When I graduated from massage school I wasn’t even 21 yet. I was legally allowed to rub on naked people but I wasn’t allowed to toast my own graduation (although, funny story, I did have a margarita at our massage school after graduation party when one of my classmates pretended to be my mom and ordered me one, LOL.)
Over the years, I’ve switched jobs several times but I’ve always done bodywork. I’ve always loved working on people, helping them with their aches and pains. I’ve worked on my family, my spouse, in private clinics, big box establishments, spa settings and now for myself! Not that I am speaking for all bodyworkers but I think it is safe to say that over the years I’ve learned some things and there are many things I wish my clients knew. So, I decided to write about it. Here goes:
Can I call my practitioner a masseuse? What do I call them?
Massage therapists in the state of Texas go through a decent training program and are required to get continuing education hours every year. The license isn’t cheap and neither is the schooling. I believe that it’s good that training is required for massage as you CAN (although it isn’t typical) hurt someone if you use the wrong pressure/technique. You can also leave them feeling terrible if you don’t know what you are doing.
All that to say, if your practitioner has gone through massage school and is licensed in the state of Texas you should call them a “Registered Massage Therapist” (you’ll often see RMT behind their name). Like a doctor, they have worked hard for the title and deserve it. (“Masseuse” is now considered taboo because of the sexual connotation of the word. You have probably also heard the term “bodyworker” which is how I refer to myself because although I was a RMT for many years, I decided to not renew my license. Bodyworkers may include other modalities in their work such as reiki, aromatherapy, acupressure, reflexology, thai, etc. From this point forward I will use “practitioner” to mean RMT or bodyworker.)
No matter who you see for massage, please ask about their credentials! Although I do see bodywork as a bit of an art it is imperative that your practitioner have a good understanding of anatomy and experience in what they are doing.
Not to hurt anyone who is trying to make a living but I would also like to note that the big box massage places typically hire therapists right out of school who have very little experience. Most practitioners eventually leave those chains because the pay is dismal, the benefits non-existent and the work back-breaking (my personal experience here, I’m sure others might disagree).
I once worked with a woman at a chain massage place who had one inch long nails. If you are a massage therapist you will be gasping right now because every halfway competent practitioner knows that you need short, clean nails to give a good massage. I have NO IDEA how she did massage like that but I can imagine that it was a pretty awful experience for those she worked on. If your practitioner walks in with nails like that, ask for someone else!
It’s okay to take off all your clothes. It’s also okay to NOT take off all your clothes.
One of my funniest massage stories was when I had a man come in for his first massage session ever. I told him my line, “Undress to your comfort level and lay face down on the table under the sheet.” I thought I was pretty clear but when I came back in the room, there he was in his tight-y white-y’s laying on TOP of the sheet, with his head on the foot rest, face up. I had to stifle my laugh as I pulled out another sheet from the cabinet and covered him up! He was the sweetest man. Just didn’t understand the massage etiquette.
See, as a registered massage therapist (and I follow these same regulations as a bodyworker), it’s a legal requirement to cover my clients. Temperature, modesty and safety are all established with the careful placement of that one sheet. Hours of our training is actually devoted to how to “drape” a client correctly in order to keep them covered appropriately while still trying to work on all their muscles. People seem to think that all practitioners are nudists but in actuality (like regular people) their level of comfort for nudity is a spectrum. Keep that in mind (especially for those of you who are really comfortable with letting it all hang out!)
For some, being on the massage table can be a frightening experience. It is actually a very vulnerable position and you should be with a practitioner who always treats you and your body with respect, dignity and care. Remember you are in charge! I’ve had clients who got a massage fully clothed. No big deal. I’ve had people break out into tears on the table. If you have experienced trauma, there is more and more research showing the benefit of being touched in a loving way however, you should be cautious about working with someone who is sensitive to your needs. Re-traumatizing you is certainly not the goal.
We are accustomed to seeing bodies. Don’t worry about what yours looks like.
