What it is like to attend a TouchPro training

This is an email received after the April 2016 TouchPro Chair Massage Class at the Connecticut Center for Massage Therapy. It made my day.

Hey there, David ~

Thanks for the memories, as the song goes. Just wanted to express my appreciation again for holding such an awesome class! As is often the case when I’m on sensory overload, it takes me a while after the experience for me to process all that occurred, and all I gained in the process. That was probably the most uncomfortable weekend I’ve spent in a while … which is actually a compliment, as I remind myself over and over again, that my greatest growth has so often sprung from my greatest discomfort. My head was reeling when I left, and my body just wanted to crawl into bed! But, over the past couple of days, I’ve been so excited about the idea of integrating chair massage into my practice, rather than merely using it as a marketing tool. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the workshop, figuring I’d learn some “nice” chair techniques that I could add to my toolbox, but what I came away with was so much more! If I hadn’t had such an acute case of massage head, I would have written a longer response to what I liked best about the course on the evaluation form.

Listening to your inspired talk about the evolution of chair massage to facilitate much-needed touch in our culture was inspiring, and motivating, and so much of what you said resonated with me. Without you knowing it, it’s as if you gave me permission to provide nurturing touch to my clients, without feeling the need to “fix” them … Wow, a breakthrough moment for me! Your teaching of a Kata really resonated with me, especially when I read what you wrote about the term in your manual: “If you trust the Kata and develop an honest relationship with it, you will be rewarded with unlimited insights about the nature of touch, massage, service, relationships, yourself, and your place in the grand scheme of the universe. Another advantage of practicing the Kata is that it becomes a discipline in the spiritual sense of the word. One of the hallmarks of every spiritual discipline is the practice of repetitive rituals that become automatic and allow for openings into higher states of consciousness… When you practice the TouchPro Kata it eventually becomes like a beautiful dance or a piece of classical music. Highly structured and choreographed, while it is the same each time, it is also different.” Beautiful!

For me, practicing massage has been like a sacred ceremony. Before I meet with a client for a table session, I say a prayer of intent, thanking God for allowing me to be a conduit, through which whatever my client needs most is delivered. I pray for focus, clarity of thought, and that I be filled with, and emanate, Divine love, light and healing energy. My intent is always to first connect with my clients, and then to create a nurturing haven in which they can relax, release, let go and drift off to that altered state of consciousness about which you spoke. Most of the time, I end a session feeling relaxed, happy and at peace, even more so than when I started. And, I know that, along the way, I am increasing their circulation, facilitating the release of oxytocin into their bloodstream, and activating their relaxation response, thereby also, hopefully, diminishing any pain or ills they were experiencing when they walked into my office. On occasion, I am asked to “work” areas of muscle tension, but more often than not, I believe what clients are seeking is relief period. As you pointed out in one of your articles, massage makes everything in life seem more manageable (pardon my paraphrasing if I’ve butchered it).

Initially, I used my chair for home sessions on family, and then, as a marketing tool to entice salon clients where I was working to give a table session a try. After taking your workshop, I’m now seeing chair massage as something simple, but grand at the same time—rich with possibilities! One of my concerns has been that I would only be able to offer massage to people who could afford it, when I could see that so many others, with little discretionary income, needed massage as much, if not more … Enter your Kata! I thought, “Here’s a way I can offer a session, performed with all the sacred intent I value, and with wonderful physical, psychological and emotional benefits for the client, and at a price that is so much more affordable than my standard 90-minute table sessions … Eureka!” And, yes, with chair massage also comes ease and an increased comfort level, as the client need not undress and feel as vulnerable. In essence, you’ve package chair massage in a way that spoke to my heart, and for that I am grateful!

I know you mentioned in your manual that your ultimate vision is to have all children in primary school learn basic shoulder rubs as a way of introducing more human touch at an early age. Have you given any thought to trying to find an inroad to high schools? During their second semester senior year, both my son and daughter were required to find an internship. Some chose work related to their interests or the area they were thinking of pursuing in college, while others, just logged hours. I could see how shadowing a chair massage practitioner could provide a wonderful introduction to young people to massage, and touch, in general. I totally agree with your view that chair massage should be the stepping stone to table massage, with its own, less stringent licensing requirements. Chair massage would also make an excellent vocational choice for some high school students who don’t plan to attend college.

