Massage Etiquette 101…

As post Massage Therapist and Shiatsu Practitioner, I have waited YEARS to write a simple “How to Receive a Massage” book or how about “How to Receive a Massage for Dummies!”

spa_massage_mastheadYou may laugh, but this is serious.  Seeing and touching many bodies over the years surprises me till this day how many people really and truly do not know how to receive a massage…so if you currently are a body-worker and in the field… you can thank me for sharing this bit of information that you may even want to refer to your clients who need the refresher.  Let me be the bad guy who gives it to them straight.  Those of you who are simply receivers… pull up a chair, get comfy… I may just be talking about YOU!

This is not to bash the innocent client, but more of …shall we say… Massage Etiquette for the client who really does not know what to expect.

Let me just say this first – there are many of you out there that would love a good massage on a daily basis.  I tend to be one of those “touch me, rub me junkies’ who falls into a vast relaxation as soon as someone lays there hands on me.  But for many this is quite the invasive approach that can be very unsettling and nerve racking to be touched in the slightest of ways.  If you are one of those people, maybe massage is not the answer for you.  You’re better off starting slowly with say a pedicure foot massage, manicure hand massage or chair massage with clothes on to try on for size.

It often happens in this business that people give gift certificates of massage to someone who has never experienced one before and I can out rightly say… this may be the best gift for you, but for them?  Not.  Because you are putting them in a very awkward position, not to mention awkward because their clothes are off AND not to mention a rather pricey gift to say the least that makes them feel guilty enough to just suck it up and go.

As Holidays approach, know the person you are giving this massage gift certificate to and ask yourself… is this what I want or what they want?

Here we go…

When the massage therapist walks you to the room where bodywork will take place, it is here that conversation begins and ENDS.  It is here that you are clear what kind of massage you are getting, which direction you should be facing (face-up or face-down), where you mention your aches, pains, injuries, that have you… if you have any allergies AND if there is a specific part of the body that you do NOT want touched, as well as the pressure (hard or soft) that you like.  Just get it all out in the open so the air is clear.  I know many clients need tissues around because their nose runs or their feet tickle or they have an injury that shouldn’t be touched or if they are pregnant.  You must let the therapist know up front.

Alas, the therapist leaves… in hopes they are washing their hands before they touch you!  In this ample time, you get undressed leaving clothes either on a hook or chair and you slide UNDER the covers in which ever direction they tell you.  If you forget… don’t worry it’s easy to tell.  If the round doughnut hole thingy at the top of the bed is present, they want you face down with your face in the hole.  If not, lie face up.

Underwear on or Underwear off? Let’s just get right to the point, shall we?  Again for the person who does not receive regularly, this is a huge question for both men and women.  The answer.  Doesn’t matter.  Either way works.  We won’t think you’re prude if you leave them on and we won’t think you’re racy if you don’t.  I will tell you this, though… chances are if underwear is off, there’s a good chance that it’s an invitation to have your bum rubbed.  Let’s just be clear here, unless told upfront, the only areas off limits are the private ones, the rest is up for grabs… well… you know what I mean… it’s up for massage.  That means the entire back, shoulders, sides of torso, bum, legs, arms, feet, chest, fingers, neck, face, ears and even scalp!  Did I miss anything?  Now I know what you’re thinking… I mentioned bum and that’s supposed to be considered the “private zone”.  Private as it may be, this area is often touched with the blanket or sheets on and usually the partial cheek is rubbed skin to skin.  Might I add… this feels really GOOD!  The bum hold LOTS of tension and can effect all the muscles in the low back, so if you’re complaining your low back hurts… hint, hint.. this just may be where your tension lies!  Oh and ladies… you gotta remove the bra too!  I tried to accommodate a client once and let’s just say she eventually gave in and broke free so that she was able to enjoy it more!

