While it is critical for practitioners to retain independent massage therapy and bodywork applications, there is some value in providing service that feels familiar to a client. Meeting a client’s expectations with detectable service could quickly instill trust, and trust is vital for successful massage or bodywork execution.
Establishing client confidence can regularly be achieved by applying commonly practiced opening rituals. Spending 60 seconds or more with something that feels familiar at the start of any session could deliver an incalculable benefit. Routine opening practices can help old clients quickly reconnect, and some might instantaneously relax when they recognize what they are receiving.
Similar opening rituals could also prove beneficial when couples book the same appointment in the same room. It could prove laborious for a partner to feel that they received lesser or greater treatment when at least some of their service was the same.
Unfortunately, a massage recipient could also attempt to invalidate a therapist’s work because it was not recognizable and did not match their previous treatments. New massage clients may additionally be confused when their session does not match what their friends or family have told them. Starting or finishing a treatment in a similar manner to what is commonly practiced could help avoid these adverse feelings.
There are many advantages to using familiar rituals beyond this brief description. And while it is perfectly acceptable to provide something different, there are a few commonalities that can be shared. This list includes some common closing rituals in addition to opening applications. Here are just a few:
Abhyanga – Ayurvedic – may begin with a small prayer and oil application of the seven gates which includes the head, ears, palms and soles. The prayer sets the intention for proper Ayurvedic treatment.
Aromatherapy Massage – may begin usually started when a practitioner rubs essential oil between their hands and has the client directly inhale the aromatherapy with deep breathing. The aromatherapist might also rub the client’s temples with their concoction. This client can start in either prone or supine position on the table and closing can end with the same ritualistic practices.
Craniosacral Therapy – is usually opened and closed with listening stations. There are various listening stations throughout the body. Utilizing these can help find imbalances to target. Closing with listening stations can validify any treatment achievements.
Chair Massage – may begin with brushing or compressions on the client’s back through their clothes. Brushing and compressions are a nice method to introduce touch and find areas of tension for a fast-moving session. Chair massage sessions are often closed with tapotement.
Cupping Massage – may begin with oil application of the treatment area first. Physically manipulating, massaging and running cups over a client’s tissues will require a massage medium to reduce friction. This is different from stationary cupping where a massage medium is not applied because the cups do not move.
Deep Tissue Massage – may begin with effleurage, petrissage, skill rolling and a general warmup of the soft tissues prior to deeper work. It’s important to warm-up the soft tissue first, as a preparatory application. Closing may include effleurage over the treatment area, to make nice and ask forgiveness from any angry tissue.
See Oncology, Geriatric & Post-Surgical Massage and Bodywork, below.
Hot Stone Massage – may begin with placement stones arranged over at least two physical barriers. In prone position, a therapist might start with a sacral placement stone and gentle rocking. In closing, the practitioner should always remove all placement stones prior to the client’s table dismount. Practitioners may have the client take a deep breath, and then remove the placement stone(s) on exhale.
Ice Massage – is nicer when a practitioner rubs their fingers over the ice first, then applies their cold fingers to the client’s skin repeatedly, before the ice is applied directly to the skin and kept in motion. Closing ice massage usually ends with wiping the skin dry. There is tremendous debate regarding ice massage efficacy however some still find ice massage to be effective when used properly.
Lomi Lomi Massage – may begin with pule (prayer). Pule is offered by the practitioner as a short prayer or mental intention with requests from higher above for the service. The pule can be offered silently or aloud. The practitioner can share the pule standing over the client with or without touch.
Manual Lymphatic Drainage – may begin with, and is closed with, clearing the terminus, which is also known as pumping the terminus. While seated behind the client, the practitioner will place their thumb and pointer finger superior to the clavicle with middle, ring and pinky finger inferior to the clavicle. All fingers will be pointed towards the client’s midline over the lymphatic cardiovascular juncture aka the terminus. This specific hand placement is to compress the soft tissues above and below the clavicle without pressing on the clavicle bone itself. The client will then inhale and with exhalation, the practitioner will press inferiorly and posteriorly to pump the terminus.
Myofascial Release – may begin with skin rolling. Skin rolling is achieved by lifting dry skin and rolling it through an opposing thumb and fingers. It is thought that myofascial release is like peeling an onion, where a practitioner would start by stretching the superficial facia with techniques such as skin rolling, prior to applying deeper myofascial techniques.
