Learning how to give the perfect back massage

Teacher: Rachel James

From: Eastleigh, Hampshire

Day job: Beautician, Masseuse and owner, No.1 Beauty Studio

Lesson: How to give a back massage

We haven’t had many massages, but we wouldn’t say any of them have ever been perfect. There are so many elements that can either make or break them – the temperature of the oil, the level of pressure applied, and the technique, to name but a few. Then there’s also the way the masseuse handles the encounter and whether or not they’re able to create, and maintain, a relaxed environment.

Did you know? In South Korea, only the blind or visually impaired can become licensed masseurs/masseuses.

It’s a tough game to master, so when Rachel told us she’d be able to teach us how to give the perfect back massage, we were grateful but unconvinced. Our previous attempts on partners hadn’t been entirely successful, resulting in complaints about soreness in muscles and joints that weren’t sore before.

Nick from teach us learns how to give the perfect massage

The teach us team practising the perfect massage technique

Rachel had put a lot of thought into the lesson. She’d choreographed a 30 point sequence and printed it out for us to follow. She’d also cleared her schedule for the entire morning and asked a friendly client named Cynthia if she’d be a model for us to practice on. Remarkably, Cynthia accepted and, before long, we were very well acquainted.

After we’d all massaged each other, and Cynthia, we found it wasn’t that hard after all. As long as we remembered to keep contact at all times, applied more pressure than we thought was needed and switched through the moves with confidence, we’d be able to leave Rachel’s with all the skills we needed to give a pretty good (if not perfect) massage. Happy to have a new skill in the bank, we sat down with our teacher to ask how she mastered the massage, what it brings to her life and how teaching might open up new doors for her in years to come.

How did you learn?

I learnt back in 1984 at a private school and it just blossomed from there. So it wasn’t just back massage, but the whole beauty thing.

Why did you get into beauty in the first place?

I’ve no idea, but it was just something I always wanted to do. I didn’t want to do anything else. As a child I knew that, and here I am thirty years later, still hard at it and still enjoying it.

How has massage impacted your life?
By making me calmer. It makes me think more about other people – the person that I’m treating – and has made me very grounded. It always leaves me feeling very fulfilled.

Learning how much pressure to use when giving a massage

What do your clients benefit from?

Hands on touch. It’s something we don’t do a lot of, or get a lot of, but it has so many benefits – especially in a world where we’re all so stressed. They also benefit from releasing tension in the neck or lower back, but overall it’s the wellbeing. This is the sort of thing you should be having on a regular basis to give you happiness in your life.

Do you enjoy giving massages?

I enjoy it very much. I can’t imagine doing anything else. I do seven different types, and they all have a different effect. The variety’s good for me, but it’s also good for the clients, so I make them change their massage treatment every time they come.

Have you done much teaching?

I have done quite a bit of teaching, off and on throughout my career. I’m just about to complete my assessor’s course, which’ll allow me to go on and assess students. I’m going to be retiring soon and I want to go on to do something with all my knowledge and experience without having to give it up. Teaching is opening up new doors for me.

What do you like about teaching?
I like being in charge! But I do try to hold back, because I’m not always right. I try to give people the tools and the guidance, and then let them find out themselves, especially in massage. It’s exciting!

Alice from teach us practises a new skill - how to give a good massage

How long would it take?

Well, you all did very well today. The second time was better because you knew a little bit more about what you were doing. I reckon I could get you up and running in a couple of weeks!

How were we?

Very good. You listened, you took it on board, and you tried really hard. You didn’t mind having some constructive criticism, and I hope you enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed teaching you. It was great fun!

Another skill you wish you had?

I’ve never known anything except beauty. I have no idea. When I retire I want to have things to do, but I’m not sure I’ll have much time with four grandchildren!

The teach us team with their talented teachers from Hampshire

Katie teaches Matt from teach us the cupping technique

Nick from teach us learns how to use his arms in giving a good massage

What we learned

  • Never lose touch with your client
  • Always warm the oil with your hands first
  • Massage terms: Effleurage (smoothing with flat hands), Petrissage (kneading with fingers, thumbs or knuckles), Tapotement (smacking to give deeper penetration)
  • Put a pillow under your client’s feet and props under shoulders to improve blood flow and give better comfort
  • More pressure is probably always better