Bring the spa experience to your bedroom.
Picture this: You're lying down with your eyes closed, blissed out and as relaxed as can be. You're inhaling crisp, sweet air as layers of pillow-y softness cradle your body. Strong hands are strategically rubbing the kinks and knots from your back and shoulders; deliberate fingers are combing your scalp, scratching itches you didn’t know you had. All the while, a soothing soundtrack calls to mind a coastal retreat; waves crashing against the shore and seagulls chirping in the sky. Your body is so at ease that even your mind has emptied, and all of your senses are acutely present in the moment. You must be in paradise.
Or maybe you're in your own bedroom.
Professional massage therapists are uniquely adept at manipulating muscles and tissue to give you the kind of out-of-body experience you're willing to pay top dollar for, but bodywork wouldn't be quite as blissful if it weren't for those other tricks of the trade: the strategies they employ to stimulate all five senses and create a 360-degree euphoria.
We asked three prominent massage practitioners to spill the beans on what it takes to stage an at-home environment so serene, so sexy, it borders on sensory overload. So grab your significant other and your best massage oils (Durex Massage & Play Sensual is our top pick, hands down), and read on: You're about to get a crash course in the practice of pleasure.
When it comes to massage, hit the deck, says New York–based massage therapist Michael Ciardulli. He recommends the floor over the bed because the former gives you more space to work with. "Spread out a blanket or sheet and have some pillows on hand to support the face, and to use as bolsters," says Ciardulli. Also, create a clutter-free zone. "Your girlfriend will not able to relax if she's staring at a pile of dirty laundry or mail," says Watkinson. "So make sure you put things away."
Rose Mollica, also a New York-based massage therapist, recommends stepping out of the bedroom and taking advantage of your favorite spot in the house. If the weather's warm, try a sun room or enclosed patio. During the winter? Sprawl out by the fireplace if you have one!
In fact, heat is pretty much a necessity when it comes to massage. First, of course, you must warm up the room. As you relax, your blood pressure drops, as does your core body temperature, explains massage therapist Marie Scalogna-Watkinson, founder of Spa Chicks on the Go. Because you lose heat, you want to be sure the room is warm and that you have a light blanket on hand. Second, warm up your hands. Massage is a vigorous activity. So be sure to stretch out your hands before digging in.
Mollica even suggests trying out microwavable heat packs, which heat up (and cool down) quickly. "Some heat on the back or neck while massaging your partner's legs will warm the tissue and help send them further into bliss." However, she warns to use such packs with caution; Don't leave them on the body for longer than 20 minutes and always read the instructions first!
Another way to incorporate heat into a massage? A warming lubricant, like Durex's Massage & Play Intensify, heats up on contact.
Is it getting hot in here?
This is not a doctor's office, so kill those overhead lights — stat! Candles are de rigueur at any spa — and some of the most easily accessible tools for setting the mood. Watkinson recommends an aromatherapy candle that uses real essential oils to soothe and calm the mind (lavender is a great choice, since it's classified as a nervine, which has a beneficial effect on the nervous system). "I'd avoid anything strong and floral," she adds.
In lieu of candles, you can always opt for overhead lights on a dimmer, or even a lamp nestled in the far corner of the room, says Mollica. But don't try anything too cute, she advises. "Avoid the scarf on a lamp. Nothing takes the bliss out of massage like the smell of smoke."
While Ciardulli won't do a massage without music, he's not one for the spa soundtrack. "I don't like the waterfalls and gongs, and you don't have to use it. I personally love jazz," says Mollica, "I have massaged clients to music ranging from classical to heavy metal." How's this for a rule of thumb: Whoever is receiving the massage chooses the playlist.
And listen up; this is important: Shut down everything else. Phones, iPadstablets, laptops — anything that buzzes, dings, or hums will be a distraction.
Ever hear the term 'sense memory'? It applies to all senses, but mostly to smell, which has the strongest association to our emotions and memories. So your olfactory selections will have a major impact on your partner's "spa" experience: Choose wisely. Mollica suggests essential oils, which can be blended to powerful effect. "My personal favorite blend is lavender, eucalyptus, and a drop of tangerine," she says. "The eucalyptus clears your head, the lavender relaxes you and the tangerine calms the mind. Scent is also very personal, so I would ask your partner before using anything. Or spend some time at the counter together." Mollica also suggests mixing a few drops of your favorite scent or blend with your massage oil or lotion instead of applying essential oil directly to the skin, which can amplify any sensitivity or allergic reaction.
Another trick? "Sprinkle just a few drops of essential oil onto those wet towels before you microwave them. The water will dilute the oil and the steam from heating them will give the room a lovely diffusion of scent."
Though your partner may have up to 10,000 taste buds, flavor doesn’t factor largely into massage, as you may have already guessed. Still, suggests Mollica, "The best thing to do is have a glass of water, with some lemon, and perhaps some champagne and strawberries for you both to enjoy afterwards."
All of that said, senses are so subjective. The most important thing you can do to enhance your partner's experience can very well be to ask, "Are you comfortable?" and to make adjustments accordingly.