What makes a Great massage?

Recently I was approached for my thoughts about what creates a great massage experience. Of course, this is something I have thought about quite a bit, because I want to give my clients the best experience I can. I am also a massage client myself, so I have some thoughts from that perspective.

As a consumer, the most important thing to me is that the therapist listens to what I say at the intake and adjusts the session accordingly. Therapists who don’t spend time on the focus areas we discussed, or who don’t listen to or remember my specific likes and dislikes, are not going to see me as a return client. Whether the problem is that the therapist isn’t grounded, or that they think they know what I need better than I do, both are BIG NO’s.

Also important to me is the first impression I get from their web presence. There are many practices I won’t even try out, even if they have a super cheap “first time client” deal, because they just don’t have enough information on the web, or what is there is so poorly designed that it gives the impression that the person just doesn’t care about their business.

And then of course, there is the actual massage. Therapist technique and skill are important, but more critical than that is the way the therapist listens to and works with my body, allowing release and relaxation instead of trying to force it with deep pressure. Does this therapist have a sense of how their touch feels from the client’s perspective? Sometimes the answer is “no,” and I won’t go back to those therapists.

As a therapist, I know what I look for as a client, and I try to keep that in mind when I am giving a massage. At Sarapeutic, I pay careful attention to the details. Custom aromatherapy, hot towels, and hot packs (if necessary and/or desired) are included in my price, instead of being an additional cost. I offer filtered water, luxurious sheets, a super comfortable face rest, and I carry a few of my favorite products as retail in case you want to take some home. I try to make my website informative and straightforward to navigate, and I have an easy-to-use 24 hour online booking system.

Tell me what you think! Do you have similar thoughts, or do different things matter to you? What makes a session great for you? And what would ruin it?

What makes a Great massage?

“My” Massage Therapist

I know that it can be attractive to buy massages off Groupon or other coupon sites each time you need some bodywork. They are deeply discounted,  so if you get a bad one, you’re not out much money, and if you get a really good one, well that was a great deal! That said, there are substantial benefits of going to the same massage therapist every time you need/want a massage.

When you have a regular massage therapist, they know your body. They know your health history and usual areas of tension or pain, and what techniques work best for you. Additionally, you are creating a relationship where you feel more comfortable with allowing deeper healing work to happen, than you might with a new therapist.

Along the same lines, when you receive massage from the same person in the same room, your body begins to associate the specific environmental cues with relaxation and healing. The feel of the sheets, the way the room smells, even the ambient noises, all give you a head start on relaxation. Even before we start the massage, your body has already begun the process which allows for greater results in the time frame of the session.

This all means you get more  value from each session for the money and time investment you are making.

Also, to me, saying “I need to go see my massage therapist” gives an extra little wave of feeling and anticipation. Maybe it’s the sense that you have someone specific who takes care of your health on this front, a health care partner who is more than just a random person at a random massage establishment. And telling your friend who is in pain or stressed out, “you should go see my massage therapist” seems like a better piece of advice than “go get a massage.” You have faith and trust that this person will take care of your friend as well as they take care of you.

SO, you develop a true health care relationship, get better results from your sessions, and you are an even better friend. Sounds like an all-around win to me.

Hopefully this has given you something to consider, let me know your thoughts on this in the comments below!

“My” Massage Therapist

Justifying Massage

I hear this on occasion from clients and potential clients, maybe you have said it, or thought it to yourself.

“It’s hard to justify getting massage.”

This can mean several different things, depending on your situation. Perhaps you feel you can’t afford it financially, that your money needs to be spent on different priorities. Maybe you don’t see how you can fit massage into life without taking the time from work or spending time with your family. In either case, I could argue that it is equally as difficult to justify not getting massage!

I do understand that few of us are in the financial position to get massage as often as we want to (daily, right? I know that’s not just me!) I certainly can’t tell you how to spend your money or what your priorities should be in your spending. That’s different for every one of us. And we are all so busy with everything we do in life. Similarly to money, I can’t tell you how to spend your time.

But I will offer you a point to think on. How much time and money does it cost to be laid up sick in bed, or in pain, and not be able to work or be as productive as you could be because of it? Or to not be able to take part in those leisure-time activities you enjoy, such as exercising in whatever way you do (walking, yoga, playing sports), knitting, travelling, cooking and/or entertaining, or playing with your kids, just to name a few.

A small investment of time and money can have a big payoff, and give you an even better quality of life. Many see massage as pampering, especially if they are not in acute or chronic pain. For those who do deal with pain, wouldn’t it be great if you could avoid or better manage the pain by getting regular massage? Even if you aren’t in pain, getting massage can help improve your immune system, keep your muscles and joints healthy, reduce injury, reduce and improve sleep. Among other benefits! It’s not just self care, it is preventive health care.

