First bodywork session? Here's what to expect!
This post is intended to serve as a guide for anyone who will be receiving hands-on bodywork for the first time. I am honored that you have started your treatment journey at Root & Branch, and look forward to working with you!
Selecting a Treatment
Root & Branch has 3 types of sessions to choose from, all of which are described in detail on the Services page. In short, the Recover treatment is structured like a passive traditional massage therapy session; the Mend treatment blends massage therapy with a wider variety of therapeutic modalities and frequently includes active movement work in addition to massage; the Thrive session is primarily a guided movement session with manual and tactile cuing. Please don't hesitate to reach out if you have any questions about the treatment menu!
Prior to your session, you will be asked to fill out some paperwork to help your therapist better understand what brings you in for a massage, and how they can best meet your treatment goals and expectations. Performing a thorough intake prior to a massage is particularly important to ensure your safety, which is why it’s important to answer all questions in full (even if they seem unrelated to what you’re coming in for). In addition to detailing any injury history or physical symptoms, be sure to disclose any allergies and medications.
Please don’t hesitate to disclose any accessibility needs in your intake (e.g. assistance required on the stairs). This includes any sensory needs as well (scents, sounds, textures, quality of touch).
At Root & Branch, your initial intake is performed online upon scheduling your first session, and your therapist will perform any additional screening and interviewing prior to your session.
Preparing for a Session
I recommend making sure that you’re nice and hydrated before receiving any bodywork (and be sure to use the restroom before your session so you can fully relax on the table for 60 to 90 minutes!).
Wearing loose clothes that are easy to get in and out of will make it easy for you to transition to/from the treatment table. For Mend sessions that may include some movement and clothed treatment techniques, I recommend wearing loose athletic clothing, and bringing a pair of shorts if we’ll be working on your lower body. People with long hair may want to tie their hair back – but don’t worry, if you forget your hair tie, Root & Branch has a bowl of them in the treatment room!
Many clients find that pre-paying for a treatment helps them better relax mentally during the session. Root & Branch provides the option to pre-pay for appointments scheduled online; additionally, you can always contact your therapist ahead of time to pay via Paypal or Venmo.
I always recommend planning on arriving to your first session at least 10 minutes before your scheduled treatment time – this gives you a time cushion to find the studio, park, use the restroom, and review your intake with your therapist, and ask the therapist any questions.
Start of the Session
For a traditional massage treatment (such as the Recover), your therapist will orient you to the treatment table, face cradle (that U-shaped pillow at the head of the table) and draping (sheets and blanket).
Here is what a typical massage table set-up looks like:
Your therapist will step out of the treatment room to give you space to undress to your comfort level and lie down on the treatment table between the sheets. Depending on the focus of your treatment, you may be asked to lie face down (with your face in the U-shaped face cradle), or face up (with the back of your head on the table). If your positioning on the table feels uncomfortable at all, let your therapist know so they can add/adjust any pillows or bolsters to offer better support during your treatment.
There is no right or wrong way to undress for a massage, but it can be helpful to have any areas of focus for your treatment clear of any straps (such as a bra) or thick layers of clothing (such as denim). Some clients prefer to keep their underwear on, and some will choose to keep their pants on if they want to focus on the upper body only. Per state law, the client’s body must remain covered throughout the treatment session; the therapist individually undrapes each region of the body being worked on, then redrapes afterward.
During Mend treatment sessions, your therapist may recommend focusing on some mat-based movement and assessment, as well as clothed treatments on the table before or after receiving massage. If this is the case, your therapist will continuously check in and guide you through the process.
During the Session
Especially for massage first-timers, I typically start a session with some gentle grounding work to help the client relax and acclimate to therapeutic touch. This can include some compression (pressing into the body with a broad hand), rocking, and deep breathing. This also gives me the opportunity to observe how the body lays at rest and notice any patterns of tension, which will help guide the treatment session.
Treatment techniques used during a session are always tailored to the individual, with safety and efficacy prioritized. Sometimes it is not safe or advisable to use very deep pressure (and this often creates further long-term issues despite the short-term relief); however, other techniques may be used to address an area of increased tension or irritability. Many massage-experienced clients are surprised to find that they actually have a better long-term response to a gentler treatment than the “hurts-so-good” deep-tissue treatments they have received in the past (and there is a reason for that, but that’s a topic for a whole other post!).
It's completely normal to fall asleep or for your belly to start rumbling during a session – actually, it’s a good thing! Both are indications that your autonomic nervous system has shifted out of the “fight or flight” sympathetic state to the “rest and digest” parasympathetic state, which is where recovery and rebuilding happens.
After the Session
At the conclusion of a massage session, the therapist will leave the room to allow you to slowly transition back to the outside world and get dressed. At Root & Branch, I ask you to just crack the door of the treatment room open when you’re all set, allowing you the time and space you need.
I always recommend staying extra hydrated following a session and taking it easy with any exercise or vigorous work following the session that day. It’s okay to train after a massage, but I do recommend keeping your training volume at a lower intensity and taking extra time to warm up and map out your body at the start of your training session, since bodywork, stretching, and deep relaxation work can temporarily alter your proprioception and general reaction speed following. That said, it CAN be beneficial to actively move your body through its full range of motion when you’re integrating new movement patterning or postural habits!
Many clients note that their sleep and digestion feel better after receiving bodywork, in addition to feeling lighter and less restricted with movement.
“That was amazing! How often should I be doing this?”
The answer to this completely depends on what your goals are for seeking treatment, as well as what your body and self-care routine looks like outside of the studio. The needs of a musician seeking relief for repetitive overuse issues will look different from those of a triathlete with the same stated goal.
For managing anything that is chronic in nature (such as fibromyalgia or posture-related pain), regular treatment sessions every 2 weeks or so can be beneficial. I often work with elite athletes weekly or biweekly to assist with recovery and injury prevention. For a general tune-up and stress management, once a month is sufficient for many.
The effects of regular bodywork are cumulative, and I do find that my clients who are able to book a few sessions every 1-2 weeks initially (then transition to 1-2 times a month or as needed) tend to have better long-term treatment outcomes. It is also important to regularly do any stretches or mobility activities recommended during a session to see any benefit from them – even with regularly scheduled sessions, performing a doorway pec stretch once every 2 weeks is not enough to meaningfully alter your posture!
Hopefully this post leaves you feeling prepared and ready for your session. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate t