Lessons from a new LMT

What I learned receiving a massage from a baby LMT

Like almost everybody who receives massage on a regular basis, when you find a therapist you like, you move heaven and earth to go to them. They get to know your body, they know your quirks, your pain points, and your pressure preference.

Recently, I received a massage from a gall I did not know. My first impression of her personality was positive; she was calm and confident and very professional. Then, she surprised me when she put her hands on me and I realized, “Wow! This is a new LMT! Fascinating…Ok… so how do I know that…”

It wasn’t the most blissed-out massage I’ve ever had, because I was busy analyzing what she was doing, so this post could be born.

I learned so much under her hands!

A note to new LMTs who work on other LMTs: This can be super stressful and intimidating. Let me break it down for you. Yes, we know you’re new. No, we don’t care. We are so desperate for touch, anything you do will fill our cup. (Unless this other LMT is a jerk. They exist. I’ve worked on one, but that’s a story for another day…)

Here are the lessons I learned from this new LMT.

1. Use your whole hand

I cut my palm once. It was with the tip of a knife, so it wasn’t terribly large, but it was deep, probably nicking a little muscle. (That was 4 months ago, and when I rub my palm, it still aches just a little. Protect your hands!!)

My first day back, I was definitely favoring that hand: hesitant to use full pressure, doing weird things with the position of my hands, using my forearms a lot. The massage from this gall was like that: like she had hurt part of her hand and didn’t want to touch me. She would do long strokes with her palms lifted from my back, only touching me with her finger tips or just the heel. Very strange.

Whenever you have your hand laid out on your client, imagine that the pressure is radiating from the center of your palm. Like in yoga, use your whole hand to support the gentle force of your stroke. 

Also remember that your hand is not your only tool! Get your wrist and forearms into your effleurage strokes. It feels kinda creepy to only have a small point of contact between client and therapist. Touch them with large surface areas as often as possible. This will not only create a yummy experience for your client, but spread out the load and not be as fatiguing for your hands.

2. Have patience

This was something my sweet therapist did beautifully: she was not afraid to “sit and wait.” Sometimes, whether you’re new or a more veteran bodyworker, the impulse to rush can overcome you, and you may find yourself breezing past your client’s trouble spots.

If you find a funky trigger point or spasm, sit on it! Ok, don’t sit on it literally, but feel free to hang out and wait for the body to stop saying, “Oh my gosh! Someone’s poking at my owie spot!!” and start saying, “Oh….I can move in that direction? I forgot! That feels great!”

3. Forgive yourself: the first 1000 don’t count

There’s a saying that got passed around when I was in school: “The first thousand massages do not count.” (I couldn’t find the source of this quote. If you know it, please post a reply!) Anxiety is something that can be felt through an LMT’s hands, and it radiated from this gall. If you are terrified of your client, or of the work you are about to do, take some deep breaths and remember what an incredible service massage is. This is a unique gift you are giving to another person.

I know 1000 seems like a lot of massages, and a long time to wait before you’re “good.” This does not mean that you will not do good work! But it will take that long until you find what feels right for you.

You’ll do 200 massages in school (give or take) before you get your license. It’s simply not enough time for you to assimilate everything you’ve learned and find the style and techniques that work for you. Plus, if you’re anything like me, you need a good shot of confidence before you get into your groove.

(I also saw fellow classmates who thought they were God’s Gift to Massage, and hopefully, they spent their first 1000 massages being a little tempered by humility.)

Whatever your weakness, you get 1000 massages for free. The moral of this story is, don’t be too hard on yourself.

4. Stop worrying about your draping

This gall was so cute. She actually did some nifty little draping tricks I’d never experienced before She would tuck the sheet and blanket around my hands before undraping my back. That sheet wasn’t going anywhere! But it would take forever for her to undrape my arms and legs. She was utterly meticulous.

Ok. Here’s some truth. You gotta drape like a champ for your boards. Do the nice tight diaper drape, and practice your breast drape until you can do it with your eyes closed. [Note: Do not close your eyes during your board exams.] Practice the tightest, most modest draping for your boards.

And then never worry about it again. It feels weird to be wrapped up like a burrito and there are great draping alternatives that will keep your client feeling covered and “un-drafty” without tying them (and yourself) up in knots.

That said, if you’re going to do a big, Thai hip stretch and your client is not clothed, do some tight draping.

5. Don’t feel like you need to do the whole body

Yes, we want to give and receive massages that feel like we’ve incorporated the whole body. But here’s the thing: 90% of your clients will tell you, “my back/shoulders/neck are killing me. I carry all of my stress there.” And that’s where they want a majority of attention. This takes time and patience! And if you’re taking enough time, likely, you will not have time to spend 5 minutes on each posterior leg, 5 minutes on each anterior leg, 10 minutes on the feet, 5 minutes on the anterior arms and chest and 10 minutes on the head and neck. No, sir. Not in a 60 minute massage.

This sweet Baby Therapist was going to do my whole body no matter what it took! What this meant was that she got to spend about 90 seconds on each leg and arm (front and back) two minutes on my feet and about 3 minutes on my head. Or at least, that’s how it felt.

If you are constantly undraping and re-draping in a frantic effort to cover each distinct region of the body, your client will feel like no one area got enough attention, and it’s hard to fully bliss out when someone is lifting your leg and wrapping a sheet around it, four separate times.

In a 60 minute massage, you have to quickly prioritize. And tell your client! Something like, “I understand you have a ton of pressure built up in your shoulders. How about I spend some good time on your upper body, and then I’ll say ‘hello’ to your legs, but most of the time, I’d like to take care of your trouble spots.” Now they know what to expect.

Here is a massage I perform frequently:

Starting prone

  • 35 minutes: Back, rotator cuff, forearms and glutes (one single drape with maybe a deeper diamond drape if I want to get good access to their glutes)
  • 5 minutes: left hamstrings and lower leg
  • 5 minutes: right hamstrings and lower leg

Turn the client supine

  • 5 minutes, both feet and lower anterior legs (I drape by unfolding the sheet to just under the knee (both legs) and giving a quick shove of fabric in between the knees to keep them from feeling “drafty”)
  • 3 minutes: left arm and chest
  • 3 minutes: right arm and chest
  • 4 minutes: neck, shoulders and head

(Often, I omit the arms, so that I can spend all that time on their head and neck.)

Find what works well for you! I like having the client lie on one side (in the above case, prone) for more than half of the massage. The longer they spend on their first side, the deeper they go. Exception: if they are getting squirmy, restless or can’t breathe in the face cradle. In those cases, flip them sooner rather than later.

The grand takeaway

This was both a humbling and invigorating experience. I could see how far I had come! I was also filled with a deep sense of gratitude for those who let me work on them for that first year or so. Lack of confidence is detectable by those who are sensitive, and these were generous people who let me grow so much with each massage.

People need touch! New LMTs give the world a great gift every day, because we are so starved for contact and physical attention. My dearest Baby LMTs of the world, do not fear your first year. The first 1000 massages don’t count, remember! Approach every client with an open heart and a desire to serve, and that first year will fly by. The world needs you!

One more piece of advice: get a lot of massage, yourself. This is the best way to learn what feels good. And don’t forget, you need your own cup filled, too!