As you come to work on each new part of the body, you begin by oiling it. This allows you to slide your hands smoothly and evenly over the contours without any risk of friction or jerkiness. It also nourishes the skin. Many people initially overestimate how much oil is needed – in fact, only thin film is sufficient to lubricate the skin; if your client’s body is swimming in oil, you will be unable to make proper contact. For most parts of the body, a single application of oil is all that is necessary. But for larger expanses, like the back, or hairy areas, such as the front of the legs, you may need to apply extra oil. Since most oils are quickly absorbed by the skin, each part of the body is oiled separately, rather than all at once, with the oil rubbed into the skin by long gliding strokes.
There is no need to buy ready-made massage oils, which tend to be expensive. You can equally well use a vegetable oil, such as grapeseed. Almond oil is very pleasant but costly; olive oil tends to be a little viscous. You can also use mineral oil, such as baby oil, although these are less easily absorbed. If you do use a plain oil, you may like to scent it with an essential oil, using five drops to an eggcupful of base oil. In aromatherapy, essential oils containing plant hormones are rubbed into the skin for specific therapeutic purposes. Keep your oil in a corked bottle or a flip-top plastic bottle. The latter is more convenient as it is less likely to spill during a session. If you have nothing else, a bowl or saucer will do, but you must be careful not to knock it over, especially when working on the floor.
It is at the very beginning of a massage that you set the mood for the whole session, so it pays to be well prepared. If possible, warm the oil in the oil burner. And try to keep the oil in a safe place where you are unlikely to knock it over. Before applying the oil you should centre yourself, then let your hands rest briefly on your client’s body for the first gentle contact. Having established contact, pour about half a teaspoon of oil into one palm. You need to keep your hands well away from your client’s body while doing this, so that no stray drops accidentally fall on him or her.
The sensitivity with which you make and break contact with your client is of prime importance. After oiling your hands, let them float slowly down towards the part of the body you are about to massage, as if suspended from parachutes. Just as you may feel the heat or energy that surrounds the body before you actually touch the skin, so your client may sense the presence of your hands above his or her body. Make sure your hands are relaxed when they touch the body and, when you need to collect more oil or move to a new part of the body, let the break of contact be smooth and gentle too. Some schools of massage advise always keeping one hand in contact as you work, but if your breaks are smooth, this is not necessary. When working on the floor, in particular, it is better to break contact when you move to a new part of the body, as it is hard to change position without jogging your client.