Learning to Enjoy Massage

You’ve likely heard lots of people wax rhapsodic about how rejuvenated they feel after a session with a massage therapist, but somewhere along the line you may have decided bodywork just wasn’t for you. Before you write off a good experience, consider your reasons for deciding not to receive a massage and compare them to the many proven health benefits.

You may find that focusing on the end result may assuage or even alleviate your hesitancy so that you too may enjoy the profound relaxation and healing that a good massage can bring.

Here, Jordan Barton, L.M.T., manager of massage services at Canyon Ranch in Lenox, Mass., offers suggestions for overcoming some of the biggest mental obstacles that hold people back from regular bodywork.

The Concern: “I’m going to be exposed during the massage.”

“Draping is one of the most common concerns people have,” Barton says, referring to how sheets and blankets are used during a massage to strategically cover the person receiving the treatment. All massage therapists are trained to drape their client’s body—regardless of size or shape—in a way that ensures a professional experience. “It’s their job to make you comfortable,” Barton notes. “Sometimes they’ll explain how they’re going to drape; if they don’t, you can ask.” You can also ask

“It’s their job to make you comfortable,” Barton notes. “Sometimes they’ll explain how they’re going to drape; if they don’t, you can ask.” You can also ask that certain areas, such as the abdomen, not be exposed at any time—and you don’t need to explain why. You can also keep your undergarments on. “The most important thing is to speak up if you feel uncomfortable.”

The Concern: “I just can’t relax on the table.”

This is another hesitation that Barton hears a lot. “Someone may like the idea of the massage, but they just don’t like getting touched,” Barton says. In this case, you might ask your therapist to focus more on your feet or neck and shoulders, which feels less uncomfortable for some people, and to forgo the rest of your body for the time being. Reflexology, in which only your feet are exposed, is another good option if you’re sensitive to being touched. During a

During a reflexology session, a therapist will massage and manipulate specific points on your feet (and sometimes your hands) to move blocked or unbalanced energy through channels in the body. “Some therapists might work up to the knee, but it’s a great way to experience what you can get from a massage—just from the ankles down,” Barton says. With any treatment, you can ask the therapist to walk you through it beforehand. “Knowing what to expect can help you disappear into the massage.”

“Some therapists might work up to the knee, but it’s a great way to experience what you can get from a massage—just from the ankles down,” Barton says. With any treatment, you can ask the therapist to walk you through it beforehand. “Knowing what to expect can help you disappear into the massage.”

Finally, if you’re a type A personality, a relaxation massage can be one of the hardest things you’ll ever do; letting someone else take the lead or simply winding down is easier for some than others. If this sounds like you, beginning with simpler treatments may be best. A half-hour massage that focuses on one area, for example, allows you more interaction with the therapist, which may help put you at ease. Getting massaged

Getting massaged more often and consistently, as counterintuitive as that may sound, can also help. “The more you receive massage, the more you’ll let yourself out of the physical experience and get into the deeper emotional experience that unfolds within you,” Barton says.

The Concern: “I’m uncomfortable receiving a massage from a therapist of the same (or different) gender.”

It’s not uncommon for both men and women to prefer to see a female therapist. Ultimately, you need to choose the person with whom you’ll feel most comfortable, but it’s worth remembering that massage therapists are trained, experienced professionals and nothing inappropriate should ever happen during a session. “If you allow yourself to be in that frame of mind, you’ll start accepting the relaxation that comes along with the

“If you allow yourself to be in that frame of mind, you’ll start accepting the relaxation that comes along with the massage, and you will get more out of your service experience,” says Barton. “Remember that you have control over your service. Your massage therapist is there to ease physical discomfort and reduce stress tension. With this in mind, gender may no longer be an issue.”

The Concern: “I’m afraid a massage is going to hurt.”

A good massage may make you feel a little tender, but you should not be in pain. Your best insurance against a too-hard massage (or one that’s too-light, which can make you feel ticklish) is to communicate with your therapist. What’s therapeutic and feels good to one person can feel much too deep or too light to someone else, so the only way your therapist can be sure she’s applying the right amount of pressure is for you to tell her.

“You can simply say, ‘That’s a little bit much there; can you go a little bit lighter?’” Barton says. “One of the main things you want to pay attention to is how intuitive your therapist is, how much he pays attention to what you ask from him and what you tell him. Does he accommodate the changes in treatment? Does he make changes based on your request or need? Does he check in before you say something? Those are good signs.”

While these steps should help you enjoy massage much more, it will probably still take some time before you’re in the habit of regularly getting some kind of bodywork if you’ve been hesitant. Barton thinks it’s helpful to think about massage like that other thing you do (or know you should do) for your body: exercise. “At

“At your first yoga class you’re not necessarily touching your hands to the floor. But eventually, after two or three weeks, you may have gotten there,” he says. “Similarly, with massage, you need a little bit of practice with letting yourself go with it.”

More: How to Choose a Qualified Massage Therapist

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