Getting Real with Lisa Van De Graaff, LMT

There are few things we can do for that special someone that are more relaxing than a foot massage. The gift of loving touch can certainly be given at any time, but there is something special about a Valentine’s Day foot massage. It is a truly generous devotion of our time and attention, focused on nurturing our lover. (Between you and me, it is also a free and readily available gift if you have forgotten to buy a card.)

In my work as a licensed massage therapist, I often find the foot massage portion of a bodywork session is the most soothing for my clients. It is when I hold their feet that they let go of their thoughts and worries and just be in their bodies.

To make the most of a gift of foot massage, here are a few basic techniques to try that will make him or her feel comfortable, loved, and relaxed.

In preparation…

Creating a space for a foot massage will help to honor the time you will spend together. Lowering the lights will help put your loved one in that relaxing parasympathetic state of mind and remove some of the distractions of the home. Some music will provide a focal point for the mind, and a comfortable chair will cradle them.  The right atmosphere pulls them away from everyday worries and lets them focus on your touch.

We often think of foot massage with the recipient’s feet in our lap, perpendicular to us. However, the work will be far more satisfying, more equitable for each foot, and easier on our hands, wrists, and thumbs if we face our lover and place the soles of their feet directly toward us. This can be done on the sofa, or better yet in a recliner. There is an added benefit of facing each other in that the moment becomes more intimate and attentive to one another.

Whether your partner is a runner or an accountant, when dealing with feet, there is always the possibility of an unpleasant odor. I think the best approach to remedy the situation is to bathe their feet in soapy water or simply with a warm, moist washcloth. If you find you need something more cleansing, try some spritzes of witch hazel. A couple of drops of essential oil can also be nice. The go-to oil for relaxation in a spa is lavender, but I find it is often too astringent. If your lover is a man, I suggest sandalwood. For a woman, try rose or jasmine.

Oil and Cream
I don’t use much oil and cream on the feet, since I don’t want people to slip and fall when they get up from the massage table. However, for a gift massage at home, it can be a nurturing addition to the treatment. Cream is good for calloused feet and will absorb quickly, enabling deeper massage without slipping. Oil allows for more glide, it is generally warmer, and it has a more sensual feel. For absorption, natural oils and creams will always work better than petroleum products– I find grape seed, apricot kernel, and jojoba are particularly effective, and you can certainly add a couple of drops of essential oil to any of these.

The Massage
The most important thing in any massage is confidence. You must touch your partner with tender assertion so his or her body knows it is in good hands.

To start, rub a tiny bit of oil or cream (about the size of a nickel, no larger than a quarter) into your own hands and then hold their feet for a minute – just be with them. Take a deep breath for yourself and watch your lover take a breath.

Pick a foot and apply the oil or cream to their feet, ankles, and lower legs with that confident, loving touch. Feel all the curves and crevices and think about how much those feet do for the one you love. Be in the moment.

Starting just below the knee, use the thumb side of your palm to gently press the muscle (tibialis anterior for those interested in the anatomy) along the outer edge shin bone (aka the tibia). This is the area that needs work if your lover drives a lot, or is athletic. It feels good to everyone, so long as the pressure is gentle.

Staying on the same foot, begin working on the ankle. Use your fingertips to make tiny circles around the inner and outer ankle bones (malleoli) simultaneously. Continue down to the heel with circular and/or downward strokes. Linger.

Move back up to the top of the foot and use gentle (but confident) fingertip pressure between the bones of the foot. You can press and move and press again or glide four times from ankle to between each of the toes. This is a good place to ask your partner about pressure – Are you pressing hard enough or too hard? This massage is about relaxation, not fixing problems.

Now begin work on the bottom of the foot. There is a lot to do here, and thumbs wear out quickly, so make a loose fist and brace your thumb against your forefinger to press into the bottom of the foot. Massage with direct pressure, small circles, and downward or upward strokes. Be creative, curious, and playful (but no tickling). Remember to massage the toes and the heel.

After massaging the entire bottom surface of the foot, give the foot and calf a little stretch by lacing your fingers between the toes. Use the other hand to hold and stabilize the heel, and use the palm of your hand to press the ball of the foot back gently.

If your lover wears heels or runs, loosen their toes by mobilizing the joints. Place a hand on either side of the base of their toes and rub in a figure eight. You will undoubtedly hear a sigh from your partner.

Finish this foot with some squeezes and strokes all over the foot, ankle and lower leg. Kiss a toe if you are so inclined, and cover the foot with a warm blanket. Then continue on the other foot.

Foot massage for relaxation is about nurturing your sweetheart and being present with them. Take your time. Enjoy them. Love them.

Happy Valentine’s Day!