Karlo Berger
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Home > Publications > How to Get a Fabulous Massage

How to Get a Fabulous Massage


Dear Karlo,

I love getting massages, but can only afford to go once a month. What do you recommend I do to get the maximum benefit from my sessions?

Muscle Man


Dear Muscle Man,

That’s such a great question, I posted it to a number top bodyworkers and have assembled for you their choice advice on how to make the most of your massage:

Prepare for your healing experience. Theresa Ochenkoski, LMT, massage therapist at the Boston Dana-Farber Cancer Institute’s Zakim Center for Integrated Therapies who also maintains a private practice suggests, “During the time before your session drink lots of water. Keeping you muscles hydrated will help your muscles recover after the session. Do your best to choose a session time that best fits your schedule to allow for absorption time. When the body receives therapeutic work, the muscles, joints and mind need time to assimilate the changes. So, if your schedule allows you, find a time in the day when you can take some down time afterwards. Depending on what type of work you are getting (i.e., sports massage, deep tissue, injury-related, relaxation), will depend on how much time you will need. In the words of the writer Sydney Harris, The time to relax is when you don't have time for it."

Before you begin your bodywork session, communicate! As Lisa Santoro, LMT, founder of the massage program at Harvard University and a massage instructor at the Muscular Therapy Institute, pointed out to me, “Some massages have ended where the answer to this question, Was there anything you would have liked more of or done differently? is a list of things the person wanted but didn't say. In the interview before the massage, make sure it's clear to the massage therapist your preferences about pressure, areas of the body you would like worked or if there's a particular issue you would like addressed (for example: a recurring soreness in your shoulders). If you want your whole body worked and you only have a 45 to 50 minute session, prioritize for the massage therapist where you'd like the most focus to be. During the massage if you need to change the priorities, by all means do so. Remember, it's your time and massage therapists want you to be happy and satisfied with the work being done. If your therapist is talking too much, the music doesn't suit you, the scent or feel of the oil/lotion/cream is not to your liking, or if you are too cold or hot, please by all means let the therapist know. Suffering in silence is not very relaxing!”

Be sure to breathe deeply and fully. For veteran Brookline massage therapist Francesca Graziano-Legrand, proper breathing is critical. “Since breath makes changes, a massage session can be an opportunity to enhance breathing capacity. If there is a sinus problem, congestion can be relieved during a treatment. Since muscles relax with the exhalation of the breath, I encourage my clients to allow their exhalations to last twice as long as their inhalations.” Adds Theresa Ochenkoski, “Breathing during times of discomfort during the session (because sometimes muscles that haven't been moved or have been injured can be uncomfortable while healing) can be really helpful by enabling the area to release.”

Let your mind make it easy for yourself to heal. When it comes to being on the receiving end, many bodyworkers have their own approaches for making the most of their session. Says Ochenkoski, “I love sinking into a bodywork table. It is such a wonderful feeling to give into gravity in a positive way. I trust my body to the bodyworker, while remaining in touch with the changes in my body to help the practitioner with assessment. When they need to move my arm, my arm is no longer under my control, and that is OK. I know that the practitioner will give it back to me.” Her colleague at Dana-Farber, Bambi Mathay, LMT, suggests that people “put themselves in their healing space, whatever that is for them, such as an ocean or a garden. If people are into energy work, try to visualize energy centers aligning and connecting, or colors.”

As a shiatsu therapist and a grateful receiver of many a bodywork session, my own approach here is to close my eyes and imagine that the therapist who is giving me the treatment has the healing powers of a saint, or of the Buddha, or of someone who is radiantly and powerfully whole. Feeling completely at ease in the hands of such a healing presence, I can more confidently shed my armor and open myself up to deeper levels of healing. From this perspective, it’s easy for me to accept that whatever the therapist does is meant to be, and is part of my healing journey.

After the treatment, gently reconnect with the outside world. Bambi Mathay recommends to “plan time before and after the bodywork to be a transition time, slowing down, drinking water, sitting in silence, listening to the body, what do you need today? Feel the healing or wellness throughout the body, mind and spirit.” After she receives bodywork, Thai Massage therapist Julia Smith, LMT, is sure to “relax afterwards or go out to dinner with a friend. It is also a good idea to eat moderately and avoid too much junk food and alcohol. Alcohol will dehydrate you and make you feel worse. Be sure to drink water. Don't go exercise. This is what I tell my clients as well.”

I should add an obvious point: one of the best ways to have a great bodywork session is to go to a suitable bodyworker in the first place. Says Francesca Graziano-Legrand, “A good therapist not only meets clients where they are, but leads them to gain awareness of where that is, while enhancing their clients ability to breathe freely, and listening as well as encouraging clear communication.” Adds Bambi Mathay, “Make sure there is a good connection with you and your therapist...if this does not exist, move on.”

First published in Boston Natural Awakenings magazine's March 2006 "Ask Karlo" column.

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