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The secret to giving a really soothing massage

Use leverage to deliver pressure without hurting your hands. And remember the `cat paw.'

January 29, 2007|Leslie Goldman | Chicago Tribune

You're relaxing with your significant other when the request comes: "Honey, can you massage my neck for a minute? I've got a kink."

Being the giving partner that you are, you reach around with one hand to knead the knot, rubbing with what seems to be enough pressure to turn coal into a diamond. In about two minutes, your fingers are burning and your thumb is crying out in pain. The recipient of your effort, however, has barely felt a thing.

Surely, there must be an easier way. As it turns out, massage, like real estate, can come down to one thing: location, location, location. "The reason you often get tired is because you're in the wrong position," says Boulder, Colo.-based Maureen Moon, past president of the American Massage Therapy Assn. "If you're lying next to each other, everything's coming from your hand." However, "if they're sitting below you, the pressure is coming from your body."

This puts the massager in prime position to rub the shoulders, hold the top of the head while making tiny circular motions along the vertebrae with the other hand and perform other wonderfully soothing moves. Kat Zwica, a licensed massage therapist at Chicago's Spa Space, teaches many of these in a 90-minute course called "Art of Touch," in which partners learn how to give -- and get -- a great massage.

"Keep your hands relaxed; you don't want to pick up the skin," Zwica said of one of amateur masseuses' common mistakes. "Stick with pushing the muscle instead of picking it up."

One of Zwica's trademarks is the "swim move."

With your partner lying face up, position yourself above the head. Place your hands near the neck, and slowly move your hands in a circular motion down around the shoulders and behind the neck in one fluid move, lifting the head slightly. When you've hit the hairline, "you can go right into a scalp massage," she said. "Do nice long circles, using the pads of your fingers, unless your partner asks for nails. This is good for headaches, a stiff neck."

Next, have your partner turn over so you can perform Zwica's "cat paw" move. "Walk" down each side of the spine, pushing with your hands flat, one compression after the other, giving a deep last push at the pelvis. Then, walk back up and do the same thing at the shoulders.

As it turns out, massage can help couples work out kinks both physical and emotional. "It introduces a couple to touch and a different type of intimacy," Moon said. "Understanding how the feet feel and the shoulders feel instead of just holding hands and hugging" can make for a better relationship.

"If you just spend [some time] massaging each other's hands and face and feet, think about what a better partner you're going to be. You can help soothe each other, talk about your day."

One of Moon's favorite massage moves for couples that allows face-to-face communication is the mutual foot massage: Sit on two ends of a long couch, facing each other with your backs supported. Give one foot to each other and start by "milking" your partner's foot: "Nice, long, gliding strokes with your thumbs on top, fingertips on bottoms, or vice versa." Start by the ankle and move to the toes.

Next, rotate the ankle, massaging both the inside and outside area of the joint with circular motions. (On pregnant women, avoid pressure points here because they may trigger contractions, Moon said.) You can then support the heel with one hand and, with the other, slide your fingertips between the toes, rotating your spread hand three to five times. End with some light, feathery strokes along the foot.

When it comes to rubbing your partner the right way, Zwica added, remember that this is meant to be more of a sensual or relaxing process. "Anyone who is a marathon runner and wants their calves worked out" should seek professional attention.

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