Chair Practitioner as Wellness Coach

Massage Magazine May 2013 CoverThis article originally appeared in the May 2013 issue of Massage Magazine. The focus of the issue was on the business of massage and I was asked to respond to the question:

How can I best position myself as a wellness coach offering chair massage services to business?

Here is my response:
In a previous article I discussed why becoming a wellness coach is a good strategy for marketing workplace massage. To position yourself as a credible wellness coach for massage I suggest getting a credential and a good rationale justifying your services. The established wellness industry can give you the first and some revolutionary research the second.

Formal training in wellness is often as close as your local academic institution, which may offer degrees or certification in health, wellness and fitness. A quick search will also put you in touch with related academic extension and online courses.

You can also access professional training and specialized credentials through non-profit organizations such as the National Wellness Institute or The Corporate Health and Wellness Association, both of which offer online and in-person training, certification, membership and conferences.

Both the academic and professional credentials are useful paths for getting a broad-based foundation in wellness and developing credibility as a wellness coach. However, you will quickly discover that massage is rarely found in the curricula of the mainstream wellness industry. In part, this is because of our deep-seated cultural phobia regarding touch. Specific prohibitions about touching are still routinely included in many corporate sexual harassment policies.

This absence of attention to massage by the wellness industry is also indicative of an absence of good data justifying the benefits of massage in the workplace.

It wasn’t until 2012 that the first (and as of this writing, only) textbook surveying the field of massage research was published (Massage Therapy: Integrating Research and Practice. Edited by Dryden and Moyer). With chapters on cancer, fibromyalgia, scars, sexual trauma, anxiety and depression, low back pain, neck and shoulder pain, headaches as well as special populations (pediatrics, pregnancy and labor, athletes, and older adults) it appeared that there was little evidence to construct a proactive rationale for massage in the workplace.

Fortunately corporate attitudes are in rapid transition and positive justifications for massage are appearing.

Corporate attitudes
Thirty years ago only in my wildest dreams could I have imagined a business conference entitled Wisdom 2.0 that would bring together leaders from some of the most successful tech companies (Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Cisco) together with academics, researchers, politicians and spiritual educators (such as Marianne Williamson, Jon Kabot-Zinn, Jack Kornfield) to discuss “how to live with greater wisdom, purpose and meaning.” Yet, that is exactly what happened this past February for four days in San Francisco.

Check out videos of some of these presentations. Listen carefully and you will hear the business jargon of future and it will contain words like presence, engagement, compassion and mindfulness and concepts such as conscious capitalism, the innovative mindset, places and spaces of intimacy and reclaiming our selves.

Another easy way to learn about the changing values in business is by tapping into the seemingly bottomless library of presentations offered up by TEDTalks ( One word you will hear over and over again in all of these discussions is connection. Companies want their employees to feel connected to themselves, to each other, to customers, to their work, to their communities, to their environment and even to the greater good of all humankind.

Of course, touch is the physical manifestation of connection and chair massage is a very safe container for a whole lot of touch. So, in the massage version of a wellness coach we are actually connection experts.

Revolutionary research
Why is massage so good at creating a sense of internal and external connectedness? In a word—oxytocin. In the past ten years, this hormone/neurotransmitter has risen from obscurity to take a leading role in the wellness narrative. Here is the short, somewhat oversimplified rags-to-riches story starting with some basic physiology.

The autonomic nervous system has two complementary branches: the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), which generally activates our fight or flight response, and the parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS) which generally promotes rest and recovery and makes us feel calm and connected.

We live in a sea of stress caused primarily by over-stimulation of the SNS. Too much noise, too many smells, too many people, too much work, too much email, too many perceived dangers. The fight or flight response, once the occasional visitor when a tiger crossed our path, has become a constant companion. This chronic stress response has been dissected in thousands of research papers and the conclusion is simple, we are overwhelmed physically, mentally and emotionally.

What has been studied far less, until now, is the PSNS that stills the waters and brings a sense of peace and calm, comfort and compassion, healing and health to our lives. Evidence is mounting that the primary chemical that triggers this parasympathetic response is oxytocin. Originally thought to be released only during childbirth and breastfeeding, oxytocin is now known to be produced by the pituitary gland of both males and females throughout our lives.

We also now know that the most efficient way to stimulate the release of oxytocin is through caring touch. This means that we have a scientific rationale for why massage makes us feel better that we can explain to companies and customers. For the last 25 years my key message was “Circulation is not optional” now it is “Oxytocin is not optional.”

When oxytocin kicks in employees feel better about themselves and each other, productivity and creativity increase because energy is no longer drained away by a hyperactive SNS, and the multiple health problems brought on by a chronic stress response are reduced, resulting in lower absenteeism and health care costs.

To become a serious wellness coach to business carrying the banner of massage, get a credential and become an oxytocin expert by checking out the pioneering work of Kersten Unvas Moberg (The Oxytocin Factor), Paul Zak (The Moral Molecule) and Dr. Gabor Maté ( The latter two have some engaging videos on YouTube.

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4 Responses to Chair Practitioner as Wellness Coach

  1. Mary Cheers says:

    Great article, David. And thanks for the references. Very helpful.

  2. Love this article and the points you make are fabulous. WELCOA is another great resource for corporate wellness info.

  3. Michael Academia says:

    This is a great article David! Thank you so very much for sharing and paving the way! I’m totally on-board. I’ve given speeches to my biggest client, the San Mateo County, and talk about the CNS, SNS and PSNS. Specifically, the importance of circulation but HELLO – Oxytocin!

    The National Wellness Institute has a good feel and will deeply consider this credential.

    The videos on Wisdom 2.0 makes me totally excited!

    Be well!

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