Hands on for Beach Bliss
Daily Mail, August 1998

A relaxing massage often seems like a good idea, but who can ever find the time? As a recent survey showed, many stressed executives find it impossible to unwind even on holiday, sending faxes from their hotels and worrying about unfinished projects.

All the more reason, then, to try to make the absolute most of your holiday and really take advantage of your surroundings.

The beach is the perfect place for a massage: you're already prone, you don't have to remove any clothes, and there are no meetings to rush off to. You can get rid of your tensions, and at the same time get into the holiday mood. All you need is a willing partner or friend - and it makes putting on sunscreen much more fun.

Beach massage isn't new. Anyone who has been to Thailand will tell you of the blissful therapeutic massages available under the palm trees.

But apart from the pleasure gained, massage has significant health benefits, aiding circulation and stimulating lymph drainage and blood flow. This helps improve the appearance of the skin, which often reflects a stressed body and mind with painful accuracy, showing up in blotches, sallow tones and a lumpy texture.

Our body language, posture and even shape change when we are relaxed. This makes a world of difference to how we look and feel, especially during those first few days when baring all can feel decidedly awkward.

Don't use your favourite massage oil, though, as this will have no sunscreen; use your sunscreen lotion or oil instead. And always bear in mind that sunburn, massage and sand don't mix. Nothing but the gentlest massage is advisable during pregnancy or for anyone with a heart condition, and avoid massaging where there are lumps, cuts or rashes.

While sensitivity and intuition are as important as technique, here are some basic strokes to get you started.

EFFLEURAGE: This is the first stroke of a massage, to relax the surface of the muscles, soothe your partner and spread the oil. Using gentle, sweeping strokes, glide over the muscles, moulding your hands to your partner's body. Use over almost any area, applying light pressure towards the heart.

KNEADING: Use medium pressure to relax muscles and increase circulation. Thumb and fingers squeeze and roll the muscles alternately, like kneading dough. Use on fleshy areas such as hips and thighs.

THUMB PRESSURE: Release tension by pressing downwards or rotating. Use on muscles to the sides of the spine, across the top of the shoulders, the feet or hands, or gently over the forehead.

Experiment with circular movements, fingertip brushes or 'percussion', (tapping lightly over the body). Always ask your partner whether the pressure is too hard or soft. It's not necessary to give a whole body massage, but to make it feel as though you have, press your hands firmly along the length of each limb, working towards you. End by brushing over the toes.

Take it in turns with your partner to give each other a daily beach massage, and watch the tensions ebb away.

HOW TO MASTER THE BASIC TECHNIQUES:

Effleurage: With oil on your hands, use gliding movements upwards from the lower back. Your hands should then fan outwards and return lightly down the sides of the body.

Kneading: Press into the muscles with your thumb and roll back towards you with your fingers. Use on fleshy areas such as the hips, keeping the movement rhythmic.

Thumb Press: To release deep tension, press into the muscles either side of the spine, rotate firmly and release the pressure, working your way down to the lower back.

BACK MASSAGE:

The back is frequently affected by stress and tension, and is the ideal starting point for a massage.

Step1:Have your partner lie on their front. Kneel at their head, pour some oil or cream onto your hands and glide them down the middle of the back. Sweep outwards to the hips, draw up the sides of the body to the shoulders, and repeat.

Step2:Knead from the neck outwards across the top of one shoulder (your partner's head should be facing the opposite direction.).

Step3:Move to the side. Knead and squeeze around the shoulder blade, feeling for any tension. Knead and squeeze the neck then repeat on opposite shoulder.

Step4:Move to the lower back. Oil your hands and sweep over the lower back and hips.

Step5:Placing one hand over the other, circle anti - clockwise over the lower back. This should be deeply soothing.

Step6:Place your hands over the lower back, to either side of the spine. Glide them outwards, as if smoothing away tension. Repeat higher up.

Step7:Place your thumbs at the top of the back, either side of the spine. Press into the muscles and release smoothly, repeating down to the lower back.

Step8:Brush your fingertips down the back.

FOOT MASSAGE:

Step1:Your partner should lie on his or her front. Support one of their feet in your hands and stroke firmly over the sole with your thumbs.

Step2:Press and circle the foot with your thumbs where it feels tight, avoiding the instep.

Step3:Place your thumbs together in the centre of the foot, then draw slowly but firmly outwards.

Step4:Separate each toe, squeezing between them with your finger and thumb. Repeat the massage on the other foot.

Susan Mumford, 1998