Sexy scented oils, candles and chanting? No, my massages are long - and very painful, says Carole Caplin


Last updated at 22:44 03 May 2008

As the hullabaloo surrounding the publication of Lord Levy's book rather sadly demonstrates, massage still attracts the sort of puerile fantasies that sell political memoirs.

Much has been mentioned over the years of my giving Tony Blair massages when he was Prime Minister.

I wonder, had I been a bloke giving a massage would there have been a story?

In his case, as with most busy working households, the kids were running in and out, dinner was being prepared and it was about as far away from an Ayurvedic spa as you can imagine.

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Carole Caplin massage

Kaftan-free zone: Carole shows last week how she prefers the casual look while giving a massage

The truth is, an effective massage is neither glamorous nor sexy.

I work hard to turn a tired, cramped and grouchy body (which can sometimes get a bit pongy, once the treatment is under way) into one that is re-energised and ready to tackle anything - even the sleazy and sexist innuendos of colleagues.

And at the end of a massage, I am absolutely wrung out. It's a workout for me.

Personal recommendation is your best bet when choosing a massage therapist, and mine usually come from wives and girlfriends who, having felt the benefit themselves, want their stressed and overworked husbands and partners to experience the deep and restorative relaxation a proper massage will give.

In 90 per cent of cases, if I'm massaging a man, it's on his partner's instigation.

I can't bear touchy feely massages - whether giving or receiving.

A massage lasting any less than 50 minutes just doesn't cut it with me.

I have even been known to get off the table and swap places with masseurs to show them a few firm manipulations, rather than endure 50 minutes of insipid prodding to the accompaniment of maddening New Age mood-music, or the increasingly irritating sound of wind chimes and the sickly scent of over-pungent essential oils.

"What, not even crystals, kaftans, candles or chanting?" I can hear detractors questioning sulkily.

Sorry to disappoint, but when I'm giving a massage, you're more likely to find me in a pair of comfy tracksuit bottoms, a T-shirt, hair scrunched up and, if you are really lucky, a blob of toothpaste on my chin in the hope of zapping a chocolate-induced spot.

The kind of environment I like to work in has natural or non-intrusive lighting (candles use up valuable oxygen), with a simple painting or two and uncluttered space.

My other, absolutely vital prerequisite is time.

Anyone who understands anything about massage knows that a decent treatment allows each part of the body to be worked on thoroughly and for that to happen it takes time.

When the overriding problem is stress, you know the body beneath your hands is probably sleep-deficient, has impaired digestion, poor breathing and posture, resulting in the muscle fibres shortening and bonedeep fatigue.

The degree of pressure, depth and pace is crucial to restoring muscle function and energy levels.

Clock watching is not an option.

My team and I at Lifesmart are known for giving very deep tissue, lymphatic drainage treatments; they are certainly not for the faint-hearted.

Which is not to say that gentler treatments cannot be equally effective, but there is a world of difference between expertly applied Bowen technique and cranial sacral therapy and the polite stroking that passes for a massage in some spas.

So, if you are a doctor, young mum, businessman, teacher or even just a disgruntled acolyte of a former Prime Minister, and seeking to join the millions who have already felt the benefit of a great massage, here are some tips on how to get the best out of your treatment.

• Don't worry about being shy or self-conscious. Experienced therapists have dealt with a vast array of problems and body types. You don't have to take off all your clothes. You don't have to be chatty or entertaining. Your job is to relax as best you can. If necessary, pressure point work can be applied through light clothing while the extremities, head and neck can be worked on directly.

• Many people like quiet, so don't be polite, ask your therapist to turn the music off if you prefer and tell them that you're probably going to fall asleep. For those who find it easier to relax with music, take along something that makes you feel good, whatever the style or era.

• Check that the massage table is the right size. A 6ft 4in man is not going to be comfortable if his feet and arms are dangling over the edges. So forewarn your therapist.

• A bowl of water with eucalyptus, pine or Olbas oil to aid and encourage breathing and maintain moisture in the air is far more beneficial than an aromatherapy candle.

• Check which oils the therapist uses. Plain, high-quality natural oils are best. Often people can have sensory or skin sensitivity to essential oils. You can find a high-quality range including evening primrose oil, excellent for women, at Jason does a very good Vitamin E oil ( If you are suffering from stiff, overworked or injured muscles, herbal-based oils can be very effective. My favourite is Ayurvedic herbal massage oil by Salcura (

• Stay warm throughout the treatment. Body temperature tends to drop as the body relaxes and there is nothing worse than feeling cold during a massage. I often take a hot water bottle with me.

• Give the therapist as much information as possible beforehand about particularly sensitive areas of your body and anything you want them to pay special attention to - the more guidance you can give, the better the treatment you will receive.

• Don't be afraid to say if the pressure, temperature of the room, music, light or oil isn't right for you.

• Massage is not only beneficial for relaxing but can be very effective in helping a person improve their breathing, posture and range of movement. Ask your therapist if they are able to check these areas and give you a combination of exercises that you can do on your own to maintain and improve those results.

So, my cri de coeur on behalf of all masseuses is: Come on guys, give us a break. It's a tough job, but someone's got to do it.

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