Maria Gail, Massage Therapist


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Massage Articles

Will the massage therapist see me naked?
author, Maria Gail

In the United States today, massage is more mainstream than ever before. Still, many people hesitate to use massage. Although drawn by its reputation to heal, soothe and relax, newcomers often don't know what to expect. Here I address the fear that one is expected to be naked in front of the massage therapist.

This misconception is understandable. Until massage licensure began in Maine only about ten years ago, illicit sexual services often advertised themselves as "massage parlors" and were even able to list in the yellow pages under "Massage." In Maine, massage licensure now assures that therapists are trained in their legitimate profession.

Most massage therapists work with clients on a massage table. The massage table is made up with clean sheets and often a blanket. The massage therapist leaves the room while the client undresses and climbs between the sheets. Underwear is left on or off at the client's discretion. Massage training includes "draping," the art of tucking a sheet to expose only the limb or area being massaged. Although undressed, the massage recipient never lies naked on top of the massage table, and the massage therapist is always fully clothed. 

It's important to recognize that massage in fact does cross societal conventions of touch and intimacy. Not only does that play into fear of nakedness, it also touches on issues of body image and emotional safety. Anyone might feel reticent to show crusty feet or ample belly, varicose veins or other perceived imperfections. Realize that it's normal to need to feel comfortable with the person who massages you. Ask your friends which therapist they see. Interview your potential therapist. Massage therapists receive most of their referrals by word of mouth and they understand this need.

Massage is best done on bare skin with a lubricating oil or lotion, allowing massage to reach deeper tissue without abrading the skin. But a good therapist uses many techniques, some well adapted to working through light clothing. Above all, your therapist wants you to be comfortable and will respect your decision to leave your socks on, skip your abdomen, wear leggings or whatever you might want for your personal comfort. This is your massage. Don't be timid about expressing your needs. The therapist wants your business and will want to know what you need to be comfortable.

If you feel timid, you might consider starting with bodywork that does not require undressing. Shiatsu and Thai massage are usually done on a floor mat with the client fully clothed. Some massage therapists offer on-site massage on a special chair, others offer facials or foot reflexology. One of these might be a comfortable way to introduce yourself or a loved one to body work.  Whether to address an injury or to soothe away stress and tension, massage brings us home to our bodies. Nervously scheduling that first appointment, we face our worries of imperfection only to find them melting into a feeling of wholeness during the massage. Try it, and see for yourself.

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How to Enjoy a Hot Stone Massage

author, Maria Gail

Popularized in spas during the last 10 years, hot stone massage seems to be the new buzz among massage clients.  But stone massage is not a new therapy.  Heated stones have been used for massage in cultures in India, Japan, Egypt and North America for centuries.  Here in the United States, stone massage was reintroduced 15 years ago by a massage therapist in Arizona.  Other practitioners followed suit, developing the myriad of styles offered today.              

What is hot stone massage? 
Hot stone massage is a deeply soothing form of massage that uses smooth stones to impart heat directly to the muscles.  As with all forms of massage, stone massage varies from therapist to therapist.  Typically, a therapist will massage you in a manner similar to a relaxation massage, but with warm stones held in the hand.  Smooth rounded stones, about palm-sized and smaller, are heated in water to about 125 F degrees. The direct heat increases circulation and relaxes your muscles, preparing them for deeper work.  
In addition, some hot stone practitioners incorporate layouts—that is, stones positioned strategically on or under your body during the massage.  Often, stones are placed on either side of your spine, in the palms of the hands or, for small stones, between your toes.  Other practices alternate warm basalt and cool marble stones to problem areas.
Some practitioners combine energy work with hot stone massage.  There are many variations.  Stones may be placed on the body to stimulate chakras and energy meridians.  Some people believe the stones themselves impart energy.  Chakra-balancing may be done using semi-precious stones and crystals. 

How do I know if Hot Stone is for me? 

