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Experience Massage Therapy Session

In complementary and alternative health care there is no "standardized" approach; every session is unique, as it is based on a client's particular needs. Practitioners, though they may have been trained in the same way, will have their own style as well, based on a choice of techniques with which they resonate. We present here a general description of what someone might reasonably expect to experience during a session of Swedish massage or an Eastern form such as Shiatsu.


Upon arriving for your massage or Shiatsu session, you will be asked about relevant personal and medical information, as part of an interview and/or a questionnaire. These questions are necessary to best understand your current state of health and allow the therapist to best structure the session to provide the greatest benefit. These questions will also alert the therapist to certain situations where massage therapy should be used with caution or not at all. The training licensed massage therapists receive includes this important screening process. All information is confidential and will become part of your client record.

Your therapist may perform some physical assessment to help establish the most appropriate treatment strategy for your session.

Preparing for the session

Typically, if you will be receiving a Swedish massage and the therapist will be using oils, the therapist will leave so you can disrobe in private. You will remove most of your clothing, lie down on the massage table and cover yourself with a provided sheet or towel. (You can leave on any clothing that will make you feel more comfortable.) When the therapist returns and begins to work, he or she will uncover only the part of your body being worked on. The rest of your body will be fully draped, as is required by law in N.Y. State. Traditionally, Shiatsu is performed through the client's clothing, which should be thin cotton and comfortable. Feel free to discuss any concerns with the therapist, who can accommodate any reservations you may have about disrobing.

How will it feel?

During a Swedish massage, your therapist will use either massage oil or cream. A small amount of lubrication makes the unique strokes of massage therapy possible. Depending on individual need, the therapist typically massages the shoulders, back, legs, feet, arms, hands, neck and head. Feel free to guide the therapist towards specific areas of need as well as away from any area you wish not to be touched. Generally the overall effect will be one of relaxation and easing of restrictions.

Depending on the goals established between you and the therapist, there might be some discomfort felt during massage to areas that are most in need of treatment. You should feel free to give feedback regarding the depth of massage and whether or not you can tolerate any discomfort. Tolerance for pressure varies greatly, and therapists have been educated to appreciate individual differences, but a verbal response really helps the therapist make the necessary adjustments in technique. When it is time for you to turn over, the therapist will guide you so that you will remain fully draped.

How does Shiatsu differ?

When you receive a Shiatsu session you remain fully clothed and should come to the session either wearing or bringing a comfortable, loose-fitting outfit. Shiatsu sessions typically take place on a cushioned mat instead of a table. The therapist begins with an evaluation of the Hara, or abdominal area. This initial palpation gives the practitioner a sense of which channels, or meridians, he or she will focus on. Your therapist will then start to work on the body and will attend to your back, legs, arms, neck, and face in an individually determined order. Instead of the long, gliding strokes of Swedish massage, the Shiatsu practitioner uses gentle pressure techniques applied with the palms, fingers, forearms or feet, as well as a variety of gentle stretches. As with a Swedish massage, the practitioner will adjust the work based on any conditions or preferences the client expresses.

Will my massage or Shiatsu session hurt?

Neither the Swedish nor the Shiatsu treatment should hurt. Occasionally your therapist may find a point on your body that is tender, due to stress, past injury, or current pathology, but gentle pressure to this area usually is welcomed as a "good hurt". Always feel free to communicate with your therapist whenever any technique feels uncomfortable, as the client/therapist relationship is a partnership in which both giver and receiver participate.

How will I feel afterwards?

People's responses to therapeutic bodywork vary greatly. It is not uncommon for people to fall asleep while receiving a treatment, or to enter a state of deep relaxation. Afterwards, some people will feel sleepy for a short period, while others may feel invigorated or energized. Clients are encouraged to take their time getting up, and ask for the therapist's assistance if necessary. If your therapist worked on a sensitive area, you may feel slight muscle soreness a day or two after the massage; mild bruising is also possible, though very rare.

Most important, though, is the need to take the time after a session to listen to your body, to sense any changes brought about by the work, to feel the ways your posture or way of moving may have been altered. Increasing awareness of your own body will enable the benefits of the massage to truly take hold and flourish inside of you.