Almost no one would refuse a relaxing massage after a long day’s work. Massages can be therapeutic, a medical necessity, part of an athletic training routine, or even a spiritual journey. Regardless, massage is a great way to take care of your body.
The modern sedentary lifestyle does nothing good for our muscles and posture. And even physical activities do not target all parts of the body equally. Massage is one of the best ways of taking care of muscle groups that are holding too much tension. There are some great massage techniques you can (and should) learn to use at home!
Massage is the purposeful manipulation of the body’s muscles and joints with the intension of releasing tension and pain. During a massage, varying pressure is applied to the muscles and soft tissues, and to supporting structures such as tendons, ligaments, and fascia.
A certified masseuse or physical therapist is trained in human anatomy and one or more massage techniques. Therapeutical massage performed by chiropractors or physical therapists can sometimes be painful and requires specialized knowledge to be performed correctly. But that isn’t necessary for every-day massage. Knowledge of your own body is enough to perform gentle stress- and pain-relieving massage at home. Remember, don’t use more power than necessary and always stop if you feel pain during an at-home massage.
There are many approaches to massage, from the medical and therapeutic to the spiritual. Massage is usually performed with the hands but sometimes balls, rollers, or acupressure tools are used for a particular effect. Massage oils or solid cocoa butter can be used to reduce friction and ensure that hands and massage tools can move smoothly across the skin.
You can choose a full-body massage or a treatment that focuses on a specific area, for example the neck and shoulders or any problem areas holding pain and tension.
Some of the most common types of massage include:
Relaxing massage—Swedish massage is the most common type of relaxing full-body massage. It is entails various stokes performed with the hands to improve blood flow to the skin and muscles, lower blood pressure, and enhance overall health and wellbeing.
Deep tissue massage—Slow friction and more intense pressure is applied to relieve chronic muscle tension or areas that ache and feel contracted. This is still considered a recreational massage that promotes relaxation.
Trigger point massage—Compression or digital pressure is used to target sore and tender knots in the muscles. Releasing a specific trigger point in one area can relieve pain and tension in other, connected muscles.
Hot massage—This is a type or relaxing massage that involves a heat-holding substance such as heated stones (or honey, chocolate, etc.). The heated elements are applied to points along the body to soothe the muscles and release tension.
Sports massage—This type of massage is performed by a certified massage therapist, physical therapist, or doctor to maximize mobility and reduce pain. It is recommended for athletes’ who train regularly and anyone recovering from an injury. This type of massage can be uncomfortable, but ultimately benefits your physical health more tangibly than relaxing massage. Sports massage is often combined with exercises and active involvement from the client.
Preparation and aftercare are important for all types of massage.
Whether you are going to a salon or plan to massage your body at home, some prep work can be beneficial.
Take a shower beforehand and wear clean, comfortable clothing. Calm yourself mentally and physically to prepare for deep relaxation.
Stay hydrated! Drink plenty of clear water on the day of the massage, both before and after to help flush metabolic waste released during massage from your system and reduce post-massage soreness and sluggishness. Although you will be lying down and relaxing, your muscles will be activated during the massage. Avoid alcohol and excessive caffeine before a massage.
Schedule your massage at a convenient time so that you can relax afterwards and fully enjoy the benefits. If you have a stressful meeting or chores to do right after a massage, the blissful feeling won’t last long.
Don’t worry about your appearance. The therapist will have seen it all. There is no need to shave your body hair before a massage if you don’t want to. No professional massage therapist will mind. You will, however, be asked to remove piercings in the targeted areas to avoid the risk of injury and infection.
If you are on your period, you might feel uncomfortable about undressing for a massage. Don’t worry—your usual tampon, menstrual cup, or sanitary pad is all you need. If you feel uncomfortable about the “wings” of the pad showing, you can wear another pair of underwear or sports shorts over your underwear.
Most full-body massages are performed on a naked body. The therapist will provide a private space for clients to undress. Some therapists also provide disposable panties, or you can choose to remain in your own underwear.
A blanket is often used to cover the parts of the body that are not being massaged at a given moment to keep the client warm and comfortable.
Relaxing background music is usually played to set a pleasant mood.
If at any time during the massage you feel pain or some other type of discomfort, communicate with your massage therapist. They need feedback to give you the best possible experience.
A professional massage is certainly a worthwhile investment, whether you are highly active or lead a more sedentary lifestyle. However, performing self-massage or an at-home massage for your loved ones can also provide excellent effects for improved relaxation, circulation, digestion, and sleep.
You can create a pleasing setting at home by using soft ambient lighting, diffusing aromatic essential oils (if it appeals), and playing relaxing music. Countless relaxing “home SPA” playlists are available online.
You can purchase a special massage oil or simply use an oil you already have at home such as olive oil, coconut oil, or avocado oil. Sweet almond oil has a more pronounced, pleasant aroma and is a popular choice among massage therapists.
The reasons for using massage oil are practical. Oil reduces the friction in skin-to-skin contact and allows the hands to glide smoothly across sore and tender muscles. Oil also softens the skin and helps it retain moisture.
Some of the most common massage techniques that you can use on various body parts include:
Kneading – apply pressure either with your full palms or by using your thumbs. Gently lift and squeeze the tissue.
Stroking (effleurage) – “glide” your palms over the back or other body parts in smooth motions.
Tapping (tapotement) – gently tap the body part being massaged: either with the palms of your hand, just with your fingers or a cupped palm. Tapping is one of the traditional ways to end a massage.
Rubbing – using your thumbs and go over the body in rubbing motion. Draw small circles or move the thumbs in other shapes.
Self-massage can help with recovery after physical activities, stress management, stiffness in your body, and can help alleviate the effects of chronic pain such as in the case of TMJ or migraines.
Elements of self-massage are also used when applying face and body creams, shampooing you scalp and in other beauty treatments. Pay more attention to these moments and consider adding a few more minutes a day.
Always wash your hands before massage and stop if any sharp pain occurs.
Apart from using your hands and fingers, various appliances can be used in self-massage:
A tennis ball is especially good for rolling underneath your feet – sit on a stable surface, preferably with legs bent in 90 degrees. Remove your shoes and place your foot on the ball. Roll your foot over the ball in different directions: first straight front to back and side to side, then in small circles. By relieving the tension held in the feet, the whole body will become more relaxed.
A massage ball with spikes or a foam roller can be used in place of the tennis ball for the muscles in your whole body.
Various electric massagers and massage guns can help with relieving muscle tension and pain, especially after physical activities.
Massage is a great way to build intimacy in romantic relationships. It can even be an exciting aspect of foreplay, but only if both parties are up to moving from massage to something more passionate.
A massage is meant to be a safe experience of care for your body. Massage is not inherently sexual and does not need to turn into sex. Just like it would be unacceptable for a professional massage therapist to engage with a client sexually during a massage session, you and your partner both deserve to receive a relaxing massage after a hard day’s work without having to worry about an implied promise of sex afterwards—unless you both want it, of course. Communicate openly and honestly about your wishes.
(And, if you do decide to turn up the heat after the massage, remember to use only water-based lube with condoms. Sadly, massage oil won’t do.)
As good as massage feels, it is not a treatment and cannot fix the cause of the pain – or stress for that matter.
Massage is known to provide short-term relief from pain, but it does not treat the underlying causes. But, as anyone suffering from chronic or acute pain will tell you – short term pain relief is infinitely better than no pain relief. And the benefits of muscle relaxation (and emotional relaxation) provide the groundwork for further recovery.
Your body deserves to be treated with kindness, and massage is one of the best ways to treat your body after a long day.
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