How to get a massage

October 27, 2015  |  no comments yet

Have you been thinking of getting a massage? Are you already a massage client but perhaps not getting what you hoped for?

A friend pointed out, “It always alternately amuses and frustrates me when chiropractors or massage therapists ask me to relax. If I knew how to do that, I wouldn’t be there!”

And why not?

The world around us runs at lightspeed. Emails seem to demand immediate replies. Deadlines loom day and night. Our nervous systems are attuned to putting out at that pace, not to slowing down and receiving.

Here’s how to get started:

  1. Consider what you want from massage. Do you want general relaxation for a frazzled nervous system? Massage therapy is a perfect choice. Ample evidence points to stress’s role in all disease processes, and indicates that massage relaxes the body’s systems. Are you seeking relief for a particular injury or condition? For some acute and chronic injuries, massage can help decrease pain and restore range of motion.
  2. Look for a massage therapist. Ask people you know who they recommend; use a search engine; contact the massage office you’ve noticed on your commute. You might seek a practitioner who excels at general relaxation for soothing the nervous system, or a medical massage therapist for more specific work on an injured area. Some MTs specialize in serving particular client populations, such as people living with cancer or older adults.
  3. Call a practitioner or three. Practitioners should welcome your questions about their skills, qualifications, and ability to meet your needs. Did the MT you called fully hear your needs and offer treatment options in clear language that addressed what you asked about? Did she suggest realistic-sounding expectations and answer your questions thoroughly? How did the conversation feel to you?
  4. Make an appointment. Along with the considerations above, choose a massage therapist who is available at a time and location that fits your schedule. If possible, have your treatment at a time when you can have the rest of the day for yourself. If the price named is too high for your budget, ask about a sliding scale or other payment options. Many practitioners offer them. Community and massage school clinics may offer lower cost treatments.
  5. It took until step 5, but finally . . . Go for your first massage. Be honest with your new practitioner. Disclose conditions that could affect or be affected by a massage. If you’re feeling nervous or tense, say so. If you have questions, ask them. If you feel self-conscious, remember that that is normal (especially for new massage clients) and that your practitioner has seen it all. Her responsibility is to accept you and work with you exactly as you are (not who you think you should be). She is responsible for maintaining unconditional positive regard for each and every client.
  6. Express your wants and needs. It is the MT’s responsibility to ensure each client’s comfort. Your practitioner should welcome your requests for adjustments in the supports on the table, the pressure and techniques he is using, the room temperature, the music (or silence), and whatever would create your ideally relaxing environment.
  7. Tune in to your experience of your treatment. Meet your practitioner at the intersection of her hands and your senses. Pay especial attention to the yummy sensations, noticing what it’s like in those moments when your nervous system deeply appreciates what it’s receiving. If you fall asleep (happens all the time), tune in again after you wake up. If your tummy growls, know that this is your body feeling relaxed enough to turn down the  fight-or-flight mechanism (the sympathetic nervous system) and soften into rest-and-digest mode (the parasympathetic nervous system). Happens all the time.
  8. Have realistic expectations. Relaxation takes practice. If you’ve been “practicing” being stressed out, take the time to learn relaxation. Relaxation is an effect made possible by creating the conditions that allow you to relax. Give yourself permission to learn to receive massage over time.
  9. Consider whether you’ve got a good client-therapist match. Even an excellent massage therapist might not be excellent for you. If you just can’t get comfortable with a practitioner, try another. A responsible MT will let a client know when she senses incompatibility and refer the client to someone else. Of course, if something is wrong, such as the MT doesn’t do what you ask, hurts you, has an office that just isn’t comfortable for you, or simply isn’t someone you want to work with, try someone else.
  10. Repeat steps 4-8 regularly, and step 9 as needed. Most of us didn’t get stressed out from a single event. Since exposure to the stressors of life is ongoing, we must counteract them with ongoing soothing, relaxing inputs such as massage therapy.