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Afraid to Ask: Am I supposed to talk to my massage therapist?

Your Journey to a Fulfilling Life

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That’s really up to you, says our expert, Cari Pelava, who answered a few embarrassing questions we posed so you wouldn’t have to. Client time is healing time, and you’re paying for it. If the therapist asks questions such as “How does this feel?” or “Is this too much pressure?” that’s good. But chitchat outside of that is unnecessary. The client should never feel the need to entertain the therapist. If you want quiet time, say so.

How do I tell my massage therapist to shut up?

“I’d really like to relax and be quiet now.” If they don’t shut up, you can end the session and just pay for that portion.

Do I have to take off all my clothes?

It depends completely on your comfort level. Shiatsu is done fully clothed, so it’s an option. If you’re new to massage, you may want to keep on more, such as underwear and bra. Therapists can accommodate. On the other hand, therapists use a draping technique that exposes only the part of the body they need to work on. If you can’t relax fully, wear clothing. If you can relax fully unclothed, that’s ideal.

What if I pass gas?

It happens a lot. The therapist doesn’t give it a second thought, so don’t worry. But it’s wise to not eat a full meal before massage.

What if I get aroused?

It’s a natural, physiological response. With some men, it never happens. With others, it occurs regularly. Don’t be embarrassed. Just don’t act upon it. The therapist might step outside for a moment. If a client starts to be inappropriate, however, the therapist will stop the session.

What if the smells of the massage oils and incense make me feel nauseated?

There is more awareness of fragrance sensitivity now, so when you make an appointment, request scent-free lotions or oils.

Does anybody else ever feel like crying? Why am I crying?

With any body work, there can be an emotional release and you have no idea that it is going to come. There is absolutely nothing to worry about. Your therapist should check in with you, ask whether you’re OK, ask whether you need a minute. It’s a very positive thing. It is part of a healing response.

What if the massage therapist is hurting me?

There is good pain and bad pain, and we want to stay in the good-pain realm. The therapist should explain pain levels to you and say something like, “I’m going to work on an area with a chronic condition. There is going to be discomfort. You need to tell me if it’s getting into bad pain.” If you start to resist or breathe shallowly, it’s too much. Tell your therapist to lighten up. But ideally, he or she should be checking in already.

What if I want a deeper massage?

Ask for more. If a therapist can’t give you the deep work you want, find another therapist.

How much should I tip him or her, if at all?

The norm is 15 to 20 percent. If you get poor service, say so and maybe don’t tip or don’t tip as much.

How much time can I really take to relax after a massage?

If you’re in a clinic, the therapist typically has to turn the table in three to five minutes. Take at least two or three.

Cari Pelava is co-owner of CenterPoint Massage and Shiatsu Therapy School and Clinic in Minneapolis. A shiatsu therapist since 1983, including an apprenticeship in Japan, there’s little she hasn’t seen.

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