The No. 1 Secret to a Great Massage


IstockphotoI was always shy about massage. I worried about handing my naked body over to a stranger and I was embarrassed about feeling fat. Getting touched intimately by hired hands intimidated me. And just where would those hands be? I wondered. What if it felt too good? When it came to massage, I was George from Seinfeld: way too uptight to enjoy the experience.

All that changed one day when I had to research massage for the book New Choices in Natural Healing for Women.

I scheduled a massage at the Open Center in New York City, which offers classes and programs about holistic healing. I went in full of nerves and worry and expectation. What happened, however, was amazing and memorable—almost like great sex, only in a totally nonsexual way.

Set your mind at ease
It began as all good massages should. I entered a dimly lit room and heard the requisite neo-native flute music. The masseuse made me feel instantly at ease: She must have sensed my apprehension and was an experienced diffuser of my worries and bodily concerns. She told me to undress and get onto the massage table between soft sheets so that my body was modestly covered, and she left the room till I was settled.

Knowing that I was writing about the experience, she explained that most people don't really know how to receive a massage. People let their minds wander during the experience, or focus on their nervousness, or on their discomfort with the intimacy of the experience. She was reading my mind, it appeared.

Melt into those hands
She told me to focus. The best way to receive a massage is to be totally present, she said. I was about to dismiss that as a piece of new age fluff, but instead I asked her exactly what she meant. She told me to consciously relax the places on my body that her hands touched—to "melt into her hands." If my mind wandered, I was to bring it back to the union of her hands and my body.

So, as her hands worked their way through all of my knotty crannies, I was present. Every minute, every second, I made myself be completely aware instead of just zoning out. It was my key to achieving complete relaxation and a lasting energy recharge.

Now, whenever I'm lucky enough to get a massage—whether it's a full 60-minute spa session or even a quick hand rub during a $9 manicure—I use my power of laser focus. I'm aware of every instant of the experience, and I mentally urge my skin and tissues to relax where they're touched. At the end, I'm always grateful for the experience of being fortunate enough to enjoy feeling peaceful and at ease in my own skin.

As for massage technique, that's a different story. For the real deal, it's important to choose an experienced, licensed practitioner. Visit the American Massage Therapy website to find one near you. In my next blog, I'll talk about a few different kinds of massage and which might be best for you.