Elementary Touch Education

Last Saturday I had the opportunity to share chair massage at a PTO fundraising event for our local Annie Vinton Elementary School. It felt good to be promoting positive touch in this era of such nasty news. For some subliminal education, in the background I looped a couple of YouTube videos describing the benefits of child-to-child massage in classrooms. On the table I featured Touch in Child Counseling and Play Therapy: An Ethical Guide.

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Feldenkrais and Hanna Somatics for Maintenance and Pain Management

Jane Brody, the legendary health journalist for the New York Times, recently wrote an article extolling the virtues of the Feldenkrais approach to pain management and recovery. Lesser known is the work of Thomas Hanna, who introduced Moshe Feldenkrais to the United States and studied with him for many years. Hanna took the physics and mechanical engineering basis of Feldenkais’s work and added in neuroscience, psychology and philosophy to create a version (Hanna Somatics) which has been an intimate part of my daily routine for fifteen years. Both are worth checking out as self care for yourself and your customers.

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A new textbook about touch and children

Book CoverI met Janet Courtney in 2015 through a small working group that was exploring the feasibility of creating an interdisciplinary, international conference on touch. On so many levels I find her amazing. She is an internationally recognized expert in developmental play and attachment therapies for children and gave a wonderful TedX talk on the importance of childhood touch.

Janet was in the process of writing and editing an academic textbook called Touch in Child Counseling and Play Therapy: An Ethical Guide. A lifelong touch advocate, she was surprised to discover that nobody had written a text for professionals about the crucial role of therapeutic touch for children. At her invitation I co-authored a chapter entitled Teaching Positive Touch: A Child-to-Child Massage Model for the Classroom with Jean Barlow, another hero of mine whose program was profiled in the chapter.

The book was published in March, 2017 and for the launch, check out the promotional discount Rutledge Press is running: 20% off the price of the hard or softcover versions of the book. The eBook version is also available at Amazon. If you are affiliated with a massage school, you may be able to preview the eBook version for free by filling out their Complimentary Copy form.

This textbook is a first in its field and my contributing an academic chapter is also a first. When it was done in May 2016 I felt like I had run a marathon with the same finish line exhilaration and craving for more. Thank you Janet and Jean for challenging me and including me in your lives and ground-breaking work.

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The “Death” of On-Site Massage

[This piece was originally published in Massage Therapy Journal Spring issue, 1995. Only a few people will remember that “seated massage” originally burst onto the scene as “on-site massage” when the first massage chair came on the market in 1986. Here is a bit more about the genesis of the early terminology.”

In 1986 I coined the term “On-Site Massage” and, in 1995, I thought perhaps I might kill it.

Okay, maybe that’s not exactly true. While it is true is that I coined the term “on-site massage” it is not exactly true is that I want to kill it. Rather, I am going to suggest that we need to redefine how we use the term. Let me discuss the original rationale for the term “on- site massage” and the current confusion around its use.

Giving massages to people who are seated has been going on for centuries. There are old Japanese woodcuts of people being massaged on low stools, next to their bath. In current times chair massage started with a few creative practitioners in the early 1980’s who were looking for a way to bring massage services into the workplace.

In 1982 I began experimenting with seated massage as a way of creating jobs for graduates from The Amma Institute of Traditional Japanese Massage, a school in San Francisco that I ran from 1982 until 1989.

We had significant success at Apple Computer Corporation and, throughout 1985 and 1986, our work was widely reported in the national media. This was the first time the concept of chair massage entered the broad public consciousness.

The “birth” of On-Site Massage came in May 1986. I coined the term at the same time that we introduced the first custom-designed chair for seated massage, manufactured by Living Earth Crafts. I specifically stayed away from calling the work “chair massage” because, up to that point, it seemed like every time we talked about chair massage, people would immediately try to figure out where they could plug it in.

So I selected “on-site massage” to emphasize the portability and convenience of the work. The term had a corporate feel to it which fit in with what I felt, at that time, was going to be the primary market for chair massage service–the workplace.

At the 1986 American Massage Therapy Association convention, I demonstrated chair massage at a meeting of the Council of Schools and began offering continuing education workshops throughout the country. Nine years later we have taught over 5,000 table practitioners the techniques and marketing strategies of chair massage.

Interest in chair massage has continued to grow. Here’s a quick survey of the evidence that confirms how chair massage has become a significant component of the bodywork industry.

  • Virtually every massage school in the country now includes information about chair massage in their core curriculum.
  • At last count there were at least 15 different massage chairs being sold by manufacturers. My conservative estimate is that over 3,000 chairs a year are currently being sold and that more than 15,000 chairs have already been purchased.
  • The range of markets for chair massage is truly amazing. Massage chairs are being taken to offices, flea markets, airports, taxi stands, bookstores, health food stores, parks, beaches, shopping malls, salons, ski resorts, seminars, convention centers, health fairs, charity events, weddings, film sets, music studios, backstage at concerts, anywhere table massage has traditionally been done, and at dozens of other locations and events limited only by the imagination of the practitioner.
  • Chair massage serves as the front line in our efforts to legitimize bodywork services in the eyes of the general public, elected officials, and the media. Because of its non-threatening nature and high visibility this work is often the first­–but not the last–massage a new client receives.

With all the good news, why then is there a need for changing the terminology? Simply because serious inconsistencies have arisen with usage of the term “on-site massage.”

When chair massage began, most of it was, in fact, “on- site” massage. That is, most of the time practitioners took the chair to the location of the client to do the work. However, as chair massage began growing, clients began coming to the location of the practitioner, as primarily happens with table massage.

Another inconsistency in many people’s minds is that “on- site massage” doesn’t refer exclusively to chair massage anymore. I have seen many examples of bodyworkers referring to “on-site table massage.”

Finally, over the years, the term “on-site massage” is sometimes used synonymously with “workplace massage.” This came about because most of the stories in the mainstream media have described chair massage performed in the office setting.

