Prep Your “Best-Ever” Relaxation Massage

By Anne Williams
[From Classroom to Client]

Most of my friends practice advanced forms of bodywork, and I aspire to be like them. Then I think about my mother. I think about how much she enjoyed having her posture assessed when I was in massage school (she didn’t). I think about how much she enjoyed it when I went through advanced training in Active Isolated Stretching (she didn’t). I think about how much she enjoyed being my practice body when I learned neuromuscular therapy (she didn’t). 

The fact is, my mother needs to have her posture assessed. She needs Active Isolated Stretching. She needs neuromuscular therapy. But what she wants is to be pampered and spoiled. What my mother wants is my “best-ever” relaxation massage; and like my mother, many of my clients want it, too. 

Unfortunately, relaxation massage sometimes gets a bum rap from bodyworkers who practice treatment-oriented soft-tissue systems. But clients rarely complain about a blissful session that leaves them stress-free and smiling. Focusing on relaxation massage instead of advanced techniques, however, may make it more difficult for you to stand out from your competition. So, instead of purchasing a $15,000 hydrotherapy tub, we are going to use simple massage session enhancers to give our relaxation massage a luxurious, pampering edge.

Make Mine Warm and Cozy

Think about all the ways you can ensure clients feel warm and cozy. Start with a heating pad under your massage sheets. If you have an old, frayed table warmer, throw it out and invest in a plush, modern design that will distribute heat evenly and shut off automatically if you forget about it. (It might be time for some new massage sheets, too.) 

If you don’t own a hydrocollator, purchase some flaxseed warming packs. You want to choose flaxseed rather than corn, herb, or rice packs, as flaxseeds contain 30–40 percent oil, which maintains warm temperatures longer and won’t lose the ability to heat up over time. Heated flax also has a neutral aroma, unlike grains that often smell burned if overheated. 

Get a large rectangular pack, a neck ring, two small rectangular packs, and an eye pillow. Heat your flax packs for 3–4 minutes, shake them, and heat them for another minute before the session. Place one on the abdominal muscles, one around the neck, and one over each eye when clients are in the supine position (Image 1). When prone, clients enjoy the feeling of the packs on the back, around the neck, and on the feet. When you leave the treatment room after a session, take the packs with you, change the covers on them, and place them in the microwave to reheat before your next session. 

Full Steam Ahead 

Have you ever taken an overseas flight? After several hours in the air, the flight attendant brings a hot, moist hand towel to every passenger, delivering a little moment of heaven in the air. In the same way, steamy and deliciously aromatic towels are easy enhancers to use during a relaxation massage. Apply hot (but not too hot) towels to the client’s feet directly after a foot massage and to the hands directly after a hand massage. A steamy towel on the face after a facial massage feels fantastic (Image 2). 

To prepare steamy towels, pull off the tags on five hand towels, then fold the towels in half the long way and roll them up like a newspaper. It is important that all the tags are removed, as they could scratch the client. You don’t need an expensive hot towel cabinet to prepare the towels. Simply place them in a small soda cooler (9-quart size) and pour hot water over them so that they are moist, but not wet. They shouldn’t be so hot that you can’t handle them with your bare hands. Add three drops of rosemary essential oil to the cooler of hot towels. As you remove each towel, it will fill the treatment room with a refreshing scent. Most single oils, such as eucalyptus, lemon oil, common sage (Salvia officinalis), and Spanish sage (Salvia lavandulifolia), smell good, but floral scents like jasmine and ylang ylang are too sweet to smell pleasant in steam. 

Place the cooler close to the massage table. When you are ready for a towel, pull it out of the cooler, wring it out into the cooler if it’s too wet, shut the cooler lid, and place the towel on the client. Leave it for 15 seconds, then lightly compress it to increase the sensation of warmth and steam. Remove it from the body within 45 seconds, as it will lose its heat quickly and start to feel cool and clammy. Keep the cooler lid shut as much as possible so the towels stay hot throughout the session. 

You can take the steamy foot indulgence further. At the end of the foot massage, place a little exfoliation cream in your hands (exfoliation cream is rough and granular, and feels pleasantly scratchy) and use it to scrub each foot. Apply the hot towels and let them sit for 30 seconds, then remove the product with the towels (Image 3, page 101). You can also use this little enhancer with a hand massage to add a new textural element to your relaxation session. 

