7 Best Tips For How To Give A Massage Like A Professional


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Co-authored by: Justyna Kareta Certified Master Massage Therapist This article was co-authored by Justyna Kareta. Justyna Kareta is a Certified Master Massage Therapist and Owner of Lush Massage, a massage studio based in San Francisco, California. Justyna has over nine years of experience as a therapist and specializes in Lomi Lomi Hawaiian Massage and CranioSacral Therapy to soothe the nervous system and facilitate deep healing. She received her massage therapy training from the Southwest Institute of Healing Arts, is certified by California Massage Therapy Council, and is a member of the Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals. This article has been viewed 56,300 times. 37 votes – 84% Co-authors: 6 Updated: February 15, 2021 Views: 56,300

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Giving someone a deep tissue massage is a great way to help them with any muscle aches they’ve been experiencing, but it’s important that you do it safely so you don’t end up hurting them more. To get started, rub some massage oil over their back to help relax their muscles. Then, use the palm of your hand and some body weight to apply pressure as you stroke their shoulders and lower back. Once you’ve worked on these muscles for 5 to 10 minutes, apply pressure along the length of their back with your forearm. You can also use the points of your fingers to focus pressure on specific muscles that are still tense. Massage their arms and legs with the heal of your hand to finish. Throughout the massage, remember to avoid applying pressure directly to their spine and other vulnerable areas, like the front of their neck and the abdomen. For tips on how to create a relaxing atmosphere for your massage, keep reading!

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6. Back Up to the Neck

To work on the head and neck, have your client lie on their back and place the pillow beneath their knees to alleviate lower-back pressure, says Sharpell. Position yourself at the head facing the body and scoop both hands under the head, with the head on your palms and fingertips at the neck. Start near the skull and (while avoiding the vertebrae) gently push your fingertips up, tilting the head up slightly. Move your fingers along both sides of the neck, up and down, moving down in tiny increments toward the top of the back. You can tilt the head, extending the chin upward. Baritot recommends occipital traction to relieve neck tension: Run your fingers underneath your client’s head and neck until you reach the base of your client’s skull. The occiputs are the two bumps on the back of the skull on either side of the spine. Hook your fingers underneath these points and slowly but firmly pull the client’s head toward you, and then slowly release.

Related: Trigger Points & Chiropractics

Kelsey Tucker/DescribeTheFauna.com



How to give the impression you have the hands of the angel and not feel like hell doing so.

✓  Keep constant contact

When giving someone a massage, try to keep your hands in contact with their body as much as possible. You don’t always have to apply pressure; even a light touch is fine.

This continuity of touch creates a soothing sensation.

✓  Don’t go too fast

Kim and I had a misguided tendency to massage each other as if we were scrubbing pans: too hard and too fast. Generally speaking, the deeper the massage, the slower you should move.

Stay still sometimes: If you find a knot, apply constant pressure to it with a supported thumb, knuckle, or your elbow and hold it for fifteen to thirty seconds. Vibrate a little if you get bored. It feels good and unties the knot.

✓  Don’t break your back giving someone a back massage

Maristha was a big stickler for posture when giving someone a massage (something the Alexander Technique folks would certainly agree with).

Whenever possible, she advised widening your stance to get lower, even sometimes getting into a full-on lunge position, rather than bending over and straining your back.

✓  Don’t bend your arms too much

Keep your arms just slightly less than locked when massaging. Let the weight of your body and legs to the work rather than your arms.

Use your forearms, knuckles, and elbows instead of
Use your forearms, knuckles, and elbows instead of overworking your fingers.

✓  Don’t overdo it with your fingers

For most of us amateurs, the go-to massage move is to squeeze with our fingers, especially on the top of the shoulders. It feels good to get but:

  • It’s super tiring. Within no time your forearms and fingers start burning.
  • Other things feel better! Like your knuckles, for instance…

✓  Don’t be a knucklehead; use your knuckles

I never dared lay a fist on Kim (and vice-versa) until Maristha told me to. She showed us a few techniques that honestly feel even better than the classic squeezing move we used to always tire ourselves out with.

Here are a few basic massage techniques using the knuckles:

  • Monkey Hand: Bend your wrists to use the back of your hands and your first knuckles for a not-too-hard knuckle massage.
  • Cat Walk: With your hand in a claw-like shape, use the knuckles closest to your fingertips to knead tissue in a circular motion, one finger at a time.
  • Knuckle Grating: Form a loose fist and use your second knuckles to knead out tougher tissue like the shoulders, back of thighs, palms of hands, and soles of feet.

Use your forearms, elbows, and feet, too! Run your forearm bone along tough areas like the back of the thighs or carefully place your elbows or feet for a constant and heavy pressure to loosen up super tight spots.

