How to give better massages
August 4, 2010 9:51 AM   Subscribe

Help my partner and I give each other awesome massages!

We both like massages, but neither of us really knows what we're doing, or how we could be doing it better. I have some back problems, and both of us sit at a computer all day, so sore shoulders/back are common. The obvious answer is to try different things and see what feels good, I guess, but I'm interested in something a bit more concrete than that.

I checked google, but there are so many results I don't know where to start. I'm hoping there's someone here who does! So, what book/online source can you recommend to teach us a little more about this?

Sidenote: I've seen this post. I'm not so interested in lymphatic massage, but something closer to deep tissue/relaxation massage.

posted by torisaur to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 57 users marked this as a favorite
A lot of what I've picked up has been from paying attention to what irl massage therapists do. Maybe you could splurge on a massage from a licensed massage therapist and pay close attention to what they're doing to you and then go home and do that to your partner.
posted by kthxbi at 9:54 AM on August 4, 2010

I can't provide any tips as to technique (I just go by feel), but if you're not using it already, MASSAGE GOO! Oil or cream or cornstarch or lotion or what have you - it makes things 10,000 times better.
posted by julthumbscrew at 9:55 AM on August 4, 2010

Book an appointment together with a massage therapist who does couples; teaching couples to massage each other is a pretty common aspect of these sessions.
posted by hermitosis at 9:57 AM on August 4, 2010

If I loved my partner, and my partner loved me, I would hope that we could agree to get professional massages (maybe even together) and spare each other the stress of performing a massage (which is real work!) and which, for me, completely undoes any relaxation that getting a massage might impart.

If, however, this was not an option, I would do a couple things to remedy some of those problems. I would avoid trying to have the experience be all things to all people. Schedule a day for you. Schedule a day for your partner. Build the experience around what makes the subject of the event feel good - which is almost guaranteed to be different things.

Each might prefer a specific ambiance, different scents, a special snack or two, being bathed, being clothed or being nude, using a special oil or rub, having specific parts worked over more than others. Work out what you want and encourage your partner to do the same.
posted by greekphilosophy at 10:01 AM on August 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

Echoing julthumbscrew...the standard MeFi response of LUBE! applies here, too. Decreasing friction makes a massage a million times more enjoyable.
posted by phunniemee at 10:04 AM on August 4, 2010

Response by poster: julthumscrew: Cornstarch? Interesting, I've never heard of using that! We have been using Lush Massage Bars, which are delightful.

hermitosis: I would love to do that, but money is a bit of an issue, and I'm not sure my partner would be interested in a massage from a stranger. I will suggest it, and look at our options, though :)
posted by torisaur at 10:05 AM on August 4, 2010

Best answer: Youtube has copious amounts of instructional massage videos. massagenerd is particularly prolific in that regard.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 10:27 AM on August 4, 2010 [3 favorites]

There are many non-porn, instructional DVDs. Do some Amazon searches, but there is a lot of porn, so YMMV.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:29 AM on August 4, 2010

Best answer: Hi, former professional licensed massage therapist here ...

I don't think I can do a great job of describing the physical techniques of massage in print, but you can probably find a good book or video to give you an idea of the basics to start with. I can offer a few general tips, though.

1) As others have noted, you really want to use massage oil for lubrication if you're working on bare skin. In that case, you'll also want a sheet or towel to cover whatever body parts are not being worked on at the moment, so that the massage recipient doesn't get cold. Before applying the oil, warm it up a bit. I always just rubbed it between my hands before applying, but I knew people who kept the oil bottle in a special heating device so it came out nce and warm.

If you don't have massage oil handy or if you don't want to deal with the mess, you can have the recipient wear something lightweight, loose, and comfy and work through that. It will limit your available tehniques and thoroughness compared to working with oil on bare skin, but it is possible to do some good work this way.

2) Start out slow and gentle, then work deeper as the muscles relax.

3) Learn how to work ergonomically so your hands don't get tired so quickly. If you do all the work with the small muscles of your hand and fingers, you won't be able to give a very long massage. On the other hand, if you generate most of your pressure by leaning your body weight through relatively straight arms, then you only have to use your hand strength to "steer" that pressure into the spots that need it. (Keeping the arms relatively straight prevents your triceps from straining.) This does not mean that you need to put all your weight on to your partner and crush the air out of them. Lean just as much weight as you need to provide the pressure you need for the job at the given moment. Using this technique will also allow your hands to relax more and therefore be more sensitive, which leads to my last point ...

4) Devote some attention to developing tactile awareness. This is in my opinion the single most important aspect to giving a good massage. You don't want to be a robot applying force blindly, you want to be able to feel what you're doing and how your partner is reacting. This will take some time to learn. I'll offer a variation of an exercise that one of my teachers taught me years ago. If you spend a few minutes at the start of each massage with this exercise, it'll do as much as anything to help you develop your sensitivity.

