A top to toe massage should be a deeply soothing experience that helps you feel physically and mentally better. However, most people have never received a professional full body massage so not knowing what to expect or do is actually very common.
From how far to undress to what your first massage will include, this detailed guide should help answer all your massage newbie questions.
To help you get the most out of your first massage, we have included everything that is involved from beginning to end. We start with advice on how to prepare for your massage, followed by a detailed minute by minute account of what to expect during a typical classic full-body massage, before finishing up with tips on what to do after your treatment has finished.
Getting yourself ready for your first ever massage can broadly be divided into two parts: mental readiness and practical issues. Let’s deal with each of those in turn.
If you have never had a massage before, you are probably unsure about quite a few different things. Don't worry - that is entirely normal. Whatever your questions are, they have most likely been answered before for someone else.
The top enquiry from people who have never had a professional full body massage is about how far to undress. In fact, this question is so common that we have written a separate article with full guidance on what to wear during your massage.
We like to group the next most popular set of questions about massage together as "body conscious matters". What do we mean by that? We mean those numerous concerns that so many of us have about exposing parts of our body to others. Some common examples include:
Common Concern: Am I too hairy?! Answer: No. You do not need to shave before your massage;
Common Concern: I have lots of unwanted cellulite! Answer: Professional therapists really do not notice while they are massaging you;
Common Concern: Is the therapist happy to touch my feet?! Answer: Therapists really do not mind. If you don't want your feet touched, just request them (or any other body part) to be excluded from the treatment; and
Common Concern: What if I fall asleep and start snoring or dribbling?! Answer: Professional therapists know that these and various other reactions may occur naturally and involuntarily.
Naturally, you may feel embarrassed about asking some of these questions. So to make things easier for yourself, have a browse through 9 of the most common embarrassing questions about massage in the comfort of your own home.
Embarrassing massage questions aside, you may have other common first-timer enquiries of a more general nature. From how much does a massage cost to understanding massage tipping etiquette in the UK, you can find answers to 25 of the most regularly asked questions about getting a massage are in our popular Frequently Asked Questions section.
Remember, whilst it is great to get as many of your questions answered in advance, part of your therapist’s role is to help you feel at ease in their company. So, for any final anxieties the best solution is to simply ask your therapist. Be friendly and polite and enjoy benefitting from their professional experience and natural empathy towards those they treat.
So, let’s assume you have had all the niggling concerns about getting your first massage answered and have gone ahead and booked yourself in for a session.
Next comes preparation. Exactly what you need to do depends on whether you have chosen to visit a venue or opted for a home visit massage from a mobile therapist.
When you visit a place which offers professional massage, there are only two main things you need to do in advance: organise your travel and have a warm shower.
These are actually related when visiting a spa. If that seems strange, let us explain why.
The most obvious reason to take a shower before a massage is of course to ensure your body is fresh and clean. Good for you … and your therapist!
But there is more. Hot water trickling from your head down to your toes continuously for several minutes also warms muscles and soothes your mind. Coming out of a warm shower, freshly dried just before your massage is a really wonderful way to prepare.
However, if the journey to the spa is a demanding one, as is often the case in London, then you may lose these benefits by the time you actually reach the treatment room. For this reason you need to consider your travel arrangements and shower accordingly, either at home or at the spa. Many spas do have a showering facility, but it is best to check beforehand.
If you have booked a mobile massage therapist to visit you at home, then the preparation steps are a little different.
Firstly, there is no need to worry about travel arrangements. That concern is left to your mobile therapist – they will battle the weather and transport conditions whilst you relax at home awaiting their arrival.
Instead, you can spend that time setting up your preferred massage room to ensure that you have the best chance of enjoying the treatment to its full potential.
When preparing the room, a good approach is to consider your five senses (sight, sound, scent, taste and touch) and adjust the environment to suit each best.
Use soft mood lighting rather than harsh and bright lights to create a calming atmosphere.
Close the windows and doors and put on some music at a low to medium volume. The best music for massage is usually without vocals, but we all have different tastes so choose whatever suits you best. Consider also that the more comfortable your therapist feels, the better your massage will be.
You can use an aromatherapy diffuser as a great way to deal with several of your senses at once. The best ones not only subtly diffuse your favourite scent, but also have built in ambient lighting. Many people also prefer the gentle flowing sound and visuals of the constant stream of steam that is produced to music.
Keep some cool fresh water in the room. Massage therapy is all about feeling better and being well hydrated is always an important aspect of wellness. Add some small, simple luxuries, like a bowl of grapes and sliced tropical fruit, to further enhance the atmosphere towards one of good health and wellbeing.
Ensure you have some soft cotton sheets covering the area on which you will lay down to receive your massage. It is not necessary to use a massage table but spending a little time preparing the surfaces you want to use will pay dividends later on.
Finally, do not forget about your pre-massage shower. This is particularly easy when getting a mobile massage at your home or hotel. Simply ask your therapist to send you a text around 10 minutes before they will arrive. When you receive that text, enter the shower to begin your journey into blissful relaxation at home. Shower under warm water for around 5 minutes and pat yourself dry with a soft cotton towel. Soft patting helps retain a good level of moisture and is better for your skin than vigorous rubbing. If you have timed it correctly, you should be right on time to welcome your therapist at the front door in your favourite fluffy robe ready to receive your treatment.
