Relaxation massage is a gentle Swedish massage that uses smooth, gliding strokes to help you relax without focusing on easing any muscle soreness or tension. Compared to therapeutic massages, the massage therapist will move at a slower pace and use lighter pressure.
In a relaxation massage, there is less emphasis on working out chronic underlying muscle tension—the adhesions or "knots" and muscle restrictions in the muscle tissue—because the goal of this type of massage is to let you drift away and feel good. In a relaxation massage, the therapist won't push your limits to get the muscle to release, and you might even fall asleep.
Due to the low pressure and relative universality of its calming effects, getting a relaxation massage is great for first-timers or those who want to get a special treat once a year. However, it can also have some health benefits, including eventually relieving knots throughout many gentle treatments.
Health Benefits and Mood Improvements
Along with relieving stress, there are substantial health benefits to a relaxation massage including that it increases blood circulation, improves digestion, and helps you sleep better by relieving small aches and pains in the body.
Gentle massage stimulates sensory nerve endings in the skin, which transmit messages through the nervous system and cause the brain to release a particular chemical that acts as a natural painkiller. These endorphins can help create a sense of well-being, and being touched by another human can have positive effects on cognition, empathy, and mood.
Massage further aids relaxation by stimulating the body's parasympathetic nervous system, sometimes called the "rest and digest system." Blood pressure decreases, your heart rate slows, and digestive activity speeds up. Relaxation massage also increases blood circulation and stimulates the body's lymphatic system, which carries away waste products.
How to Make Your Massage More Relaxing
There are several things you can do to make any massage more relaxing, but most importantly, you should get to the spa well ahead of your actual appointment to avoid any added stress and perhaps take in another relaxing activity beforehand.
If the spa has amenities that will help you relax, like hot tubs, saunas, or steam rooms, you should take advantage of them, and build in time to take a shower so that you can get cozy in your white robe while you wait for your name to be called. If you enjoy music, bring headphones and something to read to keep your mind from wandering and stressing over other aspects of your day or life.
You should also avoid talking during a relaxation massage as it, too, keeps your mind active, inhibiting your ability to relax completely. Instead, you should focus on your breathing or every movement of the therapists' hands. Sometimes when you pay close enough attention, it can become a form of meditation for both you and the therapist, which gets you a more mindful treatment.
Afterward, you should take your time to continue resting instead of jumping up and running off to another activity. If you have time for one, taking a nap is especially useful as it allows the body to continue to receive the benefits of the slow, gentle massage you just got. Additionally, you should drink plenty of water to make sure your muscles and body are well-hydrated so it can recover faster and more smoothly.
Booking a Relaxation Massage
When it comes down to choosing where to go for a relaxation massage, especially when traveling, you should check reviews for local resorts, spas, and wellness centers for the best ratings on gentle massages. However, you should keep in mind that some places refer to it by a different name or mean something else entirely when they say a relaxation massage.
In America, most resorts and spas use the phrase relaxation massage to mean the same thing as a Swedish massage, which you can then request be even more gentle to get a utterly pain-free relaxation treatment. On the other hand, an Ayurvedic massage is also a form of relaxation massage which relies on using hot, scented oil that is supposed to work alongside western medicine to help the body in its healing process.
When booking your appointment, especially abroad, it's important to ask for clarification, especially if there isn't a description of the service listed as "relaxation massage." If you can't find it at your resort or spa, ask the front desk or your massage therapist if that option is available—they might just call it something else where you are.