Picture the perfect massage: Soothing
music, a dimly lit room, yourstresses
melting away under the pressure of the
massage therapist’s hands.
Just what you need after the hectic holidays,
right? Not always.
For massage newbies – and some not-so-newbies
– who may not be familiarwith the
proper pampering protocol, what should
be a relaxing experiencequickly can become
a nerve-wracking ordeal.
“You’re naked and it’s
pretty up close and personal …
it can getawkward,” said April Hong,
30, a veteran spagoer who lives in UkrainianVillage
and gets spa treatments, including massages,
about three times amonth.
Massages can be even more awkward for
“I wouldn’t go by myself,”
said Phil Jandora, 29, who got a massage
withhis girlfriend last week at the Mario
Tricoci Salon and Day Spa on MichiganAvenue
using a gift certificate.
To strip or not to strip? What if your
massage therapist is a guy? Shouldyour
therapist be touching you there? These
are a few of the concerns that canbe a
source of tension, according to the Chicago
spa owners, massagetherapists and frequent
spagoers with whom RedEye spoke.
“I can always tell if someone is
uncomfortable and it’s their firstmassage,”
said Aslana Schils, a massage therapist
at Wicker Park’s Ruby Room.Schils
told RedEye that many first-timers are
most nervous about disrobing.
But in her line of work, there’s
not much Schils hasn’t seen. “Personally,I
would never even know what color underwear
they had on,” she said.
Good massage therapists understand most
people don’t intuitively know therules
and that they should try to help their
clients through the process, saidJanna
Childs, who co-owns Four Hands Massage
in the Loop.
“A massage is supposed to relax
you, and you can’t be relaxed if
you don’tknow what’s going
to happen,” Childs said.
With that in mind, RedEye turned to Childs,
Schils and other spa experts toaddress
the most common massage stress points.
Do I have to get naked?
“We always tell people to undress
to their level of comfort,” said
NatalieTessler, owner of Spa Space in
the West Loop, which offers services frommassages
to facials and waxing. Tessler said it’s
most common for clients tocompletely disrobe
– clients are covered by a sheet
and massage therapistsuncover only the
part of the body on which they’re
More bashful clients can keep on their
underwear, Tessler said. (Womenusually
remove their bras; the chest area remains
covered by a sheet while theclient is
lying on her back).
The same rule applies in the sauna or
steam room. Though it’s appropriateto
wear a towel, don’t be surprised
if others go naked.
Is it OK to request a male or female massage
“It’s not only appropriate,
but it’s a must,” said Carolyn
Brundage, thefounder of prettycity.com,
a site dedicated to reviews of salons
“You’re paying someone to
help you be relaxed, and if you’re
a guy andcan’t be relaxed if another
guy gives you a massage, then request
a female.Most spas will accommodate you.”
If the client doesn’t bring it up,
the spa generally will not ask, so speakup.
Johnnie Grozenski, founder and co-owner
of Andersonville’s ContinuumStudio,
a holistic spa that offers massages, facials
and body treatment, saidhe gets such requests
about 15 to 20 percent of the time.
Is it appropriate for a therapist to massage
my butt region?
Yes – but with permission. Grozenski,
who’s also a massage therapist,
saidhe always asks clients if there are
any areas they want him to avoid. He saidhe
specifically asks about feet and glutes.
From a therapeutic standpoint, releasing
tension in the gluteus maximus canhelp
with lower back pain. The client should
feel pressure and kneading – anysqueezing
of butt cheeks would be inappropriate.
Grozenski said he takes his cue from the
client as to whether to workdirectly on
the client’s skin when massaging
the glutes. If the client isfully undressed,
he will fold the sheet back for the massage.
“If someone haskept their underwear
on, I know they might be a bit shy so
I can still do [theglute massage from]
the outside of the sheet,” he said.
Is it poor etiquette to talk during a
No. “If you are the client and you
want to talk, that’s perfectly fine,
buta massage therapist shouldn’t
chat you up unless you engage them first,
andshouldn’t continue if you are
unresponsive,” Brundage said.
Grozenski said his therapists take their
cue from the clients. “I havepeople
on the table who love to talk the entire
time, and that’s fine. It’stheir
time, and they can use it however they
want,” he said.
What is the best way to communicate with
the therapist during the massage?
A good massage therapist should check
in during the course of the massageabout
the level of pressure, the temperature
of the room, and periodically askabout
pain. “They should ask, ‘Are
you warm? Are you comfortable? Am I hurtingyou?’
” Brundage said.
Can I talk in the quiet room?
Yes, but keep it down. “Whispered
tones are all that is appropriate,”Brundage
said. “The most common abuse is
with a group of girlfriends. Thereare
places you can go for drinks and manicures
where you can be rowdy, butthat’s
not what a spa is for.”
