Warm It Up!
Heat Techniques Nurture Clients
winter sets in, massage by itself becomes only part of the formula
that you can offer your clients. Adding heat to your massage in
creative, simple and inexpensive ways can take your touch to a deeper
dimension and transport your clients to another level of relaxation.
opens the muscles and relaxes the joints, which helps you to penetrate
the tissue more easily and leaves clients less sore from deep work.
Meanwhile, by providing warmth in your massage sessions, your clients
will feel more nurtured and leave your care with a lasting glow
to shield them from the cold outside.
DeGrove, of Boulder, Colorado, says that after experiencing heated
massage, she will never go back to a regular massage session.
the minute I stepped foot in [the massage therapist’s] office,
I felt safe," says DeGrove. "The fire was crackling; the
warmth in the room held me like a child. When I lay down on her
warm, cushy table and felt the heat penetrate my back from the large
hot-water bottle beneath me, I felt as if I needed nothing more."
the warm stones were placed upon my belly, in my hands and on my
feet, and I felt as if I would cry. I had never felt so taken care
of in my life. I was taken to a place of relaxation never yet known
to my body," DeGrove says. "It was divine bliss."
you even lay a hand upon your client’s body, heat can begin
the relaxation process. Warm rooms are lovely to be massaged in;
the body rests and relaxes much better in a warm environment.
important to remember that what might feel like a comfortable temperature
to you might not be satisfactory for your client, who is naked,
still and lying down where there is less heat. Many clients will
not tell you that they wish the room were warmer; they will tough
it out and just not return. I have learned this from the many accounts
of new clients who, upon entering my very toasty room, tell me how
cold they have been in previous massages.
note of warning here: It is worth your while to dress light so that
you do not overheat in order to give your clients the luxury of
warm air. Also, if you work in a room that is cool and are tempted
to use blankets, you risk your clients’ comfort by the sheer
weight and by causing them to tense their muscles when you expose
their body parts to the cool air.
portable heaters are available in a variety of sizes and costs for
rooms that just do not heat up enough on their own. A fireplace
or a wood-burning stove, although not always practical or affordable,
offers the most penetrating and enjoyable form of heat, not to mention
the soothing crackle of the fire. Placing a pot of water atop a
stove provides warm moisture to the room. For a similar effect,
heated humidifiers can be used. Aromatherapy burners can add a trickle
of warm moisture to the air while providing healing and fragrant
smells that warm from the inside out.
from down under
The table itself can be warmed in a variety
of ways, the most common of which is by an electric cover. Made
of cotton or fleece, covers have the advantage of being able to
hold heat throughout the entire massage. A possible drawback to
this heating method may be electrical currents, which can bother
sensitive people. Preheating the table and then turning the cover
off before the client lies down will still provide warmth upon initial
contact, but reduce any possible negative effects.
can also heat up the table more naturally. Using a sheepskin rug
or a fleece table cover along with flannel sheets makes for a warm,
cozy table. A fleece face-cradle cover used underneath a flannel
one offers the client a cushy place to rest her face. Kapok bolsters,
available from Golden Ratio, are much warmer and cozier than hard,
vinyl foam ones, and when covered with flannel they feel like clouds
under the knees and feet.
heating options, which offer pre-massage warmth and prepare the
client’s body by loosening the muscles, include:
A large hot-water bottle placed under the client’s back to
create penetrating heat and a slight floating sensation for the
client by providing gentle movement while you work.
• Flat, hot stones placed under a towel or even left uncovered,
placed to meet specific points on the client’s body.
• Dry hot packs made from gel or foam and heated in a microwave,
placed under the client’s back.
• Moist hot packs, such as hydrocollators, or thermal soft-moist
packs, that are either boiled in an hydrocollator unit (or cheaper
substitute) or plugged in, placed under the client’s back
and neck. These require adequate layers of protection between them
and the body because the moisture creates a deeper heat.
• Grain or herb bags made of rice, flax seeds, corn, buckwheat
or a variety of herbs, heated in a microwave or on a radiator and
placed under the neck or back.
