6 Tips for Giving an Amazing Relaxation Massage

It's a common misconception that relaxation massage is the easiest modality to master. Hopefully, students graduate from massage school with the skills and talent to provide a solid relaxation massage. But giving a phenomenal relaxation massage is not easy. It is not simple. It requires extreme attention to detail and a boatload of experience, skill, and talent.

There's no substitute for lots and lots of practice, but knowing what to practice is a great start. Here are some tips to help you improve the quality of the relaxation massage you provide.

White Noise
This is so easy, it baffles me when any treatment room is lacking it. A simple fan, air cleaner, or even a fancy white noise machine will mask all nature of noises that can be distracting to a client on a table. Got a squeak in your sneaker, rumble in your belly, or a neighbor with windchimes? White noise will eliminate most of that and help a client to chill out without distraction. (Yes, you can have white noise and music. Works just fine.)

Slow Down
It can be easy to move too fast in a relaxation massage. Most of the massages I give are a combination of relaxation and 'a little extra work' to a specific problem area. It can be a bit overwhelming to try to fit that all into 30, 60, or even 90 minutes.

I've found myself racing through the arms so I'll have enough time to deal with the plantar faciitis. Big. Mistake. The quality of the massage is not tied to the number of strokes I fit in to that time slot.

In relaxation massage, less is more. Two slow, smooth, full, effleurages are better than five speedy and imprecise ones. A firm, full squeeze of the hand is better than a rushed or pokey petrissage of the fingers. Be attentive to the pace of the client's breath, and your own, and let that be your guide.

Suspend Time
Start and finish with a move that can be be held, like a gentle neck traction, or a leg pull from under the heels. A hold can feel like a little suspension of time and make the massage seem to flow seamlessly and have no defined start or end.

Smooth Draping Moves
This takes practice. Lots and lots of practice, with all different textures and weights of sheets and blankets. Minimize the amount of fussing you do with the linens, make the security of the draping match the work you're going to do.

For example, if you're not going to be moving or stretching the leg, you don't need to do that whole 'lift the leg, bring the sheet underneath and around' thing. Just gently tuck the sheet under the inner thigh and outer hip and let it be. Yes, you always want the client to feel covered and comfortable. But practice and refine your draping skills so it's smooth, not an extended lock down procedure rivaling that of a casino vault.

Be Quiet
This cannot be overstated. Be quiet. Don't talk. One of the top complaints we hear from clients is, "The therapist talked the whole time."

If a client asks a question or initiates conversation, respond softly and efficiently. Then be quiet. Do not start or extend the conversation. Just be quiet. Checking in once or twice about pressure and comfort is wise. If you want to inquire about the client's vacation, sick dog, or new car, do so after the massage, or in an email.

No client ever left a massage thinking, "I wish the therapist would've talked more about her boyfriend/kids/car accident/theory of relativity." Or, "Talking about my work stress the whole time was relaxing!" (If you're thinking to yourself, "But all my clients love to talk," then you are the problem here. They may not, but you've trained them to think that constant chatter is expected during a massage. Eventually they'll get a massage somewhere else, realize they love the silence, and stop coming to you.)

Don't Assume Relaxation Means Light Pressure
Typically relaxation massage does not include pushing your elbow into a client's rhomboids. But it's not just an oil application, either.

As in every other modality, pressure is subjective in relaxation massage. Some clients will want pressure that makes firm contact and moves the musculature. Some will want lighter work and gentle motion. Ask about pressure before the massage. Quietly check in once or twice during the massage. And do a solid outtake interview after the massage. Ask right out, "How was the pressure? Would you want more or less next time, and in any particular spots?"

You may only need to do this the first few times you see a client, but it opens the door to great feedback and shows your willingness and desire to customize the perfect massage for them.

What are your tips and tricks for giving a great relaxation massage?