8 Things your massage therapist wants you to know

Here are 8 things I used to waste time worrying about and questioning that I have learned since becoming a massage therapist. These tips will help you get the most out of every massage you get.

Growing up in a dance studio, owning one as an adult and then becoming a yoga teacher and massage therapist; the body has always (and I mean always) been the focus of my life. In many ways, this has been a tremendous blessing. My fascination with the human body has led to years of study, teaching and helping others understand their own bodies and heal them proactively. I’ve been able to understand the changes my body has undergone as I’ve grown and had a child of my own. In some ways however, the body as the focus of my life has left me with obsessive thoughts and fears about mine being “undesirable,” or “offensive.” Of course, this topic is for another blog post altogether but one thing that massage school and bodywork has helped me heal is my belief that my body needs to be apologized for. (For a fantastic reference on this issue, please buy yourself the book “The Body is Not an Apology” By Sonya Renee Taylor ASAP!)

Here are 8 things I used to waste time worrying about and questioning that I have learned since becoming a massage therapist. These tips will help you get the most out of every massage you get.

  1. The issue of underwear – Take em’ off! – Massage therapists spend hundreds of hours learning all about the anatomy of the musculoskeletal system. We are trained to learn how poor posture and lifestyle choices equal chronic lower back and hip pain for most of the world. We see client after client come in suffering from years of chronic discomfort in these areas and of course, we want to help! Most lower back pain comes from the area of the hips and buttock muscles. This means we need to access them as easily as possible! We can help you more efficiently if we can massage your glutes. So please don’t feel strange about removing your undergarments. We spend hours in school learning how to drape you securely with the sheet and your massage will be so much better if you just take em’ off. When we look at your rear, all we see are muscles that need help. Promise.
  2. Showering before your session – DO! – And speaking of butts, although our job is to massage yours, we don’t necessarily enjoy smelling them. It’s definitely helpful and respectful to us if you find time to bathe before your massage session. Please remember, we are humans with all 5 senses. Coming to your massage straight from the gym or beach may seem like an amazing way to spend the day but think of your therapist and rinse off on the way over please or if you cannot do so, stick a packet of body wipes in your car and wipe the smelly bits (and your dirty flip flop feet) before you jump on the table.
  3. Your hairy legs – we don’t even notice them – So bathing is nice but shaving? Eh, we don’t even notice! There’s no need to come out of your relaxed state to explain how sorry you are that you didn’t get a chance to shave your legs. It doesn’t hinder that massage or gross us out at all. Again, legs are muscles that need to be treated. That’s all we see.
  4. Eating before your session – In massage school, on my first big full body massage I decided it was an excellent idea to practice the abdominal work we had just learned…. Within the first 10 minutes of my 90 minute session…. And you guessed it… soon my poor client yelled “I’ve gotta go!” As they wrapped the sheet around themselves and ran through a room filled with 20 tables and 40 therapists/clients to relieve themselves. I learned a lesson that day to always leave abdominal work for the end of the session. In addition, massage puts your body into parasympathetic response, or “rest and digest,” which vastly improves your digestive function. This means growling belies and potentially, gas and other things moving along your GI tract. With that in mind, keep food and drink light before your bodywork to avoid any bathroom interruptions that will take away from your time on the table. Also – use the bathroom before you go in!
  5. The issue of “Deep Tissue” – Your muscles have a memory. They get used to the tension they’re under and think that the need to stay that way to protect themselves. This default mode has sometimes been in place for years! It’s hard to imagine we can erase all those years of repetitive tension in 60 minutes once every year. The best way to relieve chronic pain is to set up regular sessions, every 2-4 weeks. Your body will respond more and more quickly each session as it remembers the benefits of the massage. In addition – If your massage therapist comes at any muscle in your body with an elbow right away, your muscle tissues will tighten even more to protect themselves from injury. It takes time to warm up the muscle and let it know that we aren’t going to hurt it. So leave a few minutes for your therapist to work into the layers of tissue before requesting more pressure. We are most often working up to this by warming up the body layer by layer to get deeper inward. In addition, steamrolling muscles tends to be less effective that a single point of pressure. So before you judge the technique of your therapist, ask questions about their approach. A finger or thumb is often way more helpful than our entire forearm. When we tell you to let us know if you want more or less pressure, we mean it! Don’t shy away from asking what you want during your session. We prefer it. And the age old “you can go deeper if you want,” comment is kinda lost on us. Your massage is about what you want, not us. We don’t come to work with the intention of hurting people so we will work your muscles in the way that is most effective to relaxing them. Being sore after a massage doesn’t mean the massage was better. It means the pressure was probably a bit too much for your body. And please note that requesting a male therapist isn’t the most effective way to get the deep pressure you want. Plenty of us ladies can rock the deep tissue work too.
  6. Talking is optional – When you pay for a massage, this is your time. Please don’t feel the need to talk to us during your session. Personally, I prefer when my clients are quiet. I can focus on what I’m doing and usually do better work. When I’m on the table as a client, I also notice that I feel like my massage is better if I’ve focused on what I am feeling instead of chatting it up with my therapist. Feel free to let out anything you wish if it comes up though. If my studio walls could talk, they’d tell you that massage therapy is definitely “therapy” and often as our bodies let go of tension, the issues that caused the tension come up. People share a lot with me and that’s ok. Ethically, I made a promise to leave those things in the room and never repeat them. But you don’t have to make small talk with us. We are just happy to be helping you.
  7. Drinking water afterward – Here’s the thing. You should always be drinking water. Your body needs water to heal and thrive. In addition, after a massage (just like after a yoga or exercise class) your circulation and digestion have been greatly improved and this means you need to hydrate! I keep an “emergency water” in my car and my 6-year-old will even remind me sometimes to drink it. Dehydration leads to headaches, irritability, constipation, mood swings and more. Ps. Your coffee (although made with water) is not enough. Caffeine acts as a dietetic and drains fluid form the body faster. So, skip the joke “does my Starbucks latte count?” and just guzzle some good ole’ H2O.
  8. Rest after your session!!!! – Bodywork is serious. When we reset your physical body, muscles and joints are letting go of sometimes years of repetitive stress and pain. Please, oh please don’t leave thinking “I feel so good I’m going to go home and weed my entire yard!” Your body needs time to integrate these changes and hopefully reset so they stick. Placing yourself in physical or mental strain just after your massage is a bad idea and can lead to soreness, injury, and emotional distress. Let yourself heal and enjoy the reverberations of your treatment. Take it slow, drink your water, eat healthy foods, and nourish your body for the rest of the day. You’ll get much more for your money if you take the healing home with you.

