The Beauty and Simplicity of a Hand Massage

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I decided to write this blog on hand massage as it is such a simple thing to do with friends, family and even colleagues. It can be done anywhere, at a friends house, a coffee shop, even in bed, it’s a great thing to do if visiting some one in hospital or who is bed bound, and you can take as little or as long as you like, even 2 or 3 minutes on each hand would feel lovely. Although it’s such a simple exercise, it can be deeply relaxing, connecting and supportive as well as fun. So here are some tips on how to give a hand massage: Choose a cream, balm or oil blend to use with your partner, you can use my recipes in previous blog posts to make your own cream, balm or massage oil or just use a little olive oil or hand cream, what ever you have handy. Make sure your partner likes the scent of the product you are using, if you have a few options it’s great to get them involved in the choice as smelling the oils/cream already brings them in touch with their body and what they are feeling.

Preparation: The most important thing to prepare here is you! hm

Ensure that you are in a comfortable position that supports you, and does not compromise your body, ensure your partners position is the same.  Be aware you need easy access to their hands and ideally forearms with out stretching, and remember to have your oil somewhere you can easily reach it. You might like to use cushions, move furniture around, get a table for the oil or ask your partner to adjust themselves a little for you, it’s worth taking the time to make the space supportive so you don’t feel stuck half way through with an ache (make sure you adjust if you do).  I usually place a cushion or pillow on their lap with a towel over it so they can rest their arms across it, and only the towel will get oily, but you may need to adapt depending on your partners position and movability.  It’s important to communicate with your partner, to let them know what you are doing so they feel supported and included. Just running through what you’re doing and why, so they know what to expect is enough. You may like to ask if you can remove watches or jewellery, I usually work around rings.

Hand massage workshop

Connection: I start by placing my hands as gently as I can over theirs and give them a few moments to relax. Don’t rush, even if you only have a little time, it will make all the difference if you start by being still and just take a few moments to breath gently in and out through your nose (see here for gentle breath meditation technique). If you notice your partner is very tense or holding their arms very stiff, just encourage them to let go of the tension, ask them to relax their shoulders to allow the hands to let go, if they are very stiff you can ask them to make their arms go floppy.

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Techniques: I then choose one hand to begin massaging, and apply oil to my hands and then massage the oil over the area I intend to cover (so forearm too if this is appropriate and accessible). You can massage both hands at the same time, but I like to do one so I can lift, manoeuvre and support the hand and wrist with the free hand, although I do start and finish by connecting with both hands. I start with long oval circles over the forearms to get the cream/oil applied evenly, I make the moves firm but gentle, flowing and I always make the circles anti-clockwise -a friend once described this as a releasing motion because when you loosen a screw it’s always an anti-clockwise movement, and it is clockwise to tighten it up.

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I like to massage each little finger as delicately as possible, hold their hand and do little circles with it to loosen the wrist, and press into the palm with my thumb in circles. One of my favourite moves is to sandwich the hand between my hands and to very, very slowly slide them off. There are lots of techniques to experiment with, so just do what you feel, stay focused on what you are doing, and connected with your partner. Be playful, ask them what they like and see what you like.

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Being very gentle does not mean that the massage is less effective than pushing hard,  it feels like I’m allowing and encouraging their body to learn to relax itself, rather than forcing it to with pressure.  If the body can relax itself, then it is more likely to be able to continue this state.

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Preciousness: As you are face to face to your partner it is easy to talk to them, but keep the conversation related to the moment, how they feel and what their body is saying.  Sometimes just the touch or eye contact is enough, in my experience they often close their eyes and become deeply relaxed. This can be a really precious time with your partner who ever it is.  In the below image I am with my niece, we were only massaging for a couple of minutes but you can tell from the shot it was a magical moment, she also started to give massage afterwards on others and followed my moves perfectly, very beautiful : )

Laura and Neave hand massage 1

Accessories: A little addition to the treatment that I have come up with recently to support letting the tension in the shoulders go, is using heated healing eye pillows, I just warm them up on the radiator or in a towel warmer, and place them over the persons shoulders before I begin, one on each side across the bits that get very tense and hard – they feel gorgeous! You can buy them from the Lighthouse in Frome, Somerset, UK and from Feather Light Productions website in Australia who also sell a body wrap that I’m about to try out as this will cover the entire shoulder area.  Tension across our shoulders is very common and we can all feel the release as soon as we let go of that tension, so it’s a great way to support this.