How do I tip?
Ask about gratuities because every spa
has its own guidelines. Tips of 10to 20
percent are customary for massages.
“If you want to go back and see
that person, tip 20 percent,” Brundagesaid.
“It lets them know you loved the
service and you want to continue to getthat
kind of treatment.”
Should I look for certification or licensing?
In addition to their school certification,
individual professional massagetherapists
receive licenses through the Illinois
Department of Financial andProfessional
Regulation, the same agency that licenses
physicians, nurses, andother health-care
professionals. All licensed massage therapists
must completea 500-hour practical training
program and pass a competency exam as
well as acriminal background check. Spas
with Web sites list the licensing with
thebios of their massage therapists, and
many have the licenses posted intreatment
rooms or main areas. The Chicago Department
of Revenue licensesmassage establishments;
owners also must undergo criminal background
Why do I need to drink lots of water afterward?
“You drink water after a massage
to re-hydrate your muscles,” Schils
said”Even though you’re laying
on a table and asleep, I’m working
your muscles.You wouldn’t work out
without drinking water, and this is the
Which is better, a boutique or mega spa?
It’s a matter of personal preference.
Smaller establishments may offerclients
more personal attention, but larger spas
may have a wider variety ofservices from
which to choose. “It really depends
on what you want,” saidveteran spagoer
Hong. “It’s wherever is easier
for you to relax.”
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Knead to know
One massage does not fit all. Here’s
a breakdown of what to expect fromsome
of the most popular massage therapies
offered at city spas. The priceranges
are based on a one-hour massage at establishments
all over Chicago.
What it does for you: Releases muscle
tension. Ideal for first-timers.
What to expect: Long strokes, kneading
and some friction.
Feels like: Relaxing, gentle massage that
puts many people to sleep.
Price: $70 to $155
What it does for you: Loosens tight muscles,
particularly good for chronictension or
What to expect: Deep pressure and slow
strokes across muscles; expect somesoreness
and possibly red marks.
Feels like: More vigorous and with more
pressure than a Swedish massage;can be
uncomfortable at times but has lasting
relaxing and energizing effects.
Price: $80 to $165
What it does for you: Releases tension
in tight muscles.
What to expect: Heated smooth stones are
placed on the body; therapistsalso may
use the stone to perform Swedish massage
techniques on your face andbody.
Feels like: Similar relaxation effect
as a Swedish massage or a heatingpad.
Price: $90 to $145 (for 90 minutes; hot
stone massages typically runlonger)
What it does for you: Relaxation, improved
circulation and energy, improvedflexibility.
What to expect: The therapist uses his
or her knees, hands and feet to moveyour
body into stretches. This form of massage
generally is done with theclient fully
clothed; wear workout wear.
Feels like: Yoga, except someone else
does the hard work.
Price: $80 to $175
What it does for you: Balances the body’s
energy by releasing blockages.
What to expect: Localized pressure along
acupuncture points as well as fullbody
stretching. This form of massage generally
is performed with the clientfully clothed.
Feels like: Similar to acupuncture without
Price: $75 to $110
What it does for you: Ancient Chinese
techniques relieve stress andincrease
What to expect: The therapist massages
and applies acupressure (gentlepressure
applied with fingers – no needles)
to points in the ears, hands andfeet that
relate to other areas of the body.
Feels like: A relaxing, concentrated massage.
Price: $50 to $155
Dual (a.k.a. tandem) massage
What it does for you: Soothes and relaxes
What to expect: Two therapists work on
the body at once.
Feels like: Whole body relaxation. One
therapist works on one area whilethe second
therapist focuses on another, balancing
relaxation with tensionrelease.
Price: $90 to $200
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Talk to the therapist ahead of time. Are
you comfortable with that person?Can you
relax in his or her presence?
Look around. Make sure the place is clean
and the atmosphere iscomfortable.
Ask around. Do some research; find out
which massage therapists yourfriends have
been to and get recommendations.
Clear your schedule. If you’re phoning
the office between treatments orwatching
the clock from the massage table, you’re
not getting your money’sworth.
Don’t shave the day of a treatment.
Shaving – legs, face, other –
makesskin more sensitive.
Don’t be afraid to tell the therapist
if you have a circulatory or muscularproblem
that would affect your treatment.
Don’t yap on your cell phone. Though
cell phone use is permissible in thefront
or reception areas of most spas, it’s
best to leave it in the locker, orbetter
yet, in your car.
Don’t drink alcohol or caffeine
before a treatment.
Don’t wear jewelry.
Don’t be late – massage therapists
charge for their time and are unlikelyto
push back other appointments to accommodate