I suggest it is time to end the confusion. My proposal is simple-let’s tell it like it is.

  • When massage is brought to the location of the client it is clearly “on-site” massage. However, note that a more precise reference would be either “on-site chair massage” or “on-site table massage.”
  • For a generic term to describe massage done on a seated client I propose the obviousÑ”chair massage.”  This juxtaposes it well to “table massage.” Optionally the work could be called “seated massage” but since we don’t use the term “prone massage” for table clients it is not quite as neat.

Fortunately most of the practitioners who have invested time and money in developing business cards, brochures, and other advertising for on-site massage really are doing massage “on-site.” They would only need to add the modifier “chair” to be absolutely clear about what they mean.

For my part, I will no longer generically refer to my work as on-site massage but rather call it “chair massage.” This year I have also renamed my seminar organization from On- Site Enterprises to the Skilled Touch Institute of Chair Massage.

The important thing to remember is that on-site massage–oops! I mean, chair massage, is flourishing. It couldn’t be killed even if someone really wanted to. No matter what we call it, I will continue to be a primary advocate.

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France recognizes seated massage as an occupational title

[Click to download a PDF of the press release version.]

France recently became the first country in the world to recognize seated massage as an occupational category with a professional certification. On June 7, 2016, the National Professional Certification Commission (Le Répertoire National des Certifications Professionnelles) approved Xavier Court Training as the sole provider of diplomas for Practitioners of Seated Massage.

Xavier and David

Xavier and David

Xavier Court, owner of the school, began the application process three years ago after joining forces with chair massage pioneer, David Palmer, and becoming an affiliate of Palmer’s organization, TouchPro International. Their application received a Level 2 certification under the French grading system (Level 1 is University diplomas) giving it a high degree of professional credibility. Throughout Europe the training is also rated as EuroPass Level 6 (the highest being Level 8) making the credential easily portable between all EU countries.

The approved curriculum is 170 hours and includes training in the TouchPro acupressure approach to chair massage developed by Palmer in 1986. While over 40,000 table massage practitioners around the globe have already been taught this system in continuing education seminars, this is the first time it has been the centerpiece of an entry-level massage program. Besides mastering the TouchPro technique, requires training in anatomy, physiology, hygiene, ethics, customer relations, and marketing to qualify graduates as world class chair massage specialists.

This also marks the first time that France has approved a specific credential for any massage services. Up to this point, the physiotherapists have prevented massage practitioners from being recognized as an independently titled profession. Palmer speculates that because seated massage was specifically defined in this instance as non-therapeutic, relaxation massage the French physiotherapists found it less objectionable than table massage therapy being provided as a health care service.

Another TouchPro affiliate in Trinidad & Tobago has an application in process for Caribbean-wide chair massage credentialing as a discrete occupation and Palmer looks forward to other countries adopting similar curriculum. The likelihood of North America following suit is slim as both Canada and the United States still require practitioners to complete 500- to 2200-hour table massage programs in most states and provinces before practitioners can legally offer chair massage services.

[For further information, please contact David Palmer at dp@touchpro.com.]

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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

Skin 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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Where Do We Get Touch?

{A World of Touch}Skin stimulation (touch) is essential to the development and maintenance of health and well being in every human. Why then has it been so neglected as a subject for legitimate inquiry except perhaps by poets?  The other four senses have garnered reams of research, had university  departments dedicated to them and whole occupations given over to the cause of hearing, seeing, tasting and smelling. But where is the profession dedicated to touching? Touch is truly the “orphan sense.”

Fortunately, that is changing. In the past 20 years, particularly with the rise of neuro-psychology, the primary sense of touch is finally beginning to get its due. As it does there is an increasing need to organize our thinking about touch. One useful tool would be a taxonomy of where touching occurs.

This first effort only includes sources of positive touch where whole person health and well being is enhanced, rather than inhibited. It is also not a catalog of touching intentions. Check here for that list. Please add your thoughts and suggestions in the comment area below to make this version as comprehensive as possible.

A Taxonomy of Touching Contexts

This taxonomy has four top level categories:

  1. Human to Human
  2. Animal to Human
  3. Machine to Human
  4. Environment Skin Stimulation

The bulk of the detail below delineates the first category. In later iterations of this taxonomy the other three categories could be fleshed out more thoroughly.

Human to Human

Occupational Touching–Primary

  • Massage and bodywork Practitioners
  • Personal Care (Grooming) Services
    Hair Dressers, Stylists, Cosmetologists
    Skin Care Specialists
    Manicurist, Pedicurist

I have separated these two categories as virtually all states regulate them with separate legislation. However, there is little question that the bulk of massage services currently being provided fall into the personal care category while only a minority of massage services are actual health care services in the traditional treatment sense of the term.

Occupational Touching–Adjunctive

In these occupations touch is inevitable but not primary.

  • Health Care Professionals
    Physicians Assistants
    Physical Therapist
  • Allied Health Care Workers
    Respiratory Therapists
    Radiologic Technicians
    Psychiatric Aides/Technicians
    All other Aides and Assistants
    Occupational Therapist
    Recreational Workers
    Recreational Therapists
    Rehabilitation Workers
    Hospice Workers
    Home Health and Personal Care Aides
  • Athletic and Fitness Trainers
  • Pre-school Childcare Workers
  • Social Workers
  • Professional Dancers
  • K-12 Educators
  • Special Education Teachers

Social touching

  • Family and Friends
    Hugs and kisses
    Comfort for the ill and dying
  • Structured touching groups
    Massage Exchange groups
    Snuggle/Cuddle/Hugging groups
  • Teammate touching in sports
  • Dancing
  • Workplace touching


  • Unconscious
    Rubbing or holding for pain relief
  • Intentional

Erotic touch

  • Personal
  • Social
  • Professional

Human to Animal

Physical contact with animals has many of the same psycho-social benefits as human to human contact because it stimulates the release of the same stress reducing and bonding hormones. In addition, according to Science Daily, a “growing body of research now documents the [therapeutic] value of the human-animal bond in child development, elderly care, mental illness, physical impairment, dementia, abuse and trauma recovery, and the rehabilitation of incarcerated youth and adults.”