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I have been working on community projects for the last couple of years mainly involving hand massages and have had such great feedback from the clients that I have started developing workshops and bringing hand massage to many other situations including at work and home. Most of the photos were taken at a workshop I ran recently, during the time everyone one was giving hand massage (with balms they had just created themselves) the entire room felt completely still, it was absolutely gorgeous.

If you have just 5 minutes with a friend to try this out, I’m sure you will enjoy and feel the difference in your hands and how relaxed you feel. We can be very careless and rough with our hands, so it’s a great way to bring a care and attention back to a part of our body that we use so often.

With thanks to Neave, Molly, Jean, Louisa, Ellen, Kathie, Sonia, Alison, Betty, Heather & David ~ all starring in the photos above.

You might also like to read my blogs on Taking care of your hands, Essential oils in hand & nail care and Myrrh essential oil- supporting connection with my wrists.

Myrrh Essential Oil – Supporting Connection with Myself by Massaging my Wrists.

Myrrh essential oil is a great oil for supporting connection with self, its subtle aroma encourages a level of stillness to allow an appreciation of the scent. Gently massaged around your wrists brings focus to this delicate area of the body. The oil is made from a resin produced by the Commiphora myrrha tree; when the bark of this tree is damaged or cut the resin is released to seal the wound and this action is mimicked by the essential oil which is used in deep and difficult wound care.

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I wanted to share my recent experience of using myrrh essential oil in a cream or an oil and massaging it into my wrists. My wrists feel very delicate and precious, and it becomes natural to do this massage very tenderly and to really take the time to feel my wrists.

My wrists seems to be a piece of my body that in the past I hadn’t given much focus to. A friend of mine, Chris James, made a point of getting people to feel their wrists during one of his workshops (his workshops are an amazing way to really connect with your self).  He literally kept saying ‘Feel Your Wrists’ throughout the entire weekend.  It resonated with me and I started to notice many points through out my daily life that my wrists were being used.  Right now as I type on my key board for example, and when I’m driving in my car, these were initially two very obvious moments that were easy to bring attention to my wrists during the day.  As I began to notice them more, I actually realised how rough and careless I could be with them, the way I picked things up, closed doors or dried them in a hurry and I became aware of aches and discomfort. When I noticed this, I’d consciously take a moment to let go of any tension and let my wrists go floppy. Now, if I’m in  my car and stuck in traffic or at lights, then I often turn my wrists over as gently as I can and then back again or I notice if I’m holding the steering wheel with tension, and let my hold become more relaxed. When I’m at work I have a ‘wrist guard’  and a ‘mouse guard’ which is a foam pad to support my wrists as I’m typing, it lets my hands drop down, which feels more supportive to me.  I have recently incorporated a specific stretch for my wrists and hands during my morning exercises, all very simple ways to support my wrists.

It still took some time before I actually sat down to do a massage though, as there was something uncomfortable about massaging my wrists, it feels like such a tender, sensitive part of my body.  I knew I was avoiding it, so I began with just holding or feeling my wrists and then just massaging them without any cream or oil if they ached.

Eventually I decided I wanted to give my wrists that extra bit of care and attention and I began by mixing a couple of drops of myrrh essential oil into a pot of cream (see my blog on how many drops to use in a blend).  Myrrh is a particularly viscous oil and it takes  a really long time for a drop to fall from the bottle* so this process encouraged me to be present and if I noticed I was impatient, then I’d know I really needed to slow down and let the drop fall naturally.  The massage itself only takes a few moments, and I generally apply a little cream in anti-clockwise circles, when I’m in bed in the evening.  Sometimes they feel tender, sore or achey, and I  just notice this, and except that I have been using them a little too harshly and this awareness generally leads to naturally becoming more gentle when I use them.

I’ve been bringing focus to my wrists (as well as hands and finger tips) for some time now, and looking back over the last year, I can really appreciate how the more attention I have bought to this part of my body, the more gentle I have become with them.  It’s in the way I wash my hands, apply lotion afterwards, the way I close doors, chop vegetables, the way I open boxes or do the washing up. I feel the flow of this gentleness beyond my wrists, it’s up my forearms, across my shoulders and even in the way I use my whole body. I am more aware and more gentle than in the past and it continues to deepen. I can really appreciate how beautiful my wrists, hands and fingertips are and often enjoy moving them with grace and delicacy as if I’m dancing.

See my previous blog posts Taking care of your hands and Essential Oils in Hand & Nail care for more related reading.

Click here to buy Myrrh Essential Oil.

