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Not only is massage wonderfully relaxing and enjoyable, but it has other positive effects: it helps to balance the body, and thus contributes to good posture, it helps to detoxify the body by improving its mechanisms for eliminating waste matter, it improves the function of the lymphatic system, it creates a sort of “passive” exercise for the muscles, and it even improves the functions of the respiratory and digestive systems. It satisfies our basic human need to be touched. It is a marvelous way of communicating without words, of sending messages of trust, empathy, serenity and joy.

Obviously, many people may prefer to consult a trained, professional massage therapist; but this article aims to outline the basics of massage techniques for home use. As long as you have “the touch”, in other words, the basic sensitivity, you should be able to deliver a relaxing massage for your partner or friend without any long or expensive training. It takes time and patience to learn the art; as with most arts, experience is the key. You can also gain insights and ideas from experiencing a massage yourself.

Be careful. You obviously undertake this massage at your own risk, and no medical claims are made in this article.

Before we begin, let’s list some of the contra-indications for massage; in other words, conditions for which massage therapy should not be applied. People with cardiac or circulatory problems should consult a medical professional before receiving a massage. You should not massage those with acute infection or inflammation, skin diseases, tumors, fever, fractures or dislocations. Cancer patients should only consider very light aromatherapy-type massages, as cancer can be spread quicker through the stimulation of the lymphatic system. Massage might sometimes be deep, but it should never be painful.

Before you begin, give some attention to the massage room. Use a quiet, clean and uncluttered room, so that your concentration is not interrupted. Warm the room adequately beforehand, and use some incense or an aroma burner to add a pleasant fragrance. Fresh flowers and candles also help to create a pleasant atmosphere. Some slow, soft and unobtrusive music helps set the mood.

A professional massage table is useful, but other surfaces can be used just as effectively. Beds are not ideal because they are too bouncy. A long table or chest of drawers padded with blankets or thin foam rubber is preferable, or even some sleeping bags or blankets on the floor. Cover the padding with a clean sheet. Keep an extra sheet or blanket ready to cover the parts of the body not being massaged.

Your massage oil should be prepared beforehand. Although you might like to purchase some peanut or sweet almond oil to use as your “carrier oil”, you can just as easily use olive oil or cooking oil. You might like to add a few drops of so-called “aromatherapy” or essential oils to your “carrier oil”. Such essential oils have strong anti-viral and anti-inflammatory properties, and the fragrance adds substantially to the pleasure of the massage. You might like to start by adding five or six drops of lavender oil to a small squeeze bottle of “carrier” oil. Lavender has a lovely fragrance, is gentle and relaxing, and has a relaxing effect. Later, you might buy some neroli, bergamot, rose, geranium or chamomile; and you can start blending your fragrance. Be careful with rosemary, which has a stimulating effect, and do not use it on pregnant women. If you are in any doubt about an oil, consult a professional for advice. If you prefer, simply add a dash of fresh lemon juice.

Before the massage, you should also wash your hands, trim your nails if necessary, remove jewelry or watches, and tie back long hair. Wear loose clothing, or perform the massage in the nude, depending on whom you are massaging. All of this applies also to the person you are massaging, who should also remove contact lenses or spectacles.

Before you begin, take a moment to breathe slowly in and out a few times, so that your mind is clear and focused. Use only a little oil at a time and warm it between your hands before you apply it.

My suggested massage is going to start with the feet, and will progress up the backs of the legs and then to the back, before turning over and working on the front of the feet, the chest, arms, hands and face. As you read more and practice, however, you’ll find your own preferred routine.

Once you have started, try to keep one of your hands in contact with the body all the time. Even when you are pouring more oil onto your hand, keep the back of the hand touching your friend’s body. This keeps from disrupting the overall flow of your massage.

Take a little oil and apply it all over the foot: the sole, the toes, and the heel. With your thumb, press between the bones of the foot. Apply light pressure to the bottom of each toe. Work slowly and with purpose. Use your fingers on the tendon. Cover the whole of the bottom of the foot. Use your fingers to rub the oil well into each toe, and don’t neglect the area just under the toes. Use your knuckles on the sole. When you feel the time is right, move onto the other foot.