Machine to Human

Machines have long been used to stimulate our skin under the guise of a wide range of massage devices. Everything from electric massage chairs to vibrators to non-electric massage tools are included in this category.

Environmental Skin Stimulation

Our skin is being continuously being stimulated by the environment surrounding the body. That includes the air, our clothes, water that flows across our skin or that we immerse in. There are also small but growing movements promoting the awareness and value of direct skin stimulation with the earth (http://www.barefooters.org/). How ironic that we now have to have organization to remind us how good it feels to walk on the beach or in the grass.

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Cuddle Clubs Monetize Touch

{Animal Cuddle}Professional massage practitioners are not the only ones who make money touching. A growing movement gaining traction in our disembodied world brings groups of unrelated people together for non-erotic touch interaction.

Variously called cuddle clubs, cuddle parties or snuggle parties this phenomenon now has its books, YouTube videos, Meetup.com groups (75 and counting), and commercial ventures that are monetizing physical affection. The latter include Cuddle Party (already in 17 states and provinces), Cuddle Up to Me (a retail store in Portland, OR), and The Snuggle Buddies (a registry of independent snuggles).

An early version of social touch clubs were massage trade evenings pioneered by Gay men over two decades ago as one response to the AIDS crisis. As the world become increasingly touch-phobic, in typical fashion, the LGBT community responded with a safe, creative, pro-touch solution to the the prevailing fears. More recently, erotic touch clubs have also emerged out of various subcultures in the USA (think Burning Man) and more blatantly in some European cities such as London. Caveat emptor: if you see the word “Tantric” in any advertising it is euphemism for erotic touch and cuddlers beware.

The beauty of all of these groups is that they are very explicit about touch boundaries as they begin to parse the fine line between sensuality and sexuality. Contemporary culture will never overcome the touch negativity of the past centuries until non-sexual touching can be made safe. Strictly enforced policies address what to wear, alcohol and drugs, scents and hygiene, conversation, and, most importantly, how to initiate, ask for, accept and refuse touch.

Self-organized cuddle and massage clubs generally charge a nominal fee for the evening or for joining, while the commercial clubs and group parties might run $25 for 90-minutes. Individual one-to-one services are priced $60 and hour on up, depending on location.

Many of the group facilitators and professional snugglers are also massage practitioners. This is an great example of how the massage community is slowly beginning to embrace their role as touch educators and advocates. If there is not a cuddle community in your area, start one through MeetUp.com or join one of the commercial services expanding nationally. The more educated that people are about the joy of non-erotic touch, the more likely they are to appreciate the value of a professional massage.


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From Chair to Table: How to Convert Your Chair Massage Clients

This article first appeared in the June 2015 of MASSAGE Magazine.

onsite massage copyChair massage often turns out to be just the right introduction people need to experience the joys and benefits of all varieties of structured touch. While not all chair massage clients will turn into table clients, often conversion success is simply a matter of not missing the opportunities presented by clients during the course of a chair massage encounter.

Here are three ways you can take advantage of such opportunities—and possibly win new table massage clients because of it.

Give massage away

Massage therapist Russ Borner can trace 80 percent of the $9,000 per month he typically grosses doing table massage to one specific chair massage he gave 30 years ago—for free—at a charity golf event in Westchester County, New York. His team had set up on the ninth hole to give each foursome of players a massage as they reached the halfway mark of the course.

After working a full day, they gathered in the lobby with all the players, who were getting ready for cocktails and dinner. Russ noticed a group of seven dedicated but very tired volunteers across the room, who looked like they also might appreciate a chair massage, so the team decided to offer their services.

One particular woman Russ worked on, Betsy, turned around in the chair after the massage was over and asked, “Do you make house calls?” She lived 40 miles away and was not wealthy enough to cover his travel expenses but, with a little negotiation, Russ agreed that if she could get two or three other friends to commit to a massage, he would be happy to make the trip. By the time Russ got home that night his answering machine was filled with requests from people saying, “Betsy told me you will be in our area next week. Can I book a massage with you?”

Betsy and her friends, and eventually their friends’ friends, kept making one positive word-of-mouth referral after another, until Russ had as much table massage work as he could handle. He and his wife Candice now run three spas, along with his thriving outcall practice of loyal table clients who pay $150 to $175 per massage. And, yes, Russ still gives Betsy her weekly massage—at half-price, with every fourth massage free in appreciation of her amazing networking skills.

Explain how you can help

Another typical scenario is people seeking a chair massage complaining of pain in their head, neck, shoulders, arms, hands or back. That is a perfect opportunity to educate clients about at least two levels of massage: systemic massage and focused work. Here is a sample script for moving those clients to your table:

“Chair massage is a systemic massage designed to help your body heal itself. So, although I won’t be addressing your specific problem, whether or not your complaint disappears by the end of this 10-minute session, I can guarantee you will feel better. If you prefer that I focus on your specific issue, I can make an appointment for you in my table practice, where we will have the time to thoroughly evaluate your issue and find the most effective solution.”

Make chair massage an appetizer

At one-time chair massage events, where you never expect to see the client again, you can often position chair massage as a sample of your regular table work. In these situations, at the end of each massage, Russ Borner will ask clients if they have ever had a table massage before. If not, he hands them a business card and invites them to experience one. People are much more likely to book their second massage with the practitioner who gave them their first massage, as long as the first experience was positive.

If his chair massage clients have previously had table massage, Russ makes this offer: “If you are willing to try a table massage from me and it is not one of the top three massages you have ever had in your life, then you don’t have to pay me.” In this case, clients have just had a sample of how good he can make them feel, and the guarantee makes the table massage virtually risk-free.

