What kind of massage do I need? Can massage help my mental health? Here’s all you need to know about the ultimate treats to alleviate stress and radiate wellness
The world of massage is wonderful, but if you’re new to the pampering lifestyle, knowing where to start can be quite overwhelming. But fear not, here we’ll break down some of the most common types of massage, delving deeper into their history, benefits, and which type is best for you.
And remember, this divine lifestyle isn’t only for the privileged! There are many styles of massage to suit all needs, personalities, beings and budgets...
To relieve pain during pregnancy... try prenatal massage
Prenatal massage aims to relieve the pains of pregnancy for mums-to-be. In fact, many describe it as a godsend. This is a specialist form of massage, adapted for pregnancy, to help ease aches and pains, improve sleep and boost mood.
Using techniques similar to those used in Swedish massage, expect gentle kneading and gliding strokes designed to soothe muscles, improve blood circulation and help you feel relaxed. It’s also common for the therapist to include acupressure and Shiatsu techniques, which stimulate key pressure points, promoting physical, mental and hormonal balance.
Comfort is key to prenatal massage. There are a range of treatment beds used, including specially designed massage tables with a cut-out for belly and bust, allowing clients to lie on their front. Massage cushions and floor mats may also be available.
If you’re interested in pregnancy massage, it’s advised you wait until you’re past 12 weeks, but no later than 32 weeks. Sessions typically last an hour or more, so do let the practitioner know if you need to pop to the bathroom – thinking about the loo is certainly not relaxing!
To support muscle recovery... try sports massage
A sports massage is less of a pamper, and more physical therapy. Excellent for athletes, or those who are regularly active, this treatment aims to speed up muscle recovery time and helps to prevent injury.
Despite relaxing the muscles, sports massage isn’t particularly relaxing. The practitioner will use stroking movements, working upwards towards the heart. This technique is designed to increase blood and lymph flow, therefore reducing muscle soreness and fatigue. They may also direct the strokes away from the heart, to help stretch the muscle fibres.
Sports massage will also consist of kneading, or “petrissage”, and the friction technique. These methods work on addressing the deeper tissues of the muscle. Frictions in particular can be quite uncomfortable, so don’t be afraid to speak to your therapist if you need a more gentle approach.
It’s advised you take it easy after a sports massage, as it can be a little intense. A great excuse for a rest day!
To improve flexibility... try Thai massage
Also known as yoga massage, Thai massage aims to soothe and calm your senses, while improving flexibility and range of motion. This style of massage typically sees the practitioner taking the client through a series of intense, yoga-like stretches.
Traditionally, Thai massage doesn’t involve oils or lotions, as found in other styles of massage. Instead, expect stretching, rocking and rhythmic pressing. Thai massage focuses on the energy lines within the body, working to the belief that when we are unwell, these energy lines get blocked. Thai massage aims to encourage the flow of this energy, bringing harmony back to the body.
Generally bookable in one or two-hour sessions, the cost can be anywhere between £50 and £100, depending on the type of booking and your location.
Thai massage is thought to be particularly effective for those with muscular tension, mind and body fatigue, and emotional stress. If you prefer the idea of remaining fully clothed during a massage, this might be the treatment for you!
To feel total calm and relaxation... try Swedish massage
When you think of a massage, this will likely be the style that comes to mind. With total focus on relaxation, expect gliding strokes, circular motions, bending, light stretching and kneading to help relax and ease shallow muscle tension.
The intensity of the massage is up to you. Thanks to the combination of movements, it can be as gentle or intense as you like.
A Swedish massage is perfect for beginners, or those who often feel tightness in their back and shoulders. Sessions typically last between 60 and 90 minutes and it’s likely you’ll be asked to undress. Don’t worry, you’ll be given a blanket, and the practitioner is an expert in draping techniques to protect your modesty – but if you’re uncomfortable, speak to them prior to the session.
To relieve tension and rebalance the body... try reflexology massage
Reflexology is a traditional therapy, used to correct imbalances through the body. Traditional practice involves the therapist applying pressure to and massaging certain areas of the feet, hands and ears to encourage overall healing and improve wellbeing.
A reflexology massage will mainly focus on the foot, calf and upper leg. It’s deeply relaxing and ideal for those with ankle injuries, common forms of arthritis and even everyday movement.
Reflexology targets specific reflex points on the foot, to promote healing in corresponding organs. By applying pressure to certain areas of the foot, the practitioner can help ease headaches and sinus problems, as well as reducing stress and anxiety in the body.
