We caught up with celebrity massage therapist Dorothy “Dr. Dot” Stein — who has helped release the tension from the bodies of Lady Gaga, Sting, and Bon Jovi, among others — to get her tips on how to perform the perfect massage. “Giving a great massage is the best present you could ever give anyone,” she says. “Spoiling the ones you love, soothing a fussy baby, relaxing a stressed pet…and frankly, it’s good karma to give a great massage.”
From the tools you need, to how much pressure you should use, this helpful guide will teach you everything you need to know about giving an at-home massage. Study up and surprise your sweetie — then have them take notes so they can return the favor.
Besides the obvious — duh, it feels amazing — massage actually has myriad benefits that go far behind easing aching muscles. “The biggest benefit of massage is that it heals,” says Stein. “It relaxes muscles and soft tissue, which stimulates nerves and increases lymph and blood circulation, boosts the immune system, and lowers blood pressure. It also soothes and aids our organs, alleviates swelling and discomfort during pregnancy, improves sleep, decreases stress, and puts you in a great mood. It’s hard to be depressed during a soothing massage.” Fair point.
While you don’t need a whole array of tonics and expensive oils to give a great massage, you willneed some sort of lubricant to make sure hands glide over the skin. Stein prefers to use a lotion, because it can be easily absorbed into the skin without disappearing too quickly. “You can either spend a lot on an prepared one you find in shops, or make one yourself at home: Mix 70% unscented baby oil with 30% unscented baby gel-oil. Adding a few drops of essential oils to make your potion smell better is also a good idea,” she says. If you’re looking to energize, Stein suggests a citrus scent, while lavender is ideal for promoting relaxation.
There’s a fine line when it comes to pressure. You don’t want to go light, but at the same time, you don’t want to overdo it and hurt someone. “Pressure that is too light or inconsistent can be as uncomfortable as too much pressure,” says Stein. “Be sure to use an even amount — not too hard and not too light.” Stein says it’s actually better to start out somewhat lightly and ask if they want more, then gently increase your strength until the recipient indicates that pressure is strong enough.
“A massage should be relaxing and focused, not irritating,” says Stein. “You also want to stay away from bones. By pressing hard on the skin just over a bone, you’re going to cause pain, not pleasure.” Unless you know your human anatomy, she says, you’re probably not going to know where those bones are. Her suggestion? Before you begin rubbing an area, make sure that the tissue below the skin is soft. Press your fingers into your relaxed stomach. This softness tells you that there are no bones below your fingers — only organs. “You don’t want to press into an area like this very hard,” she cautions. “On the other hand, when you press your fingers into your thigh, you can feel how firm the tissue feels there. This is because of the underlying bone. When you’re massaging the back, shoulders, legs or arms, look for this firmness as a good place to work.”
So, how do you know how much pressure is right? “Rub your fingers gently over the skin of your arm,” says Stein. “Now, press harder and move the skin without dragging your fingers across it. This is the difference between caressing and a massage. Remember that massages are for muscles below the skin — not for the skin itself. You want a deep, penetrating effect — not something superficial. This is because the nerves in the skin tire very quickly.”
Environment is key, and a relaxing, stress-free environment promotes rejuvenation. Turn off your phones, select some soothing music, turn off the lights, and light some candles. Stein says you’re also going to need a couple of sheets — one to cover your work area (you don’t want massage oil staining your couch or bed) and another to cover your lucky recipient. If they feel “exposed” it will be impossible for them to relax, she says, so as you work, uncover only the area you want to massage. Then, cover it again to keep the area warm. “As you massage the skin, blood flows into that area. This blood causes the area to redden and to warm. You don’t want this to turn to chill, so be sure to cover your finished areas.”
Finally, Stein says you should also have some water available. “Many people feel thirsty after a massage. This is because while massaging muscles, all sorts of toxins and chemicals that build up in our muscle tissues are released into the body. They need to ‘flush’ these toxins out ASAP or they will feel tired and dizzy.” She also notes that it would be a good idea for you to take the occasional sip as well — giving a proper massage can be a serious workout, and you’ll want to hydrate.
If you’re in need of a little release but don’t have someone close by who is able to rub those tense muscles, Stein says there are some moves you can do on yourself. “I massage my own feet and hands every day. When I have extra time, Imassage my face to keep my skin looking taut and fresh. It’s hard to massage your own back, which is why you should know a few amazing therapists or learn massage yourself so you can trade with others.”
Illustrated by Naomi Abel
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