With all this chatter about underwear and private parts… let it be known that this is a very respectable business and therapist take great pride in their sheet/blanket maneuvering techniques so that your body will never fully be exposed with private parts getting drafty.  That being said…. let’s move on to the DO‘s and DONT‘s of massage…

DON’T MOVE– Your job as the “receiver” is to do just that… RECEIVE!  Your job is to lie there and do absolutely nothing.  That means we do not need you to pick your arms and legs up to move them unless told to turn over.  We do not need you to move your head from side to side.  We do not need you to give us each individual finger when your hands are being massaged.  Please don’t support your legs and arms causing more tension then necessary.  We like you to be limp, dead body weight… just receive.

DON‘T TALK – I’m not being literal here.  You can definitely speak up if something bothers you, you need to shift, more pressure, less pressure, but please don’t bring up your “to-do” list of responsibilities during the massage…  How it pains you to see your in-laws over the Holidays or the great sale at Macy’s over the weekend.  This is the quiet zone and if you think your massage therapist is just being rude for not conversing back to you – think again.  We are trained to let you fully receive in the best possible way and most comfortable way we know how.  If you as the client are talking, that is telling us you are not relaxed, and if you are not relaxed, then we are not doing our job properly.  Shhhh….

DO BE CLEAN – Please, please come to a massage clean.  That doesn’t mean you have to shower before you come, but there are many people that find coming straight from the gym after a sweaty workout to hop on the table for a massage sounds great, and it may feel great, but trust me it doesn’t smell great.  This doesn’t happen often, but it has happened.

DO CLOSE YOUR EYES – There’s nothing worse than trying to relax someone who is staring back at you.  It’s uncomfortable for the giver and the receiver.  The point of massage is to relax and the therapeutic benefits that come from a relaxed body are endless.  Keeping the eyes open is equivalent to talking.  It just means you are not relaxed and uncomfortable.  Trust.  Close your eyes… let loose and give your body a chance to feel.  If you fall asleep… that’s okay.  The perfect zone is that “in between” state of mind or “Twilight” sleep where you can feel the therapist working around you, but it almost feels as if their energy is everywhere and you zone in and out of sleep.  If you snore… don’t worry, we’re used it.   If it is still too uncomfortable to close your eyes… ask the therapist to place a light towel or lavender pillow over your eyes to help you relax.

In addition to staring… please don’t think your therapist is staring at you, judging you or picking you apart.  It is just the opposite!  Again, we are trained to give a supportive and nurturing touch to all that come.  Generally the type of person who goes into any type of body-work is usually of the nurturing kind.  One who wants to give, wants to relax you and make you feel comfortable.  We know that energy can be relayed in all forms, therefore if we are judging you, we know that energy would be picked up in the way our hands feel toward you.  It is not the type of atmosphere we would like to condone in our room, so rest assured that all is professional in such a sacred space.

DO BE GRATEFUL – it one thing to be grateful if the massage was out right awful, but chances are there are a lot of good body-workers out there that give much energy into every massage, day in and day out.  We are trained to do several bodies in a row with no breaks.  We give every massage our all and put much pressure and emphasis on ourselves to relax a client, aid in someones injury or even try to make those chronic aches and pains of yours go away.  There is nothing worse than giving 110% to a client, who you know is completely relaxed and just gets up and walks out without saying a word.

What to expect…

  • Expect that most of your body is going to be touched in some fashion excluding the private zones or areas that you already pre-requested are off limits.
  • That you will be completely covered on the areas of the body that are not being worked on.  We are careful and thoughtful not to flash the private zones when unwrapping the next body part!
  • Depending on what type of massage you’re receiving, your Massage Therapist will rub, rock, hold, knead, stretch and rotate most of the body to give variation and therapeutic attention to certain areas of the body.  Therefore, we use all parts of our bodies in order to achieve that.  I’ve gotten on top of the table, used my legs, elbows, whatever to make you comfortable and me not strain myself in the process.
  • Expect the table to be warmed if cold outside, light music to be played and essential oils to be used.  If any or all of these bother you or inhibit you to relax, then speak up in the beginning of your session.
  • Expect the Massage Therapist to have their hands off for very brief periods of time.  This is so we reach for more oil, cream, essential oil, or to get ourselves into a comfortable position.  Don’t worry, we didn’t leave the room.
  • Expect your Therapist to be considerate and ask you questions up front… for them not to engage in conversation during the treatment, for them to attend to the specific parts you requested extra special attention on, or obey any wishes or restrictions you have.
  • Expect that your massage time will be kept according to the time slot scheduled.  Therapists have other clients waiting and although we are giving our 110% to you at the time… unfortunately when your time is up, we ask that you do not fall back asleep on the table.  Keeping in mind, if you are late, the time is usually taken off your hour to keep other clients on schedule.