Massage marketing is ultimately about education, and the best way to educate someone about the value of your massage is to give them a sample. Chair massage is the perfect appetizer.

Posted in Chair Massage, Marketing | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Touch Education in the Workplace

(This article first appeared in the June 2015 issue of MASSAGE Magazine,)

The hand of GodOver the past three decades American culture has become increasingly touch averse. While few question the importance of touch for the healthy development of newborns, infants and young children, something unfortunate begins to happen about the time kids get ready for school. They learn to fear touch.

Some of this learning comes from parental cautions about not allowing strangers to touch you. But, mostly, children learn by example. What they see is that no neighbor, teacher, minister, adult friend or, sometimes, even relatives are allowed to offer them affectionate touch.

Then it is on to adolescence where, just as the hormonal storm whips up our need for touch to hurricane force, the “don’t touch” messages take on a new level of urgency. We learn the terrors of touch that results in pregnancy, STDs, date rape, or being called Gay.

Finally, after entering the workforce, we encounter institutional policies about sexual harassment that tend to frown on, if not outright ban, all touching.

What a world we have created. We are taught not to hit, but not how to caress. The media bombards us with images of abusive touch and sexualized touch, but not affectionate or sacred touch. In a society where touch is pathologized so early and so often, it is virtually impossible to grow up without accruing a wide array of unconscious negative and defensive responses to touch.

The marketing conundrum

This makes marketing massage particularly challenging. The massage profession has been swimming upstream against a torrent of cultural and institutional touch phobia for decades. It is unquestionably the biggest marketing barrier faced by our industry and yet, curiously, we barely acknowledge its existence.

Fortunately, there has never been a better moment in history to tackle this marketing problem head on. The emergence of a robust technology for delivering safe touch to the marketplace, i.e. chair massage, has recently converged with a strong scientific foundation validating the importance of positive touch.

To carry this pro-touch banner we need to redefine ourselves as the “touch educators” of our culture. No other profession has taken on this crucially important job of advocating for a touch-positive society and the massage profession is uniquely positioned to assume this responsibility. It is time for the massage profession to embrace touch and become true touch educators.

The reframing of chair massage

Chair massage is far and away the most accessible option we have for delivering skilled touch services to dozens of market sectors, such as the workplace, that have not be served by traditional table massage. However, because of its typically short time frame, chair massage has never sat comfortably as a health care profession. Without question, the vast number of practitioners providing chair massage in the workplace, at events, or in retail settings are offering a personal care service for simple relaxation, not a health care service for treatment.

Fortunately, recent science has established the fact that touch is good for us. While that may come as no surprise to the massage profession, research that describes the underlying physiology of touch is a tremendous marketing breakthrough. We can now tell our customers exactly why massage makes them feel good.

Within seconds of receiving positive touch, two indisputable and totally involuntary reactions occur. The first is that the bloodstream gets flooded with oxytocin, the feel-good hormone. The second is the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS), otherwise known as the relaxation response.

Oxytocin immediately makes us feel calm and connected in empathetic ways to both our internal and external environments. When the PSNS relaxation response is triggered, our bodies move into healing mode where digestion occurs, organs repair and our immune response is activated. Significantly, when the PSNS is stimulated, the stress response (SNS: Sympathetic Nervous System) always diminishes. The two systems are complementary.

These mechanisms can be easily communicated to customers and add an important scientific layer of credibility to our simple touch services. We no longer have to promise musculoskeletal miracles to justify our services, but can confidently make the case that positive touch is enough.

“What we think, we become.” -Buddha

With good science and an accessible delivery system in place, how do massage practitioners build an identity as a touch educator? The first step is to filter our massage work through the lens of skilled touch.

For example, every massage we perform is a validation, through direct experience, of the importance of positive physical human contact. Thus, since every massage becomes a tutorial in touch, then every practitioner must already be a touch educator.

We can use that filter to reframe the whole massage experience for each customer before, during and after every massage. Below are some examples of that reframing but first, a note about terminology.

You don’t actually have to use the word “touch” to be a touch educator. Fortunately “massage” is a perfectly acceptable code word for touch. Each conversation will be different but I often start out by talking about massage and then slowly injecting the notion of touch in to the dialogue.

When doing chair massage I avoid the terms “therapy,” “therapist” and “treatment.” The point is to keep the expectations of the customer focused on the substantial benefits of touch rather than massage therapy done to resolve specific musculoskeletal issues. I describe myself a “massage practitioner” or a “chair massage specialist.”

The guarantee

“No matter how you feel before you sit down, if you don’t feel better when you leave the chair, the massage is free.”

Such a money-back guarantee is a powerful way to highlight the most basic benefit of positive touch—it makes us feel better. No matter if your headache, stiff neck, backache or repetitive strain injury goes away, we know that a surge of oxytocin and stimulation of the parasympathetic system will invariably transform the brain and the body into a more positive and productive environment.

How many services can offer a money-back guarantee on feeling good? It is a rare and valuable gift to guarantee that, no matter how you feel right this moment, in just 10-, 20- or 30-minutes you will feel better. And, there is nothing magical or mystical about massage. In fact, the job of a touch educator is to demystify touch. Without the help of any hocus pocus or hanky-panky, massage makes us feel better.

It is just good science.

Touch is sensational

Often, at the beginning of a massage, I will make some version of this comment: “Everyplace I touch during the massage will have a sensation. I want those sensations to be good, not bad. You need to let me know if any sensation feels uncomfortable, OK?”

All touch creates sensation. One of the goals of chair massage is to reconnect people with their sensational selves. Contemporary culture tends to shut down the links between our brains and our bodies and interrupt our natural sensory feedback systems by numbing our bodies with drugs or over stimulating our minds with media, video games and the like.

Encouraging feedback during a massage is an important way for people to take ownership of how they feel. So many people have fallen into the trap of believing that how they feel is a result of external circumstances beyond their control. The current fascination with zombies is, I believe, a disturbing reflection of our own personal and cultural disembodiment.

