How to give your friend a Head and Neck Massage

When I give a complete massage the head is one of my favourite places to begin.
As I have said, the sequence of the different parts of the body that will be followed in these instructions is largely arbitrary. And in a later section of the book I will tell you more specifically about other possible sequences, and why, depending on circumstances, you might want to follow one or another of them.

For now, however, let me say that it is difficult to go wrong in starting out with the head. The main reason for this is, it seems to me, that having one’s head worked on feels like both one of the safest and one of the most startling parts of a good massage. Safest because, in our nervousness about being touched (and we all have at least a residue of this, especially at the very beginning of a massage), it is in the extremities of the body – the head, the hands and the feet – that we least feel the force of our culture’s strong taboos against physical contact. And startling because, although the head is the part of the body with which, sadly, we tend most to identify ourselves, it is also one of the parts from which – just as sadly – we feel physically most disconnected. To discover, through massage, that the head belongs to the physical body is a surprise, like awakening from sleep. As a result, by doing his or her head right at the beginning you will provide the friend you are massaging with a good initiation into the deeper and more subtle side of the experience to come.

So let’s start.

Stand or kneel so that you are facing the top of your friend’s head. Apply a little oil to your fingers, but do not spread the oil on the face prior to beginning. The actual surface of the face is so small that it requires little oil: with the few drops on your fingers you are ready to begin.

The most natural order in which to massage the different parts of the head is first to do the face, starting at the top of the forehead and working systematically down to the chin; then to the ears; the neck; and finally the scalp.

Remember, a star * marking a stroke means not that it is better than any of the others, but that it is a part of the short massage as described on page 35.

1. * Before anything else I like to hold my palms lightly against my friend’s forehead for a few moments. Cover the forehead with the heels of your hands, letting the fingers extend down the temples. Apply no pressure. Pause as long as seems right and comfortable to you: a few seconds, half a minute, whatever. Centre yourself. Let your friend grow accustomed to your touch.

2. * Now begin massaging you friend’s forehead with the balls of your thumbs. First mentally divide the forehead into horizontal strips about a half an inch wide. Then, starting with your thumbs at the centre of the forehead just below the hairline, glide both thumbs at once in either direction outwards along the topmost strip. Press moderately: use about the pressure it takes to stick a stamp on an envelope. Continue all the way to the temples, a surprisingly sensitive place, and end there by moving your thumbs in a single circle about half an inch wide.

Immediately pick up your thumbs, return them to the centre of the forehead, and begin the next strip down, again moving your thumbs from the centre outwards. Then, working progressively downwards, do each of the others in turn, ending with a strip running just above your friend’s eyebrows. Remember to conclude each strip with another small circle on the temples – a nourish not strictly necessary, but your friend will feel it’s very ‘right’.

3. * The next stroke is for the rim of the eye sockets. With the tips of both forefingers press first against the boney rims of the two eye sockets right where they connect with the nose. Press quite hard for about one full second. Then lift your forefingers, move them about a third of an inch along the upper half of each rim, and press again. Pressing in this fashion is good for the sinuses, and in this particular spot it also feels better to most people than a rubbing movement. Continue in this fashion, moving about a third of an inch each time you press, until you have reached the outermost point of each eye socket (i.e., the point farthest from the nose). Then return to the point nearest the nose and begin again, this time working the length of the lower half of the rim.

4. Now the eyes themselves. Did you remember to make sure before starting that your friend was notwearing contact lenses? If not, ask about them now. Lightly run the balls of your thumbs straight across your friend’s closed eyelids. Start right beside the nose and move outwards. Go very slowly and use a minimum of pressure, just enough that you can feel the eyeball move ever so slightly as your thumb passes over it. Do this three times, moving your thumbs in the same direction and lifting to return them to the starting point each time.

5 * Now place the tips of the forefinger and middle finger on each hand just to either side of the nose, and just below the point on the rim of the eye socket where you started the last stroke. Pressing firmly, draw the tips of these fingers in a path around the lower edges of the cheekbones, across the cheeks in the direction of the ears and then back up to the temples for a final circle.

The lower edges of the cheekbones, in case you aren’t sure of your geography at this point, lie roughly on a line with the bottom of the nose. If you press firmly and pay attention to the feel of the stroke, however, your fingers will have no difficulty in finding the right place to go. Do this stroke at least twice. The second time you might want to linger a while on the edges of the cheekbones immediately below and to the sides of the nose, working the uscles beneath by making tiny circles with your fingertips. Let each fingertip move in a circle a quarter of an inch wide or smaller, pressing hard without lifting. Dig in. Don’t hurry. This minute area is a focal point for tension in the face, and a little extra work here goes a long way.

6 * Finish the lower half of the face with a series of horizontal strokes like those you did on the forehead. First use the forefinger and the middle fingers of both hands. Place the tips of these fingers at the centre of the face between the nose and the mouth. Stroke outwards on to the cheeks and then up to the temples, ending with the usual circle.

Next do a series of three strokes in the same way between the mouth and the tip of the chin. Start each time at the centre and end on the temples. Then lightly grasp the tip of the chin between the tips of the thumb and forefinger of each hand. Follow the edges of the jaw until you have almost reached the ears, and then glide the forefingers (and the middle fingers, too, if you wish) into a last small circle on the temples.

