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How to Give a Good Massage

Use techniques straight out of the professionals’ handbook to give someone the gift of bliss
Written by 
Pamela Newton

After everything we do on a daily basis, it’s no wonder that our bodies—and minds—crave a healing, tension-releasing massage to help us wind down and feel relaxed. Often, we just want someone to work out the knot in our back or crick in our neck—something your significant other may request from time to time. The truth is, you can offer a therapeutic, at-home massage that provides some of the better-health benefits of massage therapy, like easing pain and reducing stress, while also creating an intimate moment between you and your partner. Enjoying this practice together allows you to connect through the power of touch in a private, soothing setting.

Use this guide to learn some key massage techniques that the experts use (and share it with your loved one so you can benefit too!).

Preparation

Set a soothing atmosphere. It’s important to create a setting that is conducive to deep relaxation. Try turning off overhead lights, closing the blinds and lighting candles. You might also want to burn some incense or play soft music. Both you and the person you’re massaging should turn off your cell phones and any other disruptive devices.

Improve your touch with massage oils… Though it may seem unnecessary, using a massage oil reduces friction so that hands can easily glide over skin and provide a smoother feel. Oils like almond, grapeseed or sunflower all spread easily and also moisturize the skin without making it greasy (you can also use olive oil in a pinch). Be sure to rub the oil between your hands to warm it before putting it on the other person’s skin.

…and consider using them for aromatherapyAdd a few drops of a concentrated essential oil with a calming scent, such as lavender, chamomile or sandalwood, to any massage oil for an added touch. You might also try essential oils with healing properties, such as tea tree oil, which can kill bacteria and prevent infection, or eucalyptus oil, which can relieve muscle and joint pain.


Technique

Back

The person you’re massaging should be lying face down on a supportive surface (firm mattress or a carpeted floor) with her arms down by her sides; have her turn her head to one side, switching halfway through.

Standing or kneeling over the other person so that you can use your bodyweight to add pressure, start by putting a dime-sized drop of massage oil in the palm of your hand and massage the back using long, fluid strokes—a technique called effleurage. This will spread the oil and warm up the muscles.

Then, start kneading the muscles, lifting and rubbing them with your fingers and the base of your hand, known as petrissage. Spend about half a minute working on each section of muscles—from the base of the back to the shoulders—trying not to lift just skin, which can feel like pinching. A more advanced form of kneading requires both hands to quickly alternate pressure on one muscle group.

To massage the lower back, roll your knuckles up and down on either side of the spine with your hand in a loose fist. Be careful not to rub the spine itself.

Head, Neck & Shoulders

The person you’re massaging can be lying face down or sitting up straight in a chair. Start by moving one hand up the neck, squeezing and releasing as you go. Then, using both hands (one on either side of the neck), move your fingers in circular motions, traveling down from the base of the skull, along the neck and out along the tops of the shoulders.

Next, place your hands on the head and use your thumbs to massage along the bottom of the skull, giving extra attention to the point where the head meets the neck. Then, using your fingertips, slowly massage the whole head in small circles. For an extra treat, rub along the outer edges of the ears with your thumb and pointer finger, ending by very gently pulling the ears away from the scalp.

Limbs, Hands & Feet

The person you’re massaging can be lying face up or, if you’re only massaging his or her hands and feet, sitting up in a chair. The muscles of the arms and legs can be worked with the same techniques as the back: effleurage (strokes) and petrissage (kneading). Just as you avoided the spine, steer clear of bones and joints, including elbows and knees.

When massaging the hands, start by rubbing the fingers, moving from the base of the finger to the tip, and then gently pull each finger away from the hand, just as you did with the ears. Next, massage the whole hand: With your thumbs on the palm and fingers on the back of the hand, apply pressure and move your thumbs in a circular motion. Your fingers will naturally move along the top of the hand as you move your thumbs. Cover the entire hand, rubbing upward on each finger and paying special attention to the pads and the fleshy part between the thumb and wrist.

You can do the same with the feet, starting by gently pulling the toes. Then, placing your thumbs on the sole of the foot and your fingers on the top, apply pressure as you move your thumbs along the ball, working your way down to the heel. Your fingers will naturally move along the top of the foot as you move your thumbs. Next, with your hands in loose fists, use your knuckles to massage the arch of the foot, just like you did on the lower back.

End the massage with some of the same long, light strokes you began with. Once you’ve finished, offer the person a glass of water—hydrating after a massage helps flush any impurities that were released in the body—and encourage him or her to rest for a few minutes.

More: Enjoy a Self-Massage

Reference(s) 
Mayo Clinic
National Institutes of Health
About the author 
Pamela Newton is a freelance writer and a certified yoga instructor. She has been practicing and teaching yoga and writing for magazines for more than 10 years. She lives in Brooklyn.