Reinforce the connection

There are many ways to reinforce the connection between massage and the myriad benefits of touch in the massage relationship. Be on the lookout for opportunities to share the following messages. For example, often in response to some comment about how awesome a customer feels during or after a massage I might say:

  • A little touch goes a long way.
  • It is amazing how a little oxytocin boost can lift our mood and make our world a little more manageable.
  • We call massage “an instant attitude adjustment.”

Here are a couple of other educations notions I like to share with stressed out customers:

  • By making us more mindful of the present moment massage helps turn obstacles into challenges and big problems into manageable tasks
  • Too often our bodies spend too much time either in stress response or waiting for a stress response. Each time we get pinged by an arriving email or text message our body gets a little jolt of adrenalin. That’s good for fighting or fleeing tigers, but bad for navigating our day-to-day lives. Massage helps make the relaxation response a habit.

Traditionally, chair massage in the workplace was always framed in terms of such variables as increased productivity and morale along with reduced stress and absenteeism. Unfortunately the evidence behind such claims has always been sketchy at best. However, when filtered through the lens of touch science, all of these outcomes make sense. Consider these impacts of positive touch:

  • Massage/touch brings out minds and bodies back into the present moment, which is where, as the mindfulness experts keep telling us, all of the best decisions are made.
  • Because massage stimulates the relaxation response we know that relaxed employees are focused, healthy and happy workers.
  • The immediate oxytocin boost provided by a massage results in an increase in morale and collaboration.

The touch connection

From the moment of birth we crave connection with other human beings. Touch is the first and most fundamental manifestation of that connection. It is also the most intimate connection but, unfortunately, our cultural fears around intimacy are wide and deep.

Chair massage is the perfect container for the non-threatening intimacy. I remember the first time I heard a woman remark to me in the early 1980s that her chair massage experience was the first time she could remember a man touching her non-sexually.

Touch is fundamental to all massage. Since no other profession has taken up the mantle of being the cultural experts in touch, it only makes sense that our profession should carry that banner and become the primary advocates for the benefits of positive touch.

Adding the identity of a touch professional/educator/advocate to your chair massage work will transform your practice, your relationship with your customers and, maybe, even yourself. Let’s start building a pro-touch society one touch-informed massage at a time.

Further resources

To help you get started in becoming a conscious touch educator check out the latest touch research detailed in the new book, Touch by David J. Linden. You can also follow current touch news from Suzanne Zeedyk: The Science of Human Connection and UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center.


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Story Massage in Nepal

In Nepal most girls are married at a young age and have few opportunities to improve the quality of their lives. Story Massage is one way.

In Nepal most girls are married at a young age and have few opportunities to improve the quality of their lives. Story Massage is one important way.

The reach of positive touch never ceases to amaze me. All it takes are some bold and visionary advocates, in this case from the folks at Story Massage UK working in Nepal. Read about this totally innovative program that empowers young women using structured touch for interpersonal skills development, confidence building and self-discovery.

“Central to our work is the principle of respectful touch, and this is especially important for Nepalese girls living in a society where men traditionally hold the power. They were taught to ask permission before touching another girl, and to say ‘thank you’ at the end of the story massage. We also discussed using hand signals to offer feedback if the touch is too soft, or too firm – if it felt really good or if they they like it to stop. The girls were intrigued by these signs and chose to spend time practising and remembering them.”

Posted in In the News, Touch | 3 Comments

Touch As Nutrition

Hands connecting

From kindnessblog.com

From the KindnessBlog comes a short but sweet article by John Tuite making the case that touch should properly be regarded as a form of nutrition.

“Key in the front door at the end of a stressful day, we can appreciate the ability of children to restore us. Because they plunge us back into a universe of sensation and tactile experience. They climb on us, tumble over our head or shoulder, jump on our backs, elbow us and knee us and rough us gloriously up. They break through the crust we have carefully built around our nervous system. They speak to us at a level we have forgotten about, but thirst for: the elemental dimension of physical contact.”

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Increasing Touch Sensitivity

Texting builds brain power

A new study suggests that using a smartphone — touching the fingertips against the smooth surface of a screen — can make the brain more sensitive to the thumb, index and middle finger tips being touched.

From the Washington Post comes news of a simple study that demonstrated an increase in cortical stimulation as a result of using thumbs and fingers on smartphone touch screens. I look forward to similar research examining how giving massage alters the activity and size of the somatosensory brain devoted to processing tactile information.

Two takeaways for massage practitioners: The more massage you do the more “consciousness” you create in your hands and fingers and, if you don’t use it, you lose it.

Here is the citation link: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2014.11.026

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Latest Stats on Workplace Stress

An article out today from The Atlantic outlines the conclusions of a recent working paper from Harvard and Stanford Business Schools on the impact of high workplace stress levels on employee health.

"The paper found that health problems stemming from job stress, like hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and decreased mental health, can lead to fatal conditions that wind up killing about 120,000 people each year—making work-related stressors and the maladies they cause, more deadly than diabetes, Alzheimer’s, or influenza.

"High levels of stress are costly in monetary terms, too. Researchers found that stress-related health problems could be responsible for between 5 to 8 percent of annual healthcare costs in the U.S. That amounts to about $180 billion each year in healthcare expenses."

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An Overview of Chair Massage Marketing

An Overview of Chair Massage MarketingHere is a recent email from a massage student:

I will be graduating in December and have to write a business plan. I need to decide how chair massage will fit into the plan but don’t have much direction from school. I’m hoping you have some marketing advice or resources available to help my classmates and I know how we would move in the direction of chair massage.


In my reply, I first mentioned that there are some 26 articles about chair massage on this blog along with many others that have more generally to do with massage. Then I also sent her the following concise overview of the why’s and wherefore’s of chair massage marketing.