As a side note, if you are in true financial straits, please talk to me. I am more than willing to work with you to find a solution which will allow you to receive the treatment that will keep you feeling healthy, and be fair to me.

Justifying Massage

Gratitude as an all-the-time practice


I initially had intended to write this post for Thanksgiving. The day of giving thanks for all that we have. Thanksgiving was a bit busier than I anticipated, and I thought about just skipping it, but I realized that of course, we can be grateful every day.

Gratitude can help put us in a positive mindset and combats negative thought processes. This can provide myriad health benefits on physical, emotional and social levels. A Harvard mental health letter says “In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.” Sounds like some good reasons to practice gratitude to me. (Source article HERE)

I know that gratitude journals were a “thing” at one time (are they still?), where each day you are supposed to write five things you are grateful for. I admit, I tried and failed multiple times at making this a regular practice. I would always end up with the same five things and it ended up feeling defeating rather than uplifting. I have heard some interesting variations on this theme that you might like to try.

One idea I like is to make a running gratitude list. Each day, add a new item to the list. The only rule is that you can’t repeat. This might be a good one to post on the wall somewhere that you can see it frequently. You could be creative and turn it into a work of art, too, with different colors and pictures. Have fun with it!

Another idea I really like is something we do on a Facebook group I’m on. At the end of each day, we all share what the best part of our day was. Usually I find myself looking back over my day and having trouble deciding which of the great things – big or small – was the best. Of course, we all have those days when the our answer is “the best thing about today is that it’s over” – but even on the worst days, I can usually find at least one small thing. It really does improve my mindset, and puts good thoughts in my head before I lay down to sleep. If you don’t do this with a group, you could do it in a journal, or what I was thinking of doing next year is to start writing these things on pieces of paper and put them in a jar. Then at the end of the year, you can read them all and remember the best parts of your year.

Do you have other gratitude practices you like to do? Please share in the comments!

Gratitude as an all-the-time practice

Thoughts on blogging and the piriformis

Well if that’s not a captivating title, I don’t know what is… It probably needs a comma in there somewhere too, but I’m feeling apunctuational about it. Which I believe is a word I just made up. To me, it means – it’s fine without the comma.

(OK I am about to out myself for some poor time management skills here, but maybe that will add extra motivation in the future…)

So “blog” (or “BLOG!”) is on my list nearly every day or week, and somehow it just doesn’t get done. I find blogging slightly intimidating. I want to create quality content and I am a recovering perfectionist, and that combination is the perfect storm for getting that task item pushed way down to the bottom of the to-do list. “It’s hard!” I say, to excuse myself. Today, a line from Amanda Palmer’s song Ukelele Anthem keeps running through my head, “Quit your b****ing on your blog; And stop pretending art is hard.” This is not exactly what’s going on here but I am making it applicable. Stop thinking and just start writing. Well that sounds easy! Let’s do that!

Who wants to talk about the piriformis?! It’s an important muscle to talk about because it can cause problems for so many people. And because of that, being able to release that muscle for my clients during their massage can have such a great impact on reducing their pain level and preventing other issues and injuries down the line.

Are you a runner? Do you drive a lot? Walk or stand a lot? Do you feel an ache in your hip joint, especially when you cross one leg over the other? Do you feel pain or tingling sensation down the back of your leg? Or maybe an ache in your hip or glutes that you can’t quite pinpoint where you’re feeling it or where it is coming from?

All of these sensations (called “sciatica”) can be indicators of a tight piriformis muscle.* The piriformis is one of a group of six muscles called deep lateral hip rotators. This means that we are using our piriformis when we turn our hip or leg out to the side. As you can imagine, this muscle gets a lot of use and can get very tight. In some people the sciatic nerve runs through the muscle itself. In some folks it lies between the muscle and the bone of the pelvis. In either case, when the muscle gets tight, it can irritate the nerve a little bit, offering up those great sensations we talked about earlier. This is called “piriformis syndrome”.

Sometimes, the piriformis can be tight and we don’t know it. This presents a problem as well, because it can start a domino effect of issues with other muscles. For example, when the piriformis is tight, the hip/leg will be constantly held in a position where the hip is slightly rotated all the time. This could cause compensating tension and imbalance in the leg muscles all the way down to the foot. There will be an increased possibility of knee problems or injury, or plantar fasciitis. The piriformis is tight on probably at least 50% of the clients I work on, even if they sometimes don’t know it until I start working on that area.

