Over the 16 years of my massage career, I have worked in many different settings and touched literally thousands of people. At this point, I think it is safe to say that I have seen and heard it all! I’ve been thinking about making this list for quite a while now. I admit, this started as a list of my pet peeves, but I have expanded it into things that I would love for my clients to know and use as a guide for what to expect from their massage and therapist. So lets get to it.
1. Please don’t worry about what your body looks like!
This is a biggie! I’ve had many clients over the years express concern about how their bodies might look to me during their massage. This is completely understandable, since receiving a massage usually means taking off most of your clothing and feeling at least a little bit vulnerable. You may be bashful about some cellulite (everyone has it!) or worried that your face looks funny while I’m massaging it and squishing it around. But I’ll tell you a secret - I’m actually not even looking at you during most of your session! When I undrape an area of the body, I will make a quick scan and notice any bruises, cuts or other areas to avoid. But when I’m actually massaging and using my best body mechanics, I’m looking up - not down at my hands or your body. Besides that, I’m more focused on what I am feeling under my hands rather than what I am seeing with my eyes. I’m thinking about the musculature that I’m working on, whether it feels tight or relaxed and noticing any changes in the tissue as I work. So take a breath and relax! I’m not judging your body or really even thinking about what you look like at all!
2. Please don’t apologize about your body hair!
This happens all the time, usually in women. I’ll undrape a leg and she immediately apologizes for not shaving her legs that day. There is no need to apologize about your body! In my 16 years I have never been injured by sharp leg hair. It is a non issue. I have also done massage on folks with lots and lots of body hair - like think of your favorite muppet… THAT much hair... and you know what? It’s fine! If I was grossed out by hair, I wouldn’t have become a massage therapist to begin with. So again, don’t worry about it and relax!
3. Drink water, all day every day!
Believe it or not, water is the number one nutrient deficiency and many people are chronically dehydrated. If you’ve had a massage before, chances are your therapist told you to drink extra water that day. They may have mentioned that it helps flush toxins or avoid soreness. This is all true, but this advice should not just apply for when you’ve just had a massage. Every cell of every tissue in your body uses water! So drink up! Some hydrating tips: 1) Sipping water throughout the day is better than chugging a big glass. Your body will actually absorb and utilize the water instead of you just peeing it out. 2) Add a pinch of high quality salt to your water like pink Himalayan or Celtic sea salt. This adds natural electrolytes and some essential minerals to the water to help you absorb it better. It won’t affect the taste either!
4. One massage will likely not be a permanent “fix” for your pain.
Don’t get me wrong, I have witnessed small miracles happen with massage. Headaches can disappear and that nagging spot in your upper back can melt away. Many people seek massage because they are in considerable pain. While massage is wonderful and can offer you temporary relief, it is not a fix all (if it was, I’d be a millionaire). If your body has reached a point where you are in pain, it is likely a sign that you have not been taking good care of yourself for quite some time. I’m not trying to pick on you here, but massage should be just one part of your self-care regimen. It may take a number of massages and some lifestyle changes to really see improvement. Drinking plenty of water, eating nourishing foods and movement are the keys to healthy muscles & soft tissue, which brings me to my next point…
5. Move it or lose it!
You HAVE to move your body. Have to. I cannot stress this enough about how important this is. If you do not move, you will lose range of motion and your muscles will lock up feeling tight and achy. Your joints will lose lubrication and start to seize. In a world where we are glued to a desk and then later glued to the couch at home, humans are just not moving their bodies. I like the word movement versus “exercise” because I feel like sometimes we associate the word exercise as a chore or something we need to do to lose weight. Those things can feel daunting, joyless or even unattainable at times. So I invite you to think more about moving your body. What movement do you enjoy? There is no need for a fancy class or expensive gym membership, although those are great too! Simply moving all of your joints slowly and gently in their full range of motion every day is beneficial. If you have been sitting for a long time, just stand up and move, walk around a bit, do some gentle stretching. If you are watching TV, commercial breaks are a great cue for you to move. Get in the habit of regular movements and I promise you will notice a difference.