✓  Reinforce your movements

For more pressure, more control, and less strain, massage with one hand at a time while using your off-hand to support the wrist of the working hand.

You can do something similar with your fingers, too. For instance, if you’re running your index finger along the spine of the person you’re massaging, cross your middle finger on top of it for support.

✓  Don’t karate chop them

The reason Kim and I didn’t like it when we attempted to do the classic karate chop massage move on each other was we were too stiff.

Maristha told us to soften our hands and loosen our wrists instead. She also showed us that a loose side fist (so lightly curled fingers) can feel better than an extended chop-style hand.

And it really feels good! Once we learned this massage technique, “tapotement,”the fancy word for chopping and hitting, became one of the best-feeling moves.

Try “pinchies” too: Another surprisingly pleasant tapotement technique is to do speedy light pinches with alternating hands. It sounds silly and feels silly to do, but feels good to receive.

✓  Shake ‘Em Up

Another silly-feeling but effective massage technique Maristha taught us that we’d never considered before was simple shaking.

If they’re lying on their stomach, pick up their leg by the ankle, pull it gently towards you, and give it a shake. Or, if they’re sitting on a chair, hold their wrist with their arm in a 90-degree angle as if they’re waving hello, and shake.

Pick the best massage oil, and soothe with scent

You don’t have to use oil, but it’s standard in most professional sessions because it helps hands glide over tight muscle groups with ease. Since you may be applying generously, it’s best to use a neutral "carrier oil," if there’s a (non-overpowering) essential oil scent you know you love, add a couple of drops into the mix.

"Try using a plain carrier like coconut oil, grape-seed oil, or sweet almond," suggests Beider. "In my own practice, we use a blend of oils specifically for massage, including jojoba, lavender and rosemary."

5. Your best bet is to start at the neck

But you can really start anywhere, since massage is pretty forgiving, says Dwyer. To properly massage the neck, Dwyer suggests having your partner sit in a chair or lie back with their head on the edge of a bed or in your lap. Then, you want to cradle their head and make gentle circles, or just hold the tight area where the head meets the neck. “This is often times where people get tension headaches and hold stress from being on zoom calls and the computer all day,” says Dwyer.

You can continue the neck massage by gently working your hands down the neck towards the shoulders by sweeping them downward slowly or continuing to make small circles using your finger tips.

Knots from a workout? Here’s how to get some relief?

Before You Begin

When it comes to massage, set-up is key. Both Sharpell and Baritot agree that on the floor in a dark, warm room is preferable to a bed because it offers more support. Place a yoga mat or a blanket on the floor to provide a clean surface. For best results, have your “client” take off their shirt and cover them with a sheet (if they’re shy). To begin, have them lay facedown with a pillow under their head, turning their neck to one side. “Remember to turn the head to the other side every so often in order to avoid a stiff neck,” says Sharpell. Massaging with oils, creams or lotions can tone and invigorate the skin, but Baritot says it’s best to use one made from natural ingredients like sweet almond or sesame oil because they absorb into the skin more easily. “A good rule to go by: If you can eat it, you can rub with it,” he says. Apply a small amount on your hands (never directly onto the client, says Sharpell) and rub them together to distribute evenly. Start your massage with a light touch and then go deeper if the client wants. And remember: Too much pressure can cause injury. If your client’s breathing slows and they sink into the massage surface, they’re responding well to your massage.

Related: How and Why You Should Be Using Essential Oils

Kelsey Tucker/DescribeTheFauna.com

2. You can use props, like music and candles to set the mood

Once you’ve picked your location, you’re going to want to elevate your setting by playing soft instrumental music (something with words may be distracting), lighting a candle, or using essential oils. Doing this can make your partner focus on the here and now by appealing to their senses, says Dwyer. You’ll also want to eliminate distractions by turning devices, like your phone and the TV, off. Dwyer also suggests sticking with dim lighting, so avoid any fluorescent lights.

Relax (and don’t forget to breathe)

“Don’t forget that massage isn’t just about the person being touched; the masseuse can get just as much out of this sensual experience,” says Tanner

But to reap those benefits, you’re going to have to relax, be present, and go slow.

“It is just as important for the giver to be relaxed and in a comfortable position before, during and after the massage,” says Sparks. “This is an exchange of energy, and the giver must be in a mood to give.” While you should stay focused on your partner, listening to their breathing and responses both verbal and physical, it’s also important to “focus on your own breathing and state of mind,” she adds.

“Breathe,” echoes Joppy. “Deep, conscious breathing will naturally sync your two bodies, resulting in a deeper, more intimate and sensual connection.”

Like sex, a good massage requires communication, consent, and enthusiastic partners who are both present and willing to engage physically and mentally.

“Listen to your body, and that of your partner,” says Tanner. “When in doubt, just ask.”

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