alone in the car before you re- engage with the world. The amount of decompression time needed after your session will vary for each person. If you’re a busy parent with little ones, the best time for a massage may be in the early morning while the kids are at school. For a professional on the go, the best time for bodywork may be at the end of a long work day or after the gym. Find the optimal time of the day for you by scheduling sessions at different times and then taking note of how you feel and how long you’re able to make that feeling last. Even though it’s not always possible, try to schedule at least thirty minutes of quiet relaxation time after your session before running to the next thing on your to-do list. Since I’m a busy mom and business owner myself, I know this isn’t always going to work out perfectly. But when you can treat yourself with time to read, be outside or do whatever brings you joy after receiving your massage, you’ll carry that good feeling with you throughout the day!
4. Skip the primping. Skip hairstyling, makeup and jewelry
Schedule your massage at a time when you don’t have to look your best. Your therapist will be able to work on more areas of tension if messing up your hairstyle or makeup is not a concern. Facial muscles carry a lot of stress but therapists will avoid facial massage if the client is wearing makeup. The muscles in our scalp also hold a great deal of tension and it feels so good to have a deep scalp massage. But no headache relieving massage for you if you don’t want your hair messed up! Try to receive your massage at a time when you can have some work on areas like TMJ (where most of us hold stress in our jaw), sinus points and acupressure points of the face and scalp. Skip wearing lots of jewelry that takes time to take off and put back on. Just wear your most important daily pieces so that your therapist doesn’t have to work around your jewels or forego massage time while you take them off. Less bling = more table time relaxation for you! And don’t worry about shaving, either. Your skin becomes much more sensitive to massage oils and essential oils if you shave right before heading to your appointment. You never have to apologize to your therapist for not shaving or not getting all fixed up, just wear comfy clothing and keep it simple.
5. Communicate with your therapist
Your body and it’s needs change on a daily basis. Check in with yourself on the day of your session so you can communicate your specific needs to your therapist. Tell him or her what hurts, where you need focused work and what would feel really good to you. Sometimes it takes getting on the table and receiving some bodywork to become fully aware of how you feel. Heightened body awareness is another great benefit of massage therapy. The more bodywork you receive, the more finely tuned to your physical needs you’ll become. Be sure and tell your therapist when you have your period, if you might experience hot flashes on the table or if you’ve had any injuries or surgeries since you last saw them. Let them know your preferences about aromatherapy scents and if you’d like to be warmer or cooler during the session. Remember, this is all about YOU. You’re not being high maintenance when it comes to asking for what you need. On the contrary, you’re being a good communicator when you’re clear about what you want to accomplish in the session. Communication always makes your massage more enjoyable and helps your therapist take better care of you.
6. Create a treatment plan with your therapist that meets your specific needs and goals
It’s always ok to tell your therapist what areas you would like to have more or less focus on during the session. There’s only so much that can be addressed in sixty or ninety minutes. It can be helpful to make a treatment plan that addresses different areas of the body in different sessions, so that every area gets attention over time. Some clients request a focus on their upper body in one session and then lower body might be the goal for the next massage. Or maybe you’re having a specific issue and you just want your feet or neck worked on for the majority of one entire session. Remember: this is your time! A capable therapist will have recommendations for a treatment plan that is tailored to fit your needs. And if you’re currently seeing a therapist that never veers from the same old choreographed routine, tell your therapist you’d like more customized work. Communicating with your practitioner helps the session become more about your specific issues instead of the same old routine. Important areas of the body, such as abdominal or gluteal muscles, are sometimes overlooked. Many therapists won’t work these areas unless the client makes a request. If you have never had the soothing effects of abdominal massage and the tension relieving effects it has on the lower back, be sure to ask your therapist for abdominal work in your next session. Abdominal massage is one of my personal favorites because it is so supportive and nurturing to the vital organs and digestive system. If you’re experiencing tightness in your low back and hamstrings, you could also benefit from specific work on the gluteal muscles. The reason many therapists avoid abdominal or gluteal massage is because these can be guarded and sensitive areas. Your therapist wants your full comfort and consent because an excellent massage is all about safety and respect. In my practice, only about 30% of my clients request massage on their abdominal muscles but around 60% of my clients want bodywork on their gluteals and hips. And if a client gets on the table wearing socks or underwear, it’s my job to find out if this is a boundary for them or if they’re just too cold and I need to adjust the temperature.