Don’t worry though! Many people can find relief from their symptoms or a tight piriformis that isn’t yet causing symptoms or issues, by receiving massage, and in between sessions by doing self care at home in the form of stretching and self-massage.

A simple stretch to do is to have a seat with your back straight and both feet flat on the floor. Place one ankle on the opposite knee. Keeping your back straight, and without hunching or slumping over, gently hinge at the hips  You will feel the stretch in your hip/glute area. Hold for 20-45 seconds, and then do the same for the other side.

To massage the area at home, you can use a tennis ball, or a lacrosse ball depending on how tense the muscle is. The tennis ball might be better to start, as it has a little give, and the lacrosse ball may be a little too unforgiving (read: painful) for a very tight piriformis. Sitting on the floor, lean to the right and place the ball just under the side of the left glute. Slowly rest your full weight onto the ball, moving around slowly until you hit the right spot. Believe me, you’ll know it when you hit it! Once you have found the spot, apply steady pressure at a level of “hurts so good”, until the muscle relaxes. If it is taking longer than a minute, release the pressure for a minute, and then reapply. Don’t forget the other side!

Let me know how this works for you! If you have any questions, please feel free to ask, in the comments or you can always email me at sarapeutic at gmail dot com.

*It is important to note that as a massage therapist, I do not diagnose. It is also important to note that sciatica could also be caused by a pinching/compression of the nerve at the spine due to a disc problem, stenosis, or other issue. It is always a good idea and my recommendation that you see your doctor for evaluation and diagnosis.

Thoughts on blogging and the piriformis

Thank you. ??

It is my practice at the end of each session to ground the client and say “thank you.”

As a client, I’m sure you may have wondered “why is SHE thanking ME – shouldn’t it be the other way around? All I did was lay here…”

That “thank you” is an abbreviation of my fuller thought:

Thank you for coming in and being a part of my day. Thank you for the honor of working with you. Thank you for trusting me to help you. Thank you for allowing me to share my passion and do the work I love. Thank you for experiencing presence with me today.

Thank you.

Thank you. ??

Self Care!

A great question was asked by Robin: “Do you have a tips for staying relaxed between massage sessions? I am, of course, very busy and find myself slouching over a laptop long hours at work.” Work (and life) can be stressful and while it’s really too bad that we can’t get a massage every day, we can find ways to reduce our stress and the stress on our bodies as we go through our days.

Self care and stress relief between sessions doesn’t have to be a big project, and can (and should!) be enjoyable. Sure, there are big things you can do, but there are also a lot of small things that can have big impact on keeping you in good space. Here are some ideas – pick one or two (or more, if you’re feeling ambitious, but don’t overwhelm yourself, that would be counterproductive!)

Most immediately, to beat that on the job stress: Take frequent breaks. Drink a glass of water, walk around, stretch. Breathe. Set a timer on your phone to remind you to get up every so often. It may feel like you are interrupting your work but you will actually be more productive if you get some blood flowing.

At home, I love the heat packs that you can put in the microwave. I have ordered some to have available for sale, both neck and back wraps so please let me know if you are interested in purchasing one. I also use and recommend topical analgesics, my personal favorites to use are Biofreeze and White Flower. I will also have these available for sale shortly.

You can perform self massage on your upper back with tennis balls by placing the tennis ball between your back and a wall, and moving around. When you find a knot, maintain a static hold there for 30-45 seconds. You can also purchase a foam roller (sporting goods) to use at home. Eventually I will have a section on my website with a collection of videos to demonstrate how to use the foam roller for various areas of the body but until then, you can find videos on youtube to help you out.

If you have a little more time on your hands, take a warm bath with Epsom salts. You can buy Epsom salts at any drugstore. Use two to four cups per bath, and stay in for a minimum of 12 minutes. This allows your body to absorb the magnesium in the salts, which is essential for many bodily processes, most importantly in our case, muscle relaxation.

And overall, try to make sure you stay hydrated and well fed. Exercise. Sleep well and enough. Make time for hobbies or pastimes that relieve stress for you. I love music, and will crank it up in the car as I drive and sing (don’t ride with me, your ears will regret it!) Maybe you like to draw, cook, dance, meditate, read, ride bikes… whatever it is, make sure you include it in your life! If it has been so long since you took down time that you have no idea what you like to do — think back to childhood, and what you liked to do then, and try some things! Coloring with crayons, anyone?

All these ideas can go a long way towards making sure you stay in the best condition between sessions.

Thanks for the great question Robin and thanks everyone for reading. I hope you found something in here that was useful. Let’s hear from you in the comments if there’s something you find helpful for staying relaxed between massage sessions, whether mentioned here or if I missed it.

Take care!

Self Care!