Hopefully these pointers will help you relax more during your next massage and trust that professional massage places are just that… professional.  If you have any gut feeling that makes you think twice about the “What to expect” areas in your next massage… maybe that is sign that this particular therapist is not the one for you.

If you are new to massage/body-work or want to try something different, research it.  Know the facts and benefits of each massage and what is expected because it may not be the right choice for you.  Don’t laugh, but I once had a client who requested a “Sensory Journey” Massage that explained essential oils were used in the write up about it and when she got into the room, notified me that she was allergic to most essential oils.  Hmph.  Most are  not familiar with different massage modalities and often think the infamous Swedish Massage is the only one out there.  Massage and Body-Work have come a long way since then.   Just to name a few…

  • Swedish,
  • Deep Tissue,
  • Rolfing
  • Shiatsu Acupressure
  • Thai
  • Reiki
  • Hot Stone and so on

Ahhhhhh, you have no idea how good this feels after so many years of keeping quiet!  This is a good thing, right?  Informative, yes?

If you have any massage stories, be it giver or receiver, I’d love to hear it.  Till then, sit back, relax and let loose!

14 thoughts on “Massage Etiquette 101…

  1. My husband and I were just talking about massages tonight at dinner! He’s so stressed and I’m always complaining of aches and pains. We thought a couples massage a few times a month might be good for us. We came home from dinner and there was your blog on massage – it’s a sign!

  2. What a great post….
    I have to say that the worst situation is the one where the client is just cashing in on the gift certificate. Doesn’t want to be there, is super stiff and “helps” with the massage. I swear I am looking at the clock and the time seems to go backwards. I always make it my personal challenge to change their minds and have them have a great experience. Most times it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
    The best scenerio is when you have the “energy connection”
    and the time flies… you go overtime and don’t want to stop. It’s a dance and when it’s good… it’s good for both me and the client. I feel revived and lifted.
    And yes, gratitude is VERY important, I’m not talking tipping here ( although that is Really great)…. I mean grateful in a sincere way. I am grateful for clients choosing me above others and I let them know it… do the same for me.
    Thanks for writing this my WONDERFUL EX THERAPIST !!!! I miss your touch and the connection we had.
    Stay always a beautiful Goddess…

  3. Love it! Well said M! So glad you blogged about this. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I always give my best work when a client is relaxed, eyes closed and NOT talking. I can’t massage and talk at the same time. Just can’t. It’s not my best work and I always feel like the client was short changed. I think you should publish this everywhere. I’m going to send this to my hubby. He’s the biggest offender 😉

  4. I just wanted to say THANK YOU! As a “unsure” massage wanter…I am never sure what we are supposed to do (the relaxing part I get!) Underwear on or off? I prefer on…and I am so glad that is not considered dumb. Bra on or off, good to know…off it is…talk? Or relax and enjoy? I felt rude not talking, but I was enjoying…so I didn’t talk…glad that is ok and not rude 🙂

    As I go for my third massage (ever!) today, I thought I would Google Massage Etiquette and came up with this…thank you so much 🙂

  5. Pingback: Swedish massage etiquette – Swedish massage | Massage Ideas » Blog Archive

  6. What does a guy do if he is worried about getting… “aroused”? Only because of the relaxation and blood flow from getting the massage, not in a weird way! Is this something therapists are used to?

