Professional massage therapist Sam, of Sunstone Spa at Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa in Rancho Mirage, knows that some of you may be intimidated by the bodywork experience, whether you’re first-timers or connoisseurs.  And if you’re tense or nervous when you lie down on his table, it kind of defeats the entire purpose of treating yourself to one of the greatest pleasures in life: a massage from an experienced, educated expert.

Sam—who was born and raised in the desert, who has practiced the art of massage for almost 13 years, and who has been at Sunstone Spa since its inception in March of 2008—is hands down (pun entirely intended) the best practitioner yours truly has ever encountered.  Here are his five top tips for making your experience with him, or with any other therapist the world over, a mutually rewarding one:

1.  Arrive well before your appointment time—an hour or more prior is not at all uncommon—to allow for check-in plus the enjoyment of the spa’s pampering facilities: dry sauna, steam room, hot tub, quiet relaxation areas, plus all those luxurious (free!) bath and body products like soaps, shampoos, after-shaves, and moisturizing lotions.

2.  Sam recommends a light snack beforehand, but nothing too heavy, “since lying down while filled to capacity may create discomfort during the massage.”

3.  If you’re indulging in more than one treatment, the optimal order is as follows:  scrub or body wrap, then massage, followed by facial, and finally, hair and/or nail treatments.

4.  Don’t forget that you’re allowed to express your preference between a male or female therapist at the time you make your appointment.  “Gender preferences are individualistic,” says Sam.  “If the practitioner is well-trained and well-prepared, this decision is simply preferential.”  Some women feel more at ease with a female therapist, while many men feel apprehensive about being rubbed down by a fellow man.  This is all about you.  Don’t be afraid to push your boundaries (yes, I’m talking to you, guys) but ultimately make the decision that will make you most comfortable.

5.  Never hesitate to ask for what you want and need—even if it means adjusting the massage mid-session.  You and your therapist are co-creating the experience, regardless of his or her agenda.  Don’t feel embarrassed requesting some customization.  “This only makes the ‘dance’ more graceful,” says Sam, “thus enhancing everyone’s experience, including the massage professional’s.”