Options for including chair massage

There are three basic ways to integrate chair massage services into a professional practice:

  1. As a way to market your table practice. This typically means giving away free chair massage at events so that you can introduce people to your touch and your table work. Practitioners have done this successfully any place there is a group of people with time on their hands, e.g. queues on the sidewalk outside of popular restaurants or movies, church bazaars, charity events, health clubs, and waiting rooms of various stripes.This is a good option if your primary interest is in developing a table practice. After the practitioner has as many table customers as she wants, then the free chair massage tends to go by the wayside as the natural marketing momentum emerges from a well run table practice emerges.
  2. As a mix with your table practice. The difference from the first option is that here you are charging for your chair massage services in one or more of the three market segments described below. It still has the advantage of the first option in that you may also convert a certain portion of chair massage customers into table customers.Most practitioners use chair massage this way. In fact, I see a lot of experienced table practitioners adding chair massage to balance out their professional lives and raise their visibility in and connection to the community.
  3. As an exclusive chair massage practice. Some practitioners decide to focus
    exclusively on chair massage. There are many possible reasons including:
  • not wanting to deal with nudity,
  • feeling more comfortable with shorter customer interactions,
  • not wanting to work with oils or lotions,
  • wanting to reach more people who can’t afford a table massage,
  • not wanting to be restricted to four walls,
  • not wanting to be working on the same 20 or so people every week.

Three markets for chair massage

There are also three general market segments where all chair massage is found:

  1. Events. These are situations jobs where you typically see customers once and never again. The largest markets are conventions, conferences, trade shows and corporate health fairs. However, the list of potential one-time events is endless ranging from weddings, reunions, back stage at theater events, athletic events, car racing, RV rallies, equestrian events and on and on. There are many local, as well as large regional and national chair massage businesses that focus exclusively on these markets.
  2. Workplace. This has also been a rich vein to mine for chair massage customers. Unlike events, these tend to be ongoing relationships with companies and their employees. The frequency of visits could be a long as a year apart or, more often, quarterly, bi-monthly, bi-weekly or even weekly.
  3. Retail. Providing chair massage services in a retail setting has been the slowest of the three segments to get off the ground because it requires the most up-front investment. However, the growth in retail chair massage has started to accelerate in the past 5 years, primarily due to the influx of Mainland Chinese immigrants flooding through the Los Angeles basin and scattering to shopping malls all across the country.

Finally, I mentioned that we have assembled an eBook in PDF format that can be ordered from the TouchPro Store here. It assembles the relevant articles from the blog into one convenient place and affordable price. Continue reading

Posted in Chair Massage, Marketing | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Getting Started in Seated Massage

Getting Started in Seated MassageContrary to what many massage schools would have you believe, chair massage is not simply “table massage lite.” Any successful chair massage entrepreneur will tell you that it is a specialty. So the first step is to become a specialist. You can read books, take classes, and research chair massage on the Internet but there is no substitute for hands-on experience.

The best way to get started in workplace chair massage is by doing chair massage. National and regional chair massage companies are always looking to expand their referral lists of practitioners. Get on their lists and let them know about your enthusiasm for chair massage. When you are ready to strike out on your own you will be familiar with the mechanics of providing chair massage services in the workplace as well as a sense of the local market that you can only get by being on the front lines.

Don’t be intimidated by the large chair massage companies. Emphasize the advantages of being local. You have far more control over the quality and consistency of the chair massage including hygiene and screening protocols as well as the massage itself. If a problem crops up, like someone getting sick, a local business can often resolve the issue far more efficiently then someone in a different time zone.

 Common pitfalls

An article about marketing chair massage would not be complete without a few words from Eric Brown. After creating his own successful chair massage service and training he also helped thousands of other practitioners figure out how to market their services. Besides emphasizing the primary importance of a strong Internet presence, Eric highlighted a couple of common mistakes that practitioners make when trying to build a chair massage business.

  1. Don’t ask companies to marry you before you have even had the first date. Companies only make long-term commitments with vendors that they trust. Start with one-time events, trial periods or short-term contracts during heavy workload periods so they can begin to understand the value of adding chair massage to their workplace.
  2. Target one niche at a time and hit it from all angles. Become an expert in that niche so that you know what typical problems exist in that market segment that chair massage could address. Network within that niche and educate them until you become known as the go-to expert on chair massage. A niche can be based on geography, age, profession, industry or any other demographic. Attend their meetings, join their associations, and write an article for their newspapers or trade magazines.

Jo Anderson is a case study in this approach. She had her web presence (lightworkschairmassage.com) but started by targeting Human Resource Directors in  Birmingham, AL, whose names she culled from the local Business Journal’s Book of Lists (available in 59 cities). Then, when tax time came around, she used the same resource to mail out a flyer with a picture and cover letter to all of the CPA firms in Birmingham and eventually included all of the law firms. Even though the initial responses were few, they were enough to kick start her business and create word-of-mouth interest.

From the start Jo was not shy about giving away free chair massage at business and networking events held by groups such as Women in Business. She now has six practitioners working with her and just hired a PR firm to rebrand her business and upgrade all of her marketing materials.

When you are starting out and the search engines have not yet found you, don’t underestimate the power of your existing personal networks.

Caroleen Monnseratt used a personal connection and volunteered her services at a hospital in Anchorage, AK, to fulfill a practice requirement for a specialized training in chair massage. When she was ready to charge employees for her services, the hospital had no problem providing her with space on an ongoing basis and she has worked there one day a week since 2001.

Sally Nibblink’s primary chair massage customer is her husband’s small manufacturing company in Colorado. Don’t be afraid of a little nepotism.

Workplace chair massage services are poised for another growth spurt. They come in all shapes and sizes. You can devote your entire career to this sector or use it to supplement a table practice. Shape your practice to fit your needs.