So, with the prep out of the way, let’s move on to what is involved in the massage itself.
If you have never had a massage before, you may be wondering how long a massage should last. A professional massage could be as short as just 5 minutes (e.g. a chair based office massage) or last over two hours (eg. a total body deep relaxation style such as Hawaiian Lomi Lomi).
Below we have described in detail one of the most popular styles and durations, a Classic full-body massage performed over 90 minutes.
Bear in mind that your treatment is unlikely to be exactly as described below. The best massages are delivered with true empathy and adjusted to match your physical and emotional requirements. It is this variation and individuality between treatments that can make massage therapy such an emotionally moving and addictive experience.
Your therapist will begin by introducing herself to you and confirming the type and duration of massage you have selected.
The introduction stage is also when your therapist will make sure there are no contraindications to massage in your case, to ensure your treatment is safe and pleasant for you.
This is the most appropriate time for you to ask any final questions and to identify any specific areas where you want additional focus applied or avoided completely. Saying something like the following is ideal:
“Can you please work on my calves a little longer and deeper … and please do not massage my head as I do not want oil on my hair.”
Your therapist will then ask you to undress to your level of comfort and lie face down on the bed, covering your body with a large towel. While you do this, she will leave to conduct her own preparation.
Many therapists begin by gently placing their hands at your feet, over the towel that is already covering you, and pressing down calmly with moderate pressure. That position is held for a few seconds, before slowly lifting and placing the hands slightly further up your torso. The press, hold and lift routine is repeated until your shoulders are reached.
This is a wonderful way of introducing you to being touched by another person whom you have only just met. It also helps warm your body and the therapist’s hands, before there is direct skin contact.
A section of the towel will be folded away to reveal the area to be massaged with oil.
Most therapists begin a full-body massage with the lower leg and work their way up, but some therapists prefer to work from the shoulders down towards the feet.
A range of massage techniques will then be used to fully massage the first of your calves. Your therapist will use the fleshy part of their fingertips, palms and side of their hands to warm up your muscles. Effleurage, tapotement and rolling are all popular methods which work well.
If you want your muscle worked deeper, then the therapist may also use their forearms and elbows to apply more intense pressure and penetrate further past into soft tissue.
In a typical 90-minute massage, the therapist will spend around 15 minutes on one leg, starting at the feet and finishing with the buttocks. They would then cover the first leg with the towel again to keep it warm and move over to the second leg and repeat the process.
Importantly, the best massage therapists do not perform their treatments robotically and constantly feel and watch their client’s body for signals. Each massage is adjusted accordingly, so you may find that your left thigh was worked on for longer than the right – this is completely normal and appropriate.
Once the massage of the feet and legs is complete, your therapist will move up to your back, neck and shoulders. This is one of the most popular areas for treatment so around another 30 minutes will be spent here.
After the back is done, about one hour of the total 90-minutes will have passed. Your therapist will ask you to turn over to face upwards and help you with the towel.
We recommend that you turn over and keep your eyes closed. This way you can continue to enjoy the treatment without any awkwardness of wondering where you should look or whether you should talk to your masseuse.
While you are facing up, your therapist will massage your head, chest, stomach, arms and hands. This should take a total of about 30 minutes, with about 5 or 6 minutes being spent on each individual body part. The procedure for massaging the front parts of your body are generally the same as for the legs and back, except for the stomach. Because of it more sensitive nature, stomach massage is performed slightly differently to the rest of the body.
Every good therapist knows that the end of a massage should be reached in a smooth and soothing manner, rather than by an abrupt surprise announcement.
For this reason, you may feel that the touch becomes a little softer towards the end of your treatment. This is a good way to signal that the session is approaching its completion and also to warm down your muscles after any deeper work.
Many therapists finish their treatment in a similar way to their opening sequence, by fully covering your body with the towel again and pressing calmly down on each section in reverse order, this time starting at the shoulders and finishing at the feet.
At the end of the session, your therapist should gently let you know she has finished your massage. She will then leave you alone so that you can get dressed, before returning to check how you feel and say her goodbyes.
So, your first massage is over – we hope it was a wonderful experience!
To get the most benefit from your wellness treatment, we recommend you consider doing a few simple things.
First off, ensure that you remain well hydrated. It is important to drink water after a massage because a well delivered treatment can increase the rate of blood circulation, kick start the lymphatic and nervous system and also make various organs pump faster. All of this means your body may use up existing supplies faster than usual and so benefit from some additional hydration. Equally, try not to drink excess alcohol.
In the days after your treatment, especially if you have had your first massage and there was some deep tissue work involved, you may experience sore or aching muscles. Generally, a professional massage should not hurt but it is quite normal to experience a little temporary pain in some muscles for a day or two after. This is known as Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (or DOMS for short) and should disappear within a few days.
Finally, we hope you enjoy your first massage so much that you cannot wait to another. It is a good idea to stick with the same therapist, and remember if you loved their style many others may feel the same way too. To ensure you get your next treatment exactly when you want it with your preferred therapist, it is advisable to check availability and book your massage online, well in advance. If you know what you are doing, booking should only take 60 seconds!