Many years ago, I experienced the benefits of massage and now it is a regular part of my self-care routine. I am originally from the US, and in the US massages go a certain way.
- Greet your masseuse.
- They leave the room.
- You get naked, or nearly naked.
- Hop on the table and fully cover yourself.
- Masseuse comes back in.
- You have your massage and the masseuse uncovers one small part of your body at a time.
- Never will a private part of your body be seen or touched by the masseuse. (Normally)
Pretty standard fare.
My first massage in a different country was in Austria. I was used to receiving a 90-minute massage and when I asked about the availability of the same length massage at the hotel spa, they called the masseuse to ask if that was possible. She agreed but said she would need a short break in the middle. Uhm- ok.
I went into the room to change and before long, with my pants half way down, shirt off, bra on, she walks in and starts chatting with me. Well, I have always been kind of a go with the flow girl, so I finished undressing, despite my discomfort with the disruption of “how things should go.” I walked to the table naked and ucomfortable, hopped up, and settled in, face down. She laid a small towel over my ass and got to work.
As promised, after she asked me to turn over (without a huge towel to act as a curtain between her and my nakedness) she laid the small towel over my waist and went to take her break. Uhm, boobs out? OK, going with the flow, again! She came back in and finished the massage, which included a vigorous stomach treatment and a thorough rubdown of my breast tissue. That was new!
After the massage was over, she wrapped me in towel, and then a hotel robe, put my clothes in a basket, and showed me to the sauna. I remember feeling shy and almost decadent walking across the open gym, spa reception area in just a towel and robe! She placed my personal items by a bed with a soft towel on it, took my robe, laid it across the bottom and walked me to the door of a sauna. She was bossy, and I was afraid to countermand her instructions.
Once in the sauna, I scoot back in my corner and settled in, towel still on, covering me from above my breasts to below my lady bits. There was a swarthy man sitting across from me- Naked! Uhm… Naked man stranger? This might be too much for me. Then he started talking to me!! OMG!
“You must be from the United States.”
“I am. How can you tell?” I was honestly curious.
“You are still wearing your towel. A European woman would have opened it up and just sat on the towel, not left it wrapped around her body.”
“Hmm, interesting observation. Yep, I haven’t spent much time in a European sauna before.”
“I can tell.”
I can barely stand being in the steamy hot sauna anyway, but this awkward conversation, pushed me out of the spa after only a few minutes.
Lesson learned: Other cultures do not view nakedness the way we do in the US. A body is just a body. Nakedness is not good or bad, it just is. It is not overly sexualized. Your body is just the frame from which you hang your clothes, or not. There is no shame in others seeing your body, or in you presenting your body to the world.
Each time I had a massage in a different part of the world, I took this lesson with me and added each of the new ones.
In Costa Rica I had my first in-home massage. She came to the condo, set up her table in the comfort of my own home. How lovely was that? This lady was someone recommended by people in the social group I was part of. Everyone loved her. She did a great massage. My favorite was one evening, three of my girlfriends and I had made a homemade dinner at one of their homes. We ate our food and drank our wine out on the patio which overlooked the infinity pool and then off to the ocean.
The massage table was set off to the side, around the corner. I could hear the light pleasant laughter of my friends, feel the strong ocean breezes over my skin, and listen to the sounds of nature as a thunder storm came rolling through while I was having the massage. Truly an incredible memory. Until the moment she reached between my thighs and started pulling and rubbing at the muscles on the inside of my legs.
Say what? I worried, Isn’t she a bit close to the love zone?
She reached into the same area when I was turned over and on my back. But this time, instead of tensing up, I tried to relax. Once I relaxed, I could identify the muscles she was working. I could tell that there was a good reason for her hand to be there.
I had a similar experience with the same masseuse when she reached in and massaged the end of my tail bone. WHOA NELLY! Where is that finger going? One slip and uh huh!! She certainly pushed my boundaries of where I expected to be massaged.
Lesson learned: The space between your thighs is not sacred. There are muscles there that need to be worked too. Oh, and there are muscles in your tailbone that need to be relaxed too. Who knew? Now I actually miss that when it is not included in a massage (which it usually isn’t, no matter where you are in the world!)
Oh Thailand! Massages in Chiang Mai are cheap, vigorous, and not for the body shy. If you go for a combination Thai and oil massage you will be naked. They do place a large sarong type fabric over your whole body, but it is not really meant to cover you, it is usually placed over you for warmth in the air-conditioned treatment room and traction while they push and pull on your muscles.
That cloth will come tumbling down as soon as they start to pull on your arms, or legs and twist you forcefully around. I remember once, the tiny Asian woman was sitting cross-legged on the treatment table between my legs. I was naked under the sarong. She pulled one leg one way, and the other another way and before I knew it I was laying legs splayed in front of her as she began massaging my thighs. (See Costa Rica lesson above!)
Another time, (massages are cheap there, I had a lot of them!) I was on the table, naked, no cloth covering my back or ass and another woman was getting a massage in the curtained off cubicle next to mine. Our masseuses opened the curtains between us so that they could chat while they worked. The lady in the other cubicle jumped up off her table and tried to insist that they close the curtain between us. They giggled and replied, “We’re all ladies here!” And kept the curtain open.
A good friend of mine and I went to get massages at the same time. Instead of being directed to different treatment rooms, we were shepherded into the same one and asked to disrobe and lay on the tables face down. In this particular studio, they did not have cloths right on the tables to put over us, they brought them when they came in. When they shut the door, we looked at each other, shrugged our shoulders, laughed, and got undressed. Rolling with it! (See lesson from Austria!)
Thai massages can be very firm in their touch and involve a lot of stretching and moving of your limbs. I have very sensitive leg muscles and a knee that does not bend all the way, so I had to learn to discuss what I needed and what my limits (boundaries) were when they were working on me. Strong pressure here is ok, but please be gentle there. No, that doesn’t bend, please be careful.
Lessons learned: Speak up. Know yourself. Know your body. Ask for what you need. Don’t allow things that will hurt you.
Yesterday I had a massage here in Bali where I am on holiday with my best friend. This is where the inspiration for this story came from. We started to share our massage experiences outside of the US and laughed at some of the revelations we have had over the years.
For this massage, I hopped out of the pool, went into my room, left the door open to the courtyard, stripped out of my bikini, quickly dried off with a towel, walked across the room naked, laid on the end of my bed and another tiny Asian woman kneeled on the back of my thighs to better dig her elbow into my shoulders, for about 10$.
She massaged my ass, worked my belly, ran her hands along the sides of my breasts, and massaged the muscles between my thighs, dangerously close to my vulva. I fell asleep and relaxed into every minute of it.
No worries mate!
Thank goodness for lessons learned!