My focus is contributing to the kind of world I want to live in by helping others.
we create the world.
What does this have to do with massage?
To be honest, when I entered massage school I wasn’t quite sure myself. Turns out, whatever we are doing in life our bodies are right there.
We worry about how well humanity is taking care of the earth, but how well do we take care of our bodies? We want peace and connection in the world instead of conflict, but how connected are we to ourselves? How often do we feel in conflict with ourselves, with our bodies?
It can be hard to create joy when our bodies are in pain or discomfort. It can be difficult to feel fully alive when we’re so stressed and disconnected from ourselves that our only choice is between feeling bad and barely feeling at all.
Of course these are the extreme ends of the spectrum. Most of us fall somewhere between complete numbness & pain on the one end and ecstatic, fully alive radiance on the other. What is your experience like on an average day?
Initial Education I have been in private practice since 2005, when I graduated from The Heartwood Institute. While its massage training program was in operation, Heartwood was considered one of the Top 10 massage schools in the US. I received my Certificate in Massage Therapy (CMT) with 780 hours of training in:
With integrated training in:
While there I also completed Reiki Level II and workshops on topics such as healing movement, flower essences, and chakra work. As a residential school, Heartwood offered an immersive learning experience. Situated on a mountain in Southern Humboldt County and populated by holistic teachers, students, staff, and retreaters, it has a reputation for changing people’s lives, and my experience was no different. Read on for the rest of the story.
|TouchPro chair massage||David Palmer||50+ hours|
|Eden Energy Medicine Intensive||Donna Eden||5 days|
|Absolute Balanced Mastery™||Marja West||2 days|
|Orthopedic Massage||James Waslaski||40 hours|
|Craniosacral 1 & 2||Hugh Milne||64 hours|
|Pediatric Craniosacral||Benjamin Shield||32 hours|
|Neuro-Linguistic Programming||NLP Marin||2 years|
|Training Assistant||NLP Marin||1 year|
|Family Constellations||NLP Marin||9 days|
|Advanced Constellation Facilitator Training||Convivium Constellations||4 months|
|Apprenticeship in Traditional Healing||Traditional Elder||ongoing|
|Best Massage Therapist||SF Bay Guardian – Best of the Bay||2008|
|Best Massage Therapist||SF Bay Guardian – Best of the Bay||2009|
|Best Massage Therapist||SF Chronicle – Baylist||2009|
|Best Massage Therapist||SF Bay Guardian – Best of the Bay||2010|
Classes Developed & Taught
|The Magic of Touch||Principles of skillful touch for non-bodyworkers, with Pamela Rosin|
|Scalp Massage||Custom scalp massage routine & training — developed for a Union Square salon and taught to all their employees.|
|Unwinding||Safe physical healing technique taught for non-bodyworkers|
|Queerbody||Body-image, sex, & relationships, with Dr. Sam Zoranovich|
My first career was in web development. I sat in front of a computer all day. I interacted with people by email rather than face to face. Worst of all, I was paid to help businesses that didn’t always meet my ethical standards.
In the midst of this, I realized a simple fact with profound implications. My work did not contribute to the kind of world I want to live in.
If I didn’t change, I would continue to be “part of the problem”. I thought about all the people who have spent their careers in toxic and unsustainable industries. Lives spent producing things that diminish rather than enrich us. I couldn’t say I was spending my life much differently.
I learned this problem has a name: right livelihood. I needed to align my work with my values.
Positive growth and change has been my focus my whole adult life. So I put my attention on this problem of right livelihood. I began to slowly change my life and direction. Learning Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) created big changes. I began using it extensively. I was eager for any tool that might help me.
Along the way, I came to realize that helping others create positive change in their lives is my right livelihood. That has been my focus ever since. It is the most direct way I know of to help create the kind of world we both want to live in.
As I sought to transition out of web work and into a career of helping people, the first question was, “Help people how?” After several years of studying EFT, I was mainly interested in energy psychology but didn’t know how to pursue it. Formal education tracks for the kind of psychology work I am interested in are even today still fairly nascent.
Massage was something I had always wanted to learn but hadn’t ever fit in with my plans before. At this juncture, however, it made sense. I was familiar with the concept that mind and body are connected, and if this were true then learning to work with the body would be a step in the direction I wanted to take.
I chose the Heartwood Institute because it was the only massage school I found that explicitly supported its students in doing their own healing work before going out into the world to help others. At Heartwood, the pace of personal change was so fast a week at school was like a month of therapy.
I was supported in this process by the land, the food, the staff and instructors, and my classmates. Every day the views around me looked out over the mountains that Heartwood is nestled in. The kitchen staff prepared the organic, vegetarian whole foods consciously and lovingly. This diet naturally cleansed and nurtured the body. The program promoted self-healing in different ways, from healing movement classes to good nutrition to class heart circles. Our instructors gave us the room we needed to move through our personal challenges in our own ways and time. My classmates and I held safe space for each other’s needs, whether it was sharing personal trauma, letting go and crying when necessary, or just speaking a difficult but healing truth.