For more information about massage, yoga or Ayurvedic bodywork treatments feel free to visit me at Heartwood Yoga Institute in Bradenton, FL any time! Stay happy and healthy and go book yourself a massage with your local therapist right now.

Taken By Surprise

And what really surprises me is how much I love doing the work!

This isn’t the first time that I’ve been utterly taken by surprise with an educational course, and I hope it won’t be the last.  I remember entering the first yoga teacher training that my wife, Ginny, held ten years ago when she had finally registered ReFlex Arts as a Registered Yoga School with Yoga Alliance.  She wanted me in her class to provide feedback on her teaching and to help her remember the names of the 19 enrollees.  I wanted to take the class to become more flexible. 

I got so much more than I bargained for.  Yoga helps with physical flexibility, of course, but it’s so much more than that.  I gained mental, emotional, and spiritual flexibility.  I learned breath control and meditation techniques, but more importantly, I learned what to use them for—to pursue self-examination, detachment from distractions, focus on the true Self, honest and enlightened awareness of how I see myself and how I interact with others. 

Along my path since then, I’ve gotten 500-level training, and become a Reiki master, and taught more than a thousand students some of what I know and have learned.  I get better as a yogi with time, because I’m paying attention and doing the work.  So recently I decided to move forward with another aspect of training and get schooled in massage therapy. 

Honestly, I did this so that I could legally perform Reiki (for compensation) in the State of Florida.  Florida is one of the only states that does not allow Reiki practitioners to perform treatments unless they hold a license to do bodywork (massage therapy, physical therapy, or occupational therapy).  As a founding member of the Florida Reiki Association, and as a person who has attuned and trained well over a thousand students of Reiki in the past seven years here at Heartwood, it seemed unconscionable that I had to turn down the many requests I’ve had from people who wanted me to work with them to help them heal problems.  So I began Massage Therapy training at Manatee Technical College.  And that’s where the surprises began.

