If you’re new to receiving massage therapy or other types of bodywork, it may feel uncomfortable to reach out for what seems like an intimate service. Perhaps you cringe remembering “massage train” icebreakers or team building events you’ve participated in.
What you’re feeling is perfectly normal. There are many reasons someone might be hesitant about receiving massage. Your fears or concerns need not be barriers to treatment, however. If you’re considering massage or if it has been recommended to you, identifying the feelings holding you back is the first step to finding a practitioner who is right for you.
Start Gathering Information about Bodywork
Some people question the legitimacy of massage for healing purposes, since for many years massage therapy and other forms of bodywork were considered taboo, especially in the western world. Some unfortunate misconceptions still linger about massage therapy’s place in contemporary medicine, though research and extensive studies have helped dissolve that reputation and massage is now widely understood to reduce pain and improve health. The more you read about bodywork practices, the more you can understand why so many people, including medical professionals, endorse massage.
If massage has been recommended to you to treat a specific health issue, do some research to learn more about the condition and how bodywork can help. Massage is contraindicated (or discouraged) for very few, if any, health issues. In some form or another, bodywork can either work around or address any complication you might be experiencing. Heart disease, for example, makes some types of bodywork more dangerous than others, but low-impact treatments such as reiki could be ideal for someone with a heart condition.
Consider also talking to colleagues and friends who have experienced massage to hear about the treatment they received and how they went about finding a practitioner. Learning more about how massage is used today, and the many different bodywork options, can open your mind to its hundreds of applications for physical and mental well-being.
Practice Massage on Yourself
Physical touch, even when it’s consensual, restorative, and professional, can be difficult to accept. The best way to start moving past an aversion to the aspect of physical contact in massage is to explore massage tactics on your own body. Begin by being more deliberate with the time you already spend on yourself–applying lotion after a shower, stretching in the morning, or even washing your hands. Work up to giving yourself a massage, perhaps starting with a foot rub and gradually adding legs, arms, and your neck or scalp.
Use slow motions and gentle pressure, avoiding joints and tender areas such as the backs of knees or insides of elbows. Take a few extra moments to notice how your movements feel under the surface of your skin. Can you notice when a part of you isn’t completely relaxed? Do you feel differences in your muscles after massaging them? Are you aware of tension, soreness, or pain?
Using massage on yourself can help you identify which sensations are enjoyable and which might evoke more negative reactions. Allow yourself to continue performing self-massage in a way you find relaxing and comfortable, noticing your reactions to each sensation without judgment.
When you’re more comfortable with self-massage, try receiving a gentle massage from a partner, family member, or friend. It’s often convenient to exchange foot massages with someone, and while shoulder and neck areas may be more delicate, it’s relatively difficult to do any level of harm by performing a foot massage.
Ease Into It
Take your time familiarizing yourself with the concept and practical application of massage. It’s OK to still feel apprehensive about professional massage even after mental and physical preparation. Don’t force yourself–the resulting tension could compromise both healing effects and your overall enjoyment, ruining the treatment as a whole. But if you are determined to experience bodywork after learning about its numerous benefits, or if a medical professional is urging you to seek massage for a health issue, there are many ways of experiencing bodywork.
Low-impact forms of bodywork may be more appropriate, depending on your concerns. Chair massage, reflexology, acupressure, some types of Thai massage, and others are performed while the client is clothed. Dozens of bodywork modalities, such as reiki and craniosacral therapy, focus on energy work and involve little to no physical contact. All can be used to address both physical and psychological or emotional concerns.
A good bodywork professional, regardless of the specialty they practice, will be open to hearing your concerns and will respect the boundaries you state. Having a positive first experience with massage depends heavily on the communication you have with your practitioner. When you make an appointment with a therapist, don’t be afraid to mention your preferences or even the reason(s) you have been hesitant to seek massage. Your treatment will likely be better for it.