An Introduction to Massage Therapy I wanted to take the opportunity to encourage people to explore the possibility of using massage therapy as a means of improving their wellbeing. First of all, to clarify what I mean, let me quote from Cancer Research UK about what massage therapy is: 'What is massage therapy?' Massage is a technique that applies pressure to parts of the body. A therapist uses techniques such as stroking, kneading, tapping or pressing. It aims to relax you mentally and physically. Massage may concentrate on the muscles, the soft tissues, or acupuncture points. Massage techniques can range from being soft and gentle to vigorous and brisk. They may sometimes even be a bit uncomfortable. Therapists may treat your whole body or concentrate on a specific part, such as your head, neck or shoulders. There are several types of massage: Swedish massage – most common type of full body massage Aromatherapy massage - massage with essential oils Deep tissue massage – used for long-standing, deep muscular problems Sports massage – used before or after sport or to help heal sports injuries Shiatsu - uses acupressure and stretching Neuromuscular massage – helps to balance the nervous system and the muscles This gives you a broad idea of what the purpose of massage is: to promote wellbeing by use of various techniques as described. But there is no particular group of people that benefit from massage, it is open to most of us to try to help with our physical and mental wellbeing. However, it is always important to seek advice from your GP if you have any health conditions to ensure it is suitable and safe for you. My personal experience is that I have always been very 'body conscious'. This can be very off-putting for massage as, by definition you are literally exposing parts of your body to others, and most of us can feel embarrassed by doing so. There is also the issue of intimate touch, someone putting their hands upon you, which most of us are not used to except for our nearest and dearest. So for me, I always felt it would be something I liked the look of but was too shy and self-conscious to try. However, I really wanted to try as I always recalled my mam rubbing my head as a child looking for ‘nits’ and how soothing and relaxing this was. By 'nits' I mean head lice - still a common problem for young children at school, I understand. In my day, a rummage around your scalp was par for the course from my mam, but in fact, this was just an excuse for me to cuddle in and have some special time with her - 'Can you look for nits?' I would implore as I sat by her armchair in the early evening. A lovely head massage would follow that I felt really helped me relax and feel good. Leap forward twenty years, and I gave an aromatherapy massage a try. I was very nervous, but the therapist soon put me at ease and I enjoyed a lovely, relaxing massage with essential oils. This was a totally relaxing experience; I could smell the lovely scents of the oils as well as feel my limbs relax and muscles untense. Ever since I have tried to have a massage whenever I need them; I have had hot stone massages, sports massages, Indian Head massage, and Thai massage. Sometimes I felt a little 'beaten up' depending on what I needed. When very tense and knotted up, a firmer massage has been needed, but even then I have immediately felt the benefit of having the massage. So my view on massage is to give it a go if you never have. Don’t worry about feeling self-conscious as the massage therapist has 'seen it all before' - they will deal with all human body types, and of course, they want to do this for a living. Now, what type of massage to get is a different matter, and this is when it is good to do some research. It all depends upon the context and your needs. For example, someone who is very athletic and fit might want to have a sports massage and use a trained physiotherapist - they will discuss and assess the person’s needs and target certain areas of the body to help with physical performance. But if you just want to have a nice relaxing massage and feel all pampered then you would be looking to use a spa hotel therapist or a local beauty salon that offers these, such as hot stone massage followed by a body wrap. It all depends upon what you prefer. There are lots of services out there offering massage therapy so it is important to check if you can , the reputation of a service. Word of mouth and online feedback can be good, if you are just wanting a nice relaxing massage. But for massage related to a health condition or to achieve a certain outcome it is really important to check with your GP or other health professional involved and always to discuss with the therapist before you book or pay for any treatments.