Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Joy of Massage

One of my favorite pleasures in life is a massage. The only way a massage can get any better is for it to be a) longer or b) a hot stone massage.

Today I got to have an hour and a half hot stone massage. Heaven! It really helps me relax and de-stress. You can chat with the massage therapist if you want or just lay quietly. Usually, I'm pretty quiet. I use the time to zone out and focus on my body- how it feels on its own and how it feels when the muscles are being worked. It's sort of like meditation for me.

I've been getting massages for several years. I have a membership at a popular chain. Once you sign up, they automatically take $$ from your account each month and put that toward a massage. The benefit of signing up for a membership is that you get a lower price, usually the "introductory" price. However, if you're not going to use the massages, they could either go to waste (BAD!) or in my case, just sit there and accumulate. For example, before going today I had 6 (six!) prepaids. The hot stone counts as 2, and a 2 hour massage counts as 2 at my place.

I know that for some people, the idea of getting a massage is sort of confusing and uncomfortable. They may have questions about it that they don't feel comfortable asking anyone, depending on how shy they are. I've put together a few Q&As based on my experiences.

Q: Is a massage a massage? What kind should I ask for?
A: Not all therapists do all kinds of massage. According to the Mayo Clinic these are the most common types of massage:
  • Swedish massage. This is a gentle form of massage that uses long strokes, kneading, deep circular movements, vibration and tapping to help relax and energize you.
  • Deep massage. This massage technique uses slower, more-forceful strokes to target the deeper layers of muscle and connective tissue, commonly to help with muscle damage from injuries.
  • Sports massage. This is similar to Swedish massage, but it's geared toward people involved in sport activities to help prevent or treat injuries.
  • Trigger point massage. This massage focuses on areas of tight muscle fibers that can form in your muscles after injuries or overuse.
My favorite is a combination of Swedish and Deep with a sprinkling of trigger point thrown in on my glutes

Q: What benefits does massage have?
A: I'm all about evidence based stuff. Evidence has proven that massage helps reduce stress and pain, as well as muscle tension. Then there's the stuff that needs a bit more research but many people feel is helped by massage- for me that's TMJ and headaches, for others it's anxiety, depression, and even insomnia.

Q: Am I supposed to get naked? In front of a stranger? What will my husband/boyfriend/significant other think??
A: Most massage therapists will ask you to undress to your level of comfort, then they should step out of the room, telling you whether you should lay face up or down. I always strip to just my underwear (bra comes off, too). They will always keep any body parts they're not working on covered up. Yes, it's a little strange the first time but you will likely be so focused on how good you feel that you will forget about it. Explain to your S.O. that nothing sexual is happening. They don't see any of your sexy parts or touch you in that way. It's very professional! And if you or your S.O. are at all concerned, you could request a therapist that you're more comfortable with.

Q: I have a rash/bacne! Can I still go?
A: I would wait until it clears up if it looks contagious at all. They usually have the option of wearing gloves but I'm not sure that would really feel all that great. Save your money and just wait until it's gone. There are also some serious things that you should check with your primary care provider about before getting a massage like- healing wounds, blood clots, being on blood thinners, etc. Also, if you're pregnant, make sure to check with your PCP first and tell your therapist.

Q: What about my period?
A: Go, girl! Seriously, you will feel so much better. Just keep your underwear on and wear a pad if you're at all nervous. So worth it!

Q: Am I supposed to tip them?
A: Yes. I my tip usually works out to about 25% but should reflect how long your massage was and how good the therapist was. The clinic I go to has "tip suggestion sheets" up but I really don't agree with them. Maybe the membership costs more out here (I joined in Kansas) but if I tipped what they "suggested" it would be about 50%, which just seems crazy to me unless they healed you or something.

Q: Am I supposed to have bruises afterward? Why did it hurt so much?
A: In my opinion, massages should not leave you bruised. But this has happened to me. For my very first massage, I was still in high school. I just lay there, cringing and trying not to cry out as she worked her elbows up and down my back. The next day I had a line of bruises on each side of my spine. She was the professional, though, right? Surely she knew what I needed! Eh...yes, to an extent. Therapists rely on you to give them feedback. A good one will ask you before hand what you're looking for: a relaxing massage or a deep tissue and then ask during the massage how the pressure is. I'm usually clear as mud and tell them "somewhere in between." They will usually start out with a lighter pressure, then intensify it as your muscles warm up. Once they have gotten to a pretty consistent pressure, I tell them "That pressure's perfect" or "Maybe a little less pressure there" or "Can you do a little more pressure?" I feel like those are nice and to the point. Just remember, it's your body. Yes, if you tell them you want a deep tissue, then they start working out all those kinks and you're in misery, just tell them. Every massage therapist I've ever met was pleasant and polite. That said, however, remember that a deep tissue will feel less "relaxing". The whole point is to work out the knots. You can't do that with a light touch.
Not everyone is going to be interested in getting rubbed down and that's okay. My husband, for example, will probably never be comfortable with it. But if it sounds like something you'd be interested in, put it on your Valentine's Day/Christmas/Birthday wish list or go sign up for a membership. You deserve it!
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