Sometimes there is hardship in massage and it seems to center on the moment a client turn from his belly to his back.
No one likes this part. Maybe because they are too relaxed to move or because it signals the beginning of the end. One sweet client of 18 years, always gives herself a quick pep talk. “Here we go,” she says. Then, once she makes it through the revolution, “Ugh.” Another client, simply says, “No,” but then does it any way. One of my most candid accuses me of trying to kill him.
No matter the reason, in nearly 20 years of practice, the variations of this maneuver, which doesn’t even require one to open his eyes, have been pretty special.*
There are the fast-turners, who in the thrash of momentum, get unintentionally violent. I’ve been slapped in the face, kneed in the gut, elbowed and hip checked. A table or two has almost flipped with them. There are the finicky ones, who once on their backs, shift, fidget, scratch, squirm, and arrange the sheets as if they are in their own bed. Then there are the petite turners, who move so quietly and easily, they don’t even disturb the air beneath the sheets and I’m left holding the linens, not knowing they moved at all.
Oh. The sheets. No matter how high I hold them in a tent over the client, some of them somehow spiral their way into a swaddle, leading to a good 30 seconds of untangling. The very shy, fearing exposure, grab at the sheets as I lift them, practically pulling me onto the table. When a therapist doesn’t tent the sheets, but only lifts one side, making more of a fabric lean-to, this complicates the turn even more. Rotating in one direction gives you a nice, uninterrupted flip. The other leaves you feeling exposed to the room (not necessarily the therapist) and lands you on the other edge of the sheets. You need cues and we therapists need to know how to give them. Wanting you to think as little as possible on the table, we need to be clear and concise enough to give you all the information needed in one mention. In this case, “Turn towards me,” doesn’t always work. It confused me just last night while I was getting a massage. But something like, “turn over, right/left shoulder toward the ceiling first,” works.
However, nothing can simplify a client’s personal landing position. Straightforward they are not. There’s the diagonal, the C-curve, the S-curve, and the passed-out pose, limbs falling off the table in every direction.
Even with all this, it’s the face cradle that usually gives the tales of turnings some flair.
Sometimes, no matter how refined, the cues don’t work. Maybe it’s the partial and good loss of self-consciousness and care for detail as bliss-inducing neurochemicals kick in. Perhaps it’s the opposite and a surplus of self-consciousness blocks logic. Experience doesn’t always seem to make a difference. There are people who have been getting massaged for years yet turn over and land with their heads awkwardly on the face cradle and people who, first massage, intuitively get it.
My standard line, usually said in a whisper and with a little pat on the back, is “Take your time and turn over, sliding down towards your feet so your head is all the way on the table.” Apparently, “down” sometimes means up.
“Towards your feet, please.”
“Hm? What?” They’ll pop their head off the table a bit.
“Your feet. Towards your feet. So your head is all the way on the table.”
Their head then winds up two feet from the top of the table to where I would have to plank half my body onto it to reach their head and neck.
On the occasion when all verbal cues fail, I stand at the foot of the table, emulating an air traffic controller, my straight hands imitating their orange, glow wands. “This way please.” Then flattened my palms for “stop.’
The face cradle simply is not meant to double as a pillow. It may be shaped like a travel pillow, but when fastened to a U-shaped platform on a horizontal plane, it cannot be anything more to the back of your head than a hole.
The less you have to think during a massage the better. So, let’s break this down. As you feel the therapist removing the bolster from beneath your feet, start to assume the low push up position by placing your palms next to your rib cage. As the therapist lifts the linens, push up slightly. Usually a therapist will verbally prompt you to turn when he or she has the linens secured. Some clients can sense the timing. Either way, at the appropriate time, push up, turn, and spiral down, landing with your head just an inch or two below the top edge of the table. Shift as you need to, open your eyes if you need to, feel the top edge of the table if you need to.
You got this.
Now go get massaged.
*This statement does not apply to people for whom turning over or moving their bodies is restricted by physical limitations or pain. This post is for entertainment and to highlight practical points of a typical massage. If it doesn’t resonate with your sense of humor, no need to read it again.