  7. Yes, Taylor LOL! Massage therapists are aware this “may” happen during a massage, as men are so relaxed and not worried about having to control the “reactions” that may occur. However, any arousal is usually minimal under normal circumastances and not usually noticeable. Hope this helps! 🙂

  8. I truly enjoyed reading this piece. It was very informative and as a potential first time received,i appreciate the time you took clearing up virtually every question i had in mind. However, there is one more questions I’d like answered if possible; if going to a massage parlor where they charge by the hour is it obligatory to leave a tip? Thank you.

  9. Sorry, but i do have yet another question… I’m a very tensed individual and though I’m planning my first professional massage I’ve had a few non professional massages in the past and I’ve been told by many that I’m too tense. I tend to involuntarily tense up when certain parts of my back are being worked on due only to the pressure that” hurts so good” if that makes sense. Would this be a problem and how can i learn to control this involuntary act? Again,i thank you for your time and help.

  10. Hi Michael,

    Glad this post cleared up many of your questions. Your first question was about tipping. Although no tip is “obligatory” anywhere you go, for any service, I can say a tip is always a good idea. Not for the greedy side of things, but more for the generosity and appreciation it shows to the giver. Massage therapists, like many service jobs, are under paid by the hour or the spa in which they work takes much of that commission away, leaving very little left to pay the therapist with. Here’s a good rule of thumb… if you are getting a professional massage at parlor, no matter what the cost is you are paying, the massage therapist is going to see very little of that, so it is always appreciated to add a tip. I once read a general tipping scale for salons and spas, and it said: If you just “liked” your service, tip 15%. If you “Loved” your service, give anywhere from 17%-20%. On the other side, if you are getting a semi-professional massage, say at someone’s house, then no tip is required. This is because his/her cost for the massage should already include any overhead (heating, electric, supplies, etc.) in their overall price and no extra money is needed.

    Now to address that tense back of yours. Yes, I know what you mean about the “good hurt”. Your tensing up can be from several factors, one being the therapist didn’t warm up the area first by gradually massaging, kneading the area before putting full-on pressure. I’ve always been taught to “lean into” a pressure point gradually and not just poke a strong thumb or elbow in it. If you’re already tense, then this will cause anyone to get even more tense. Another reason can just be the obvious and that is you haven’t been exposed to massage enough and that’s ok. If it’s something you know is good for you, feels good for you, then eventually it’ll just happen. A HUGE help to get through those tough spots is to BREATHE through it. I only say this because you are calling it a “good hurt” and sounds like you want the pressure, otherwise I would definitely say to speak up and tell the therapist it’s just too much. Trust me, too much pressure that is causing you to tense is NOT helping you! You’d benefit much more from lighter pressure that feels calming. Lighter doesn’t mean wimpy, feathery strokes…just something slightly less than what you’ve been getting. I personally have been getting massage for years and I will tell them I can only take strong pressure on my shoulders, that’s it. Everywhere else gets medium pressure.

    Hope this helps you Michael and hope it wasn’t too late before you got your next massage! Just use your breath to help you relax, find a therapist you like and trust. Looking forward to hearing how it goes, good luck!

  11. Not putting my name for obvious reason. Wanted to know is it normal to go to a massage therapist and the therapist rub all the way up to your genital area and stop like 1 centimeter away from your genitals? Not trying to be funny or make waves on your blog, I’m legitimately curious. I went to a therapist recently and she started rubbing in-between my legs (not actually touching my private parts, but insanely close) is this how most messages are or was she a little risqué?

  12. Mr. Curious, Thanks so much for your question. All I can say is, if you were uncomfortable and you feel like it was too close, than it probably was. Although massage can seem “intimate”, and entails massaging parts of the body not normally touched by others, it is still and should be a respectful practice. There are many therapists out there who like to play with the edge. Upper thighs, inner/outer thighs and buttocks are all normal, however, “insanely” close is a little too close for comfort and bottom line, she went past your boundary. I’m sorry you had to experience that. If the rest of the massage was good and respectful, you may just want to communicate your comfort level with her for next time, otherwise, you’ll need to find someone else. Good luck!

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