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New Categories of Corporate Seated Massage Clients

New Categories of Seated Massage Clients_At 31 years, there is little doubt The Walt Disney Company is the oldest continuing corporate supporter of seated massage in the world. Michael Neal began taking a stool around the Disney campus in 1982, providing employee-paid massage. When he retired 18 years later, another practitioner who had also begun working at Disney, Allen Chinn, was ready to pick up the baton from Neal. Besides continuing to work on employees, Chinn occasionally gets paid directly by Disney for individual events such as health fairs.

The reason why Disney originally allowed chair massage on the premises was not complicated. The employees wanted it and no one objected. Disney provided no specific location for the chair massage and there was certainly no scheduling or promotional support. It was all very ad hoc, but it worked.

To discover what seated-massage companies think they are selling these days. you only need to scan a few of their websites. As Rob Nitzschke, from Manchester, New Hampshire, summarizes: “What companies are looking for is a happier workforce, greater productivity, loyalty and retention in their staff and increase the perception of the employees that they are cared for.” What the employees are primarily seeking is instant rejuvenation.

While these traditional rationales still exist, thoughtful business owners, like massage therapist Larisa Goldin, are finding other ways to segment the markets for workplace chair massage. Larisa surveyed her current clients around the Seattle, Washington, metropolitan area to find out why they were buying seated massage. She identified new categories of corporate clients.

  1. The Challenging Workplace. These are the specifically high stress environments where employees are coping with difficult workloads or difficult environments, such as hospitals and schools.
  2. The Growing Workplace. Competitive industries, such as high tech and bio-tech, see a recruitment advantage by including chair massage in their benefits mix. Rob Nitzschke puts it this way: “They want bragging rights to be able to say our corporate culture is tops.”
  3. The Progressive Workplace. There is no question that 21st century companies are far more likely to have someone in a decision-making position who genuinely believes in the importance of massage. They are also more likely to have a culture that encourages and responds to input from their employees. Larisa mentioned Path, a large international non-profit with 500 serious, focused young employees who internally decided that they wanted regular chair massage. They got it.

Pay close attention to the millennials. They have grown up with a far more positive idea about massage than any other generation in history and the massage industry is just beginning to reap the benefits. Listen to what they want out of massage and how they want it delivered. To a great extent they control the future of workplace massage.

Posted in Business, Chair Massage | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Embrace Your Role as Touch Educator

Touch is good for us. While that may come as no surprise to the massage profession, research that helps us describe the underlying physiology of touch is a tremendous breakthrough. We can now tell our customers exactly why massage makes them feel good.

Within seconds of receiving positive touch, two indisputable and totally involuntary reactions occur. The first is that the bloodstream gets flooded with oxytocin, the feel-good hormone. The second is the stimulation of the parasympathetic nervous system response, otherwise known as the relaxation response.

Oxytocin immediately makes us feel calm and connected in empathetic ways to both our internal and external environments. When the relaxation response is triggered, our bodies move into healing mode where digestion occurs, organs repair and our immune response is supported. This is the opposite of the stress response.

These simple ideas can be quickly communicated—verbally and in printed and line marketing materials—and add an important scientific layer of credibility to our simple touch services. We no longer have to promise musculoskeletal miracles, but can confidently make the case that positive touch is enough.

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Seated Massage Success in the Workplace

This article originally appeared in the May 2014 issue of MASSAGE Magazine.

Seated Massage Success in the Workplace Seated, or chair, massage is alive, well and flourishing in the workplace, primarily because of two overarching trends: evolving public perception of massage therapy and the impact of the Internet. Large companies and corporations that have contracted with seated massage companies include JetBlue, The Walt Disney Company, Brandeis University, Boeing, The Weather Channel, Gillette, Delta Airlines, Apple Inc., SunTrust Bank, Bank of America Investments and IBM—as well as countless smaller businesses that rely on seated massage to reduce employee stress while improving morale and productivity.

A look back

In 1982, the concept of professional massage done through clothing, on seated customers, out in the open, was as unfathomable as the notion there would someday be a computer in every pocket. Thirty years ago, marketing chair massage to corporations was often done by picking up the telephone and cold-calling. Now, add to that the experience of trying to describe a service no one had ever heard of before. I recall one human resources director fretting about the need for an electric outlet in the massage room. It was an understandable confusion, since the only massage chair she was familiar with was the kind you had to plug in.

Seated massage has come a long way in three decades, and is now a familiar part of the cultural landscape, regularly appearing in malls, in movies and in the workplace. In cities large and small, companies of all sizes use seated massage to keep employees happy and healthy.

As Carrie Mudrick-Rubel, owner of Massage on Wheels in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, said, “The amount of people who are aware of massage has increased over the years. We rarely get funny looks anymore from people when we walk into a building.”

Certainly, visibility helps, making seated massage itself one of the biggest drivers of changing perceptions of massage therapy overall. “Within our culture, the image of massage is improving—and chair massage has been leading the way because it is so accessible,” says Larry Trager, who has offered seated massage since 1982.

The public is increasingly understanding the wide range of potential benefits of professional massage, ranging from the basic feel-better sensation of most massage, through relaxation, health-promotion and disease-prevention benefits, all the way up to specific treatment of a variety of emotional and physical challenges.

“There is greater enthusiasm for chair massage. People treat it more like a necessity than 10 years ago,” says Robin Faux, a seated massage practitioner in Los Cruces, New Mexico.

This visibility and awareness of benefits of massage inevitably reach corporate decision-makers, albeit sometimes more slowly than we would like. Massage therapist Mary Cheers, of Dayton, Ohio, tells the story of a CEO who had been a table client for years and only became interested in chair massage for her employees after reading in a trade magazine about how good it was for increasing morale.

Online impact

If successful public relations created a more receptive climate for chair massage services, it was the Internet that offered the ideal condition for stimulating its growth.

Trying to locate potential customers of workplace chair massage is like searching for the proverbial needle in the haystack. It takes a lot of time and energy. While doing cold calls, mailing flyers or knocking on doors can still sometimes be useful for getting a seated massage business off the ground, without question the best contemporary strategy is to create an Internet presence and let companies looking for seated massage services find you.

