Everyone wants a massage, but sometimes making it in to see your favorite massage therapist (hi there!) just isn’t feasible. It’s in those unexpected and inconvenient moments that knowing how to give your partner a pretty great massage yourself can make the difference between a rotten day and a better one. But of course, this hinges on one thing: do you know how to give a good massage? Giving an at-home massage is not that hard. Here are my favorite tips:
- Use firm pressure, but not hard. People get confused about pressure in two opposite ways. If your partner is smaller than you, you may have a tendency to use very light pressure. This is okay to a point (you probably won’t hurt anyone), but can be a little frustrating if your partner is tense or sore or, even worse, ticklish. On the other side are the people who come from the “no pain, no gain” school of massage. Don’t buy into this myth! Massage should be pleasant. If your partner has to tense their muscles and clench their jaw in order to get through your ministrations, it’s not helping.
- Slooooooow doooooown. There are absolutely occasions where someone might want a fast-paced, vigorous massage. But unless your partner is getting warmed up for a race or ballroom dancing competition, this is probably not one of them. You’re not going to miss some key muscle if you take your time. If you seem relaxed, your partner is going to relax too. So take a deep breath, put your hands out, and make each stroke last.
- If you meet a bone, leave it alone. There is one exception to the firm pressure rule, and that is bones. You don’t need to be an anatomist to recognize the ones that stick out, like knees, elbows, ribs, and spines. With little padding between them and the skin, these areas can be quick to bruise or feel painful. If you find your hands arriving at one of these bony landmarks (yes, that’s actually what massage therapists call them, it’s like reading a topographical map), you have two options: turn around and go back the way you came, or skim over them using gentle pressure and keep going with your massage on the other side.
- Practice good body mechanics. If massage shouldn’t be painful for your partner, it also shouldn’t be painful for you. If you are hunched over, if your wrists are bent at an awkward angle, if you are using your thumbs or fingers in ways they weren’t designed to work, you will end up regretting the day you ever offered to give a massage. Use bigger muscles in place of small ones whenever you can: use your back to provide pressure instead of your arms, and your arms instead of your fingers. Whenever possible, push instead of pulling. When you move to a new part of your partner’s body, adjust your entire position, not just your hand placement. It may feel strange at first, but imagine if you tried to shovel snow by standing in one place and using just your arms to move the shovel from one side of you to the other. If that image seems ridiculous, you already understand why proper body mechanics are so important.
- Communicate, communicate, communicate.Really, you probably don’t need to talk to a massage therapist to learn that open communication between you and your partner is key to anything you undertake together. But it’s especially true in a situation like a massage, where one of you is more vulnerable than the other. As the massage giver, it’s important that you check in regularly: How does this feel? Would you like more or less pressure? Do you remember whether I turned the oven off? (Okay, maybe not that one.) The same goes for communicating your own needs. If you are getting tired, or thirsty, or really need to leave for work, say something. Don’t leave your partner feeling guilty about enjoying a massage because you made a unilateral decision to sacrifice your needs for theirs.
- Learn from the pros. As with any skill, one of the best ways to learn to give a massage is by watching the people who are already great at it. Getting regular professional massage (hello again!) and taking a couples massage class are both helpful. Barring that, YouTube is a fantastic source of tutorials for beginners. You can search for a style you like—Swedish massage is a great place to start—or an area you’d like to focus on, like the neck and shoulders.
If you follow these guidelines, you’re going to be fine.
You may not be winning any championships, but massage isn’t a competition. If you can give a caring, relaxing massage without hurting your partner or yourself, you’re way ahead of the curve on this one. And if you feel like you need more than that … well, you know where to find me.