It doesn’t matter to me if you shaved your legs, if you have webbed toes or cellulite. I just want to help you care for our body and I’ve seen ALL kinds of bodies. I’ve worked on skinny bodies, fat bodies, pregnant bodies, muscular bodies, young bodies, old bodies and hairy ones. I once worked on a bull fighter. I’ve worked on people post surgery, people who have lost limbs and broken bones. Once I worked on a professional BMX biker. I could feel his healed up ribs through his skin.
I can’t speak for all practitioners but I am NOT judging your body when you get on my table. I’m not thinking about ANY of those body insecurities that you stare at in the mirror. To me, your body is just a body. A wonderful complex system of muscles, nerves and bones that I want to manipulate in order to create more ease in your life. All those things you see as weird are wonderful and interesting to me. I don’t mention this much but when I am working on a body part I can literally see the muscles, their striations and the way the fascia pulls. I’m a total anatomy nerd.
Butt massage is the best :)
Speaking of bodies, that brings me to butts (you knew I was gonna go there, right?!) The gluteal muscles are some of the most important muscles of the body. They are responsible for so much of our movement (and many of us are serious tight asses, haha). We tend to clench our glut muscles when we are stressed (back to that fight or flight response again.) Tight gluts can result in pain that you might feel in your hips but also your back, knees, hamstrings, etc etc.
So, if you are comfortable know that your practitioner would love to work on these muscles! However, also know that we can work on them through the sheet if that makes you more comfortable. And yes, sometimes people fart. It’s OKAY!
Speaking of butts, what about the sexy stuff?
People seem to associate massage with sex which is rather unfortunate really. Most massage practitioners are highly ethical, well trained individuals but like any profession, there are some that give us a bad name. So let’s be clear on some things. Your massage practitioner should never touch you in your private areas (if they do, it is sexual assault and should be reported) or anywhere that you ask NOT to be touched.
Be clear about your likes/dislikes before your session. Tell your practitioner if there are areas that you DO NOT want touched and where you really WANT to be touched. I often have people request to not have their feet touched because they are ticklish (we have some work arounds for that, just so you know). I always talk about what kind of pressure my client thinks they will enjoy ahead of time.
A massage practitioner should never work on your skin if it is sunburnt, has an active rash, bruising or other ailment. There are other contraindications for massage so you should let you practitioner know in advance about your general medical history (they should be requesting this information in a form.)
Also, for those of us with breasts….Your practitioner should not be massaging your breasts (unless you give written consent). There are some women who have had surgery or other medical conditions where massage of the breasts is helpful but these are special cases. Without your written consent, it is sexual assault and should be reported.
For those of you with a penis, know that sometimes things stiffen involuntarily (if you catch my drift.) A well trained practitioner has seen this before and will think little of it. When we massage, blood starts following all sort of directions! However, if it makes you uncomfortable maybe ask for a little more work on your back muscles :)
No offense but this also doesn’t mean the practitioner is welcoming any advances either. Just like your practitioner should never touch you in certain places, you should never place your hands on your practitioner. Also unwelcome are comments about wanting to marry them, asking for a “happy ending” or otherwise behaving in a creepy manner.
What if it hurts?
After many years of doing this work, I have graduated past the “no pain, no gain” philosophy. Typically, you come in for massage because you are hurting. Why would I hurt you more? When we cause pain in the body, it reacts with that fight or flight response and tenses up. How does that help matters? I can give a great massage that will leave you feeling relaxed AND like you actually had some good work done.
You should not be bruised after a session or feel horribly sore the next day. A massage that is super intense can literally make you sick! Take it slow and when it hurts SAY SOMETHING. I know there are times when my clients suffer in silence. I try to pay attention to their body cues but sometimes I just can’t tell if the pressure is getting to be too much. Please speak up!
I feel like I should end this with “thanks for coming to my Ted Talk.” But seriously, what other questions do you have about massage, bodywork, or butts?
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