For the rest of the body, you will use one of two important techniques. “Effleurage” means long, sweeping strokes over a wide area. “Petrissage” means smaller, deeper, probings into a specific area. A general rule is always to move in the direction of the heart. Another general principle is to pay equal attention to both sides of the body; this adds a balancing effect.

Now move on to the back of one of the legs. Move to the side of your friend. Apply oil to the whole back of the leg, moving slowly, and being careful to apply less pressure to the back of the knee. Now, with your fingers facing away from you, perform a number of slow strokes all the way up the leg, first with your one hand, then following with the other. As the first hand reaches the buttocks, remove it, and keep the slow movement with the other. Repeat a number of times. Add some variety by taking the first hand all the way up to the buttock, and the second one only as far as the back of the knee. The effect should be slow, smooth and rhythmic. Focus your strength on the upward movement, then soften and lighten as you move down again. When you are ready, move around to the other leg, keeping a hand in contact as you move. Repeat this procedure on the other leg. Ask your friend to tell you if your pressure is too light or too heavy.

Before you apply oil to the back, try rolling the skin between your fingers. Move all the way up the back in gentle rolling, almost pinching movements. This movement aims to break the adhesion between the muscles and the skin. Be gentle.

Now use long, sweeping effleurage strokes to apply oil to the entire back. Then start on the lower back, your fingers pointing towards the head, and move your thumbs slowly all the way up the sides of the spine. Mould your hands to the shape of the back. When you reach the neck area, widen your hands to trace over the shoulders, and softly return to the lower back. It’s as though you are tracing a heart shape on the back. Repeat this stroke a number of times. Apply more oil whenever you feel friction.

Another technique is to stand on your friend’s side, fingers pointing away from you. Start with one hand on the side closest to you, and the other hand on the side furthest from you. Gently rub the hands over the back so that they swap positions; in other words, one of your hands moves away from you and the other moves towards you. Doing this movement, move all the way up and down the back.

Try “percussion”: make your hands into fists, and gently punch down onto the back. Keep it very light. Then end your back massage with some gentle rocking of the whole body and some feather-light strokes using only your fingertips.

Once your friend has turned over, lift his or her foot and bend the knee. If you are on the floor, place the foot on your chest. Now if you rotate the leg outwards you can work the inner thigh, and vice versa. If you are working on the floor, you can lift the entire leg to stretch it. Work deep in the calves by sliding your fingers between the grooves in the muscles.

Move up to the abdominal area. Hold the tummy lightly in your palms and rock it gently. This is called “rocking the hara”. The “Hara” is supposedly the center of the body. Now make some long effleurage heart-shaped strokes from the belly to the chest. Again, work firmly going upwards, and go softer on the way down. Do some slow clockwise movements from the digestive tract through to the oblique muscles and the belly button.

The hands are very sensitive. Do some petrissage on the palms, and then work up each finger. With both your hands, do some sweeping movements from the center of the back of the hand outwards.

Move behind your friend’s head and do some petrissage movements on the chest muscles. Start in the center of the chest and move around towards the under arm area. Use your thumbs.

Now work up the shoulders and into the neck. Lift the head slightly off the table. Rotate the head gently to the side and work the neck lightly. Be careful.

Wipe the excess oil from your hands so that you can end your massage with the face. Lightly hold the temples with your fingers while your thumbs gently rotate the “third eye” between the eyes. Do some gentle sweeps from the “third eye” to the temples with your thumbs. Then make some gentle rotations on the temples. With your thumbs, work gently above and below the eyes. Work gently down the cheekbones from the nose to the jaw. Lastly, cover the eyes with your palms and sit quietly for a few moments.

Some people claim that giving a massage is as beneficial as receiving one. End with a glass of water and you should both feel peaceful and contented.