Along the way, I confirmed that mind and body are intertwined, more than I had ever imagined. The truth is, they aren’t separate at all. I learned that energy work came in many different forms. That there were specific systems of bodywork designed to release emotions locked deep in our musculature and posture.
I learned that all forms of touch can be transformative. That presence is the most important thing. That the body, mind, and spirit responds more to love than “fixing”.
Classroom learning can only prepare you so much for what happens in the real world. Fresh out of school was an exciting time, but the first thing that happened is all my assumptions and expectations got reality checked.
I had to let go of so many of my expectations when I started working. Every spa, every clinic has its own culture and clientele with their own expectations and usual ways of working. Even in private practice I’ve had to learn what to let go of and what to keep from my training, workshops, and client suggestions.
Along the way, a person develops their own style, finding what works for them. I’ve found bodywork to be such a huge universe compared to what I thought it was back before massage school. There are countless massage modalities any one of which a person could delve deeply into for a lifetime and still be learning new things.
I have been blessed to learn from teachers who have delved deeply into their modalities for decades. Experiencing the sheer beauty of the quality of their touch has been a profound influence on me and remains an ideal that I strive for with each of my clients. Most of all it demonstrated to me that there is no end to the refinement of one’s healing art. Every year I practice is another year of refinement.
I find it difficult to describe my style. So many clients over the years have said the same words, “I’ve never had a massage like that before.”
My hands feel for relationships between the different parts of your body and I’m often working in one place in order to facilitate release in another. I once had a client come in for a problem with her thumb. I spent almost the entire session working on other parts of her body but I was working in service to her thumb the whole time. By the time I got to her hand, she said, “My thumb doesn’t even hurt anymore.”
I think of bodywork as a communication rather than a manipulation. It’s a conversation between my bodymind and yours. The Radical Faeries would call it subject/subject consciousness rather than subject/object. The integralists call it “I/Thou” versus “I/It”. I don’t treat your body as a piece of meat to be physically tenderized because it’s alive, innervated with neurology, and an inseparable aspect of your consciousness. It’s also a set of dynamic relationships between bones, muscles, tissues, nerves, gravity, history, your psychology and subjective experience, your family system, and more.
The clients who resonate with my technique really love it. In 2008, ’09, and ’10, my clients voted me the Best Massage Therapist in the San Francisco Bay Guardian’s Best of the Bay readers poll. In 2009 they also voted me Best Massage Therapist in the San Francisco Chronicle’s Baylist contest.
Winning those polls was one of the best things that ever happened to my practice. The awards immediately differentiated me from being “yet another massage therapist.” They also boosted credibility and trust for potential clients evaluating whether to connect with me. Of course no practitioner is the “best” for every client or every situation. This is part of why I do a consultation call with every potential new client, so we can both discern whether working together seems like the right fit.
Over the years I discovered that I work best with people who share my rejection of a “no pain, no gain” approach to bodywork. I am inspired by one of my teachers, James Waslaski, who is known for his orthopedic massage work with Olympic athletes. His style is all pain-free. If you’re causing pain, you’re not doing his style of bodywork. I can’t say all my work is entirely pain free, as I’m also inspired by Rolfing and Connective Tissue Massage, two styles with a reputation for pain! However, I strive to get good results without painful techniques as much as possible. I have heard consistently from clients over the years, especially those who have only ever had really painful versions of deep tissue, things like, “It’s so nice not to feel like I’ve been beat up after my massage.”
I started massage school with a very limited concept of massage, similar to how many people think of it. What I found instead was an entire universe of healing arts. I expected massage would be a stepping stone in my career transition. It turned into a 10 year-long step and what will probably be a lifelong endeavor.
Massage has shaped my journey and provided a grounding in embodiment. Along the way I’ve explored so many different kinds of healing work, from hypnotherapy to shamanism. I’ve had a lot of interesting experiences, wasted my time on some things, but always learned from them. I continually integrate the new things I learn into the healing work I offer my clients.
In 2013 I began training in Neuro-Linguistic Programming and Family Constellations at NLP Marin. I’d known about NLP since 2001 but had filed it away in the back of my mind. By 2015 I had completed their entire program.
NLP has been much maligned and relegated to the fringes in the US due to a combination of the personalities of the founders (they had chips on their shoulders about mainstream psychology), shoddy initial research, and the proliferation of a lot of truly bad offerings claiming to be or draw from NLP.
Given my experiences with NLP Marin, this backdrop is most unfortunate. I’ve spent my entire life looking for the most effective ways I can find to help people make positive changes. Marin-style NLP is one of the best.
I now offer NLP & Constellation work to clients who bring me problems that go beyond bodywork. People often seek bodywork because they don’t know where else to turn for healing. I can usually assess in our first session when a person would benefit from this additional work.
Since 2011 I have worked with a traditional healer I am apprenticed to. Through that work I am learning to integrate the different parts of my work. Just as body and mind no longer seem so separate, massage, NLP, Constellations, and other methods are all simply different aspects of helping people be happy and well.
These days I am enjoying deepening into my work and the various forms it takes. I can say that my work contributes to the kind of world I want to live in. And it is my honor to help you make the changes that contribute to your world being more and more the kind of world you want to live in, too.