How to Give a Massage (Because We Could All Use One Right About Now)
There are few things more luxurious and relaxing as a massage—especially when it's given as a gift. But since sending your partner to the spa for the day isn't always an option, read on to learn how to give them a massage right in your own home. Bonus points if it becomes a "one for you, one for me" situation. (Psst...Even if you're flying solo, we'll show you how to give yourself a soothing Ayurvedic massage.)
1. Pick a LocationThough a massage table is preferred by the pros for a truly relaxing and comfortable experience, there are a few alternatives. You can try using the floor, a couch, a bed or even the kitchen table—if it’s sturdy enough.
2. Make It Comfy
If you’re not using a massage table, you’re going to want to lie a mat or other thick, soft surface down. Even a yoga mat will do. If the person you’re massaging isn’t going to be wearing a shirt, you should also fold a towel or a sheet on top of the surface that the person can cover themselves with. Have a pillow handy, in case they want to rest their head on something soft or prop up their knees for better spine alignment.
3. Create a Calming Atmosphere
This one’s all about ambiance. Think of how relaxing the massage room in a spa is and do what you can to recreate that. That could mean playing ambient music, turning the lights down and lighting a candle or two.
Choose Your OilsNot only do massage oils help hands glide over skin smoothly and make it easier to work out knots, but depending on the oil you choose, there are also a host of benefits to reap. Here are four of the best options. A note on buying oils: Be sure to opt for the cold-pressed, organic variety, which will retain the most antioxidants.
1. Jojoba Oil
Frequently added to cosmetics and beauty products, jojoba oil is actually a wax that comes from the seed of the jojoba plant; a small shrub native to North America. But there’s nothing wax-like (read: greasy) about it—this moisturizing product glides on smoothly and won’t clog pores. In fact, thanks to its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, jojoba oil is frequently used to treat back acne and eczema. Unlike some other oils, jojoba doesn’t need to be diluted and can be applied directly onto the skin, where it is easily absorbed. It also makes a great carrier oil; combine it with grapeseed and avocado oils for an ultra-soothing blend or mix it with sweet almond and coconut oils for a fragrant treat. Another bonus? Jojoba oil is odorless and won’t stain your sheets.
2. Sweet Almond Oil
Thanks to its nourishing qualities (it’s high in vitamin E and essential fatty acids) and easy absorption, almond oil is a popular choice among massage therapists. It’s also relatively inexpensive, although its pale-yellow color can stain sheets. Opt for oil that’s extracted from the sweet almond tree (instead of bitter almonds) for a pleasant aroma but keep in mind that it shouldn’t be used by or on people with nut allergies.
3. Apricot Kernel
Allergic to nuts? Give apricot kernel oil a try. It has a similar texture and color to sweet almond oil and is just as easily absorbed into the skin. Packed with vitamins A, C, E and K, plus omega fatty acids, apricot oil helps nourish and soften skin. This sweet-smelling oil is slightly higher in price than its nutty counterpart, although thanks to its high vitamin E content, it has a longer shelf life than many other oils.
4. Avocado Oil
This fruit is your favorite toast topper, but did you know that the oil extracted from avocado can be used on your skin? Loaded with omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins A, D and E, avocado oil is particularly nourishing for parched skin. Green in color (so be careful with your sheets), this oil is quite heavy on its own, which is why it’s typically mixed with lighter massage oils like apricot kernel or almond.
1. Have the Person Lie Face DownIf you’re not using a proper massage table, use towels placed under the ankles, crown of the head or shoulders to make the person feel more comfortable. The person’s back should be exposed, so have a sheet handy for covering.
2. Apply Massage OilStart with a quarter-size amount of oil and warm it by rubbing it between your hands before applying. Spread the oil around the back using a technique called effleurage, which means “light friction.” Using your entire hands, start at the bottom of the back, moving upward toward the heart (the direction of blood flow). Keep doing this for three to five minutes while switching between light and medium pressure.
3. Try PetrissageThis technique uses shorter, circular strokes with more pressure than effleurage. You can use the palm, fingertips or even the knuckles in short, circular motions. Go across the entire back for two to five minutes, alternating between petrissage and effleurage movements to diversify techniques. (If you’re not a trained professional, stick to light and medium pressure.)
4. Focus on the Back, Neck and ShouldersStart by moving one hand up the neck, squeezing and releasing as you go. Then, using both hands, one on either side of the neck, move your fingers in circular motions, traveling down from the base of the skull to the tops of the shoulders. Next, place your hands on the head and use your thumbs to massage along the bottom of the skull, giving extra attention to the point where the head meets the neck. Then, using your fingertips, slowly massage the whole head in small circles.
5. End the Massage with Long, Light StrokesJust like the ones you started with. Then, offer the person a glass of water, since hydrating helps flush any impurities that were released in the body, and encourage them to rest for a few minutes.
How to Do an Ayurvedic Self-MassageIn general, an Ayurvedic massage takes a more holistic approach, aiming to relieve emotional stress more than physical stress. In an Ayurvedic massage, essential oils are way more crucial, as is the focus on the body’s energy points rather than joints and muscles. In fact, it’s sometimes referred to as an “oil massage” because of how much it relies on warm essential oils that suit an individual’s needs. According to Ayurveda, the body is composed of three distinct energies, or doshas: Kapha (space and air), Pitta (fire and water) and Vata (water and earth). Each person has one dominant dosha and can keep it balanced by following a specific diet and lifestyle, notes the Chopra Center.
Though your best bet is to find a certified massage therapist and Ayurvedic practitioner, you can do a version of Ayurvedic massage on yourself. Here’s how, with tips from Sarah Kucera, a licensed chiropractor, certified Ayurvedic practitioner and yoga teacher who’s also the author of The Ayurvedic Self-Care Handbook.
1. Dry-Brush Your Body
Also called garshana, dry brushing helps slough away dry skin and prep your body for hydration. It also helps with lymphatic draining and blood circulation. To try dry-brushing, use a body brush with natural bristles and start brushing your skin from the tops of your feet using long, methodical strokes and slowly work your way up toward your chest and arms. The brush strokes should always go toward your heart.
2. Practice Self-Massage with Oil
Known as the ritual of abhyanga, this practice involves applying warm oil to your body through a gentle massage. Do this before a bath or shower but after dry-brushing (apply the oil in the same manner in which you would dry-brush, starting at the feet). According to Ayurvedic texts, this helps soothe dry skin, wards off old age, helps you sleep well and cultivates strong, healthy skin. Sesame and ghee are commonly used oils for abhyanga, but there are also specific oils recommended for each dosha. Kucera recommends almond oil for Vata, coconut oil for Pitta and corn oil for Kapha.