Having boundaries in a massage is important, it creates safety and trust for everyone. Once someone’s trust is broken, it is rare to restore it again. It can also be very unpleasant for the recipient – they might not know how to stop you or ask for changes in the massage style, which creates resentment and distrust later.
A good massage course should teach you how to create boundaries and agreements with your recipient.
Both the giver and the recipient are responsible to look after themselves during a massage. This means feeling relaxed/confident enough to ask for what you want, speak up if something doesn’t feel right and stop when you have had enough.
It is well worth while spending some time with each other before the massage begins checking out what expectations each of you have for the session. Make an agreement about:
• The type of massage you are going to do: deep tissue, relaxation or sensual.
• Where you are going to massage: arms, legs, back etc.
• How to say “stop” if they want to or to ask you to move to another part of their body.
• Problem areas of the body and how to work with them.
Keep to your agreement throughout the session unless it is obvious something else needs to happen. Check in with the recipient of they agree to this change before making it. It is better to do something new in the next session rather than break your agreement for the current session.
As the giver of massage, you too need boundaries:
• Do you want to give a massage to this person?
• How long are you willing to give the massage?
• Are you expecting something in return for the massage?
• Massage only where it feels comfortable for you. i.e. You might not like massaging a persons lower abdomen as it is a potential sensual area and you don't know them very well. Or there may be an injury/health condition where you need to ask the recipient to check with their Doctor if it is okay to massage before you work with them.
• If the recipient touches you, check in with yourself as to whether it feels okay.
It is important for both people to express their concerns before the massage begins. Be direct and find out what the other person expects and clearly state what you want to give. Clarity comes with feeling 100% okay with your agreement, if you do not have this, postpone the massage until you are clear.
Whether someone pays you or not for a massage, you are always entitled to decide not to give a massage if something doesn’t seem right, even if it all looks okay. Following your gut feeling is important. You can always renegotiate to massage them on another occasion.
Ultimately massage is about the connection between two people. The more open hearted, caring and relaxed the massager is, the more benefit the recipient receives. It’s not about “doing a job”, it’s about listening, caring and giving to another person. This comes through safety and trust.
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Elayne Lane is an instructor of the Universal Healing Tao. She has been teaching and doing bodywork in excess of 20 years.