I’ve also thought a lot about ways to bridge the gap between high school students and the elderly. When my son, Chris, was in high school,  I could see that if he found his niche, he’d shine. About that time, he was required to log volunteer hours to satisfy his confirmation class requirements (yes, I was brought up Catholic as well :-D). He chose to volunteer at our town’s senior center. During his time there, I discussed with Chris the possibility of starting an in-home computer tutoring service for seniors, since he was good with technology and most of the seniors had computers, but many were not as adept at using them. We printed a brochure at home, and then Chris pitched the idea to the director of the senior center, who embraced it, and helped market him. It was an interesting time. Chris came into his own, and shine he did. Chris took pride in his work, which made him feel good about himself; he felt good about helping the seniors; the seniors loved him, and the fact that they could get computer tutorials from someone patient and who spoke in plain language for far less than anyone else was charging. It was a win, win. This very long-winded story is my attempt at illustrating a way of connecting the two groups of people in a way that made everyone feel good. And, then I thought, “Would there be a way to do the same using chair massage instead of computer tutoring?” But, yeah … there’s that whole deal about licensing and liability. Anyway, just throwing it out there in case you have any ideas how it might work because I love the “idea” of it, but have no clue “how” it could work.

Wow! So Sorry! Intended to send a short thank you and realize I’ve just purged all over the page! Don’t know what happened, but I started typing and … it was like someone turned on the kitchen faucet and forgot to shut it off! Well, just shows you how much of an impact your two-day workshop had on me, so THANK YOU again!

With warmest wishes & a big hug,
Lori (Lorraine Steinmetz)

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The History Channel Features the Massage Chair

[Jim Everett and David Palmer tinkering with the massage chair]

Jim Everett and David tinkering with the original massage chair

When I was first approached by The History Channel last July (2015) about filming a segment on the massage chair for a series on contemporary inventions and inventors, I didn’t get my hopes up. After all, how many of these programs actually get made? But, after the production company spent three days last Fall filming in San Francisco and Zurich (where they met my co-designer, Serge Bouyssou) I felt like, “OK, this is really going to happen.”

Then, in February I found out they titled the 10-part series Million Dollar Genius and, since I was neither, I thought: “Drat, they must have cut me out!”

But, fortunately, my segment is still in the show and is scheduled to air Friday, April 1, 2016 at 11pmET/10CT/9MT/11PT. It is the sixth episode in the series and is titled Bigger is Better, whatever that means. You can find additional information on the History Channel website about the program and view episodes that have already aired. You will need credentials from a cable provider to view it online. Since I don’t have a television, I use my sister’s account. It will also play at other times next week so check the program schedule for your time zone.

[Update: The segment has aired and you can view it here.]

I haven’t seen what they put together for the massage chair segment, but the episodes so far have had very high production values and create a good story. They interviewed myself, Serge Bouyssou, and my friend, Carlin Holden. I am still a little nervous that it is being aired on April Fool’s Day, but keeping my fingers crossed that it won’t make me look like a jerk.

The timing, however, is great since this is the 30th anniversary of the appearance of first massage chair. We are enhancing our website and collecting stories and pictures about the original Living Earth Crafts (LEC) chair and the very earliest days of seated massage (pre-1986) when there were no chairs. This collection will be the permanent archive dedicated to the original massage chair and the pioneers of seated massage.

If you would like to contribute photos, videos or audio stories to this effort, you can email me at dp@touchpro.com. If you have memories you would like to share, please leave comments below. What was your reaction the first time you saw a massage chair? The first time you received a chair massage? What happened the first time you tried to assemble or disassemble an LEC chair? What was the reaction of your first customers? Right now you also can read some wonderful memories in the comments section at the end of this article: The Story of the First Massage Chair.

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The Genetic Roots of Massage

Genetic Roots of Massage ImageOften overlooked in the ongoing quest for a coherent identity for the massage profession are its evolutionary roots. In other words, what is the genetic basis for what we now call massage?

In the animal kingdom the general impulse to touch one another is termed social touch and is not only clearly evident in our primate ancestors but has also been identified in insects, birds, bats and virtually all mammals. That means that social touch has been hard wired into our genomic heritage for over 200 million years. What part of social touch gave rise to massage?

In primates, social touch can be divided into three overlapping functional categories: nurturing, grooming, and mating.

    • Nurturing touch originated from the need of infant mammals to be fed and protected.
    • Social grooming evolved for hygienic reasons, the need to keep the hair, fur, feathers and other skin coverings clean and free of leaves, twigs, insects, parasites and other objects.
    • The reproductive/mating instinct is fundamental to all animals for propagation of their species.


Other overlapping functions of the varieties of social touch are also important. All three are examples of bonding behavior in its broadest sense of the word. Not only does touch tie parents to their offspring, mates to each other and individuals to the family or tribe, but touch has two other deep existential functions that often get overlooked. Touch creates a subjective sensation in  recipients that validates their unique individuality (bonding to myself) while, at the same time, it provides a “reality check” of their objective presence in and connection to the exterior environment. In an era of increasingly virtual relationships both of these benefits take on a new significance.

Grooming and nurturing kinds of touch overlap with mating touch in the forms of preening and affection, as noted in the illustration. Grooming and mating touch in some species, such as hominids, are also overlap when they are used for conflict resolution or reconciliation.

