Massage is an amazing form of bodywork that is profoundly healing. We all carry stress and worry in our bodies (I bet you can list right now the places where you carry yours) and massage can help move that out of your muscles so that they move more easily. Stress and tension, if not released from the physical body, can grow until muscles lose their full range of motion and even become constantly painful. On a physical level, regular massage can help you keep your body working smoothly and help you reduce stress and anxiety.
On an emotional level, massage also has many proven benefits. All massage therapists will tell you that the muscle tissue stores memories and emotions and these can be released during massage. I have definitely experienced this and it is mind blowing. One time, I was receiving a massage to address some pain in my left leg. The therapist was working on some very hard knots in my foot when I started sobbing uncontrollably. I was flooded with some memories from my childhood. I cried for several minutes while she held the space and continued to work on my foot. After that session, my leg pain was gone and I felt a sense of deep emotional healing. This experience is not uncommon and sometimes our physical ailments are the body attempting to manifest the emotional healing that is underneath. So be open to all the levels of healing that massage brings.
Types of Massage
There are different types of massage, each with different benefits and again, you will have personal preferences that can only be discovered through experimentation. But the easiest massage type to try first is a classic Swedish style with it’s long, smooth strokes. Below is a quick summary of the various types as I understand them.
This type has you sitting in a chair, fully clothed, while the therapist focuses on your back, neck and shoulders.
Perfect for someone suffering from chronically tight or painful muscles, posture problems or injuries, this style focuses on the deeper muscles and connective tissues – the therapist uses deeper and slower techniques to release adhesions and realign the muscular structure
The massage therapsist uses to stones heated to a specific temperature and places them on points on the back, hands and feet – the stones heat the muscles, allowing the therapist to do deeper work, often in the form of classic Swedish strokes.
From ancient healers of Hawa’ii, this form focuses on restoring harmony and love to the body through Swedish-like deep strokes – the unique element is that it is delivered by a practitioner who is intentionally using “loving hands” to bring healing to the body.
Specifically for pregnant women, this style helps the client reduce muscle aches, swelling, stress, and other typical experience of pregnancy – the massage therapist is trained is specific techniques appropriate for an expectant mother.
This Asian tradition is done on the foot where it’s believed that every organ and muscle structure as a corresponding spot on the foot – these spots are activated with strokes and pressure points in order to bring the body into balance (very good for people who are on their feet a lot).
From Japan, this style focuses on acupressure points on the bodies energetic meridians in order to restore balance – massage therapists use fingers and hands to press on these points so this work can be done without the use of oil and the client can be clothed.
Specifically designed to prevent injury in the physically active, this style utilizes fast strokes along with facilitated stretching – it can improve athletic performance as well as help heal an injury.
This style uses long, smooth strokes to release tension in the muscles and both the front and back of the body are massaged – the therapist usually uses oil or lotion and can use a range of pressures or depth.
Created by Buddha’s physician, this invigorating style uses Ayervedic principles to increase energy – the therapist moves the client’s body in a range of yoga poses while also applying acupressure and muscle compression.
Finding a Massage Therapist
I think the emotional component of massage underscores to need to find a massage therapist with whom you really resonate. There are thousands of licensed massage therapists and any reputable school will have taught them the mind-body connection and how to handle a client’s emotional healing with sensitivity. But it’s also important for you to do your homework and find a good match for you. You will benefit most from working with someone whom you can trust and are comfortable being open about your physical and emotional wellbeing.
First, decide if you want to go to a location or have the massage therapist come to your home. The benefit of the first is that most locations have other services and may offer a range of massage types as well as a group of therapists. The benefit of the latter is that you don’t have to drive after you have been turned into a noodle. I do both, depending on my mood.
Next, decide on whether you have a preference for gender. Trained massage therapists are highly committed to ethical practices and making sure that no sexual or sensual energy is introduced regardless of the sexual orientation of the client and the therapist, so both genders make for excellent choices. However, you need to focus on your own comfort because if you are tense for any reason, then the massage will not be effective. Most massages require you to disrobe on some level and massage therapists are exceptionally talented at keeping you draped in a way that covers everything but the part they are working on. And some types allow you to be partially or fully clothed.
Finally, you need to select a type of massage as massage therapists are trained and licensed in different forms (see below for more information).
Word of mouth is a great place to start, so ask friends whom they use and what they like about that person. You can also do an internet search to see if there is a massage school in your area. They are likely to have clinics where you can receive a massage from a therapist-in-training at a reduced rate. I found my massage therapist, Jeanette Gardener, this way and I have been with her now for 15 years. Obviously, there are many spas and massage centers who have a staff of massage therapists and when you find someone you like, you can return to him/her again and again.
You can also visit the American Massage Therapy Association to find a licensed therapist in your area. They also have some really great information on how to get the most from your massage, questions to ask, etc. Currently, 44 of the states have some kind of licensing process but the other 6 states have regional oversight of some kind.
Spas & Retreat Centers
I have attended the following spas and retreat centers – they all offer massages in additional to a host of other wonderful programs and services.
- Kabuki Springs in San Francisco, California
- Ten Thousand Waves in Santa Fe, New Mexico
- Ojai Valley Inn & Spa in Ojai, California
- Avia Spa in Santa Barbara, California
- Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California
- Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Massachusetts
These are practitioners I have worked with so can vouch for the quality of their work.
Massage Schools with Clinics
An internet search will point you to ones in your area. In Santa Barbara, we are blessed with two: