Have you ever daydreamed about an upcoming massage only to be let down by how it turned out? Or perhaps you’ve never had a professional massage and you’re nervous about what to do during your first session. Even those who have received dozens of massages at our Oregon school of massage can learn something new about how to maximize the effects of a massage session. Read on to discover our pointers on what to do and what not to do when receiving a massage.

DO take care of your basic needs. Allow yourself a light snack before your massage and be sure to maintain adequate levels of hydration. Drink plenty of water the morning of your massage, and give yourself time to use the restroom before you get on the table. Nothing ruins a massage like a full bladder or talkative stomach.

DO arrive early. Since you’re giving yourself a nice treat, give it fully. Being late creates unnecessary stress—which you’re likely trying to release by scheduling a massage. Allow yourself a few minutes to unwind in the lobby before your massage begins. This is also a great way to ensure you’ll have a bladder break!

DO undress to your comfort level. Strip down—or don’t.  Do what you are most comfortable with. If you want skin-to-skin contact, it’s okay to remove your clothes and allow for a deep massage. Skin-to-skin contact is soothing to the nervous system. If being naked feels intimidating to you, leave on the articles of clothing that will allow you to feel secure. Your therapist will be respectful either way.

DO breathe. If you allow it to be, your breath can be your best friend. This is true whether or not you’re on a massage table. When you aim to induce a state of relaxation for the body and mind, taking leadership over your breathing process is a good place to start. Imagine breathing directly into your belly when you’re on the massage table; you can think of your belly as a balloon inflating and deflating. Doing this will calm yournervous system and allow you to drop into a relaxed and calm state with limited effort.

DO communicate. Your massage therapist wants to help you. A good massage therapist will ask you questions about the pressure they’re providing, and whether you need more or less. Answer them honestly. They won’t be offended by your answer, and it will help both of you have a more enjoyable experience. If you’re shy, consider the idea that you’re actually doing them a favor by communicating your needs—they’ll be better at their job if you give them the opportunity to develop their skills as a listener.

DO give the monkey mind a project. If you notice your thoughts are intruding on your relaxation time, focus on something tangible like the sound of your deep belly breathing, or the spaces of the body your therapist is touching. Both are effective mindfulness techniques.

DO avoid tightening your muscles. Staying mindful will also help you notice if you’re tightening muscles in your body, such as gripping your jaw and grinding your teeth. Humans have the tendency to express discomfort from one space in the body by tensing another space in the body. This might show up as scrunching the face when the low back is being worked on, and sensation or pain is arising.  Notice if this is happening by doing a quick body scan and consciously relax your body from head to toe (including your jaw!).

DO take your time waking up. After your massage, by now you’re probably in a deeply relaxed state. Allow yourself to move slowly. Be gentle while getting off the table and dressing. Take a few minutes in the lobby to adapt to the fast-paced world around you.

DON’T rush to the “next thing.” If you can, allow the massage to trickle into the rest of your day. Continue engaging in restorative activities if possible. Be in nature or go home and read a nice book. If you have to go back to work, or go to an event, try to keep the relaxation alive by returning to your belly breathing when stress presents itself.

DON’T be surprised if you crave more massages!  If your body resonated with your massage therapist, book another appointment. It’s best to nourish a relationship with the same therapist, as he or she will get to know your body and your needs over time.

There are several massage schools in Oregon where you can find both student and professional massage therapists.  If you’re on a budget, check out our student massage clinic at East West College of the Healing Arts.  It’s located on our Northeast Portland OR campus by the convention center—what a great stop after a long presentation!