Accidentally knock your shoulder against the wall and your hand will probably instinctively shoot upwards to massage it better. The ability to massage is innate in the human race, just like breathing or eating. There are nevertheless ways in which you can learn to massage more effectively and improve those natural skills.
At its most basic level, massage therapy is the combination of stroking skin and kneading muscles. It can be used to simply relax or provide specific therapeutic benefits. Either way, knowing how to massage can help you protect, maintain and restore your own health and those around you.
It is often said that the most popular type of massage in the world is Swedish massage. This style of treatment is attributed to a Swedish medical practitioner, Per Henrik Ling, who in 1914 adopted a scientific approach to massage. He set out in writing a specific system of techniques for muscle manipulation, that he had developed to help professional gymnasts. Today this type of massage is commonly called Swedish massage but also known as Californian or classic massage.
The most widely practiced massage in the world however is simply the sort we all do from time to time, naturally and without any formal training, on ourselves or family and friends. As many lucky people around the world will attest, when performed with empathy, this type of massage too can be an incredibly relaxing or rejuvenating experience. Harness the natural masseur or masseuse within you and learn how to massage better with the essential tips below.
If you are new to massage, these simple introductory techniques are easy to learn and very effective. You can try them out on a friend or partner at home. Professionals all over the world use them daily at the beginning of oil-based full body massage treatments.
Start every massage session simply by concentrating on breathing for a minute or two. Inhale deeply, hold your breath for just two seconds and then exhale fully. When you let your breath out, let your diaphragm release naturally and completely. Do not try to control or slow down the exhalation. It should be effortless and a full uncontrolled release of air.
Ask the person you are massaging to do the same. Over the next minute or so, your breathing may become synchronised with each other, but do not try to force this by changing your natural rhythm.
Ask your recipient to undress and lay face down, with a towel covering him or her. Before applying any oil, adjust the towel so that it is lengthwise along their body. If the towel is not long enough, cover the central part of the torso, from the shoulders down to the calves.
Starting just above the ankles, place the palm of your left hand so that it cups the lower part of their calf, your thumb pointing towards two-o-clock. Do the same with your right hand, over their right calf, so this thumb points towards ten-o-clock. Use your weight to press down lightly, focussing the pressure towards the base of your palms. Hold that pressure for three to five seconds before gently raising your own body to release. The whole move should take about 15 seconds.
Move each of your hands up by a full handspan and repeat the process further up the calves. Continue this process, slowly and calmly moving up the whole body. Increase the pressure very slightly as you move up the torso - the muscles further up the body are larger and often tighter, so appreciate more force.
Once you have reached and completed the upper back area, take a deep breath and move on to the next step.
It is now time to begin to apply oil and touch the skin.
Return to the ankles and slowly fold away part of the towel, so that one whole calf is exposed. Folding the towel away with care and attention helps to bring calm and professionalism to your overall massage. So rather than simply flicking away the towel in a haphazard manner, try to fold it away slowly and neatly. Press the folded away part into a neat crease, out of the way of where you will be massaging. You will want to avoid touching the towel whilst you massage as this can rub uncomfortably against the client's body. This higher level of attention to detail inspires confidence in your ability to massage and helps the recipient to fully relax more quickly.
Apply a little massage oil to the palm of one hand and rub your hands together gently just a couple of times to spread the oil lightly between both palms. Do not rub your hands too much, as this may cause the oil to be absorbed into your own skin. The idea is to simply reduce the risk of dripping and warm the oil very briefly. Never drip oil directly from the bottle on to your client’s skin.
Gently grip one calf with both hands. The tips of your thumbs should touch each other along the centre of the back of the calf, with your fingers wrapped around the edges. Extend your fingers around the calf as far as they will reach. Depending on the size of the person, this means that the tips of your fingers may also touch each other at the front around the shin area. The more you grip, the better the massage will feel. Do not leave parts of your fingers splayed across the sides touching the massage bed - wrap them around the body part instead.
Next, gradually tighten your grip around the calf, as if you are feeling the ripeness of a fruit. Squeeze a little, release, and squeeze again. Use the tips of each finger to press down on various parts of the calf at the same time. At the same time rotate your thumbs, clockwise on the right hand, anti-clockwise on the left. Try to do everything together in synchronisation. Press, squeeze, rotate – all at once. Understanding synchronicity and harmonisation are vital elements of learning how to massage well.
Continue this process in the same spot for a minute, and then adjust your hands by just a centimetre or two. The adjustment can be up, down, left or right and should be slight. At this stage, you are still massaging the same part of the body but just making a minor adjustment to ensure that more parts of that muscle are reached. However, do not be afraid to repeat the exact same move five or six times in the exact same spot. To be effective, massage needs to be applied repeatedly.
Spend a few minutes performing the above technique, before moving on to the next part of the body. Smoothly glide your hands from one part of the body to the next, always applying a little more oil whenever you feel that the skin is starting to dry or stick. Never over-apply the oil, just use enough to get a smooth glide.
Repeat the pressing, squeezing and rotating techniques described above to each body part. The soft gliding strokes as you move from one part to another help relax the body and improve blood flow. The kneading and rotating movements help relax and release muscle tension.
Understand how much time to spent on each body part depends on the area of the body you are treating as well as the duration of the overall massage. You should also take account of individual preferences and keep an open dialogue with the person you are massaging to ensure they are comfortable with the movements you are applying.
The tips and tricks outlined above are regularly used by some of the most experienced professional therapists in London and provide a useful beginners guide on how to massage.
There are of course many other forms of bodywork and advanced massage techniques. Professional mobile massage therapists are not only taught anatomy and physiology in detail but also learn about safety and massage contraindications in established massage training schools. After qualifying they continue to train, practice and develop their personal techniques through performing treatments on a wide variety of different bodies over many hundreds of hours. Experience cannot be taught in a lesson but everyone can gain it through practice and commitment.