The magic of massage

What if I told you there was a scientifically proven treatment that can help ease joint and back pain, improve posture, alleviate stress and anxiety, improve your skin and reduce bloating, and even strengthen your relationship – and that it costs next to nothing?

Massage is one of the key medical techniques to ease the blood circulation

Would you be surprised to learn that this treatment is massage?

Far from being a pampering treat, decades of medical research has shown that massage has a raft of benefits, from easing pain, improving circulation and preventing injury to improving mood and general wellbeing.

And the best part, as I’ll show you in this step-by-step guide, is that you can get that feelgood factor in the comfort of your own home. Learn a few simple techniques with a partner and start taking it in turns to give and receive mood-boosting, stress-busting, health-promoting massages.

There’s no need to spend a fortune on fancy equipment. Just follow this beginner’s guide, adapted from my book The Illustrated Book Of Massage And Aromatherapy, written with the help of world-renowned experts in all forms of the therapy. Over the following pages, I’ll give you all the practical advice and inspiration you need to get going.

You’ll also find tips from Dr Mark Moss, of Northumbria University, who has been researching the benefits of massage by teaching simple techniques to couples.

He says: ‘Not only did we find improvements in their energy, positivity of mood and mental clarity, together with a decline in stress and irritability, but it didn’t matter whether you were giving or receiving the massage, the benefits were the same.’ This, he adds, is the crucial difference between enjoying a massage at home with a loved one, and a massage given at a spa to a fee-paying customer.

He explains: ‘The person giving the treatment experiences a boost to their own self-esteem because, by learning and applying massage skills, they are providing happiness and good sensations to this person that they love. They feel better in themselves, and closer to their partner.’

So get ready to learn the basics and make massage, with all of its benefits, a regular part of your life.

GETTING STARTED

This guide is broken down into easy-to-follow sections, each detailing the basic strokes you’ll need and techniques for head and neck, back, foot and leg massages. There’s also a simple routine you can perform on yourself if you can’t sleep.

Hundreds more strokes, styles, methods and routines are given in my book, which Mail on Sunday readers can order at a special price this week.

Getting started is easy. Spend a little time familiarising yourself with some of the strokes, then decide on the best room in your house for the massage. It should ideally be warm, inviting and quiet. The right music can help to create a calming atmosphere – the Pure Massage Playlist on Spotify (spotify.com) is a great place to look.

Here are a few more basics:

  • If you’re giving the massage, wear loose, comfortable clothing.
  • For a head massage, you’ll need a chair, preferably without arms, for the person being treated to sit in.
  • If you’re giving a body massage, a firm mattress is usually most suitable for the person to lie on. It’s best if your subject is undressed. Use clean towels to cover them. As well as protecting your partner’s modesty, they prevent loss of body heat once oil has been applied. Move the towels as necessary while applying strokes, leaving uncovered only the area that you are working on.
  • If your partner is lying face-down, a pillow under the front of the chest may be needed to support the shoulders.
  • For a foot treatment, the person you’re massaging will need a comfortable armchair with their legs supported on a small table or stool. The floor can be hard on your knees, so have some cushions to hand.
  • Where possible, use soft lighting. A couple of lamps should give enough light, or you could try a few flickering candles.

Once the room is ready, prepare yourself. Wash your hands and check nails are well trimmed. Relax and warm your hands so they’re supple and soft. And then, begin.

Reboot and revitalise with a simple HEAD AND NECK MASSAGE

Head massage involves some of the easiest techniques to master – it’s also quick and straightforward to give.

Getting started is easy, as you can give a head massage almost anywhere. All you need is a suitable chair, with no arms and a relatively low back, and a pair of hands.

Despite its name a head massage also includes the upper back, shoulders and neck – the main areas where we store tension in the body.

Giving this massage uses a combination of the basic strokes described below. They each have different effects and the speed and depth with which you apply them also affects how they will feel.

Basic stroking can be done with hands, fingers or forearms over the head or upper body. Although it works as a stand-alone, you can do this head massage before the back or foot massages described on the following pages. Follow this step-by-step guide, using the basic strokes outlined below.

Friction strokes 

Applied with the fingers and heel or sides of the hand, using a rubbing or energising chopping motion.

Pressure strokes 

Sometimes use the whole hand or forearm to apply pressure, at other times the fingers and thumbs are used to work on pressure points. These can be tender so be firm but careful as you gradually press down with your thumbs or fingers, holding it there for a few seconds before slowly moving on.

Hacking 

Tapotement or ‘hacking’ is a kind of tapping action using the sides or tips of the fingers. One hand goes up as the other goes down, a bit like playing a drum.

Pulling and lifting 

This range of strokes mainly takes place on the head using the fingers and thumbs. They work on the principle of tension (pulling, lifting) and release.

Kneading and squeezing 

The ‘bread and butter’ of massage strokes, using the whole hands or thumbs and fingers to pick up fleshier parts of the body (such as the shoulders and the back of the neck) and working on them.

Holding 

Keeping your hands still on your partner’s head or shoulders. It’s often used to mark the beginning or the end of a treatment.

Ease away stress and strain with a BRILLIANT BACK MASSAGE

The fast pace of modern life, combined with our often sedentary lifestyles, puts the body under great strain. Many of us develop a ‘tension triangle’ running from the top of the neck and down across the shoulders, which can become hunched.

This constricts the lungs, hampering breathing, and the tightness can also lead to tension headaches, neck and shoulder pain. Massage, especially on the back, allows the whole body to relax, and the mind to unwind.

To get started your partner should be undressed and lying face down on a firm mattress, arms down by the sides in a relaxed comfortable position.

Use towels – one large one to cover the body, and two medium-sized ones to add to the upper body and tuck around the feet – to keep them warm and covered up as required.

A thorough back massage, focusing on tension trouble spots including the spine, lower back and shoulders, can take the strain out of the whole body. There are a huge number of different strokes and techniques for back massage, and here, we have given just a brief oversight of three of the simplest and most effective…

Effleurage 

The word effleurage means ‘stroking’. The flats of the hands make free-flowing continuous movements over the area to be treated.

Fanning 

This is part of effleurage. Hands are placed flat on either side of the spine and flow outwards in a fanning motion towards the side of the ribcage.

Pressure and Friction 

Pressure strokes are made by leaning your weight into your hand or arm to sink into muscle. You can also use the heel of your hand, thumb or finger pads and knuckles. Always apply and release pressure slowly.

Drain away your tension by MASSAGING THE FEET

With more than 14,000 nerve endings, the feet are highly sensitive and very responsive to touch. And there is something utterly relaxing about a foot massage; tension seems to drain out of the whole body.

 Daily Mail

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