Wither professional massage?

Genetic RootsAll massage done today by trained practitioners can trace its roots to at least one of these instinctual categories touching.

While every massage can be said to have a nurturing component (as described above in the discussion of bonding), nurturing touch is specifically the progenitor for what could be called comfort massage. These massage practitioners either provide massage services or massage training for populations such as the very young, the very old and the infirm. Examples include infant massage, geriatric massage and hospice massage.

Next, the grooming instinct has birthed the largest category of professional massage services: the personal care massage.

Parents or other family members are the primary groomers of their infants and children. They attend to the hygiene of their hair, nails, ears, nose, eyes and, most importantly, of their skin. They bathe and anoint their young with oils, lotions, and powders and, in this interaction, give them their first experience of the benefits of interpersonal touch.

As our children get older and more independent they begin to assume many of these grooming responsibilities for themselves. But society has also developed a whole economic sphere that can perform these functions called personal care services and its occupational categories include:

    • Hair stylists
    • Manicurists
    • Skin Care Specialists
    • Makeup artists
    • Massage practitioners

Most professional massage being provided today is personal care massage and it is easy to argue that it is more necessary than ever. With the emergence of higher levels of consciousness and more complex social systems, humans have the dubious distinction of being the only primate that can choose to override its natural instincts and live without interpersonal touch. Indeed, in many contemporary cultures, touching is now demonized, restricted or outright prohibited. Most people walk around today with a touch deficit. Personal care massage is one of the few ways that this primal need for touch can be safely met.

Finally, professional sexual massage services are a clear outgrowth of the mating touch instinct and, where they are not illegal, these days are often euphemistically described as “adult” or “tantric” massage.

Implications for our professional identity

Health care massage is the label that most massage schools, associations prefer for massage services. However, using touch techniques to ameliorate pain or injuries is actually a second order of massage services once removed from instinctual nurturing or grooming touch. It could be argued that the genetic roots of health care massage are  in self-touch, i.e. rubbing my sore spot to make it feel better. It wasn’t until some primates (and most particularly human primates) developed a capacity for empathy (feeling the pain of another) that interpersonal touch for relief became conceivable, i.e. rubbing your sore spot to make it feel better.

That’s not to say that health care or wellness massage can’t have the same benefits of comfort and personal care massage. It can and often does. However, it is the difference between eating chicken soup because you are hungry and eating (or feeding someone) chicken soup to cure what ails you. The former is instinctual and the latter requires a higher level of intention.

That distinction is important and often overlooked. The best use of massage is not to act as an ambulance at the bottom of a cliff (health care treatment), but rather to be the guard rail at the top of the cliff (health maintenance). Conflating (personal care) “massage” with (health care) “massage therapy” over the past 30 years has, unfortunately, resulted in the wide spread impression that massage is only useful when something has gone wrong. If we want to have a coherent identity for professional massage, it will have to include, but make a distinction between, both massage and massage therapy.

If you have any comments or thoughts about the genetic roots of our profession, please share them below.

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What we need to know about touch

What We Need To Know About TouchSkin stimulation (touching) is essential to maintaining physical, psychological and social well-being, according to an ever-increasing body of scientific literature. Since touch is the fundamental tool through which massage professionals interact with those who pay for our services, it seems obvious that we should have the deepest understanding of touch and touching. So, how do the skilled touch professions become the recognized experts on the subject of touch and touching?

I would like to propose an outline for a comprehensive body of knowledge about the sense of touch. I believe the skilled touch professions, as a community, already has access to this information, just not in one place. There still is no comprehensive textbook on touch for the massage profession or any other profession for that matter.

While every practitioner does not need to be an expert in every aspect of touch and touching, every practitioner should be familiar with all of the elements present in a touch experience. Obviously, that means that all schools and teachers of professional touch should be able to address these topics. Think of the following categories as chapters in that as yet unwritten textbook.

  • The evolutionary development of touching: Our genetic heritage
  • The anatomical structures and physiology of skin
  • The developmental requirements for human touching
  • The variety of cultural attitudes toward touching
  • The subjective perception of the initiator of touch
  • The subjective perception of the receiver of touch
  • The intention of the initiator of touch
  • The psycho-social-physical benefits of touching
  • The mechanics of touching
  • The manifestations of touching
  • The history of professional touching
  • Touch research
  • The institutional regulation of touching

Clearly, there is a lot to know about touch and touching. It is also obvious that schools which train skilled touch professionals tend to emphasize only a few of the categories above, in particular the mechanics of touching. That is not surprising for three reasons.

  1. Both academia that researches skilled touch and the vocational schools that teach skilled touch have been hampered by the touch-phobic milieu of the culture.
  2. As a result, academic interest in touch research has lagged far behind the attention paid to the other four primary senses.
  3. And, without the science, that comprehensive textbook on touch referred to earlier has not been written.

