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  • Writer's pictureKirby Clark, MMT

Advice For Your First Massage

Updated: Dec 19, 2023

With the start of the new year, I’ve noticed an increase in client’s who’ve either never had a massage before or are having their first massage after an extended break from bodywork. I wanted to take advantage of this momentum to discuss helpful tips to get the most out of your first massage (or your first massage *in a while*).

Do some research on the spa your visiting/therapist you’re booking with I plan to talk more on this in a future post, but it will bear repeating. You want to look into the business you’ll be visiting to insure it’s the best fit for you. Familiarize yourself with what protocols the business has for first time clients (there may even be special discounted offers), research what other patrons of the spa have to say about their experiences and find out what kind of training/modalities the therapist you book with can provide. This extra bit of effort on your end can pay off handsomely for your massage experience.

Have a light snack before and arrive 15 minutes early It is important that you get on the massage table with a little something on your stomach. Not a full-blown meal of course, but some small value of calories and carbohydrates will keep you from being dizzy when getting off the table when your session is complete. I would suggest something along the lines of an apple or a small serving of crackers. No matter your choice of snack it is also important that you eat 30 minutes to an hour before your appointment to begin digesting. Arriving 15 minutes early allows you time to complete any intake forms, use the restroom, and consult with your therapist before your session begins. When you arrive early, you guarantee yourself to receive 100% of your table time.

Inform your therapist of any and all medical history/conditions Speaking of health history intakes, it is worth noting that your intake should be thought of as a legal document. In fact, in the event that your therapist is subpoenaed, your recorded documents would be submitted to the court. It’s important to be as honest and as open with your health history as possible. Past injuries and traumas (no matter how long ago they occurred) can influence the kind of bodywork and approach your therapist will take. Medical conditions and a list of medications you’re taking also help your therapist determine if massage therapy is appropriate for you. Certain medicines can act as agonists to massage and some conditions are contraindicated and make bodywork unsafe. A good therapist will read your intake forms back to your during consultation and ask questions to reduce miscommunications.

Communication is Key The most important thing to keep in mind during your massage is that every successful relationship (especially therapeutic relationships) are based on strong communication. This doesn’t mean you have to be excessively chatty during your session but keeping in verbal contact with your therapist is vital to productive bodywork. Yes, your therapist is a trained professional with experience in reading the body, but no one knows your body better than you. If you’re uncomfortable, say so. If your therapist isn’t using enough (or too much) pressure, let them know. “Call a thing A Thing.” Keep your therapist informed with your feedback. A good therapist will do their best to accommodate any discomfort you may experience and adapt accordingly.

Remove all jewelry and as much clothing as you’re comfortable with The number one question first time clients ask is “how much clothing should I take off?” The answer is simple, “as much as you’re comfortable removing”. But I would also make a few points to keep in mind as you determine how much to disrobe. A good rule of thumb I let every client know the first time I work with them is “any region of your body that remains covered with clothes is an area I won’t work on”. Skin-to-skin contact is what I like to call “the gold standard of touch”. If need be, a therapist can work over the sheets and blankets to access areas that remain clothed, but nothing enhances a massage experience like direct touch. That being said, I recognize not everyone is comfortable being completely clothes-less on a massage table. In that case, I also let people know if they plan to leave undergarments on that I don’t adjust waistbands or hemlines, “so the boundaries you set are the boundaries I’ll respect”. For example, if you leave your bottoms on but still need low back work done, you should make sure your waistband is as low as you want your therapist working. Removing all jewelry not only allows seamless flow throughout the massage, but also helps protect your effects from getting smudged with oil or lotion. Some clients are adamant about jewelry that does not come off under any circumstances. Just be aware that the necklace you leave on hinders the access your therapist has to address your neck pain.

Deep calming breaths One of the easiest ways to relax and meditate is to focus intently on your breathing. I cannot tell you how many client’s will hold their breath while receiving massage. Your muscles need oxygen at all times to remain healthy and maintain homeostasis, deep breathing helps deliver that oxygen in a way that also calms and opens the mind. To properly breathe deeply, inhale into your bellybutton and feel it expand with air. On your exhale, try to make it last twice as long as your inhale and breathe out through pursed lips. This is good advice for breathing during a massage and through day-to-day life. I can think of no circumstance when it would be appropriate to hold one’s breath during a massage.

Exercise trust in your massage therapist This can be one of the most difficult on this list. It’s unreasonable to expect you to exercise blind trust in a therapist you just met. Being disrobed on a table is a vulnerable situation to put yourself in. It is on the therapist to establish an environment of tranquility and professionalism that encourages mutual trust. As your therapist I am trusting you to be open and honest with me, I am trusting you to communicate your comfort or discomfort with me. I would hope you will exchange the same trust in my training and experience as a massage therapist. Distrust or apprehension from either of us does neither any good. Instead, exercise the benefit of the doubt, exercise trust, and envision a positive outcome from your massage. The adage, “you get out what you put in” applies to the energy you bring into a massage session.

Allow yourself permission to relax This may sound redundant, but it is worth saying; the central purpose of massage therapy is relaxation. When the mind and body is relaxed, therapeutic change can begin. So many client’s arrive for their session with their nerves hyperactive and remain tense through the whole session! Allow yourself to relax your mind, your muscles, your limbs, your joints. If your muscles and joints remain stiff and contracted, that is counterproductive to bodywork and potentially injurious. It’s a massage after all! If you’re working to keep your muscles contracted, you’re working too hard on the wrong things.

Let that stress go! When you’re on a massage table, you basically have two major jobs to do: 1) relax and 2) inform your therapist of anything that keeps you from relaxing.

Drink plenty of water and avoid caffeine and alcohol I’ve written on The Importance Of Water in a previous blog post but suffice it to say here that water is a vital element in the body’s maintenance and reparation processes. Drinking enough water before and after your massage is important advice that cannot be overstated. And I’ll remind readers that eight 8oz. glasses is the daily recommended amount of water. It is also a good idea to avoid caffeine before and after your massage. Not only does caffeine dehydrate the body, but it also contributes to the effect of a hyperactive mind and body. Alcohol consumption also dehydrates the body and thins the blood. Since one of the main physiological effects of massage therapy is increased circulation, thin blood can be dangerous when massage is applied. I understand you want to help yourself relax into your massage - I’ve had a number of client’s get off the table and confess to indulging in a cocktail before their session - but alcohol is NOT the appropriate way to relax before your massage.

Practice self-care between appointments and book your next session After your massage has ended, your therapist may find it suitable to suggest self-care practices that help elongate the benefits of massage. This can include discussions with your physician or other health practitioners, ice/heat applications, stretches, or other lifestyle changes to alleviate stressors and compliment the massage. Self-care is a crucial step to take in between your massage appointments. Booking your next appointment is a part of self-care practices. Regular massage is critical to achieve therapeutic effects and maintain the rehabilitation you’re seeking from massage. A good rule of thumb is a 60-minute massage every 4-6 weeks. A “one-and-done” mentality is not only unrealistic, but ultimately damaging to your experience with massage and bodywork. Continued massage appointments are not only rehabilitative but also preventative.

Peace and Healing,

Kirby Clark, MMT

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