6. Definitely be on time for your appointment!
This applies more so if you have an appointment at a spa. In my private practice, I book appointments with a pretty large buffer in between, just in case someone gets caught in that infamous Ithaca traffic (don’t even get me started on that damn train). However, if you have an appointment at a spa, please please please arrive EARLY. Here is why, your session time starts when your appointment time starts. If you booked a 4PM appointment and you arrive at 4 PM, you are already missing part of your session. Then, if you need to fill out an intake form, if you dawdle in the locker room or even worse - decide to take a shower… you are losing more time as each minute passes. Sometimes these clients get annoyed that their appointment was cut short, but let me explain why we can’t be flexible with timing.
As therapists, we usually only have about 10-15 minutes between each session. This may sound like ample time but this is what happens during that buffer: we wait for our last client to get off the table and out of the room, walk them to the tranquility room, give them some ideas for stretches or after care, go back to the room, strip the table, put on fresh sheets, set up the room for the next appointment (sometimes that means getting hot stones ready, product for a scrub or wrap, etc), have a minute to pee, maybe eat a few bites of food and then be ready, grounded and cheerful to pick up our next client on time. Whew! #spalife If you are late and your therapist is gracious enough to give you a little extra time, give them a hug or maybe even an extra tip because they are cutting into that precious buffer zone for you. Which brings me to #7…
7. Tipping your massage therapist
Ok, so this is another area that applies more so to the spa world. In my private practice, if you want to tip me, it is certainly appreciated but I don’t expect it because I am receiving the full amount you are paying for the massage. If you are visiting a spa, your tip is helping that therapist earn a more appropriate pay scale for their time and expertise. While there are exceptions to the rule, most spas pay the therapist around 25-30% of the cost of the treatment, some spas pay even less than that. While that may still seem like a good wage, massage therapists physically cannot work 40 hours a week, if they do, it is not sustainable and they are likely to get injured. Massage is hard work and can take a toll on the body, so we work fewer hours but earn more. In my experience of working at a spa, the hourly rate combined with tips usually ends up being the equivalent of someone working a full time job at about $14 an hour. Your tip makes a big difference for the therapist and ensures they are making a living wage. 20% for a great service is customary.
8. If you are sick, definitely reschedule your massage!
First things first, if you are feeling sick or starting to feel like you might be getting sick, massage is only going to make you feel worse! I’ve seen it happen many times. Massage increases circulation and gets lymph moving, which will actually spread the bug around your system much faster and make you feel yucky. Second thing, as I mentioned above, it is nearly impossible for a massage therapist to work full time and so that means we are not normally eligible for benefits of any kind. There are spas like Rasa here in Ithaca who are working to remedy this issue (yay!) but in general, massage therapists often do not have healthcare coverage through their employer nor do they get paid sick time. A massage is intimate. We are in a small, closed room with you, breathing the same air and working very closely with you. Please do not get a massage if you are sick. That may mean your therapist will get sick, have to pay out of pocket for a doctor and lose pay when they need to take sick time. Stay home and take care of yourself, we’ll be happy to see you when you are feeling better!
9. Don’t feel like you need to talk to us the whole time.
I’ve had many clients say that they feel like they need to talk to me so that I’m not bored while I work. I think this is so sweet of them to think of me, but it is totally not necessary! I personally prefer to be quiet as I work, because talking can distract me. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had some great conversations during massages, but please don’t feel like you need to entertain me. However, if you are the type of person who needs to talk in order to relax, go for it! If you want to give us feedback about our pressure or the temperature of the table, please do say something! A good therapist will allow YOU to dictate how much conversing happens during your session. On the opposite side of the spectrum, if your therapist is being too chatty for your taste, just say that you’d prefer to be quiet so you can really focus on the massage. You are the boss of your session.
Last but certainly not least, we want you to be an active participant in your massage and the best way to do that is to breathe deeply. This is especially important when your therapist is working on a particularly tight, juicy, or tender spot. Take a nice long deep inhale, breathing “in” to the spot that needs to relax and when you exhale try to let go of everything you don’t need anymore, including the tension. Breathing is another great way for you to calm your mind during a massage. If you find yourself thinking about your to-do list or any stresses that may be troubling you, bring your focus to your breathing and also notice how the massage is feeling for you. The mind can be difficult to wrangle, but it is a muscle that needs to be strengthened. If your mind wanders off to an undesirable place, just gently call it back, take some deep breaths and focus on how good your massage feels!