Somewhere along the line, the concept of couples’ massage has been, shall we say, mishandled. Far from a cursory back rub or 50-yard-dash to getting it on, real couples massage is an art.
“With couples massage, sex is not the goal. Intimacy is,” says New York–based massage therapist Michael Ciardulli , who’s worked on everyone from professional athletes to the cast of ‘The Lion King’, and is the official massage therapist of The Rockettes. “You’re taking the time to treat your partner the way he or she deserves to be treated. No one wants sex when their feet hurt.”
Simply put, massage is the manipulation of skin, muscles, ligaments, tendons, and fascia (the tissue that surrounds the muscles) to boost blood flow, release tension, and restore balance and functionality. The American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA), says that massage can help you and partner sleep better, treat low back pain, and ease exercise-related tension, headaches, pain and stress. A roundup of studies on the effects of massage showed a significant reduction in blood pressure and cortisol levels; massage in one study was shown to reduce anxiety, depression, irritability, and physical tension in military vets. And it’s just what the doctor ordered: A survey done by the American Massage Therapy Association found that 53 percent say their physician recommended they get one since a Massage helps strengthen immune system amongst many other positive effects.
“When you give your partner a massage, you help increase circulation, decrease muscle spasms, bring oxygen to muscles and tendons, flush out toxins, improve flexibility, and decrease pain,” says seasoned massage therapist Marie Scalogna-Watkinson, founder of Spa Chicks on the Go.
The Doctor Is In (That’s You!)
Even if you’re not a trained massage therapist, you can do a lot to help ease everyday stress and anxiety in your partner—whether you go all out with an hour-long, full-body extravaganza or give him a focused, 15-minute foot rub. “Your physical body manifests what’s happening in your head,” says Ciardulli. “So if you can relax the mind, the body follows.”
We tapped our experts for their skilled and seasoned advice on how to apply their techniques at home.
First, you’ve got to set the mood. Once your environment is staged, the next step, says Ciardulli, is to focus the mind by setting an intention. “Think about what you want to do for this person you love,” he says. “Maybe you say to yourself, ‘I want to help you feel better. I want us to be closer. I want to relieve your pain.’ I set an intention with every client I work on. It separates the good therapists from the great ones.”
Ciardulli, a certified Reiki practitioner, says you can practice channeling that energy by rubbing your hands together to create warmth and friction, and then holding them just a few inches from your partner’s body. “That vibration you feel is your energy and you can share it before you even touch him. You really can transfer love through your hands.”
Watkinson says she and her husband (who is not a massage therapist) even put foot massages in their wedding vows! “We promised to rub each others’s feet when they’re tired. We do it every night. It’s our way of saying, ‘I’ve got your back.'”
This is your time, she says, to shut out the world and focus on the person you love.
Start With A Foot Massage
The feet are the perfect place to begin. In fact, says Ciardulli, you could spend the whole time on the feet and your partner will feel completely renewed.
Reflexology, a type of massage that applies pressure to specific reflex points in the feet, hands, and even ears, holds that there are points in the feet that correlate with all the systems of the body. So by massaging the feet, you not only make the feet feel better, but ease tension in other parts, like the neck and back. (Check out this reflexology map of the feet for a breakdown).
But you don’t have to be a reflexologist to create a therapeutic experience. Fact is, there are so many nerve endings and points in the feet, they’re hard to miss. Enhance the experience with a non-greasy, odorless massage oil.
Have your partner lay face down. Put a bolster under the front of the ankles to relieve tension in the back. Hold one foot in your hand, and apply the thumbs to the middle of the sole and the arch of the foot, which is said to relax the spine.
Work the toes. Take each toe, one at a time, and gently massage and then roll them around, advises Watkinson, which helps stretch and flex all the tiny muscles in there that get cramped and underused. “You’ll boost circulation through the foot and it feels great,” she says.
Don’t stop at the ankle. A great foot massage doesn’t stop with the foot, but extends up past the ankle to the lower leg. “Always work upwards towards the heart when you perform a massage,” says Watkinson. Once you’ve spent some time on the sole, arch, toes, and calves, make long sweeping strokes up from the back of the ankle up toward the buttocks.
Move Up To A Hand Massage
Like the feet, the hands also contain many pressure points that correspond to other systems of the body (see a reflexology hand chart here). Time spent on the hands can be completely renewing, especially using a calming, aloe-based massage gel. “Our hands are so overused. If you’re typing all day on your laptop and phone, you create imbalance and can become prone to a repetitive stress injury,” says Watkinson. “You can make an entire massage just out of the hands.”
Work the thumb. That large muscle group in the thumb gets worn out from typing, and is in need of some love. “Get in there with your thumb and make circular motions, working the whole hand from wrist to thumb, and when you find a tender spot, called a trigger point, hold it for a count of five to let it release.”
Continue up the arm. Just as with the feet, a hand massage doesn’t stop at the wrist, but continues up to the elbow. “The muscles you use to engage the wrist are all in the forearm, so you need to address the whole area,” says Watkinson.
Try some traction. Gently pull your partner’s hand away from the arm and shoulder—an even, steady pull (no yanking). This relieves joint compression, allowing blood flow and oxygen to get in there, which reduces the strain and feels great.
Hit this relaxation point. There’s a point called the “Inner Path” in Chinese medicine, says Watkinson, that is said to soothe stress, anxiety, even nausea. Lay three fingers side by side starting at the line separating his hand from his arm on the inside of the wrist. The Inner Path point lies under the middle of your third finger from the wrist. Press there and hold for a few seconds. (This is also the point targeted by sea-sick wrist bands.)
Last Stop: Head, Scalp And Ear Massage
Whether you do a complete body massage or not, finish the job with the head—which starts at the neck, a place where everyone holds tension.
Have your partner lay face up. Ciardulli swears by this technique: Position yourself at the top of his or her body, facing the feet, and slide your hands under the shoulder blades. Draw your fingers up along them to the base of the skull, and hold your fingertips there at the base of the skull for five seconds. Do this five times, letting the neck relax.
Move to the scalp. Using both hands, start draw large circles that gradually get smaller over three sections of the head: the temples, the front the skull, and the bottom of the skull or back of head. Do this for a few minutes, and then proceed to the hair pull: Slide your hands under the hair and grab a portion of it; then pull, gently but firmly. This stimulates the scalp and releases more endorphins. Do the whole scalp just like that (depending, of course, on how much hair you’re working with.)
Finish up with the ears. This is the icing on the cake, says Ciardulli. You’re not going to be put your fingers inside his ear, of course. What you want to do is stimulate all the nerve endings along the ear. Take your partner’s earlobes gently between your fingers, and make like you’re counting money. “He’ll be toast,” he says.