Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Massage mediocrity

Just call me a massage snob. During the ultimate paradigm of relaxation, I have to make a concerted effort to cease critiquing every aspect of the experience. In addition to the more common particularity toward stroke pressure and technique, I also find myself judging the volume of the massage therapist's footsteps around the table, the ease with which she maneuvers the sheets around my body, and the degree to which her necessary "re-lubing" interrupts the flow of the massage.

I don't know why I am so difficult to please, but I am continually awaiting that perfect massage that would bring me back to a therapist again and again. The irony, which creates a paramount dilemma in this process, is the fact that I am terrible about speaking up during a massage. I hate to break the serenity with my grating voice, and have a chronic fear that my words will catch in my throat or I'll start to say something at just the wrong moment. So I suffer in silence--as much as it can be considered "suffering" during a professional massage.

While most of my complaints are fairly inconsequential, and certainly a matter of my own scrupulous preference, three experiences come to mind which I believe deserve a notation in The Book of Worst Massages, if one exists. And since one probably does not, I will list them for you here.

#3--> Does Jugular Compression Cost Extra?

At first, there were just two factors that bothered me about this particular massage, and they were both simple ambience choices. The lighting was not dim enough, and the music was not relaxing. Music to massage by should be hardly noticeable. Background sounds consisting primarily of waterfalls and a didgeridoo. This therapist's choice of music was straight from some kind of tribal fire dance, with lots of native drums banging and allegro spiritual chanting. I do find authentic tribal music interesting and entertaining, when my objective does not involve relaxation. The intense beat nearly ruined the massage.

But then it got worse. After turning onto my back, the masseuse started rubbing the back of my neck and my face. Good. Then she started massaging the front of my neck. Not good. If you reach up and feel right underneath your chin, you might notice that beneath the rather slight muscles of your neck lie your trachea, aorta, and jugular vein. These bodily organs should be treated with extreme care, as they are vital to the sustainment of life. Heavy pressure directly on my aorta was understandably uncomfortable. As previously mentioned, I find it difficult to speak up during a massage, and I positively could not muster the courage to do so lying on my back with the therapist leaning directly over my face. What if I spit on her? What if I started to speak just as she leaned into my trachea and the words came out all weird? So perhaps this one is my own fault, but I kept believing it was about to stop. Instead, her persistence made me wonder two things: 1) why did she ask me where I wanted her to focus the massage, only to spend significantly more time crushing the artery leading to my brain? and 2) could I be the victim of a nearly-fulfilled contract for my life?

#2--> Would you please to be shutting up now?

One of the first few employees I ever hired to work in my business was simultaneously attending massage school at the time. She needed to log a certain number of practice hours, and insisted that I allow her to give me a full-body massage for free. Being the charitable examplar of self-sacrifice that I am, I agreed to help her out. Sacrifice, indeed.

The woman brought her table and supplies into our gym facility after hours, and got to work. But she never. stopped. talking. This girl was like a fountain of useless stories and questions that I would have felt less like answering only if I was dangling by one finger from the edge of a rocky cliff. Perhaps it was best, as the incessant chatter distracted me from her substandard strokes, which reminded me of a kid frivolously rolling his Matchbox cars up and down my body rather than the work of a thoughtful and skilled masseuse. To top it all off, I was treated to a periodic Squiiiiirsh of lotion from her noisy dispenser, which she completely stopped massaging me to reapply every couple of minutes. A good massage therapist can reapply lotion or oil with such grace that the client doesn't realize that he/she has done so. This gal didn't happen to make it through our probationary hire period due to incompetency--on the job, not the massage table, I swear.

#1--> Um, hello?

I can't recall the masseuse's face. I have no idea if the music was at the right volume or if she used a heating pad on the table. I don't know if she preferred oil or lotion. But the absurdity of this incident earns it the title of worst massage I've yet to receive, in spite of any possible redeeming qualities.

The therapist worked her way around my body, going through the motions of a technically proficient massage. While massaging my hands, her small strokes began to change in tempo rather abruptly. She would be moving at a normal pace, then get slower and slower, then speed up rapidly, then return to normal pace. It seemed a bit odd, but of course I didn't say anything. For all I knew, it could be part of some energy-healing voodoo magic that I'd be better for not interrupting.

She moved on to my feet, and continued with the same erratic rhythm, only now when the strokes would slow, they would also come to a complete stop. She would hold a place on my foot for a few seconds before starting up again with the rapid strokes. Some massage therapists like to hold specific pressure points, or are trained in Reiki techniques involving gentle, motionless pressure. I personally hate those techniques, but again, have a hard time making my vocal chords produce the words I am thinking in my head during a silent massage.

Imagine this: rub, rub, r u b, rruuuub r r u u u u b hoooooooooooooooooold rub! rub! rub! rub! rub, rub, rruuuub, and repeat. After a couple of cycles through this pattern, I put my finger on it. The sequence was all too familiar, as I had experienced it myself during first period AP Anatomy & Physiology class with Dr. Ivie. She was dozing off. Yes. Falling asleep while she was supposedly performing therapeutic massage on a professional client.

Each time the strokes slowed to a halt, I would inhale deeply and noisily, or stretch my leg so my foot moved under her hands. Would a normal person sit up and say in an irritated tone, "Um, should I come back later?" She finally got her second wind and finished the massage, but it was a disaster in my book.

A few pieces of my formula for the perfect massage:

1) Take the time to discuss specific problem areas before I get undressed. Then pay attention to what I say and focus on these areas.

2) The room should be dark. Only as much light as is absolutely required for you to do your job well.

3) Music: nature sounds and a didgeridoo (or two). Volume: low. A little waterfall fountain with pebbles won't hurt my feelings, either.

4) Heating pad covering the entire massage table? Definitely yes. And drape it with a sheepskin blanket for pure bliss.

5) Quietly ask me how I like the pressure, just once or twice.

6) None of the sissy laying hands on my back and taking deep breaths for two minutes crap. Get in there and work out my knots!

7) If my leg tenses up, it means you are tickling my foot or calf. Try another move until I can relax.

8) Most of the time I shouldn't notice you breaking away to re-apply lotion or oil.

9) The best massage therapists really work with and listen to the body. That one is hard to explain, but I know whether it's happening or not. Mediocre massages consist of a predetermined sequence of strokes learned by rote in a classroom and repeated on every client.

10) Scalp and facial massage should never be neglected.

11) Work most on the area I specified needs help, then return to it at the end so the massage finishes with the most valuable effect.

12) Have a drink of water waiting outside the door for me afterward.


Annie said...

I hate the idea of a massage and from reading your list of the worst ones, I feel justified in my decision. Don't touch me!!!! Besides, the one time I had my nails done, she massaged my hands and arms and I hurt for two days. No thanks!

Bridget said...

I wish I had more massage expertise to be able to agree with you in an educated manner. As it is, I thought your massage stories were very funny and entertaining. I'll take your word for the rest of the stuff. (Here's the story of the only massage I've ever had.)

The Kings said...

LOL - this is a funny post - probably not so funny when you are on the massage table receiving it. I LOVE to have a good massage, and also find it hard to find just the perfect one.

Sarah Rose Evans said...

One time the woman giving me a massage took a cell phone call in the middle of the massage, which necessitated her leaving the building to be able to talk to her boyfriend in private. Granted, it was in Thailand, so I was only paying her a couple of bucks. Massages in the US always impress me with their lighting and tables, because the first massages I got were in a room in a back alley in Bangkok, where old mattresses had been thrown down, end to end, so that the entire room was covered in a sea of foreigners taking advantage of services. When I got a massage in the States, I was like, "Wow. This is clean."


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