If you are not a heat-lover, then hot stone massage is probably not for you.  But if saunas, hot tubs and hot tea appeal to you during the Maine winter, you will love the way stone massage warms you to the bone.Stone massage is done with plenty of oil on unclothed skin.  There is no need to worry about being naked in front of your massage therapist.  As with other forms of massage, your therapist will leave the room while you undress, and will keep you modestly draped with a sheet during your session.  Receive your hot stone massage with a minimum of conversation.  Always offer your therapist any helpful information regarding your personal comfort.  Then close your eyes and soak up the warmth and comfort, letting sensation chase the busyness from your mind.Although the massage is called hot stone massage, the stones should be warm, not hot.  Speak up right away if the stones feel too hot.  Stones should be wonderfully warming but never feeling as though you may burn.  People have varying tolerance and desire for heat, and your practitioner wants to know what is right for you.A big hit in spas, hot stone massage sometimes finds less favor among regulars who may be reluctant to give up any hands-on time.  Stones begin losing their heat as soon as they are removed from the stone-warmer.  After a few minutes, the therapist returns the cooled stones to the heater and replaces them with warm ones.  As a massage therapist, this break in physical contact is my one criticism of hot stone massage.  Truthfully, when I am receiving stone massage I notice the absence of my therapist’s hands less and less as I sink deeper into relaxation.  But as a massage therapist trained to maintain touch throughout a massage, I found the interruptions intolerably frustrating.  I have since added extra stone-warmers to accomplish a hands-on full-time hot stone massage. Massage styles vary.  Ask the therapist what style hot stone massage he or she practices.  Hands-on is my forte, so I use stones to warm the muscle before and after deeper hands-on work.  I personally love the deep heat from a slowly moving stone but quickly lose awareness of a static stone, and I am not trained in the meridians of oriental medicine, so I incorporate very little stone-layout in massages I give.  Try what appeals to you.  Ask questions and give feedback.  Discover the delight of a nurturing stone massage.

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How to Choose a Massage Therapist

author, Maria Gail

Massage Therapists vary widely in their methods and styles.  Which therapist is the right one for you?  Bodywork now comes in a confusing array of names.  When I attended the Downeast School of Massage in 1991, the term “Swedish massage” encompassed most massage techniques other than oriental/meridian methods.  Today Swedish often refers to gentle kneading and long soothing strokes, to differentiate from “deep-tissue massage”.   Deep tissue utilizes greater pressure to work the muscles, with hurts-so-good results.  Shiatsu or acupressure massage may also use deep pressure, following the body’s energy meridians similar to acupuncture. 

Neuromuscular massage/triggerpoint work applies strong pressure to tender spots to release muscle spasms.  Some massage therapists incorporate other techniques such as hot stones or aromatic oils.Even within each grouping, massage therapists exhibit a broad range of styles.  I think most therapists aim to deliver the massage they would most enjoy.  Even individual massage therapists graduating from the same class give very different massages, and our work grows with experience, continuing education and the needs of our clients.    Where do you fit in?  Begin by getting clear about what you want from your massage.  Is there a knot between your shoulder blades that just won’t let go?  Are you recovering from an injury?  Stressed?  Exhausted?  Do you want a full-body massage, or do you want to concentrate on specific areas?  Knowing why you want a massage will lead you to the type of massage you want.  Although information on various modalities and benefits of massage is beyond the scope of this article, therapists can answer your questions about their own forms of bodywork.  Find the massage therapists in your area in the telephone book, on websites and community bulletin boards, and especially by word of mouth.  Speak with your doctor or chiropractor.  Ask your friends and colleagues whom they see.Massage therapists work in private practices, at spas, with chiropractors and in home offices.  Some are willing to travel to your home or office.  Consider available appointment times and ease of scheduling.  While spas have receptionists, most massage therapists rely on answering machines and return calls between appointments.  You will also want to ask about prices, which range from $40 to $75 for a 60-minute massage, and possible insurance coverage.  Workers compensation, liability insurance and other insurance reimbursement often require supporting office notes from your therapist.   
Feel entitled to interview your prospective massage therapist.  “What type of massage do you practice?  Can you accommodate deep and firm (or very gentle)?  What training and experience do you have?  How long have you been practicing?”  We learn from experience.  I graduated from massage school able to give a nice relaxation massage, but it was not until I had been practicing well over a year that I developed the ability to assess the muscles beneath my hands.While the massage therapist answers your questions, read between the lines to decide whether his or her personality is agreeable to you.  Massage crosses our normal societal boundaries of touch.  If you are not comfortable with the massage therapist touching you, the treatment is not going to help you regardless what techniques they use.  Trust your judgment.  Remember that massage is an art.  Like other hands-on therapies, it involves personal talents that go beyond specific training, certification, or licensure: Some people are gifted with their hands.  Furthermore, what works for one person may not work for another. For these reasons, some trial and error is often necessary to find the best massage therapist for you.Always communicate with your therapist if the session is not to your liking or if you feel uncomfortable. Remember that you know your body best.  It is your responsibility to speak up.  Massage therapists want your business and are usually very responsive to their clients' concerns. Massage may not be appropriate if you have certain medical conditions such as phlebitis, an infectious disease, cardiac problems, certain skin conditions, inflammation or infection, open wounds, or some forms of cancer, so consult your physician if you have any doubts.

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