June 4, 2014

massage Q&A

First things, first: always massage therapist (MT), never masseuse.

Q: How do I find a good massage therapist? 

A: Ask your friends. Ask the staff. Ask. Ask. Ask. 

Honestly, it’s really difficult to find a good MT. Part of the reason that it’s so difficult? Because the best MT for you may not be your BFF’s massage therapist even though he loves his MT. Another reason it’s difficult? Because who wants to drop at least $60 trying out five people to hopefully find someone who can do a decent job of manipulating your soft tissues?

I’ve worked at places where there were two massage therapists and places where there were 25. If you have the words to describe what you want in a massage [admittedly, this is it’s own skill] ask the person who answers the phone. Tell that person exactly what you’re looking for and see if they have someone who can do that. Ask him or her if they’ve had a massage from the MTs there. Ask him or her who is the most popular with clients. Tell them you can be patient and wait to get in to see that person. 

If you already have a good MT, tell your friends! Brag about him or her! Share the wealth! Your friends and your MT will appreciate it. 

Q: For peeps who need easy to deep to avoid muscle triggers. I don't like my head pressed forward toward my chin to relax upper back. Is there another option? If yes, how do I ask for that?

A: The first thing you need if you have specific comforts/discomforts or likes/dislikes is an MT who will listen to you. When you book your appointment tell them you'll need some extra time to go over your history. You can always ask if you can come in on a different day and have 15 minutes to talk to an MT about what didn't work for you before (or what did!) and make sure the MT assigned to you is comfortable with that. If they’re not comfortable or you feel them hesitate, go to someone else! Trust your intuition!

I alway try to ask my clients if they have anything from massage in the past that they've disliked (or anything they want changed from a previous session with me). If your MT doesn't ask that -- offer the information! Believe me, we'd rather have you say "I don't like _____" or "if my head is pushed forward it really causes my upper back to tense up, so please avoid doing that" before we get started than to do something that might cause you pain! You might need to remind your therapist during because we get in the zone and get forgetful. Be willing to try different options (and give your yay or nay) as your MT brainstorms what may work best for you. 

A massage generally has a person on their tummy for about half and on their back for the other half. There are several other options though if those positions are uncomfortable for you! We don't always have loads of specialty pillows or bolsters around, but there are sheets, towels, and blankets a'plenty!

Some ideas for discomfort while face-up:
-You can put a folded sheet (or several) under your head, under your shoulder blades, or under your back to make yourself more comfortable, just hold the top sheet to your body and sit up so the MT can place the sheets
-I always have my client’s knees elevated to take some of that pressure off the lower back, but if your therapist doesn't do that ask if they can
-You can roll a hand towel and place it under the neck 
-You can pull off the face cradle (it's velcro-ed down) and put it under your head/neck

Some ideas if you're uncomfortable face-down: 
-Use a few sheets under your hips
-For my large-breasted friends, fold a sheet or blanket into a long skinny strip and place it under the pectoral muscles and shoulders
-ADJUST THE FACE CRADLE, and tell your MT if it's uncomfortable
-I like the ankles elevated, I just use the same bolster as under the knees; you can have a similar relaxation if you put your feet over the edges of the table (your legs like this o-|-<)

If you HATE or CAN'T be face-down, you can always do a side-lying massage. I've only really done prenatal side-lying, but the concept is the same. I always end with the client sitting on the edge of the table with her feet on the floor and work on the neck and shoulders from that position while she hugs a pillow. I have done an entire massage with the client face up and then done similar work on the back/neck at the end. 

The #1 thing is communication with your MT and an MT who will listen and respond to your needs. 

Q: How can I shut my brain off so I can enjoy the massage instead of thinking about what else I could be doing? 

A: This is so hard! It's definitely a practice of shutting off the outside information and opening yourself up to what's going on in your body! The best thing I like to tell people who are practicing the experience of mindfulness (because really, that's what we're doing!) is first being aware when you start to think of all that "stuff" and coming back to the present moment. There's no value judgement of good or bad. 

Personally, I find myself able to stay present during a massage when I focus on my breath. I like to start as soon as I get on the table, before the MT is even in the room. I take a few deep breaths and do a body scan from my head to my toes. What am I aware of? What am I totally unaware of? Once again, no judgement, just observation. As the therapist works, I focus on the area he or she is working on. If you have questions you can ask them, but I like to limit questions to exactly what we're working on and not all the other stuff. (Not a hard rule because it's YOUR session so you get to talk or not talk as much as you want!)

Focus on body.
Focus on body. 
(repeat as needed)

Eventually you don't have to think about it. We live in a very fast-paced, high visual input world, but massage is a physical input and is a completely different experience! Part of my mindfulness practice is remembering how I do most of my thinking with my head, but I do so much of my living with my whole being. Massage helps facilitate a way for me to increase my awareness and care for all that life below my neck! 


Q: Do people fart? 

A: Yes. Everybody Farts. They don't all fart during massages, but everyone does it. 

Q: Are there specific ways to word your deeper/less deep that are more effective? 

A: If you like deep work, keep saying it. I find that MTs are especially hesitant to give deep work to petite women. (The opposite is also true, if you like medium-light work keep saying it! So many people come in asking for deep work that it’s easy to get into that rhythm.)

In general I start with a medium pressure just to warm the tissues and then check in. If someone has told me REPEATEDLY that they like, can handle, and have experienced really deep work, I may go deeper before my first check in. My medium might be your last MT’s deep or my deep my be your last MT’s medium. Every therapist is able to apply a different amount of pressure and you have to navigate that together.