First of all, the facility was incredible.  The staff, the building, the programs, the students, and the teachers were wonderful in various ways.  My instructor, Nancie Yonker, is a handful of years younger than I am but she’s devoted most of her life to massage.  She used to instruct at Sarasota School of Massage, teaching there for seven years, and then did a couple year stint at Keiser, and finally got brought in to MTC to help them develop their program there.  Denver got her training at Sarasota School of Massage, and I can attest to how much skill she has due to that wonderful education, but I feel I got at least as much for much, much less tuition. 

I have a respectable medical background, having worked five years as a paramedic and I also was one of the first five certified Emergency Cardiac Technicians in Illinois.  But I learned so much about anatomy—not just the muscles and bones and tissues, but about cell operations and subtle energy and chemical reactions and how and why we do what we do as we move through life—that I not only passed my medical board exam on the first try, I now have a ton of material I feed into Heartwood’s newly accredited yoga therapy training.  Before this, I knew what muscles and bones were moving and operating throughout each yoga posture.  Now I know exactly what is going on under the skin as I touch and move and manipulate all the tissues of the body.  I know the names of virtually every obscure little muscle, but more importantly, I know how to relax them, or make them stronger, or make a client more aware of them. 

And what really surprises me is how much I love doing the work!  To feel a client’s resistance to movement melt away under my touch, or to see the relaxation grow into a client’s features, or to sense the body’s internal rhythms slow and relax or quicken and strengthen as I work become amazing affirmations of what properly-done techniques can mean to help another human being become better at living in their skin. 

And some of the adjunct therapies took me by surprise as well.  Debi Kleer, a fellow student, is an old friend of mine who was trained in reflexology when she lived in South Africa.  She needed a massage therapy license to pursue that career here in the USA.  I never much cared for reflexology since my feet are really sensitive to touch—my only ticklish spot, and I find walking barefoot on gravel or shell excruciating—but we had a visitor to class, Sam Belyea, who is known as the foot whisperer.  He opened our eyes to the way reflex points on the feet and hands can actually be used to diagnose conditions and suggest treatments.  He and Debi speak the same language, so she was a step ahead of all of us, but we got a chance to experience what reflexology can do.  I’m not inclined to pursue this therapy myself; I’ll leave it to Denver, who does it here, and Debi, who does it elsewhere.  But it was fascinating to see it in action.

And then I love Thai massage.  We had gotten some training previously in Thai massage by Joni Masse, and it whetted my appetite, but I knew we couldn’t legally do it here with a license, even if we were going to call it Thai Yoga or something like that.  We have too much at stake to risk losing Heartwood over trying to skirt the law.  So Ginny set up a plan to ship Denver and me to Thailand, enrolling us in their famous massage institute at Chiang Mai, one of the few that are fully accredited in the USA.  We were planning to go in September and stay long enough to get certified to teach massage and herbal applications, and then come back to set up a legitimate teaching system here at Heartwood and add another skill set to our practices.  But, Covid…  Those plans are on hold until next year.

The adjunct therapy that really did speak to me, however, was craniosacral therapy.  We had a guest teacher come in and demonstrate for us, and let us work on each other a tiny bit, and that was enough to whet my appetite to learn more.  All that time doing Reiki shares and attunements and demonstrations have given my hands a wonderful sensitivity and I was easily able to feel the delicate craniosacral rhythms in a client’s head and feet.  I decided to enroll in training with the Upledger Institute, founded by Dr. John Upledger, an orthopedic surgeon, and become certified in CST.  The training was so much more than I had anticipated.  Not only did I learn the science behind this gentle practice—involving pressures on parts of the body that are never more than 5 grams, about the weight of a common nickel, that coax the body into helping itself resolve issues on all different levels—I learned techniques to make this work very effectively for clients. 

When I took the training, my massage partner, Bernadette Brelsford, a fellow student and a practicing esthetician, performed a practice 10-step protocol on me, with particular attention to my right shoulder, which had been quite painful for almost nine months after a fall from a ladder while working on my barn roof.  Shortly after the session concluded, I discovered that my shoulder pain was totally gone.  “I’m a healer!”, Bernadette responded happily.  Well, along the way, I’ve been discovering that I can help clients achieve similar results for themselves.  It amazes me each time these ever-so-subtle pressures can wreak such remarkable results, but as time goes on and I gain more experience, I am starting to expect these things rather than be surprised by them. 

I didn’t become an overnight convert to yoga, and neither did I dive passionately headlong into massage for its own sake.  Both surprised me with how much they have affected my life.  Yoga has turned into a lifelong learning path.  I fully expect massage will be the same for me.  I welcome the future with open arms and willing hands.