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Shape Up: Massage Basics

One hour to relaxation, improved digestion, enhanced circulation, and higher overall energy sound good? (Sign us up!) Learn the ins and outs of massage therapy from Kristen Sykora, LMT, expert massage therapist and owner of Harmony Healthcare Associates in Wantagh, NY.

Photo: Kristen Johansen

What is massage therapy?

Massage therapy is a therapeutic utilization of touch. It's a system of applied pressure to the body's tissue and structure to enhance and promote overall health.

How is massage therapy beneficial?

Depending on the type, massage has a number of benefits. Overall, a massage induces relaxation and provides a time and place for the busy bride to unwind. It can also help to focus the mind, improve digestion, repair tired muscles, enhance circulation, improve energy, and relieve chronic aches and pains.

Can massage therapy help me lose weight?

Massage provides a passive workout for the muscles as they're being manipulated. However, it shouldn't be considered a valid avenue for weight loss. That said, massage can be a great incentive for achieving a workout goal or weight-loss goal.
What are the different types of massage therapy? And how do I know which is right for me?
Massage therapy has many forms and modalities. Massage professionals are licensed in Swedish massage. Other techniques generally require further certification and training. Some of the most common types of massage are:

  • Swedish Massage The most common type of massage; it promotes relaxation and enhances circulation.
    Good for An overall good choice for a general massage.

  • Sports Massage Good for athletes; this technique utilizes stretching and usually involves a more focused massage to the athlete's areas of need.
    Good for The athlete with a sports injury, or one with overly tired muscles. Also provides good preparation for athletic events.

  • Myofascial Release A more clinical approach to massage therapy; this involves addressing the underlying layer of muscles and the superficial fascia (the thin layer of connective tissue under the skin).
    Good for A person with chronic back, neck, or shoulder pain

  • Shiatsu Massage Performed fully clothed; it's a system of applying pressure to specific points along the body's meridians to balance energetic pathways throughout the body.
    Good for Relieving stress and encouraging relaxation.

What do you need to prepare for or bring to a massage session?

You really don't need to bring anything to a massage session. Many choose to shower before a massage and wear comfortable clothing.

How can you get the most out of your massage session?

To get the most out of your massage, try to clear your chaotic schedule after your appointment. A good tip to promote the overall benefits of massage is to arrive hydrated (but with an empty bladder) and without a full or empty stomach. During the massage, be sure to communicate with your therapist -- don't be afraid to speak up if the pressure is too light or deep, or if the treatment room feels too hot or cold. Also, plan for a few hours of relaxation afterward (go for a manicure or pedicure, hang out in the sauna or Jacuzzi bath, or simply go home and sleep), anything to prolong the relaxation.

What about the groom? Can we do a couple's massage?

Many spas and offices may be able to accommodate a couple's massage. In addition, some massage therapists offer home visits as well. In this case, a therapist would come to your home equipped with massage tables, linens, and music. After a session, a couple may want to indulge in a special meal or a good night's sleep without having to worry about the drive home.

What should I look for when seeking out a massage therapist?

To get started in your search, look for a qualified, licensed, and certified massage therapist by logging onto FindaMassageTherapist.org.

-- Tia Albright

See More: Getting in Shape