Start out the massage by lightly resting your hands on your partner's back. Close your eyes and relax your hands.

Focus your attention on the surface of their skin. Notice the warmth and the texture of the skin. Move your hands a tiny amount and notice how the skin slides over the underlying tissues.

Move your attention to their breath. Feel them breathing in and out and notice how the tissues under your hand move with the breath.

Now apply a little more pressure and move your attention deeper to their muscles. You should be able to feel the layers of skin, and then some fat and connective tissue, and beneath that the muscles. Apply just enough pressure so you feel that you're connecting to the surface of the muscles. Don't dig in just yet. Notice how tight or loose the muscles feel. Notice what moves with the breath and what doesn't.

Now, slowly start to apply a little more pressure and dig into the muscles somewhat. Notice how they react. Get a feel for how thick the muscles are at each point. Notice that one layer of muscles might be relaxed while a deeper level is tight.

There will probably be some bones in the vicinity of your hands (shoulder blades, spine, ribs). Make sure you can feel exactly where they are. Massaging bones is not helpful, but there will be spots where the muscles attach to the bones and those frequently appreciate the attention. Learn to feel those spots as well.

You should be able to run through these levels of awareness in a few minutes - now you're ready to start your actual massage.

Hope this helps. I could explain it a lot better if I could demonstrate in person. Feel free to ask if you have any questions.
posted by tdismukes at 11:18 AM on August 4, 2010 [36 favorites]

Best answer: I have a bunch of books not related to lymphatic massage, but I do not have the titles handy. A book or two is nice. Some working knowledge of anatomy helps, a lot.

I do not use oil and such on friends because, well ... it's starting to edge into the territory where someone might find it a little too intimate. It doesn't bother me, but it's not about me, it's about someone else's comfort with that level of contact.

When you apply force, use your body weight, as much as you can, or thigh muscles. Yeah, you will have to use your hand strength, but measure it out. If you don't have strong hands, get strong hands. Grip trainers are okay for this, but pinch grip training helps, too. Especially for the people who like very hard massage. And, of course, some people do not. And different situations call for different things.

Close your eyes and run your fingers of both hands very lightly across some portion of someone's body. The massager might be sitting on the floor, giving the masagee (sitting on the couch) a leg rub. The massager uses their left hand on the massagees right calf and vice versa. Now, the massager can cross their arms and use their left hand on the massagee's left calf. I do this because it helps distinguish any differences between the left calf and the right calf. Aha, a tight spot!

Do it again with more pressure and feel what you can feel. Different pressures will reveal different things.

After some practice, you can run your hands down someone's body and feel where they, say, tore a calf muscle a few years ago, or they have an area of stiffness, or swelling, or a lipoma, etc. This is also an amusing party trick. If you do this for friends, you'll end up knowing exactly where they carry their tension.

After the occasional questions of "harder? softer?" you'll get a feel for what someone likes. Ask for a tight or sore spot, or just find it yourself, then go to work. Then scan again for the next spot and work on that. It's a bit like trying to steam out a bubble from carpet, or trying to degauss a striken monitor by hand. I aim for a consistent looseness across the body once I'm done with whatever requests.

You cannot overestimate how important non-verbal feedback is here. Engage your senses and tune in to their respiration, skin temperature, flushing, yes, but posture and tension everywhere.

Hand massage! Face massage! There's all kinds of targets.

Another trick I have found helpful is to support an extremity with your own body so that the person you are working on can relax more. If someone can trust me to support their head while I rub their neck, they can relax their neck much more. I might lay someone's arm on top of my extended arm and rub their shoulder with my free hand, just so that area can let go a bit. Before you remove your support, you let them know that you'll do so.

Ah, side note: sometimes the massagee can become aroused, which, yeah, pretend it isn't happening. Squeaky noises, other signs ... didn't happen! Or you will get someone relaxed enough to have a little gas, which I also ignore and fake up like I was coughing. Sometimes they will go to sleep if you use very rhythmic strokes, at which point you pull a light blanket over them and wait for them to wake up.

Just like after you cook a steak and you let it rest for maximum results, after a good rubdown, keep the massagee in place for a bit so their muscles can regain a natural tension. This is important for, say, hour-long rubs. It's definitely funny/cute when someone falls over after trying to get up, like a wobbly, sleepy kitten, but it can undo your hard work.

And I have yammered on long enough that I feel a little weird!
posted by adipocere at 11:57 AM on August 4, 2010 [10 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks, all! You are amazing.
posted by torisaur at 2:10 PM on August 4, 2010

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