In addition to what you place beneath the client, putting warm objects
on top of the body begins the process of melting muscles before
you start the massage. For example, a small down throw feels delightful
on a cold night; it not only provides warmth, it is lighter than
electric blanket placed over a client will keep her warm throughout
the massage session, yet again may be unpleasant to some because
of the electric currents. If you do choose to use an electric blanket,
the wireless ones powered by remote control are preferable so you
don’t have to worry about tripping over wires.
warm, dry towels heated on a towel rack, in a towel oven or thrown
over a radiator are an easy and cozy heat source to place directly
on the skin or over a sheet. Large, hot, wet towels that have been
heated in a crock-pot - and well wrung out - feel exquisite on the
back or chest before or during a massage. Small, warmed towels,
either wet or dry, anointed with an essential oil and placed over
the face, are a divine touch.
masks made of gel, foam or grain that have been heated in a microwave
or on a radiator, and round, flat cotton circles moistened with
warm water provide gentle heat and soothe the eyes. Bags of tannin-rich
black tea, dunked in warm water and placed over each eyelid, have
the added benefit of reducing inflammation.
hot-water bottles, placed on the belly, chest or back, are easy
to move, hold heat longer than towels and have a grounding effect
on the client. The same for hot packs, warmed grain bags and hot
stones, which can even be strapped to the client’s feet with
made of grain that are warmed in a microwave oven are a treat for
the feet - they hold heat longer than stones and cover the entire
you choose all-over warmth or add touches here or there, heat will
bring your clients deeper relaxation and allow you, in this quiet,
cozy sanctuary, to work your magic on their pre-warmed muscles.
There’s nothing worse than being touched
by someone with cold hands on a cold day, causing a chill to run
straight through the client’s body as all of his muscles jump
to attention. A lotion warmer, or a less expensive baby-bottle warmer,
will make sure that your clients never feel the deep freeze on your
way to get heat going fast is by using warming liniments, such as
tiger balm. Many arthritis liniments contain capsican, which is
especially warming to the muscles. But be careful when using these
products that you don’t inadvertently create a cooling effect.
Liniments that contain menthol and mint have the dual effect of
creating heat or coolness. To get the warming effect, you must keep
that body part covered with a warm towel, stone or water bottle.
essential oils, such as cinnamon, oregano, thyme, marjoram, ginger,
black pepper, patchouli and mint, are also considered "warming"
and are excellent choices to add to your massage oil in the cold
paraffin wax is also a wonderful way to heat parts of the body during
a massage, and in my experience it helps dramatically with arthritis.
You simply have the client dip a hand, foot or elbow into a paraffin
bath and then cover with a mitt, bootie or towel while you massage
the rest of the body. After the wax cools, peel it off.
spas are super for warming the feet or hands and are relaxing for
the entire body. And, of course, if you have the luxury of having
a hot tub, it is helpful to have clients soak before or after the
the spa theme, another way to introduce heat into your massage session
is by using a steam canopy. Canopies hang from the ceiling and are
pulled over a water-resistant table for a pre-massage steam, opening
the client’s pores and relaxing her muscles. At around $1,300,
this is certainly a more expensive option, but is pure luxury for
therapy has become much more popular over the last few years, and
it’s little wonder. In addition to placing warmed stones on
or under the body, you can actually use them to massage the tissue.
Smooth basalt river stones, when used with skill and proper technique,
can open a muscle twice as fast as hands alone, and soothe a muscle
that has been worked deeply, helping to eliminate soreness that
can sometimes result from intense bodywork.
massaged with hot stones is out of this world," says Nancy
Cebulla, who also receives massage in Boulder. "As soon as
the hot stones began, I dropped like I never have before. I lost
all desire to talk or think, and my muscles just began to soften
like clay. It is like having three hours of massage in one."
you have either purchased a set of stones ($50-100 for a set of
50 stones) or collected your own, you need a way to heat them. One
of the most effective ways to heat the stones is to place them in
water in an electric skillet. The skillet is superior to a crock-pot
or an electric wok in that it is flat; thus, you can easily see
and pick out the rocks you want to use. The skillet also has the
advantage of a temperature gauge, which allows you to control how
hot the stones get, which is essential for effective use.
is important to take a class or practice handling the stones before
using them professionally, so that you do not burn or injure yourself
or your clients. But stone massage is fast and easy to learn. Plus,
using hot stones will protect your hands because they do so much
of the work for you.
for the client, good for you
Adding heat to your practice will not only benefit
your clients but can be a considerable boon to your business. It
is common to add an additional $10-15 to your fee when you add hot
stones, for example. The same is true for the paraffin wax treatment
and the steam canopy.
the use of warmed herbal flax bags or flannel sheets shouldn’t
increase your fees, they could increase your clientele. Many clients
have told me that part of the reason they chose me over another
therapist is precisely because of the heat elements I add to sessions.
treatments are also a great marketing tool. Come winter, sending
out a mailing or placing an ad in the local newspaper announcing
your warm massage is certain to draw a few clients in from the cold!
Bruder, a massage therapist for more than 25 years, holds a master’s
degree in psychology and a certificate in integrated body psychology.
She has taught in numerous massage schools and spas, and holds workshops
in the art of touch throughout the United States and Mexico.