Massage for Beginners
Whenever you bump your head or elbow your immediate response is to touch, hold, or rub that area? It is purely instinct to hold or rub an area that is injured. We even hug loved ones when they are experiencing difficulty in their lives. The Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine was founded in 1992 by Tiffany Field, PhD. Dedicated to studying the effects of touch therapy they have found that massage therapy:
- Facilitates weight gain in preterm infants
- Enhances attentiveness
- Alleviates depressive symptoms
- Reduces pain
- Reduces stress hormones
- Improves immune function
Although massage provides several benefits that combat common medical complaints only 18% of Americans have received a massage in the past 12 months.1 In a society that suffers from ADHD, depression, pain, stress, and easily catches the latest bug I'm a little surprised that number is not higher. Some avoid massage for cultural or religious beliefs and others are motivated by fear. Perhaps they have a friend who had a horrible massage experience or they're simply not sure what to expect.
You're In Charge
Bad news always travels faster than good news and the world of massage therapy is no exception. Although researchers suspect cavemen utilized massage techniques the history of massage has a turbulent past. Born 460 B.C.E Hippocrates is referred to as the father of western medicine.
Hippocrates had a high regard for massage, and considered it to be one of the arts with which a well-rounded physician should be familiar.2
Throughout the course of its history massage has seen a few rises and falls in public opinion. The downfalls were the result of those who combined massage with sexual acts. Today's certified and licensed therapist are bound to a code of ethics that prohibits such behavior. A therapist who conducts such activities can have their license or certificate revoked if it is reported.
Some have tried massage once and vowed to never return because the therapist worked too deep and left them sore. When it comes to pressure in a massage the client is always in charge. If the pressure is too deep or too light let the therapist know. Don't be afraid to speak up. In my 10 years of practice very few people have mentioned my level of pressure to me. I'd like to think I have perfect pressure but that is not the case. There have been instances where the client begins to tense the area I'm working on, that is a definite sign the pressure is too deep. A good therapist will know when to back off when signs like these present themselves. Techniques such as CranioSacral Therapy are extremely gentle and deep pressure prevents the technique from working. In Craniosacral Therapy the therapist uses pressure equivalent to the weight of a dime.
Before the massage begins tell the practitioner what areas you would like to have worked and what areas you wish to avoid. During a table massage you will be covered, usually with sheets and blankets, during the entire session. If the therapist doesn't tell you the order of the areas they will work it is o.k. to ask if it will help you relax. Each part of the body that is worked will be uncovered individually. A good therapist will drape each area firmly giving an uneasy client a greater sense of security. Trust me when I say that we really don't want to see anything more than your arms, legs, and back.
Where to Start
Finding a massage therapist is easier that you might think. If you haven't heard your friends talk about their wonderful therapist check out the websites of the professional organizations. Both AMTA (The American Massage Therapy Association) and ABMP (Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals) have online directories of their members. Not only can you search for a therapist in your location you can also view their experience and the techniques they practice. There is an abundance of massage modalities to choose from, many are listed in this glossary of massage techniques compiled by ABMP.
If you've never had a massage before I recommend beginning with a chair massage. Not only does the recipient remain clothed, the massage is conducted in a public place. It is similar to having a friend rub your back and shoulders through your shirt. Before you begin tell the therapist where you would like them to focus and what kind of pressure you think you will like. Free chair massage is usually offered at trade shows and other public events. Even if it isn't free a 15 minute chair massage is typically only $15.
The Next Step - A Full Body Massage
Thai massage is perfect for those who are interested in a full body massage but still aren't certain they want to undress for a table massage. The massage is performed on a mat on the floor. Be sure to wear comfortable clothes to your appointment because the practitioner will bend and stretch your body while they address the meridians found in eastern medicine. It feels similar to having someone do yoga to you. When the massage is over you will feel relaxed and stretched out.
When you're ready to take the next step and make your first appointment for a table massage there are a few questions that may come to mind. Do you have to be totally naked? No. Always dress to your comfort level. I live in a very conservative area of the country and I'd say only about 60% of the people I've worked on were fully undressed. Many left their underwear on and others left their bra and underwear on. It's fine, we learn how to work on the body several different ways while we're in school.
The one area most people are apprehensive about having worked is the buttocks. We tend to think of our body as separate parts when really everything is connected. Every step a person takes during the course of a day produces forces that travel through the pelvis. If the legs, hips, and buttocks are out of alignment people eventually develop lower back pain. More often than not I find clients who have one hip higher than the other which is a guaranteed recipe for pain. For some techniques it is easier to work directly on the skin but a good therapist can still get the job done working through the sheet. During the massage each side is uncovered but the gluteal fold remains covered at all times. Former students of mine were skeptical when they first learned gluteal massage. However, after receiving just one massage to the buttocks they were converted to receiving bare skin gluteal massage.
A Minute of Your Time Please
How likely are you to try massage therapy after reading this article?
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