A relaxation massage is a whole-body, hands-on, treatment that uses pressure, stroking and rubbing of your skin to help you relax.
What is a relaxation massage?
Most massage treatments will relax you, among other things. With a relaxation massage, relaxing you is the only aim. For this reason, it is one of the most complete and indulgent massages you can have.
Definitions vary, but in the UK, a relaxation massage is usually a full-body treatment involving soft music, soft lighting and aromatherapy essential oils. You will have a long, luxurious massage which will use all kinds of massage techniques including long strokes, gentle kneading and rolling of skin and muscle, and perhaps some rhythmic rocking from side to side. It is a passive treatment. You probably won't be stretched or manoeuvred into any yoga-like positions, as you are, for example, in Thai massage. You just lie there and take it.
This is the massage to choose if you just want to chill out, and be pampered and spoiled.
What is relaxation massage good for?
The clue to this is in the title.
A good relaxation massage relieves stress and muscle tension and will leave you oozing with a sense of wellbeing. It achieves this because of the general benefits of massage: it improves your circulation and blood flow, so your organs and skin get more oxygen; aiding with lymphatic drainage. Whether it's a full body massage or back massage, this type of therapeutic massage helps to relieve back pain and neck pain breaking up stubborn knots and tight soft tissue. A relaxation massage encourages your body to digest its food, and get rid of its toxins and it will help you to sleep better. A massage will also help soothe muscle soreness and sprains and encourage the skin to heal minor abrasions.
It is a natural instinct to rub or cuddle someone to give them comfort; a relaxation massage takes that instinct and runs with it, or rather 'meanders' with it.
Before you go
Because of the differences in definition of the "relaxation massage" it is a good idea to call beforehand and find out about what you will be getting. There's likely to be some soft music – in spas and treatment rooms they tend to use a kind of music that is almost impossible to describe. It's featureless yet calming.
If you go to a private therapist, you may not get something so easy to ignore – if you have a spiritual dread of Enya or whale song, it might be worth taking along your own music, as these kinds of music tend to be favourites.
Before any massage treatment, avoid large meals or alcohol. It's also a good idea to drink plenty of water, which will help your body to flush the toxins out of your body.
It's also a good idea to give yourself plenty of time either side of the massage, so that you don't feel rushed.
You should always tell your therapist in advance if you:
are, or think you might be, pregnant
have any medical conditions or are receiving any treatment or medication
have recently had an injury or operation
are allergic to anything, particularly skin allergies
have any broken skin or sores on your scalp
as this may affect the kind of oil and treatment you receive.
What to expect from a relaxation massage
As this is a whole-body treatment, you will probably be given towels or a robe to wrap yourself in, which you can change into in a separate room. During the massage therapy you will lie on a cushioned massage or treatment table and the masseuse will employ skilfully-positioned towels to protect your dignities. The important thing here is that you feel comfortable. If you're very self-conscious or want to keep some of your clothes on, do. It's your massage and you need to feel comfortable if you're going to feel more relaxed! A good masseur will work with whatever suits you.
The room should be quiet, private and warm.
Unlike other treatments, such as sports massage, physiotherapy and reflexology, relaxation massage does not usually much discussion beforehand. However, you should let them know if you have any particular physical problems, or are receiving any other medical treatments.
Go to the toilet before your massage. You will not relax if you feel you need to pee in the middle and don't know whether or not to say so!
The benefits of one relaxing massage can last days, but you need to give it a chance to do that. Try not to plan any hectic activity immediately afterwards. Some treatment rooms or spas will give you an option of having a lie-down or snooze afterwards. This is probably exactly what you will feel like doing - listen to your body! It can seem surreal and is probably pointless, for example, to go straight back to work if you are feeling so relaxed you can hardly speak!
Different types of relaxation massage
There seem to be different interpretations of what a "relaxation massage" or remedial massage is, depending on where you go for it. In some parts of the United States, a "relaxation massage" is synonymous with a Swedish massage. An Ayurvedic massage – based on the ancient Hindu health care practice – can also be described as a relaxation massage.
So it's really worth calling in advance to find out what you're going to get. We've described what you're most likely to receive in a UK spa.