With treatments typically lasting 30 minutes, you’ll be fully clothed, though loose-fitting clothing is advised so the therapist can access the upper leg.
Remember, while reflexology is suitable for anyone, it’s recommended that women avoid the treatment during the first three months of pregnancy. Also, if you have any foot problems or injury, please consult a doctor prior to the session.
If your muscles are tense and you need to relax... try deep tissue massage
The name says it all. This style of massage works on the deeper layers of the muscle tissue, and is particularly effective for those with specific muscular pain. Techniques are similar to that of Swedish massage, but with increased pressure.
This massage can be beneficial for chronic stress and muscle tension, and uses slow friction and deep finger pressure to target the more tense muscles in the body.
Deep tissue massage is actually a blanket term, describing a number of therapies, such as sports massage and lymphatic drainage, and is often used medically by physiotherapists and chiropractors, or referred to by a doctor.
Depending on how you feel, the clinic and your situation, expect to wear comfortable clothes, or change into a towel for treatment.
Deep tissue massage isn’t one for the faint-hearted. Be prepared for some discomfort as pressure is applied, and for post-massage soreness. But don’t be put off. If you suffer with chronic tension, this style of massage is worth a try – your body will thank you.
To relieve aching muscles... try a hot stone massage
If you want to leave feeling rejuvenated, relaxed and calm, this one’s for you. Hot stone massage uses soothing oils, hot, and sometimes cold stones to promote muscle relaxation.
Hot stone treatments work to the warm and cold technique; alternating between temperatures to soothe an aching body. A combination of soothing warmth and rejuvenating coolness encourages the body to detox and heal itself.
Using hot stones encourages your body to relax. The practitioner can focus on the muscle tissues, using both the stones and stroking methods. Hot stone massage can also instil a sense of calm, as the stones are coated in a fragrant oil.
Benefits of hot stone massage include relaxation, released tension and increased energy levels. It’s also been reported to benefit those with back pain, depression and stress.
Sessions typically last an hour, but we suggest you indulge as much as you can. You should leave feeling pampered, relaxed and special.
If you need a physical, emotional and mental “boost”... try Reiki massage
Reiki is an ancient healing therapy, based on the belief that life energy flows through all living things. Originating from Japan, the word itself translates to “universal life energy”. It’s believed that when the energy in the body becomes blocked, stress and disease develop.
In a session, the practitioner will lightly place their hands on, or hold them just above your body, with the aim of influencing this life energy (also known as Qi) through your body.
Benefits include reduced stress, improved relaxation and rebalancing, and promotion of the body’s natural healing abilities. Therapists believe it’s particularly beneficial for those going through divorce or grief.
A typical Reiki session will last one hour, and is carried out with the client sitting on a chair. You’re asked to wear loose-fitted clothing, as your comfort is important.
Reiki is a completely non-invasive treatment. It’s wholly based on the body and your energy – you just need an open mind, and an open heart.
To reduce stress... try aromatherapy massage
A massage therapy with essential oils – what’s not to love? Aromatherapy massage is very similar to Swedish massage with the addition of soothing essential oils, so is often used as muscle and joint pain relief, or for relaxation.
Each essential oil has different properties, so the ones used will depend on you, your symptoms and what you want to get from the massage. To relax, the practitioner may use chamomile or lavender essential oils. For a more uplifting experience, they may use clary sage or ylang-ylang.
Aromatherapy massage has been said to help reduce discomfort of menstrual cramps, as well as ease headaches and improve sleeping problems.
As essential oils are highly concentrated, they can be quite harsh on the skin. Speak to your therapist beforehand to discuss your symptoms, and the oils that may be used. Otherwise, try and allow yourself to be fully immersed in the experience, you deserve it.
To improve sleeping problems and lift your mood... try Indian head massage
Used for thousands of years, Indian head massage comes from Ayurveda, a traditional treatment, and focuses on the head, neck and shoulders. With a range of techniques, varying in pressure, this is a deep massage that aims to encourage healing and restore balance in the body.
Benefits include relieving tension in your neck, back and shoulders, as well as reducing stress and promoting a good sleeping routine. Loose, comfortable clothing is advised and, as oils may be used during the massage, a spare hairband or cap is recommended.
Sessions typically take between 25 and 45 minutes, and your therapist may speak with you beforehand to discuss your lifestyle and any ailments. If you’ve never had an Indian head massage before, know that some of the massage can be quite firm. It may be an odd sensation, but shouldn’t be painful. If you’re worried, speak to your therapist.
Because Indian head massage taps into your chakras – your body’s energy centres – it should leave you feeling more than relaxed; you should feel serene.