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So, its your first time on a massage table….ever. You don’t usually do this, as a matter of fact, until Groupon emailed you a listing for your local spa, you’ve thought, “massages are a luxury, only for those who can afford to lay around and be pampered all day.” After your therapist invites you into their room, instructs you to dress down and lie on the table, and politely closes the door or curtain behind them to give you time to do so, you have a small panic attack to yourself. “Ok, so…do I have to take all of my clothes off? What’re they going to do? Do I lie face down or face up? I haven’t had a pedicure recently… I should have done that.”

It’s completely understandable to be a little apprehensive when approaching this situation, after all, for the most part, you’re now entrusting a complete stranger with the care of your body in a most vulnerable physical state. However, you can still have complete control over what goes on in the room and ultimately how your first massage experience turns out. I’ve compiled a small list of things one can do as a client/patient to allow the session to be one of complete relaxation rather than silent anxiety.

 

Step 1: Let Your Therapist Have It!

You are the most important thing in a room dedicated to massage. The entire atmosphere and energy in the room should be of the intent to make as many positive changes in your body as one can in an hour long session. With that being said, you have every right to express all of your questions, concerns, presumptions, apprehensions, and issues. If you’ve received a male therapist and would have preferred a female therapist for example, make it the first thing you address, politely of course.  Let it be known that it’s your first time (or first time in a while) on a table, and even express any nervousness that you may be feeling. It’s your therapists job to attend your needs in their entirety and  work within the guidelines that you establish as the client, and also to encourage you to get out absolutely everything you need to that may  get in the way of the treatment itself. Tell them the last major injury you’ve had, parts of the body that you feel least comfortable with them touching, parts of the body you feel need the most attention, etc. If you establish a level of communication with your therapist that allows you to feel empowered, then you’re already taking a step towards allowing your body to make progress in the  processes of healing and positive change.

 

Step 2: Breathe

I cant stress enough how powerful the effects of  simply breathing can have on the body, both before and during a session. Once you’ve gotten on the table take the time to breathe deeply for about a minute and a half or so (if you exhale for a duration that’s twice as long as that in which you inhale, you will automatically slow down your heart rate and find yourself sinking into the table.) This preparatory breathing sequence may also put your mind at ease about some of the things you may have found uncomfortable about the situation. In essence, you’ll forget what you were even worried about and will become more conscious of your body itself and can then pinpoint what areas you feel need the most and least amount of work.

 

Step 3: Allow

More than massage being a tactic to physically manipulate your body into a better, less stressed shape, its structured to affect the mind in a way that breaks down subconscious patterns that one has created to guard itself from stress or trauma. The treatment starts there. One must allow themselves the availability of change in the mind in order for it to really effect the body. In lay-man’s  terms, in your mind you have to let go of feeling bad in order to let yourself want to feel good again. Even the most technically sound therapist would not be able to break the barrier that you’ve set in your mind that continues to hold on to stress and tension in your body. If you are to have any expectations when entering your room, expect change, and expect release. Try not to let your mind stick to things like the image of your therapists face, or whether there’s enough time on the parking meter outside. Consider the room as an environment of solace from the outside world, and your therapist as a set of hands that facilitate the release of the stresses from said world.

 

Step 4: Be Grateful

With every patient I’ve ever had on my table, before I start, I do a few select ‘warm up’ moves that I find bring myself to a place where I’m expressing the utmost amount of love and gratitude. I try to appreciate the opportunity to affect one’s well being through the healing process as well as the fact that someone has relinquished all of their ails in order to let me do what I do, because I know its not the easiest thing in the world to do that. Our bodies are of the utmost value to us and coming to a decision to trust anyone with your own is a challenging process. The best work goes forth, however, when that gratitude is reciprocated. Just acknowledging to yourself that, when in session, you’re now in the presence of one that genuinely cares about your state of being can inspire your  body to release a multitude of tension. Just like anything else in life, we long to have the support of another human being to assist us in reaching the goals we want for ourselves. It makes it much easier to achieve those goals when there’s someone who not only  wants and encourages you to reach them, but is willing to go out of their way to help you do so as well. Accept the righteous intention of  who is attempting to heal you and express, if only to yourself, genuine gratitude towards them.

Most every first timer, barring very rare and uncomfortable circumstances, leaves a spa or massage clinic feeling better than when they entered, how much better, however, depends entirely upon the client themselves. It starts with your state of mind going in, and translates down through the rest of the fibers of your muscular and nervous tissue. Understand that it’s YOUR massage, YOUR time and YOUR experience and it can be as relaxing and nurturing as you’d like it to be. Trust that you know what’s best for your body and aim to get that every session, especially your first one. Afterward, you may not only find that you’re more amenable to getting another massage, but also a bit more open to change in general.

….oh, and don’t forget to tip. Like I said, “love and gratitude” ;)

 

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Richard Matthew Smith is one of the youngest and most promising massage therapists in his field. While attending classes at the California Healing Arts College in West Los Angeles (one of the top schools for massage therapy in the nation,) he not only developed a natural instinct for healing, but also graduated at the top of his class, completing the 13-month course in only 8 months. Since then, he’s returned to his alma mater to teach advanced massage techniques to new students, as well as providing exceptional treatment to clients in both the West LA and Beverly Hills areas. His unique technique, incorporating principles of Deep Tissue, Shiatsu, Swedish Massage, and Tragre therapy, transcends the idea of a ‘traditional feel-good massage’.  I am glad to have him as a contributor to this community. I look forward to all his advice, as he helps us all learn new ways to listen to our bodies, and take care of ourselves.

Ever wonder why the terms “relax” and “take a deep breath” always seem to come in succession to one another? Well breathing deeply, more than it being a seemingly quick fix to tame your anxiety, actually does help your body physically relax itself. Studies have shown that slowing down one’s breathing pattern can have immense benefits to the homeopathic state of the body. As a massage therapist, I’ve found that most have a habit to hold their breath when facing a potentially uncomfortable situation (both figuratively and literally). I always encourage my clients to focus on breathing in for a count of three and out for a count of six to take their mind off of the apprehension they may have when in session. You’d be amazed, however, at the immediate effects that it has on the body. Along with slowing down the heart rate and increasing circulation throughout the body, breathing in a slow controlled pattern allows the subconscious to go to work on the muscular system, releasing tension, and a lot of times, releasing what we’d call ‘knots’ that have been developed due to stress. It is perhaps the most valuable advice I’d give someone when doing anything stressful, whether you’re at your desk, in the weight room….on Fear Factor…take your time and breathe through situations and see if it  not only leaves you feeling a little more weightless, but gives you the opportunity to re-evaluate circumstances from a relaxed, more positive state.

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