This month I want to talk about how you can get the best massage experience possible, for you. This is something that I am very passionate about because I believe that there can be so many more things going on during a massage than just lengthening a muscle, freeing a joint or tearing through fascia, even those can be great things in and of themselves.

Results vs. Experience
In fact, I would like to differentiate the topic just a bit here at the beginning. If you have a physical injury or an acute condition that needs a specific massage treatment in order to be relieved, then you are looking for a result more than an experience. Talk to your doctor, physical therapist or even your current massage therapist and ask them who they would go see if they had the same issues, or talk to someone that you know and trust that has gone through the same thing or be very specific in an internet search. When you think you have found your therapist, be clear about your goals and interview them in relation to those goals/outcomes.

However, if you are looking for the best massage experience (physical, neurological, emotional and the intangibles like Wow and OMG!) for how you feel today (which can be very different from how you felt yesterday) and how you want to feel tomorrow, then I have some ideas for you. If you are looking to find a therapist (or a couple of therapists) that are the best overall match for you, then again, I have a couple of ideas for you. If you are not exactly sure what you want, but know what it is when you get it, then again….

Finding an Outstanding Therapist
I do not know about you, but I really do not enjoy a mediocre massage (and that may be an understatement). So when I am looking for a massage therapist, I do my homework. I ask around and see who my friends or my health care providers think are the best therapists in town (but I try to make sure that I think the person I am asking has enough in common with me that we would like the same things). Maybe post the question in a social networking circle (again considering the source). I might even ask my massage therapist if they know someone that would be a better match for me. I know, crazy, right? But I know some outstanding massage therapists that provide completely different massage experiences than I do and I am more than happy to recommend them either in conjunction with my work or as better overall match for you completely.

Reviews, Reviews, Reviews!
In today’s marketplace I rely heavily on review sites and predominantly on Yelp for almost anything service or experience based. The star ratings are a good starting point, but that is really all they are. To borrow from an old saying, one person’s 5 Star Rating can easily be another person’s 1 Star Rating. So I read the reviews, or search them (Ctrl + f) for specific terms. Are the people saying things that I would find important or that I would really not like? If they have a negative review or two, I look to see if they seem credible or relevant to my needs before dismissing them completely. You can save yourself a lot of time and money by doing this and usually find a therapist (or whatever you are searching for) that you will love! PS – This is especially true when you are traveling and looking for a therapist. So please leave reviews for great experiences, it is a wonderful way to say thank you for a great service.

I can’t resist the opportunity for a little self-promotion here and mention my Yelp Reviews Page for anyone that would like to leave a review now or in the future.

My Personal Approach
I like to get massages from different therapists so I can sample their work, find therapists to refer to and find therapists that I might want to trade with on an ongoing basis. So after I do all of the above and I make my appointment, I send them an email like this:

Hi Massage Therapist,

My name is Joe Lavin and I am a massage therapist. I am booking this appointment with you because I have heard that you are one of the best therapists in the area and I really want to experience your work. I do not have any goals for the massage other than to get an idea of who you are as a Bodyworker and to let you have the freedom to give me the massage that you would most enjoy giving. The massage that you think would best define the soul of your work.

Please let me know if you are comfortable with that as a goal and if you want any further information from me to prepare for our session.

I am looking forward to our session,

Obviously you would need to change the wording a bit, but I promise you that you will get a much better massage and a much better idea of the scope of your therapists abilities by using this approach…most of the time. Sometimes this a bit overwhelming for the therapist and they decline the opportunity, but that information helps me as well.

The Main Reason People Do Not Get The Massage They Want/Need
OK, besides the obvious point of finding a great massage therapist I want to highlight one of the major reasons that people do not either get the massage they want or get the best massage possible. Some clients just don’t even know how wonderful a massage can be until they actually have a great one. Either they don’t get a lot of massage or they are settling for a retail/discount massage and think that is the standard, but alas, I am digressing now….

One of the main reasons that people do not get the massage they want is because they do not ask the right questions of the massage therapist and/or they do not communicate what they really want their massage experience to be like.

Most of you have seen my three page client intake form. Yes, I am trying to find out as much about your physical needs as possible, but I am also trying to find out what is going on in your life, how much tension and anxiety you are dealing with, what types of touch you find relaxing, how comfortable you are with massage, your level of modesty and how much draping you like, what smells you like, how warm or cold do you like the massage environment, among many other things. I have even added a small line asking you to give me three creative adjectives to describe the massage experience you are looking for. I am literally begging you to tell me what you really need and want so I can do my best to give you the most incredible massage experience possible…and so is most any other really good therapist that you go to.

Too often, the massage therapist and client settle for a really good massage (instead of a really great massage) that they ease into without really exploring each other’s abilities and boundaries. Instead of talking to each other (before, during or after the massage) and asking what did you like best about your massage, what did you like least, what could have been done differently? Would you like me to place some deadly snakes on your back? (Just checking to see if you are actually reading this, but yes, for some people this is actually an option. However, for me the answer is going to be, “no” because I really don’t like spiders and snakes.

On a serious note, ask your therapist about anything that you think might make your experience or result better. They have probably heard it before a dozen times and already have an answer or they will more than likely be willing to research your question or try something new. If not, they can say no, you can say no and then go on with the massage. However I am going to say that I think most therapists are more than happy to try new techniques or ideas.

The Path of Least Resistance
I think that a lot of massage therapists do their best to determine their client’s comfort zones and expectations and then they trim their massage down to fit inside of these boundaries. The path of least resistance, which may be filled with less awkward moments or conversations, less fingers in the eye (it happens), pretty much less everything – but is also much less satisfying in the end. Even though I am aware of this, I know that I can often find myself on that path. Wanting to try something new or something that is new for my client that I think they would love…but not being confident enough in my work, the client-therapist relationship that we have developed or in my client’s ability to absorb this new idea. So instead I settle for Pretty Darn Great Work instead of Absolutely Wonderful Work.

Your Application
Don’t settle for mediocre massage or even really good massage for that matter. Strive for the best bodywork experience that you can find. You owe it to yourself. Ask your therapist for creative ideas to make the experience and the results better (especially if I am your therapist)! When you ask more of your therapist it will challenge them to become better as well. I have learned some of my best techniques just working with my clients who either ask for different techniques or just give me the freedom to try new things out on them. Also, if you do find a really great therapist, will you please send me an email and tell me about them?

My Application
I can fall into the same routines as well, even though I am always trying to understand how my work is affecting my client and if there are any changes that I could make to improve their experience. So I am going to start sending a follow up email after most massages asking for feedback and suggesting more options to my clients when I think there is something that would benefit them even if I think it might be pushing one or both of our comfort zones a little bit.

Here are a couple of Holiday Promotions for you.

I wish you all a wonderful holiday season!

Joe Lavin LMP, CEIM, CPT
(206) 817-5896