Sensual Healing: Head-To-Toe Massage Techniques For Couples

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Expert-approved mutual massage techniques for the head, hands, feet and more.

Somewhere along the line, the concept of couples' massage has been, shall we say, mishandled. Far from a cursory back rub or 50-yard-dash to getting it on, real couples massage is an art.

"With couples massage, sex is not the goal. Intimacy is," says New York­–based massage therapist Michael Ciardulli , who's worked on everyone from professional athletes to the cast of 'The Lion King', and is the official massage therapist of The Rockettes. "You're taking the time to treat your partner the way he or she deserves to be treated. No one wants sex when their feet hurt."

Simply put, massage is the manipulation of skin, muscles, ligaments, tendons, and fascia (the tissue that surrounds the muscles) to boost blood flow, release tension, and restore balance and functionality. The American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA), says that massage can help you and partner sleep better, treat low back pain, and ease exercise-related tension, headaches, pain and stress. A roundup of studies on the effects of massage showed a significant reduction in blood pressure and cortisol levels; massage in one study was shown to reduce anxiety, depression, irritability, and physical tension in military vets. And it's just what the doctor ordered: A survey done by the American Massage Therapy Association found that 53 percent say their physician recommended they get one.

"When you give your partner a massage, you help increase circulation, decrease muscle spasms, bring oxygen to muscles and tendons, flush out toxins, improve flexibility, and decrease pain," says seasoned massage therapist Marie Scalogna-Watkinson, founder of Spa Chicks on the Go.

The Doctor Is In (That's You!)
Even if you're not a trained massage therapist, you can do a lot to help ease everyday stress and anxiety in your partner—whether you go all out with an hour-long, full-body extravaganza or give him a focused, 15-minute foot rub. "Your physical body manifests what's happening in your head," says Ciardulli. "So if you can relax the mind, the body follows."

We tapped our experts for their skilled and seasoned advice on how to apply their techniques at home.

First, you've got to set the mood. Once your environment is staged, the next step, says Ciardulli, is to focus the mind by setting an intention. "Think about what you want to do for this person you love," he says. "Maybe you say to yourself, 'I want to help you feel better. I want us to be closer. I want to relieve your pain.' I set an intention with every client I work on. It separates the good therapists from the great ones."

Ciardulli, a certified Reiki practitioner, says you can practice channeling that energy by rubbing your hands together to create warmth and friction, and then holding them just a few inches from your partner's body. "That vibration you feel is your energy and you can share it before you even touch him. You really can transfer love through your hands."

Watkinson says she and her husband (who is not a massage therapist) even put foot massages in their wedding vows! "We promised to rub each others's feet when they're tired. We do it every night. It's our way of saying, 'I've got your back.'"

This is your time, she says, to shut out the world and focus on the person you love.

Start With A Foot Massage
The feet are the perfect place to begin. In fact, says Ciardulli, you could spend the whole time on the feet and your partner will feel completely renewed.

Reflexology, a type of massage that applies pressure to specific reflex points in the feet, hands, and even ears, holds that there are points in the feet that correlate with all the systems of the body. So by massaging the feet, you not only make the feet feel better, but ease tension in other parts, like the neck and back. (Check out this reflexology map of the feet for a breakdown).

But you don't have to be a reflexologist to create a therapeutic experience. Fact is, there are so many nerve endings and points in the feet, they're hard to miss. Enhance the experience with a non-greasy, odorless massage oil.

Click here to get even closer this Valentine's Weekend!

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