7. Take some time to be QUIET
Now that you’ve communicated to your therapist how you feel and what you need, it’s time to go into your own happy place and have some quiet time. Trust me, I LOVE talking to my clients and catching up with them. Sometimes we talk a lot but my rule is that I’ll speak when spoken to and if they don’t talk to me, I’ll respect their time and let them zone out. Since everyone is different, some clients don’t relax easily without talking. There can be times when we all just need to talk about something that is stressing us in order to release that stressor. Check in and see how you feel about talking the day of your massage and ask yourself if being quiet would help you get more relaxation and stress relief. I find that the answer is almost always YES; clients usually need more quiet time in their lives than they realize. Additionally, the massage seems like it lasts longer if you don’t talk it away. You have all the other hours of the day when you can talk, but how many hours do you get to enjoy a massage? Another secret that I will share with you is that I have consistently noticed that my work is better when I can focus and not talk to someone, while I’m giving a massage. Of course I always check in with my clients on comfort topics like pressure and temperature, but just know that it will never hurt a good therapist’s feelings if you go into your own little world and soak up every precious moment of quiet time.
8. Practice the Art of RECEIVING
For all you givers out there who aren’t comfortable receiving anything from a compliment to a gift, your massage session is a perfect opportunity to practice the art of receiving graciously. You literally don’t have to lift a finger for the duration of your session and that makes your massage time so valuable. My natural born “giver” and “doer” type clients have a hard time with this principle. They try to assist me throughout their session by lifting their legs up while I insert a pillow or by handing me their arm when I lift their limb to work on it. Even though that is so kind and thoughtful, I am here to free you from all of that “helping” during your massage. Your therapist does not need your help at all. You will get more out of your session if you simply melt onto the table, let your body be heavy in capable hands and leave the rest to us. A skilled therapist will treat every part of you like the most exquisite and expensive piece of art in the world, a priceless possession to be handled with upmost care. I know this is difficult for some personality types to allow themselves to be totally cared for and herein lies the growth opportunity for the givers of the world. The balance between giving and receiving is an important part of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health. If you practice the art of receiving and allowing during your massage time, it will pay off in other areas of your life.
9. Hold the caffeine and drink extra water
Too much coffee before your massage can make you jittery and unable to quiet your mind during the session. Hold off on caffeine for 3 to 4 hours before your massage. Remember to double your water consumption for the next 24 hours after your session to alleviate soreness and achey muscles. A good rule to follow: drink more water than you normally do (even if you typically drink a lot) after your massage for enhanced detox and lymphatic health benefits. The last thing you want to do (if you’ve spent the time and money to feel better) is to forget to drink enough water and then feel worse the next day. Avoid alcohol for a few days before and after your session, too. When I have forgotten to drink enough water after my massage in the past, I felt sore and just plain lousy. Take it from me, that’s no reward for taking such good care of yourself, so drink up!
10. Take a sea salt or epsom salt bath after your massage
Enhance the healing benefits of your massage with an epsom salt or sea salt bath. This post-massage treatment alleviates muscle soreness and supports detoxification. Salt baths are my go-to remedy after a long day of sessions or an intense workout. You can buy epsom salts at any drug store or grocery store and they are very inexpensive. My personal favorites are Health and Wisdom’s Magnesium Bath Crystals.These are more pricey than epsom salts but they work really well! You can find them at Whole Foods or www.health-and-wisdom.com Having bath salts on hand for an after bodywork treatment will help you sleep better and keep your muscles relaxed. Try 2 cups of epsom salts in a warm bath for a 20 minute soak. Enjoy!
I hope these suggestions help you take your massage to the next level of enjoyment and value, my self care savvy friend! Now I’d like to hear from you. What have you learned that enhances your massage sessions and how do you get the most out of your time on the table? Let me know in the comments below!