Fortunately, all of that has begun to change dramatically in the past generation as, in particular, the massage industry has successfully legitimized a place for skilled touch in the modern world. Primary credit for that success has to be given to the public and private massage associations, massage schools, their practitioners and businesses. While we don’t yet have a touch-positive culture, we are definitely moving in that direction. That will continue to spur interest in touch research and eventually result in the development of those crucial textbooks.

What do you think a comprehensive body of knowledge about touch and touching should include? Please add your comments below.

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Why Do We Touch?

Why Do We Touch_imgOne important characteristic of all touching is the intention of the person initiating the touching. Much of the time the intention behind the touch is not conscious or it is presumed. However, adding conscious intention adds a deeper level of connection to the touch interaction.

Take, for example, a simple handshake upon meeting another person. The intention of a handshake is to greet the other person, to make a social connection, to show trust and respect. As a social habit it is automatic and generally unconscious.

Now imagine a handshake from someone who really consciously shakes your hand, feels the touch of your hand as a singular experience, and perhaps even emphasizes that consciousness by taking your hand in both of theirs and looking you directly in the eyes. Immediately the quality of the relationship changes. It is more intimate, more deeply connecting, more engaging. A great part of the charisma of famous people like Bill Clinton is often attributed to the great intentionality they bring to their handshakes and hugs.

All touching falls on a spectrum from harmful to neutral to positive touching. Below is an evolving list of non-harmful intentions of a touch initiator with particular thanks, to Janet Courtney, Director of Developmental Play & Attachment Therapies. The core of this list emerged from a survey she co-developed with Angela Siu for a study entitled: Practitioner Attitudes of Touch in Working with Children and Families in Child Counseling and Play Therapy.

Initiating Intentions of Touching

  • Accidental touching: Brushing up against someone as you pass on the street or on a bus generally has no intention or purpose and would be considered neutral touch.
  • Touching for greeting and departure: Handshakes, hugs, and kisses signal different levels of intimacy, depending on the culture. Sudanese greet by putting hands on the shoulder of the other person.
  • Attentional touching: Touching someone’s arm (or hand, or shoulder) allows the initiator to direct the focus of the receiver for greater attention or emphasize.
  • Assistive touching: Guiding another’s hand or body through space is often an essential part of teaching body-based skills such as dance, massage, playing an instrument. It also includes the rehabilitative learning of skills that have been lost through injury or disease.
  • Reinforcing touching: A pat on the back can strengthen a particular behavioral or emotional response.
  • Playful touching: Tickling and “roughhousing” are common examples of touching that creates greater connection and non-sexual intimacy. The growing movement of adult “cuddle clubs” could be included here as well as in the next two categories.
  • Nurturing touching: The fundamental need for physical contact, skin stimulation and security are all addressed by nurturing touching. In babies and children this is critical to forming healthy attachments.
  • Affectionate touching: This touching is initiated as an expression of care, comfort, and reassurance.
  • Restraining touching: This touching is initiated to prevent the person being touched from harming themselves or others and most commonly occurs in parent to child touching.
  • Cathartic touching: Unconditional intentional touch such as holding, cradling, hugging or massage can allow people to access to their vulnerable personality parts and can facilitate a release of repressed emotions. This is often used in cunjunction with talk therapy.
  • Grooming: This category includes cleaning, trimming, massaging or decorating the hair, skin, ears, teeth, fingernails, and toenails of another person. Children usually receive this touch from their parents and adults from professional groomers.
    • Professional massage: There are well over a hundred various modalities of massage and bodywork with probably as many different intentions. However, in general, the skilled touch professions tend to fall into three categories of intention: Systemic, which promote relaxation and well-being; Corrective, which tend to focus on remediating musculoskeletal problems; and Eclectic, which is every other intention not included in the first two.
  • Erotic touching: It is interesting to note that there is a spectrum of erotic intention that ranges from spontaneous to structured touch. Cultural movements such as “No means no!”, by requiring permission and negotiation before any touch even occurs move at least the initiation of touch closer to the calculated end of the spectrum.

This spectrum of spontaneity mentioned above can also be overlaid on all of the touching intentions outlined and is an important consideration. The more structure there is to the touch interaction, the safer it tends to be. There is little doubt that one of the main drivers of the massage profession is the fact that, at its best, it provides an environment for safe, unconditional touch. The cultural pendulum is clearly swinging back in the direction of setting clear boundaries for touch. Let us not be distressed by the move toward more calculated touch in our relationships. I suspect it is just the first step toward creating a truly touch positive world where healthy, spontaneous touch is ultimately the new norm.

Please add your thoughts and suggestions about these categories of touch intention below.

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