One of the things I feel is difficult to do in massage is to ask for lighter or deeper pressure because it feels like you’re criticizing the MT’s work. The three phrases I like to use: 
“That feels great, do you think we could try to go deeper?” *therapist goes deeper if they can* “That amount of pressure is better/worse/perfect for me.” 
“You’re right on the edge of what I can handle.” This is GREAT to use before the work gets too deep. I like to know at this point!
“That area is more sensitive than I realized.” If your MT is paying attention he or she should lighten up and ask if you want them to continue working on that area or if you’d like to move on from that area because you can’t handle it.

If you’re seeking out deep work, you have to understand that there are many factors that come into play 1) Can the therapist go as deep as you want without compromising his/her body? 2) Will your tissue open up and let them into that area to go deeper? It’s a process! We listen to the words coming out of your mouth and the response that we feel in your tissue.

Q: I recently heard about visceral bodywork. Do you do that? Can you cleanse my gallbladder? Are we close enough to have this conversation?

A: I don’t have any experience working on gallbladders. Sorry. 

I can work your colon, so you can have a great bowel movement if you’re constipated. (-: 

I don’t believe in TMI. I ask people about their last BM and if they’re passing gas on the daily.

Q: Tell me a story about something weird. *sits expectantly*

A: I have a lot of stories about weird things…massive blackheads covering the entire back, hairy bodies where I come away with my hands covered in hair, toenails that are falling off, smelly feet, blah, blah, blah. The weird stuff is just…stuff. None of it is a deal breaker for getting a massage. 

Tell me that one of those people with those conditions didn’t know they had something going that was not “normal.” They knew. At some point in their life they probably felt some embarrassment or shame about those very things. The fact that they were willing to be vulnerable enough to say, “hey, I’m going to take off my clothes, let you touch me, and I’m going to come back” is pretty incredible don’t you think? 

Q: What amount of clothing do MTs really prefer you to have on? 

A: My preference is no clothes. Underwear get in the way. Bras are a pain. I only undrape the portion of the body I'm working on, so you should really feel covered and not too exposed during the massage. 

However, and this is a big HOWEVER, if not wearing underwear/bra would make you not get bodywork then wear them! You're not going to receive the work (and I mean the therapist will work on you, but you won’t get the maximum experience) if you're thinking about your lack of underwear. You can always wear your underwear your first time and then take them off if you get comfortable later. Never feel like you HAVE to do anything when it comes to massage. True life confession: sometimes I wear my underwear if I don’t feel like I have good rapport with the MT or I’m in the middle of my menstrual cycle. 

In my practice I do pretty general massage (Swedish, Deep Tissue, Prenatal). Some other practitioners will ask you to wear different amounts of clothes. For example, I received a session from a practitioner who does structural integration and at one point during the session he stepped out and I put on my underwear and bra and walked around the room. UH. WHUT? There’s a way you can communicate and build a relationship with clients that just makes them comfortable. It was a little weird because it was the first time I’d received that kind of work, but not that holy-crap-I-must-use-my-hands-to-hide-my-body discomfort. Just wandering into the edge of my comfort bubble discomfort. He observed the alignment and movement of my body without having to guess through clothes and then did very specific work related to what he saw. It was amazing.

I’m sure I’m forgetting things and leaving out important information, but I hope I answered some of your questions and gave you some things to think about! If you have questions you can always ask—if I don’t know the answer I’ll pass it along to my other friends. (-: 

Today I’ve got some lotion and skin care happiness for one of you! This the Body Drench lotion, scrub, and lip balm. This lotion smells like I want to be on a beach. I can’t get to the scrub, but it’s walnut scrubbies and apparently smells like raspberries. That lip balm is my jam. 
random.org chose #6 for this post! that means Dana C. you're a winner! I'll send you a fb message. (-: 
To enter leave a comment:
On a scale of 1-10, 1 being I’m turrible at self-care and 10 being I take care of myself like a boss, where are you? I’m about a 2 right now. 

Commenting will be open until Friday (6/6) at 9:00am and random.org will select the winner. If you have trouble commenting you can leave a note on fb and I’ll add it here when I get a chance. (-: 
**All items are purchased and sent [or hand delivered with hugs] by me.**  


  1. I'd say 7 or 8 maybe? I love body products. I can't get enough of lotions and soaps, etc. I sometimes consider using more shampoo than I have to, especially when the bottles get low, just so I can try a new shampoo with a new scent without feeling like a guilty glutton.

  2. I am currently at a 1 or 2 ... I need to find balance

  3. I'm about at a 6. I have a LONG way to go, but I finally have gotten into a regular practice of going to an acupuncturist. I still need to find a MT that I trust... that I wish wasn't over an hour's drive away.

    at least I've gotten really good at actually taking a day off each week for sabbath.

  4. I used to be at a 1... I'd love to be at a 9 or 10... but realistically, I'm probably at about a 3 or 4 right now.

  5. I'm a 4. But moving up! And I heart your blog.

  6. I'm a 7. I wish I worked out and slept more, but other than that I treat myself right. =) And I love massages!!

  7. I'm at a 7 I'd say because I try to prioritize spa world at least every 6-8 weeks and I've actually been using my sick days!

  8. I've always preferred no clothing when getting a massage and have always had MTs that make a big deal about modest draping and about me wearing whatever level of clothing I'm comfortable with but my last massage she said "Disrobe to your comfort, preferably with underwear on" and I was like ??? Have I been assuming incorrectly this entire time? I was so weirded out by this that I left my underwear on but it covers a significant portion of my lower body so it was even weirder....Anyway, that's why I asked. Good to know.