Take a Dip 

Paraffin is a waxy substance obtained from the distillates of coal, petroleum, shale oil, or wood. It is used to coat the skin and trap heat and moisture at the skin’s surface, and is an effective treatment for chronic arthritis, painful joints, and tight muscles. It also leaves the skin soft, and feels warm and sumptuous. 

Try this: Before your session begins, ask the client to sit up on the massage table holding the drape across the upper body. Wipe each hand with an alcohol wipe or antibacterial baby wipe so it is properly sanitized. Dip the hand into paraffin, allowing the paraffin to harden slightly before dipping the area again (Image 4). Wrap the paraffin-covered hand in cellophane or a plastic bag and ask the client to recline on the massage table for the session. When it’s time to massage the hands, simply peel off the cellophane and wax in one piece. The hands can also be dipped while the client is in a prone position. 

Moments of Olfactory Radiance  

Small aromatherapy enhancements, like the use of essential oils on steamy towels, stand out as moments of particular radiance in a good relaxation massage. Essential oils cause an olfactory reaction that, when used correctly, facilitates deeper relaxation. 

Aroma mists are great ways to bring the pleasure of good smells into a relaxation massage. An aroma mist is a combination of distilled water and essential oils spritzed high over clients while they are in a supine position, or at the end of the session to fill the treatment room with a refreshing scent (Image 5). It works well to use a variety of single essential oils in a session because the smell-scape constantly changes, adding olfactory interest. People can consciously register an aroma for approximately 6–7 minutes. After that, they get used to it and forget about it. If you change up the aromas in a session, the client’s olfactory enjoyment is enhanced. If you are not an aromatherapy expert, stick with using bay laurel, citrus oils (grapefruit, lemon, lime, mandarin, and sweet orange), eucalyptus, and lavender (purchase organic, high-altitude lavender for therapeutic use). 

Organize the Pampering 

If you’re wondering how all this pampering is going to allow any time for the actual massage, don’t despair. The secret is organization. Review the two sample massage sessions in the sidebar, set up a practice session with a friend, and give these outlines a try. Simplify or elaborate as you see fit, then enjoy your clients’ responses to your best-ever relaxation massage. 


  Anne Williams is the director of education for Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals and author of Massage Mastery: from Student to Professional (Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2012) and Spa Bodywork: A Guide for Massage Therapists  (Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2006). She can be reached at 


Relaxation Massage Outlines 

Simple and Sumptuous

Positioning: Client supine and bolstered. 

1. Place a warm pack on the belly.

With permission, place a drop of lemon oil in your hands and pass your hands in an arc over the client’s nose for 1–2 breaths. 

Place an aromatic hot towel over each foot and steam the feet. Remove the towel and proceed with the foot massage.  

4. Massage the anterior legs.

Massage the arms and hands. Apply an exfoliation product to the hands, then remove it with a hot towel. Dip the hands in paraffin and wrap them in cellophane.  

Remove the pillows from under the client’s head and proceed with a neck and face massage. Place a steamy, aromatic towel on the face at the end of the massage.  

Remove the paraffin from the hands, remove the warm packs from the body, and turn the client to prone position.

Rebolster the client and place a warm pack on the back and feet. 

Massage the posterior legs, glutes, and back, removing warm packs as needed. 

Spritz an aroma mist over the client and throughout the treatment room to complete the massage. When the client gets off the table, she will smell the fresh scent.


An Effortless Indulgence

Positioning: Client prone and bolstered. 

Place a warm pack on the back and on the bottom of the feet. 

Place one drop of lemon oil on a tissue and tuck it into the bottom of the face cradle so that the client can smell a light fragrance. 

Massage the posterior legs and glutes. Undrape the back and place a steamy, aromatic towel on the back, then remove the towel. 

Massage the back. At the end of the back massage, apply another steamy towel. Remove it and redrape the back.

Remove the warm pack from the feet. Turn the client into supine position. Place a warm pack under the neck and an eye pillow over the eyes. Rebolster the client.

Massage the feet. At the end of the foot massage, apply exfoliation cream to the feet and scrub the feet. Remove the exfoliation product with hot towels. 

7. Massage the anterior legs and abdominals. 

8. Massage the arms and hands.

Massage the neck and face. Place a steamy, aromatic towel over the face to end the massage. 

Spritz an aroma mist in a high arc over the client to fill the treatment room with an uplifting scent.