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Find the appropriate space and time for your massage. Ask not to be disturbed. Make sure neither of you will have to rush anywhere afterwards. Switch off your mobile phones and laptops; take off your jewelry. Both of you should then wash your hands; ideally you should have short, clean nails. You can quickly warm up your hands before you start! Your emotional state is just as important as your physical surroundings. Receiver and Giver, please take a moment to notice how you are feeling before starting. Are you having a good day? Are you nervous? Tired? Upset about something, and pretending not to be? Acknowledging your own emotions before receiving or giving a massage will help you find the right, comfortable place to be with yourself and the other. You will be aware of your limits and, most importantly, you will be able to avoid mistaking your emotions for your friend's and vice versa; this will contribute to a successful, pleasant experience for you both.
Before the session, take a moment together to consider possible precautions (where you should exert caution) and contraindications (where you should not massage). You can consult the list in the annex to this document. Ask your friend a few very basic questions, starting from more general questions like “HOW DO YOU FEEL TODAY?”, “Do you feel any pain?” to then move to more specific ones, focussing in on the hand and arm. Regarding possible illnesses, be as little intrusive as possible. Inviting your friend to read the list of contraindications can be a good alternative to direct questioning, and will be more considerate with regards to their privacy. Also, use your common sense: What do you see? Are there any bruises, cuts, signs of a rash on their hands and arms? Does the skin look fragile? Are there any signs that might point to your friend having a fever? You might have to avoid a particular spot on your friend's hand or arm, or keep a very light pressure throughout the whole sequence (even if otherwise indicated in this manual!), or to avoid any massage altogether for now. In any case, do not improvise yourself a therapist, and always make sure the dialogue is open between you two, so that your friend will feel comfortable providing your with feedback as you proceed. Always keep feeling, and adjust your movements in real time in response to the “information” you pick up; this way, the massage will be adapted to your friend's needs and condition.
Ask your friend what they wish to get out of this massage. Invite them to express their wish (it could be to ease pain, relax, stop worrying, feel loved, etc). Defining an intention together, even a simple one (actually, the simpler the better), sets the massage on a good path, and helps you bond and build trust. It can also be an opportunity for your friend to express something important, an emotion, a state of mind, in the comfort of your presence. Whatever comes, welcome it. You don't need to have an opinion, nor do you have to have something reassuring to say. Having a nice moment together, welcoming your friends words and feelings is all that matters.
And you, do you know what you want to achieve with this massage? Again, the simpler and humbler the goal, the better (for example, I want to help my friend relax). Don't, for example, insist on wanting to be some sort of “savior”.
Observing your friend's aspect (by looking, asking/talking, feeling) can give you a sense of the general directions with which to work in order to best support your intentions. Is your friend's face flushed or pale ? Are they hot, cold ? What's hot and what's not in their body ? What's open and loose or tight and closed ? Where ? The jaws ? The knees ? Where does some sort of power seem to need some sort of release, and where does some sort of little joy seems to need encouragement ? Is your friend agitated ? Talkative ? Is their voice exasperatingly high, or strangely low ? There would be many observations possible here, and of course more knowledge to add in to make sense of them. Again, keep it simple. The one thing that can help you is to know that massage is about circulation, it's about restoring / sustaining free, harmonious flow of fluids, matter, mind… Don't give yourself a headache over this, do what seems natural to restore or sustain “flow”. If the upper body is hot while the lower body is cold, you can choose to work from head to toe to “redistribute”. If your friend is cold, you can warm them up with frictions, blankets, water bottles, soulful music. If their mind is confused or agitated, their eyebrows frowned, you can clear the clouds on their forehead… If they need grounding, you can go to their feet.. If they're agitated, you might want to work slow and steady, with a calm confident hand…Etc.
In the end, a good massage is a mystery mix of knowledge-skill, intuition, and improvisation, all coming together in love.