If your friend has a beard, simply go firmly right over it using the same strokes. This completes the face. Now slide your fingers gently to the ears.

7. Ears seem to me one of the most intriguing parts of the body. I love having mine massaged. Here are a lot of ways to work on them. Use all or any part of this according to your own judgement.

For your first trial run I suggest that you do just one ear at a time. Soon, however, you will find yourself able to do both at once without difficulty. First run the tips of your fingers several times up and down the back of the ear where it connects with the rest of the head. Move gently and smoothly.

Follow this by gently running the length of your forefinger several times back and forth in the ‘V’ formed by the topmost part of the ear and the skull directly adjacent. Then lightly pinch the outer edge of the ear and the ear lobe between the thumb and forefinger. Start at the lobe right next to the skull and work around, moving your thumb and forefinger about a third of an inch between pinches.

Next, with the tip of the forefinger lightly trace the natural hollows of the inside of the ear. Work from the circumference towards the centre. Stop just short of actually closing off the ear channel.

If so far you have been doing just one ear, now do the same steps on the other.

Finally, for the coup de grace, tell you* friend to listen to the sound inside his head. And then, moving with extreme slowness and gentleness, close both his ear channels with the tips of your forefingers. (Be sure to close both sides at once: nothing will happen if one ear is closed alone.) Keep them closed for about fifteen to thirty seconds. Although some people don’t care for this many enjoy a brief but pleasant journey.

8. This next stroke will feel both odd and awkward as you do it. It is perfectly safe, however, and to your friend will feel extremely good.

Lightly cover your friend’s face with both palms, heels of the hands on the forehead and fingertips near the chin. Let your hands rest in place a moment; then slide them gently down, going over and past the ears, until the little fingers of both hands are against the table.

Next begin pressing with both hands as if you were trying to push them together. Make sure your hands are below and in no way pressing on the ears. Crouch slightly and hold your elbows straight out to the side in order to get as much leverage as possible. Start with a gentle pressure and gradually increase it until (unless you are a person of unusual strength) you reach a point at which you are pressing as hard as you can. Then decrease the pressure just as gradually. After you have released the pressure, hold your hands in place a few seconds more before going on to the
next stroke.

Time now to move to the neck.

9. Bring both hands palms up under your friend’s neck. Then, curving your fingers a little, rapidly drum with the fingertips against the neck. Keep the backs of your hands on the table. Press fairly hard, as if playing a piano. Work up and down the neck, and as far onto the back itself (it won’t be very far) in the immediate area of the spine as you can comfortably reach.

10 * Next put your hands under the back of your friend’s head and gently lift it a little. Then turn it slowly to the left until it rests easily in your left hand. If you sense that your friend is resisting you, or that he is trying to ‘help’, ask him to relax his head as if he were letting it drop to the table. If after this he still has trouble letting go his head, you may be able to help by gently raising and lowering the head a few more times.

Now slowly rotate the heel of your right hand against the top of your friend’s shoulder while bringing your fingers down the side of the shoulder, under the shoulder, and on to the back. Keep your fingers moving across the top of the back towards the spine; and then, just before reaching the spine, on to the back of the neck.

Continue up the back of the neck until your fingertips near your friend’s hairline. Then turn your hand about ninety degrees so that your fingers are pointing more upwards (i.e., so that they are perpendicular to the neck itself) and, pressing more lightly, come back down the side of the neck. Then, moving from the base of the neck, cross the topmost part of the chest straight to the shoulder. From there you can go right into the same stroke again without stopping. Repeat three or four times. The next two strokes are also done with the head tilted to the side. I prefer to do all three on one side before turning the head and repeating them on the other.

11. With the head still tilted to the left, move the fingers of the right hand in slow circles about an inch wide against the back of the neck. Press firmly. Work up the back of the neck to the hairline. Then, pressing more gently, do circles down the side of the neck, working all the way from just below the ear to the collar-bone. Repeat.

12. Holding your friend’s head still turned to the left, find the boney horizontal ridge where the neck meets the back of the skull with the fingertips of your right hand.

Now move your fingertips in tiny circles just below this ridge. Press firmly. You will feel a sort of furrow stretching horizontally across the neck; follow this furrow with your fingertips.

Check in with your friend if you have trouble locating the right place. This is a nice stroke, and he will know at once when you have found the spot.

13. End your work on the neck by lifting your friend’s head as far forward as it will go. Use both hands. Move very slowly. You will feel resistance either soon before or soon after his chin has touched his chest. Stop for a moment when you have reached this point. Then gently nudge his head about an inch farther forwards. Bring the head back to the same point, and then push forwards once or twice again. If a gentle push isn’t enough, then don’t push at all.

Again move slowly as you bring the head back down.

14 * All that’s left now is the scalp.

Again lift the head and turn it to the left. Making your right hand into the shape of a claw, work the scalp on the right side of the head with your fingertips. Press hard, moving your hand in tiny circles. Try to press hard enough that you are moving the skin itself over the bone rather than simply sliding your fingertips back and forth across the surface of the skin. Work systematically (for example, in several wide rows up and down the head) so that you cover the entire right side of the scalp. Repeat on the other side.