Neuromuscular Therapy – may begin with postural analysis in standing position from four sides including front, back, left and right. The neuromuscular therapist will take detailed notes where they observe structural dysfunction, and evaluate again after hands-on NMT has concluded. Biomechanics may also be evaluated before and after hands-on treatment by simply watching their client walk towards and away from them, and by performing tasks such as a getup and go test.
Oncology, Geriatric & Post-Surgical Massage and Bodywork – may begin with customizations for the client. Some of these clients could be immobile and have special needs, which could require that their service be performed clothed, in their bed or on a chair instead of a massage table. The only consistency is there’s often no consistency, and that these appointments can result in a series of creative adaptations.
Prenatal Massage – may begin with bolstering for mid-second to third trimesters pregnancies. Pregnant women who are a little past their first trimester should not lie flat in prone or supine position on a massage table. Prenatal massage can be provided in semi recumbent or side lying positions. Prone position can also be achieved with professional prenatal massage cushions for the latter stages of pregnancy.
Reflexology – may begin with grasping both feet at the same time. A reflexologist might traction both legs, inspect the feet, apply lotion or all of these as their opening ritual. Reflexology closing rituals usually end with a bilateral solar plexus hold.
Reiki – may begin with a practitioner placing their flat hands over the client’s closed eyes and the front of the head in supine position. A Reiki session begins with the practitioner treating themselves and their workspace first, prior to the actual hands-on work.
Sports Event Massage
While sports event massage has enormous variations, one suggestion to open a short prone service would be to place your hand over the client’s sacrum and rock their body. Rocking the body from this midpoint will allow a practitioner to observe if the client is holding or protecting any area that is not naturally moving with the rocking. Rocking first can help a trained eye focus on any bodily area where there is less movement. Sports event massage is usually closed with tapotement or vigorous jostling.
Swedish Massage – may begin with, and often closes with, gentle compressions or body brushing through the sheet. Some therapists call this scanning the body and it’s also a safe and efficient method to introduce a practitioner’s touch. Therapists can use this scanning opportunity to feel for any areas of tension for future focus. Treatment upgrades such as aromatherapy, hot stones or a longer session are commonly offered when available at the beginning of a basic Swedish massage.
Thai Massage – is usually performed clothed on a matt or the floor. There are innumerous openings, adaptations and hybrid models of Thai bodywork. The most major similarities are tables are not used and the client will wear lose comfortable clothing and remain clothed for an authentic Thai massage.
Trigger Point Therapy – may begin with client direction and palpation. The therapist needs to determine if there are adhesions or restrictions in the area which would require additional bodywork beyond the trigger point therapy itself. Also, palpation helps practitioners find discreet trigger points that are referring to other areas. Closing trigger point work might include massaging the treated area to make nice with the treated tissues.
Common Closing Rituals Across All Modalities
The following list are some of the most common and popular closing practices. An exhaustive list is not possible. At the closing of a session, a practitioner might:
- Thank the client for their time.
- Express wishful thoughts silently or aloud for the client.
- Apply a hold with static placement of their hands on the client’s body.
- Ask the client to take some deep breaths.
- Perform body brushing techniques.
- Use a towel to remove massage medium from the client’s skin.
- Assist a client off the treatment table with select services or customers.
- Turn up any dim lighting so the client has greater visibility and acclimation back to reality.
Opening & Closing RItual Videos
Click these links to watch videos on each of these opening and closing rituals:
Common Industry Rituals
We should all recognize the benefits that could be achieved when practicing something that feels familiar for a client. Adding a minute or two of similar and familiar service could be useful when making a connection with each new treatment. Hopefully this list of opening and closing service commonalities will be used with clients as needed.
There are many more rituals and modalities beyond this brief list, these are just a few. And to re-emphasize, it is perfectly acceptable to practice something different than what is listed here.
About the Author
Selena Belisle is the founder of CE Institute LLC in Miami, Florida, where they teach massage, nursing and cosmetology industry CE courses. She has been practicing massage therapy and bodywork for over 30 years. She is approved as a continuing education provider by many industry state boards and the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork.