Learning Basic Massage Techniques at Spas

Woman Receiving Tibetan Massage at Sunset
••• Matthew Wakem/Stone/Getty Images

Going to a spa or resort can be more than just an opportunity to relax—it can also be an opportunity to learn some basic massage techniques you can give your partner while on vacation. Although you might not be anywhere near as good as a professional, licensed massage therapist, you can still learn some easy tricks on your next trip to the spa.

Since not all resorts and spas offer the opportunity to learn from your therapist, you need to phone ahead or browse individual locations' websites to see if there's a licensed therapist on site who can give you a lesson. While some spas offer one-on-one sessions like these, it's easier to book an appointment if you go as a couple so that the therapist can put one person on the table while she teaches the other (and vice-versa).

You should expect to spend about 90 minutes for a full basic lesson like this, but you'll need to practice at home and return for more sessions to perfect your technique. After all, the reason your therapist has a job is that he or she has spent hundreds of hours training to get a license in massage therapy.

Massage Therapy You Can Do at Home

The easiest and most commonly offered type of massage is the Swedish massage, and a lot of the basic massage strokes that make up the fundaments of massage therapy derive from its techniques.

Becoming familiar with these techniques can help you experiment with at-home massages with your partner. While all you really need for a relaxing massage at home is massage oil and a sheet you don't mind getting oily to lay on, knowing these basic techniques can go a long way to helping your partner relieve muscle pain and stress.

The most fundamental Swedish massage technique is a smooth, gliding stroke called effleurage. Performed with hand-over-hand strokes that can work on large surfaces like the back, arms, legs, chest,  or small surfaces like the face, throat, and hands. Massages usually begin and end with superficial effleurage—which is light, slow, and soothing—and the type you should try at home with your partner until you're more experienced.

At the spa, you'll notice how the therapist uses this stroke and how they vary with speed and pressure to work on different areas of the body. Be sure to communicate with your partner if you want to try this, but don't feel responsible for getting out all of your partner's knots—some things are better left to the professionals.

Other Basic Techniques for Massage Therapy

There are plenty of other basic techniques that can help with different problems you or your partner might face in your daily lives. If you're unable to make it to the spa for a massage that often, learning some of these can go a long way to helping you deal with muscle soreness between professional massages.

Kneading, which is also known as petrissage, is another commonly used technique where the therapist squeezes the muscle tissue between their thumb and fingertips. It's generally done rhythmically, first with one hand and then the other. This can be done on big curved muscles like your thighs, the upper arms, shoulders, and the buttocks (though the last one is not usually done in a spa).

Friction is a massage technique where the therapist works at a specific knot (called an adhesion) with their thumb or fingers. It's more targeted at reaching your deep tissue, and the therapist goes in more deeply to try to separate the adhered tissues. The movement or targeted pressure can be circular, go along the band of the muscle, tendon, or ligament fibers, or go across the muscle in a process called cross-fiber friction. Be careful experimenting with this—you don't want to hurt yourself or your partner.

The massage technique of stretching is when the therapist moves your arms or legs into different positions and stretches. This is very commonly used in Asian massage styles like Thai massage and a western style called Trager. It can be used in Swedish and deep tissue massage but is not that common, especially in a day spa or a  resort spa setting.