Booking your first massage probably felt exciting, and you were oh-so-ready to “treat yourself.” In addition to reaping the health benefits of a massage, you just love how they feel, and your spouse’s two-minute massages just aren’t cutting it anymore. You want the real deal.
But as the appointment date nears, your head starts spinning with questions. You’ve only seen massages on TV. Are you just going to be naked on a table? Won’t it be cold? And OMG, what if you have to pee within the first 20 minutes?
You’ll probably enjoy your massage better if you know what to expect ahead of time. Here are three important things to know that will help ease any anxiety you may have about your first massage:
1. Your massage therapist might say “undress to your comfort level.”
This instruction might bring more questions than answers, so here’s what that means: Some people go full nude, while others stay in their underwear. If that’s too much for you, you are totally allowed to keep another layer on, such as a thin tank top.
It’s recommended to remove your bra if you want your back worked on (and LBH, that’s the best part of a massage). If you’re uncomfortable removing it entirely, here’s a trick: “[Women] can leave their bra on until they lay down, and then just unsnap it to allow for complete back access—as if you were at the beach,” says David Holmes, LMT, lead massage therapist at Tru Whole Care in New York City.
Okay, let’s break this down: Your massage therapist won’t actually see your private parts at any time. They will leave the room and give you time to undress. Then you’ll go to the massage table and lie down on your stomach, and there will be a blanket or sheet that will go over you. The massage therapist will knock before returning.
During the session itself, your massage therapist will practice something called draping. Throughout the massage, you are “mostly covered up, [and] only the part of the body that is being massaged is uncovered,” says Jill Nelson, BS, LMT, CLT, licensed massage therapist at Integrative Therapies in the Metro DC area. Draping not only prevents you from feeling exposed, but it also keeps you from getting chilly on the massage table.
2. Communication is necessary; conversation is not.
For starters, always tell your massage therapist before your session begins if you are pregnant or trying to become pregnant, or if you have past injuries or medical conditions. This is a safety issue and can help you get the most appropriate massage for your needs.
Your massage should help relax you, so if you’d rather quietly close your eyes and silently enjoy it, do so. You have no obligation to make small talk (but you’re welcome to if you want). “I generally follow my client’s lead. If they talk to me, I certainly listen and answer any questions,” says Nelson.
But you *should* tell your massage therapist if something is wrong. “I would always want to know if a patient is uncomfortable with the level of pressure in a massage or if there is any pain,” says Holmes.
Feel free to give feedback on anything that might make you feel more comfortable during your session. “At the end of the day, it’s your massage, and we want to give you the best possible experiences,” says Liz Copas, CMT, massage therapist at the Beverly Hills Hotel. “Don’t be afraid to speak up if you are too cold, the music is too loud, or the pressure is too much.”
And FYI: You should go to the bathroom before the massage, even if you think you don’t need to … but life happens. If you suddenly have to go, speak up!
3. Tipping depends on the provider.
In a spa setting, standard tipping guidelines usually apply. That means tipping 15 to 20 percent (especially if you enjoyed the massage). If you are using a coupon or discount, you should tip as if you paid full price.
Wellness clinics are a different story. “When you are receiving a massage in a clinic environment, tips are not necessarily expected,” says Copas. “When in doubt, tip [or] just ask.”
Many massage therapists try to clear up the confusion, so check their websites, brochures, etc. “I have a private practice,” says Nelson. “If people ask about tipping, I thank them for the offer and explain that because it’s my own business, I don’t expect tips. I’ve set my credit card app without a space for tips.”
Despite your first-time nerves, try to relax, be open to the new experience, and (most importantly) enjoy it. And don’t forget to try these other stress-busting habits: