massage_guide_head.jpgIt’s not that hard to convince yourself to get a massage. Long lines, demanding jobs, and stressful commuting routes to and from work are enough reason for the average working woman to pamper herself and soothe her tired muscles at the end of the day. Add to that perks such as slimming down your figure, and you have a lot of eager women heading for the nearest spa.

But before you get all comfy with the stress-busting treatment, take time to read through these massage guidelines that will give you the lowdown on treatments and general massage etiquette. This will help you make the most of each spa visit and make sure that your other fellow spa-goers find it as pleasant as you do.


WARDROBE WORRIES BE GONE!


This is one question that perplexes massage first-timers—how much of your clothes should you take off? After all, most of us might feel sheepish baring ourselves, especially around strangers. Well, here’s the thing. It depends on the kind of massage you've signed up for. The commonly-preferred Swedish massage does require you to strip down to your skivvies to provide better access to key parts of the body. But don’t worry about baring it all to the world! Your entire body will be covered by a towel, exposing only the area that the therapist is working on at any given point. There’s also a variety of massages that make stripping unnecessary, such as reflexology, shiatsu, and Thai massage. Some spas have signature massages that mix these different types, so if you're unsure about whether you need to disrobe, just ask your massage therapist.


HOME-BASED SERVICES VS. SPAS


There are two sides to every coin, and home-based massage services as well as spas have their own pros and cons. For starters, home-based services are cheaper, and people have fewer inhibitions about removing their clothing in their own homes. Also, you generally feel more comfortable with a practitioner you know (and getting quality home-based massage service is all about finding your perfect suki), so it will be easier to relax than it would be with ever-changing attendants at many spas. However, spas boast a variety of amenities and have a better ambiance than your house might since these are decorated specifically to enhance relaxation. Spas also offer a wide range of services so you can choose from various massage types and even plan a day of pampering with your girlfriends. In the end, the choice between home-based service and spa service is up to you; you’ll just have to decide which pros and cons affect you more. However, it’s a good idea to try both at least once so you can get a better idea of which you prefer.


TELL HER WHAT SHE NEEDS TO KNOW

As a rule, you should tell your therapist the degree of pressure you prefer to avoid discomfort. Women usually go for light to medium pressure, but some aim for firm pressure, so make sure that you fill in your practitioner before your session (which usually lasts between half an hour to an hour) starts. If you’ve never had a massage before or aren’t sure what degree of pressure you prefer, you can instruct your masseuse to go lighter or firmer once the massage has started. A good masseuse will also do periodic checks and ask you whether the pressure is all right. Also, make sure to let her know about any medical conditions you might have, and if you have any illnesses she should watch out for.


massage_guide_arm.jpgTYPES OF MASSAGE

Modern times call for more ways of relaxation, a far cry from the limited options provided before spas and relaxation therapy became all the rage. Here’s a list of massages that you might want to try out:


Acupressure

Acupressure is a branch of therapy akin to acupuncture—minus the needles. It makes use of fingers and other body parts to soothe pressure points in the body to relieve stress, and Shiatsu is one of its more common forms. It stems from the principle that tension builds around several acupressure points, and that these points relax when pressure is applied. It is believed to improve blood circulation and even eliminate toxins from the body.


Aromatherapy


Aromatherapy makes use of plant essences (later made into what we call essential oils) that give off a relaxing fragrance to improve your well-being. It is usually paired with various massage therapies to enhance the relaxing component of the treatment. Proponents claim that inhaling the soothing scents triggers a particular reaction in our brains, multiplying the relaxation factor exponentially. Diluted oils are also known to have therapeutic benefits and can be applied on the skin as well.


Reflexology

Reflexology revolves around the principle that certain points in the feet and hands correspond to particular sections of the body, and applying pressure on those points will relieve tension in their respective organ counterparts. It is known not only to alleviate stress, but also to certain physical and mental conditions as well. Reports claim that reflexology was practiced in Egypt, China, and Japan thousands of years ago, but this massage method was only introduced in the West in the early twentieth century by William Fitzgerald, an ear, nose and throat doctor.


Shiatsu

Shiatsu” literally means “finger pressure”; it was developed by a practitioner named Tamai Tempaku in Japan during the early twentieth century. As the name suggests, it uses finger pressure to regulate the body’s energy source, called ki. Shiatsu gained recognition from the Japanese government as a valid form of therapy in 1964, and various styles have evolved since its inception. One school incorporates a macro-biotic approach, while some prefer to focus on the general balance of ki in the body. Another kind is known as the “Zen Shiatsu,” in which various exercises are employed to stimulate the flow of ki in the body.

Diverse as these schools of thought are, all are founded on the original medicine principles shiatsu was based on. Practitioners first diagnose one’s ki imbalance and seek to reestablish it through various stretching and pressure techniques. Therapists don’t make use of oil or lotions here, so baring yourself is not necessary. It is advised to wear comfortable clothes that offer you a range of movement during the session.


Swedish Massage

The Swedish massage is probably the most popular type of massage given in spas today. Developed by Swedish therapist Per Henrik Ling during the early part of nineteenth century, it aims to relieve muscle tension through the use of gliding strokes, kneading, stretching, and repeated tapping of muscles with cupped hands. Those who employ this kind of massage also uses a technique called friction, in which the therapist repeatedly rubs the fists together to produce heat, making the muscles more receptive to the treatment. You can also direct your masseuse with regard to the amount of pressure you prefer to have applied, as this ranges from light to medium to firm. Note that you will be asked to strip down during your Swedish massage, but parts of the body not currently being massaged will be covered with a towel so you needn’t feel too awkward.


Thai Massage

Interpreted as “yoga minus the work,” the Thai massage involves various stretching techniques akin to yoga, done with careful guidance from the therapist. Introduced by Buddhist monks nearly 2,500 years ago, it employs muscle compression techniques without the aid of oils or lotions. Your therapist will also make use of his or her hands, feet, knees, and legs to move your body into various positions to stretch your muscles. The practice is done fully-clothed (preferable loose-fitting or comfortable clothes) on a floor mat, a stark difference from the Swedish massage. It is known to improve blood circulation as well as increase the body’s flexibility. If you’re into yoga or feel a bit awkward about getting a massage in the nude, this might be the massage for you.


(Photo of head massage by Mark Nicdao; arm massage photo source: sxc.hu)

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