The Well-Rounded Session

What to Leave In When Time is Running Out

By Cindy Williams
[Classroom to Client]

It happens all the time. Based on what your client reports to you as wants and needs for their session, you have a plan. The session begins. You’re on track. But then you find a line of tension that needs more attention than you expected. Or perhaps you follow a line of tension that leads you astray from your plan, but the path takes you to the root of the problem. That’s a good thing, right? It’s good until you realize your sidetrack took you farther off track than you realized, and you got lost in the time warp of a deeply focused massage session. Your client asked for a full-body massage, but now you know you have to cut something out to stay on time.

Even if you are in a hurry, there are some aspects of a complete massage session that should never be left out. Plus, many of these vital components can be addressed with techniques that take only a few seconds to apply.

1. The Slow Flow

Often the first thing to go in a time-constrained massage session is the slow-paced flow of strokes. I can always feel the moment a massage therapist realizes they are short on time. Suddenly, the strokes become faster-paced, incomplete, and disconnected. Granted, some forms of massage are designed to use faster strokes. However, even faster-paced forms of massage are integrated with slow, soothing strokes that invite the client’s body to receive and integrate the work. At times, I have felt shakiness in the therapist’s hands as they speed up to race the clock, attempting to apply the same amount of strokes as they normally would, but in a shorter amount of time. Speed might beat the clock, but it doesn’t make for good therapeutic touch. Your presence and calm as you apply even just one or two long, slow, connected strokes will deliver better results and still save time. Take a deep breath, slow down, stay present, deliver fewer strokes. It’s that simple.

2. The Limbs

Take an honest moment and ask yourself: How many times have you skipped over arms and/or legs entirely because you got hung up working on the back, neck, or hips? It’s not necessary. Try these approaches that take 10–15 seconds.

The Long, Broad Gliding Stroke. One broad, squeezing sweep offers a sense of completeness and inclusion. Simply grasping the limb proximally between your hands and slowly pulling distally in one fell swoop all the way to the ends of the fingers and toes will do the job and feel much better than being skipped.

Compressing Into a Resting Hold. To accomplish this move, slowly travel down a limb (even over a drape) from proximal to distal with sequential palm compressions. An entire limb can be fully addressed with 5–6 compressions. Compressions can be applied with both hands simultaneously, or with one “mother” hand and one working hand. Then, when you get to the hand or foot, use the “breaking bread and milking” or “pumping” techniques detailed below, or simply hold it between your palms, take a deep breath, and send thoughts of loving kindness. The arm and hand or leg and foot feel addressed even in this short period of time. A little bit goes a long way.

3. Hands, Fingers, Feet, and Toes

Hands and feet (and their corresponding fingers and toes) are not independent body parts. They are parts of a whole arm and leg, which are parts of a whole human being. Even if you don’t have time to massage every single finger and toe, don’t leave those little piggies out! There are several ways to include them in a matter of seconds. Surprisingly, I have experienced this many times as a client, so I can attest to the sadness my hands and fingers or my feet and toes feel when a stroke ends at the wrist or ankle for the sake of saving time. There is also a sense of incompleteness when a stroke on a limb falls short. Try these 10-second strokes instead.

“Breaking Bread” and “Milking” Strokes

The “Breaking Bread” technique involves grasping the hand or foot between your hands with your thumbs meeting in the center of the dorsal surface. Then, slowly squeeze and spread bilaterally as your thumbs and palms create space between the metacarpals/metatarsals. Lastly, “milk” fingers or toes in pairs, which involves simply squeezing from base to tip, starting with first and fifth digits and working in toward the middle digit.

“Pumping” the Foot

Grasp the ankle posterior to the malleoli with one hand, then place the palm of the other hand against the ball of the foot. As you press into the ball and move the client into passive dorsiflexion, pull down with the hand on the posterior ankle to create lengthening of the posterior leg. This results in a pumping action of the foot at the ankle joint that feels very soothing, while also encouraging build-up fluid in the leg and foot to return back to the heart. Dual-action goodness in seconds!

4. The Closing

Every session must have a clear opening and closing. If you did it right, you opened the session with a few deep breaths and a resting hold (or some other approach that settled the client into a state of presence, safety, comfort, and connection). However, when pressed for time, it might seem like the closing is an easy omission. Imagine for a moment being the receiver of a session that started off solid and connected only to end abruptly due to faulty time management. Just as creating connection intentionally at the start is important, disconnecting slowly and gracefully is equally as important. All it takes is a 10-second hold to both feet; a long, slow, deep, audible breath; and holding a vision of your client’s whole body being relaxed, supported, and complete to effectively end a session. The difference is significant.

5. The Communication

Rarely have I experienced a practitioner verbally admit they are short on time. Instead, it is felt through the quicker pace, incomplete strokes, and disconnection of presence, which is counterproductive in massage therapy. If you feel rushed or anxious, trust me, your client feels it too. So just tell them. Calmly and confidently state that, because of the time you spent doing therapeutic work to a specific area or line of tension that supports the type of relief they requested from you, you will have to spend less time on other parts of their body. Let them know you will still address and touch the whole body, unless they prefer that you skip, for example, the front of their legs. Some clients will have no problem with arms or legs left unattended as long as they are given the choice. For other clients who still want their whole body touched, at least they will be aware the session is coming to an end sooner than they may have realized. This gives them a chance to soak up the remaining work (especially if you deliver it slowly and with complete presence) and not feel surprised or disappointed.

While it’s preferable to manage time effectively in a session and not run short, it is easy to get lost in the work and be surprised when you look at the clock. If this happens to you, know that there are graceful ways to keep the slow flow and complete feeling of a whole, well-rounded session intact.