*Please note that myrrh essential oil oxidises very easily -this means that it reacts with oxygen, and it actually becomes very very sticky and stiff, so although you do need to be patient when dropping it from the bottle because it is thick, it is possible that it will oxidise and at some point will no longer drop from the bottle, in fact it can reach a point where you can’t get the lid off. Mine never usually lasts this long, but it would depend on how much it is exposed to the air, or if the bottle is close to empty then there is more air that it can react with.

A Basic Introduction on how to use Essential Oils

I have learnt far more by experimenting and actually using essential oils myself rather than from books, but there is still a lot of important information to know that will help you understand and get more of a feel for how to use them.

What are essential oils?

Essential oils are naturally produced by many plants and can be found in their seeds (coriander & fennel), fruits (mandarin & lime), flowers (rose & orange blossom/neroli), leaves (basil & geranium), woods (cedar wood & sandalwood) roots (ginger & angelica) and resin (frankincense & myrrh).  The essential oil is extracted from the plant material, usually by a process called ‘Steam Distillation’ which involves passing steam through the plant material to release and capture the essential oil molecules (more intricate details will appear in a future post).

There is another method, mainly used with citrus oils, called ‘expression’, where the oil is literally just pressed from the peel of the fruit. You can actually release the oil yourself if you dig your finger nail into the peel of an orange or lemon, as you pierce the cells you will be able to see and smell the essential oil.  Make sure you use an ‘un-waxed’ fruit, the waxed kind have been sealed.

Citrus fruit peel yields a lot of oil compared to other parts of plants, but you can probably still imagine that it would take the peel of many oranges to make a little 10ml bottle of Orange Essential Oil.  This should also highlight how concentrated the oil is.  Some plants yield a very tiny amount of oil in comparison, for example, roses.  It takes around 1200 rose flowers (that’s flowers not petals!) to make just 1ml of rose essential oil, which equals around 40 drops of extremely precious oil!  This should go a little way to addressing the high price of rose oil and other delicate floral oils, which generally hold a very small amount of essential oil.

What are the effects of essential oils?

Hopefully, you now have a good sense of the potency of essential oils and perhaps an idea of how powerful their effects can be.  You may be aware of how they are widely used to help us relax, and used as ingredients in bath oils or room sprays and that they are found in many beauty products to help improve our skin, but there are many other ways they can help support us both on a physical level and on the way we feel. The fact that they have such strong scents can have very tangible, immediate effects on our bodies and our moods.  All essential oils I have come across have anti-microbial properties which make them particularly suitable for using to help treat illness and disease, and can have various effects on all systems in the body from the endocrine to the digestive system.

How do you use essential oils safely?

Realising the potency of essential oils can also highlight why there are some safety precautions to observe and why it’s important to dilute them when using them on your skin.  In their neat form, they are way too strong for to use directly on the skin and  can cause tingling or burning sensations, and other reactions.  Diluting them in a vegetable oil is ideal as they themselves have many nourishing properties that your skin can also benefit from.  Generally they are full of vitamins and fatty acids that help keep skin healthy and vital.  They also help the essential oils absorb into your skin more easily.  Some other modes for diluting essential oils include honey, milk or aloe vera gel -water based products are not appropriate as the essential oils are hydrophobic (water-hating), and will not mix together.  You do not need to dilute essential oils when using them in a burner, diffusor or for inhalation (all methods to be covered in future posts). See my earlier blog post: Essential Oils in the Shower for details on using essential oils in a burner.

Always dilute essential oils before using them on your skin -including in the bath.

Various modes of application to the skin include:  massage, bath, compresses, skin care preparations such as creams or balms and neat application*.  They can also be used by inhalation (using diffusor, burner, steam inhalation or directly from a tissue) and they can also be used internally. The versatility and range of applications of the oils allows for your own personal input that means they can really support you in your life.  For example you can chose to give yourself a foot bath each night, (with a mix of peppermint essential oil and olive oil) when you get home from work because you have a job where you’re on your feet all day, and that’s what really supports you; or there may be a certain oil that helps calm your breath when feeling stressed or anxious, (e.g. frankincense, lavender or neroli essential oil) and you keep a little bottle in a your hand bag  to dot on a tissue and gently breath in for when you feel to use.  This is what i really love about the oils, that you can bring them into your daily, weekly or monthly routine to support you in so many different ways -all shared throughout this blog!

*Note: It is generally accepted that lavender and tea tree essential oils can be used neat on the skin. See my blog post on Lavender, Essential First Aid, for more details on using lavender or tea tree.