How’s the Pressure?

At some point early in your massage, your massage therapists may ask you: “How’s the pressure?’  or, “Is that pressure okay for you?”  Why do we do that?

Massage therapy is, by definition, the manipulation of the soft tissue of the body. This involves a certain amount of force.  When your massage therapist asks about pressure, she or he is checking in to see if you are comfortable with this amount of force.  We can feel lots of things in your tissues, but we don’t feel when we have crossed the threshold from therapeutic into painful.  For that, we rely on your feedback.

Most of the time, the person in control of how much force gets applied to your tissues is you.  Your massage therapist wants you to speak up when something feels like it is too much (or too little.)  If it is safe and reasonably possible, your massage therapist will adapt to your preferences.

There are exceptions, however.  Your massage therapist wants to have a long and healthy career, so she or he may not do some techniques that cause pain and strain in their own body.  Your massage therapist also wants to make sure the session is safe for you, so she or he may adapt with respect to any medical challenges you may be facing.  For example, for anyone in active cancer treatment, deep pressure will not be a part of the massage.

Part of our responsibility as massage therapists is to listen to your requests and communicate our response clearly.  Sometimes our response to a request will be “No,” which should always be followed by our clear explanation.

Your responsibility as a client is to listen and ask for clarification.  When your massage therapist asks “How’s the pressure?” she or he is open to continuing the conversation about how to create the most effective session for you.  We are looking for an honest answer.  Don’t like to talk at all during your massage?  Tell your massage therapist in the intake that you will let her or him know if something needs to change during the session.


"Take a Deep Breath In"

You are settled in on the massage table, tucked neatly under the sheet and blanket, a bolster under your ankles and music and lights adjusted for maximum relaxation.  Your therapist stands near the table, gently lays her or his hands on your back and says:  “Take a deep breath in . . .”

What?  Why do they say this?  And am I supposed to just hold my breath or what?

First, a confession — I don’t say this.  I find it a bit strange, but I understand the reasoning behind it and why it works.

Many of us live our lives in a state of chronic sympathetic nervous system dominance — meaning we are always managing a certain level of stress.  This causes our heart rate and blood pressure to increase and our breathing to become more shallow.  Even if we are not in a state of chronic stress, we may experience stress flare-ups, and it is often these flare ups that send us to get a massage in the first place.

When your massage therapist prompts you to “take a deep breath in,” she or he is trying to jump start your relaxation response.  Have you ever been so angry or frustrated that you felt you were going to explode?  And in that moment, have you ever just counted to ten while slowing down your breathing?  This is the response your massage therapist is going for.  Even in less extreme emotional states, a slow, deep breath gets your body started on the process to deep relaxation.

Your intention when you come in for your massage is to enjoy and get the most out of the time, but often your outside stressors will not leave you alone.  By focusing on taking a deep breath in, you give your mind something else to do besides run on its endless hamster wheel.  Physiologically, it also slows your heart rate and lowers your blood pressure.  Getting you started on this process makes your massage therapist’s work more effective.  When you take a deep breath in (and exhale), you are actively participating in creating the overall benefit of your massage.


"Undress to your Comfort Level"

Right before she or he leaves the room, your massage therapist directs you to “undress to your comfort level” before getting on the table.

What does that mean?

Some clients have told me that they feel like they are being handed a riddle or a trick question with that one little direction — like they are being tested to see if they are really good at receiving a massage.  This couldn’t be further from the truth.

When you get a massage, you are making the decision to trust a massage therapist with your body.  A good massage therapist will also understand that this can be a very vulnerable position for some.  Her or his highest priority will be to keep you feeling safe — like you can trust this therapist with the issues in your tissues.  A good massage therapist is also a quick, creative thinker who can adapt and craft an effective massage for you no matter what clothing you choose to leave on or take off.

When your massage therapist says “undress to your comfort level,” what she or he literally means is “take off as much or as little clothing as you wish.”  What is also meant is that how much of your body you undress is completely your decision, and your therapist will respect your boundary.  You will receive a great massage regardless of how much (or how little) you undress.  And you will be professionally and respectfully draped for the entire session.  When we give you that direction, we are letting you take control of when, where and how we work with your body.  It is just another way of letting you know that our work is guided and directed by you.