As most of you know I was recently on a trip abroad with my husband for our Honeymoon. We travelled through England, into Amsterdam and Brussels and then made our way through France. If you have never been to Amsterdam or Southern France I suggest you add it to your bucket list! Our trip was pretty packed full of your typical tourist stuff for the first half, but for the second half we made a point of slowing down and relaxing to the max. The entire trip we kept saying we should get a massage, constantly on Trip Advisor to see if there were any good places near us. When we arrived in Nice we couldn't put it off any longer. We literally had no excuse; there was a spa right next to our hotel!
As a massage therapist, I walked in feeling pretty confident about the procedure and what to expect. I was wrong. Aside from the perceived language barrier there were many subtle and not so subtle differences that brought me back to my very first professional massage. A million things ran through my mind. What do I do? How did she say to lie down? Under or over the sheet? I have to wear what?!
Let me start from the beginning. My expectations were shattered from the very start. Thinking that we were walking into a spa, it became clear after a few moments that we were in fact at a school. First of all, I think this is a brilliant idea! The classrooms were on one side and they had converted the other side into a beautiful, student-run spa. What an amazing way to get hands on experience while having the safety and comfort of supervision! So we walk in and get lucky, booking a couples massage immediately (this, by the way, is my very first couples massage). I prepare myself to begin translating the health history forms provided so that we can fill them out and was surprised to find that there weren't any! We simply had to sign a waiver disclosing what ours and the therapists responsibilities were. Where is the little man images that I need to draw circles all over?!
We then had to choose our treatments. I went with the "Massage of the Day" which is an Ayurvedic massage and my husband chose the Sports Massage. We are then led downstairs by our therapists and into our treatment room. This is where the feelings of uncertainty really started to creep in. We are in a big beautiful room, but right at the very front is a large window looking into the lounge area. There are blinds of course, but unfortunately they do not cover the entirety of the window. I automatically begin to wonder how I am going to get undressed and on the table without anyone seeing me. As this is running through my mind I am brought back to the present when our therapists place small packages on each of our tables. Disposable. Underwear. We are asked to strip down, put these flimsy, thin, uncomfortable "underwear" on and then lay on the table once they step out of the room.
As soon as they leave, I burst out laughing. I mean I am not looking forward to these underwear but my husband is absolutely DREADING it. There was less material on his than on mine! The look on his face was absolutely priceless. Once I have myself uncomfortably covered to their standards, I realize that we weren't really given an option. No "undress to your comfort level". I mean, this is way beyond my comfort level. Then I start to get on the table. What did she say? On my stomach or back? On top of this paper sheet or underneath it? Thinking back it is pretty clear that I was meant to be on top of the paper (like at a doctors office) but when you are feeling vulnerable everything can become uncertain. I decide to lay on top of the paper, face down, mostly because this is how I start most of my clients. And then I notice that there is no face cradle...ok so maybe face up? Too late...our therapists are ready and enter the room. So here I am on my stomach propped up on my elbows until she clarifies what it is that I am supposed to be doing. She quickly creates a hole in the paper where the built in face cradle is hidden and encourages me to lie face down and get comfortable. I feel like a fool, like I should have figured that out on my own. That feeling is punctuated with every movement I make, accompanied by the clinical, crinkling sound of paper.
I begin to relax as she works on my legs but I soon notice the differences in draping techniques. Up come the sheets all the way to the bottom of my bum, exposing both legs at once, and then a small flap of material to cover up where my underwear might not be doing such a good job. Panic starts to rise. Ok, don't move. One movement and everything will be visible to everyone! I begin to focus on my breathing and talk myself through the treatment. Then the sheet comes back down and covers my legs, only to be folded in the opposite direction exposing my whole right leg, right glutes and right side of my back. Then I feel again the subtle draping between my legs. Ok no worries. Its just a bum I tell myself. They see this over and over throughout their day. While I typically massage the glutes over the sheet, I will occasionally drape to expose the gluteal muscles in order to treat and do fascial work. Many therapists in fact, will massage directly on the gluteal tissue with every client. The difference? A warning and a tight drape. So by now I am beginning to feel totally embarrassed.
I make it through the posterior massage which ended up being fantastically relaxing, and I am asked to turn over onto my back. Up comes the entire sheet, eye contact is made and my breasts are completely exposed. Whoah...ok that was weird. Then she begins to repeat the same technique that was used on my back body. Only this time it isn't my shoulder blade that everyone can see. I immediately begin to feel ashamed, my face goes red all the way to my ears, my heart begins pounding and I think to myself, oh my gosh everyone is looking at my chest; my therapist, my husbands therapist and my husband! Wait? My husband? Why am I even worried about that?! The treatment room to me has always been my private and personal space, like some people find at the gym or in yoga class. And that day there were two intruders. I resist the urge to yank the sheet back up over me as I realize that my husband is definitely sleeping, his therapist has her back to me and I'm in France, the land of the topless beach!
As the massage continues up my sternum and around my breast tissue I once again remind myself that to any professional I am just a body. Just like I see all my clients on the table as bodies. As professionals, we do not see hair, or cellulite or sagging skin. All my imperfections that were banging around in my head were not even a passing thought to my therapist. Focusing on my breathing I was able to calm myself down and enjoy the rest of the massage. I was not expecting the overwhelming feeling of liberation once I accepted my body and all its imperfections.
The lesson here? I went in confident and ready to pick up some awesome new techniques. Nothing could shake me. It was my domain. But thats not at all how it went down. Sometimes life throws you curveballs in order to bring back some perspective. Those feelings of insecurity and uncertainty reminded me that everyone feels that way the first time they have to strip down and be touched by a stranger. Just because as therapists we see beautiful, functioning, incredible bodies, doesn't mean a client automatically understands that. Everyone has their insecurities. Whether it be their feet, their thighs or their breasts, it is my job to make sure that they feel safe, informed and in control during their treatment. I am so grateful that we chose a hotel with a spa beside it. Grateful for the reminder I clearly needed after my job had become routine, and I neglected to put myself in my clients shoes. This will be a constant reminder to never get too comfortable in my practice. A reminder to strive for the best client experience possible, every time.