The art of Massage

With all the emphasis on sex in our culture, sometimes foreplay can be underestimated. One option for foreplay I haven't heard mentioned is massage. When I first started giving massages, I was mostly fumbling around, not sure of how to proceed. For me, massage was mostly learned. Here are a few (hopefully helpful) tips to guide your journey into massage.

Attitude
I've found massage to be FAR better and more satisfying (to give or to receive) if the masseuse truly enjoys giving the massage. I approach it like a scientist, trying to figure out what your partner likes and dislikes. Experiment. Have fun. Even if you give a massage as foreplay, try not to think of it as foreplay . . . a massage is something to be enjoyed for it's own sake.

Sensitivity
People are FAR more sensitive when they're receptive to the gesture and when they're not expecting it. This has two applications . . . first, WHEN you give a massage is very important. Begin the massage when both of you would like it. A good time for a massage is immediately after dealing with a stressful issue. Stress knots up the muscles, a physical tightness which persists after the immediate worry has passed. Also, after dealing with the issue, your partner will hopefully be in a receptive mood, perfect for a firm massage.

Second, sensitivity plays a very important part during the massage itself. Vary your techniques so your partner doesn't expect the next part, surprise is great for increasing sensitivity. Contrast increases sensitivity too. A light, wandering touch is best following a firm, deep rub. Likewise, a firm technique is great immediately following a light touch. Fingernails are great on sensitized skin, but don't use them exclusively. Talk to your partner, a well-timed and honest compliment can do wonders for their sensitivity. Also, let them know you enjoy giving the massage, it will help them relax to know you're not just doing it for them.

Location
Muscles tend to knot up at different locations for different people, as you give more massages to the same person, you will learn these locations. Make sure to massage where it's needed. Also, even though backrubs are obvious, don't forget the rest of the body! I've had great results with the back of the neck, scalp, hands and feet as well.

Not all parts of the body are good for both firm and light massages. I'd advise against using a firm massage on the face, front of the neck, or belly. If you massage a part of the body, be careful to not exclude an area of it. For example, on my first few foot rubs, I completely neglected the Achilles tendon, which can get quite sore.

Technique
Here are a few techniques that work well for me, but above all be responsive to your partner's needs and wants. I've found it's a good idea to follow the natural contours of the body. For example, in the middle of the back, I move vertically on either side of the spine. On the face, I work in circles, following the curve of the jawbone and cheekbone.

Here are a few tips for each specific part of the body:

Back
One good technique for switching between firm and soft massage is to firmly grab the shoulders (one in each hand), then press downward while dragging your fingers down your partner's back. Be careful not to let up the pressure at the small of the back, it's very easy to accidentally do, and the small of the back is a very satisfying place to massage. You can also reverse this, starting at the small of the back and pressing firmly, dragging your hands up the back, up the back of the neck, and moving into a scalp massage. Another good one is to make fists, put them at the small of the back at about the kidneys, then lean hard on your hands and rotate them. I've found this can help with period-related cramps. Also, you can take your index fingers, press them on either side of the spine and shift your weight to the fingers. Slide your fingers back and forth as far as your partner's skin will allow (don't stretch it!), then let up the pressure briefly, slide your fingers an inch or so, then repeat, slowly working all the way up or down the back.

Shoulders/neck
The classic. All the muscle is on the back of the shoulders, not the front, so be careful not to pinch the nerves around the collarbone. A good technique I use for the shoulders is to press inward with my thumbs, then pull the shoulder muscle back with my fingers. Because the fingertips aren't pressing in, this technique has very low risk of pinching nerves, and it's quite good at loosening muscles. For a softer touch, I typically run my fingertips from the top of the shoulder up the neck. Shoulder rubs naturally progress well to a neck rub, particularly because there's a large muscle connecting the side of the neck to the shoulder. Very easy to massage, and it makes a good bridge to transition to a neck rub. Running the fingers along the neck in any direction is good, particularly if you have long nails (although don't use nails exclusively either!). Be careful about using a firm touch on the neck, but I've had good results with grabbing the back of the neck in one hand, gripping the muscle, and gently but firmly pulling the muscle back.

Scalp
Scalp massages are great, but beware of pulling hair. Light touches with or without fingernails are good, but so are gentle but firm touches. If you use a firm touch, make sure the force is going into the skull, not along the skin. Circles work very naturally on the scalp, I prefer to spread my fingers apart and rub in small circles with all my fingers. There are two small protrusions of bone in the skull just behind each earlobe . . . I've found that firm circles around these can help headaches, as well as a firm but gentle circle in each temple. From the scalp, it's an easy step to move to caressing the face.

Face
The only places I've used a firm touch on the face are behind the ears, the forehead, and the temples. Other than that, a light touch seems to work the best. My face rubs seem to work best when I work along a path. Starting from the chin, I move straight up to the cheekbone, then back to the ear. (I may work over the ear, or behind it, or just in front of it. Playing with the earlobe is fun.) From there I work downward to the jawbone, and forward again to the chin . . . or I follow that path in reverse. Don't hold exactly to this path every time, though, vary it by playing with the ear a bit on one cycle, or run your fingers over your partner's lips (very sensitive!). If your partner isn't as vocal as you'd like, you may want to gently move your fingers down vertically over the lips, the friction gently pulls the lips apart, and little noises of pleasure have been known to escape.

A great technique is to use one hand on each side of the face, working the cycle a bit offset, or even one hand on the face, one hand on the opposite side of the neck. When you're using both hands, the most important thing is to keep them both moving constantly. A nicely overwhelming tactic is to throw your cheek into the mix . . . rubbing your cheek against your partner's, with one hand on their neck and the other hand on their opposite cheek! It's difficult to keep everything moving simultaneously and independently, but well worth the results. It's also worked well to slide one hand to the back or the back of the neck.


Stomach
A gentle touch is good for the stomach. I tend to work vertically drifting up and down with my fingertips or palm. If your partner arches their back to meet your hand, you can slip the other to the small of their back. A nice contrast of soft touch on the belly and firm touch on the back can yield good results. I prefer to use the stomach in combination with other techniques, not very much on it's own.

Arms/Legs
For the arms and legs, I typically place both hands next to each other on the muscle and pull outward, similar to the neck. The leg isn't very highly sensitive, so I don't work much with a light touch on the legs. The arms, however, are reasonably sensitive, particularly in the hollow of the elbow. Again, fingernails are great for a light touch, but soft fingertips are excellent as well. A good combination is using fingernails to increase sensitivity, then switch to a light touch.

Hands/Feet
The hands and feet are perfect for rubbing, they are naturally quite sensitive and often abused by daily exposure. I prefer to use a firmer touch on hands and feet, pressing with my thumb and traveling from heel to digits and back. It's easy to neglect the inside of the wrist and Achilles tendon, each of which often need attention. Likewise, the fingers and toes usually like extra attention, as well as the space between the toes. Gently pulling on the fingers and toes can crack them, if your partner enjoys cracking their joints this can be appreciated. The heel of the foot takes a great deal of stress during the day, but can be hard to rub. A good way to relax the heel is to grab it and squeeze. While squeezing, gently pull and twist your hand in a circle. This has yielded good results for me. For hand and foot rubs, pay special attention to where your attentions are needed the most, depending on what sort of activities your partner has been doing lately. Writing stresses the area between the thumb
and index finger, typing stresses the entire upper palm, walking a great deal stresses the upper section of the arch of the foot. If your partner has been doing a great deal of any of these, extra attention in the appropriate places will most likely be appreciated.

Surprises
Like I said, unpredictability is a great addition. Throw in random kisses on body parts you're massaging, but not too many. If your partner enjoys being kissed in a particular place, massage it for a bit to sensitize it, then kiss it for a bit. While you kiss it, gently rub another part of their body. Use your imagination and your knowledge of your partner for best results. Add a personal touch when it's not expected. Talk to them. Listen to them, if they speak any words or even little noises. Respond to them.

Good luck with your ventures into the world of massage!