Massage therapist Jessica Lugo began offering chair massage in Kansas City, Missouri, a year ago. She now provides seated massage at eight companies. She was initially inspired by her work with a chiropractor who paid her to go into corporations to provide free seated massage to promote his practice. She noticed a lot of interest in seated massage, and decided specializing in it would provide the flexibility she, a mother of four children, required.

One of her customers came from the chiropractor connection, but the other seven were hard-won by sending hundreds of emails, mailing dozens of flyers to local companies, and offering to provide free sample sessions. It took months of follow-up phone calls and legwork to land those seven clients and, while her persistence has paid off, in retrospect Lugo says the return was not worth the effort. She is now convinced future growth of her business lies in developing a website and creating an online presence.

Indeed, some of the largest chair massage companies market almost exclusively through the Internet. Infinite Massage, for example, spends 95 percent of its marketing budget on online advertising to keep their pool of more than 1,000 practitioners busy with seated massage. No matter where you are in the U.S., an Internet search for chair massage or seated massage will nearly always bring Infinite Massage at or near the top of the listings.

Trying to persuade the unenlightened of the value of seated massage, while noble, is not the most efficient use of time or money. The unconscious and deep-seated personal resistance many people still have toward massage can rarely be overcome by data, no matter how bottom-line oriented or scientifically persuasive.

However, being visible through the Internet to corporate decision-makers who are already looking for seated massage services is, at this point, a necessity. Make certain your website is search engine optimized, and create a presence on the major review sites, like Yelp, as well social media sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn.

Recession-proof your practice

Workplace seated massage can be roughly divided into two sectors: one-time events and regular appointments. To minimize the effect of a downturn, don’t put all of your eggs in the event basket. This lesson was strongly reinforced when the economy downturned in 2008.

Infinite Massage, for example, derives two-thirds of its national income from one-time events—and by the end of 2008, it had lost 35 percent of its revenue. Smaller seated massage businesses are even more vulnerable. Massage therapist Maryuri Velazquez in Davie, Florida, focused 90 percent of her seated massage services on workplace events, particularly corporate health fairs. The recession hit her hard, and most of her event work disappeared. When times are tough, corporations make the easiest cuts—and special events are always high on the list.

Just to be clear, although workplace event massage may be first to go in a recession, it is still a significant income stream at all other times. For example, many millions of dollars have been spent on massage at corporate health fairs. There are regional and national massage companies whose primary revenue comes from providing seated massage practitioners to such events. They connect with companies primarily through referrals from insurance companies and by working with third-party organizers of corporate wellness programs.

Likewise, one-time chair massage for rewards and incentives will always be popular with companies like the Austin, Texas, branch of Apple Inc., which brings seated massage practitioners in from Seize the Day for an annual staff-appreciation day.

The second way to recession-proof your seated massage business is by having employees, rather than the company, foot the bill. As long as employees have a job, they are loath to give up their regular chair massage. In fact, they may believe they need it even more during stressful economic times.

That is what massage therapist Larissa Golden experienced at Boeing in Seattle, Washington, where her company has been providing seated massage since 2006. The employees were emphatic that Boeing would pry their massage away only at the company’s peril.

All of the most enduring seated massage businesses understand this survival tactic. Employees at USAA Insurance in Tampa, Florida, have been paying for chair massage without interruption for the past 22 years, a service provided by Vitality Break, one of the original seated massage companies in the state.

Conversely, massage therapists Larry and Stephanie Trager attribute much of the longevity—three decades and counting—of their business, Corporate Touch, to company clients paying for all or a portion of their fee. They have found companies that split even a small percentage of the cost of seated massage with their employees have a difficult time cutting the program despite a challenging economy. They also say when a company pays for at least part of the massage, it sends a message to employees: It is the difference between a company just allowing chair massage on their premises and actually encouraging it.

Active support

That kind of active support can be helpful for guaranteeing the success of seated massage in the workplace. Internet marketing works so well precisely because at least one person in the company is pre-sold on the value of chair massage—or she wouldn’t be searching for it online.

In addition to subsidizing massage, there are a number of other ways companies can demonstrate commitment to seated massage at little or no cost:

  • Providing the space for seated massage.
  • Designating a specific person as a liaison to the seated massage service.
  • Giving employees time off to get massage, rather than taking the time away from a break.
  • Maintaining a scheduling system. Massage therapist Marcy Basile has the office manager do the scheduling at a 150-person software company in Houston, Texas. A manual system may be adequate, but one that employees can access from their computers is even better.
  • Promoting the service. At USAA Insurance in Tampa, Florida, not only can the employees book online, reminders to sign up also periodically scroll in the newsfeed at the bottom of every monitor.
  • Implementing payroll deductions, if the employees are paying for all or a portion of the massage. This is a huge convenience for both the practitioner and the employee.

Getting company involvement in these ways will bind them into a closer relationship with your seated massage business and encourage a long-term the partnership.

But there are no iron-clad guarantees. If the seated massage cheerleader leaves the company or the corporate culture shifts, then there is always the danger of being marginalized or even ousted

New directions

Since selling chair massage to the workplace is a mostly passive, Internet-based process, our active marketing efforts must continue to be directed toward education and public information.

Traditionally we emphasized the individual benefits of an increase in circulation and a decrease in the negative impact of stress. Now, we are reframing those rationales. Over the past 20 years, researchers have been slowly shifting their attention from studying the mechanisms of pathology—why we get sick—to the mechanisms of health. This mirrors the broader paradigm shift within our health care system from treatment to prevention.


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Massage Chair Inventor Profile

[youtube_sc url=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6FFlwzIZusY&feature=share&list=PL1mtdjDVOoOpzYNFdLmgAxAaKTzwrOi2z” title=”David%20Palmer%20-%20Inventor” fs=”1″]Sometime around 2008, New York-based photographer David Friedman flew out to San Francisco to include me in an online series of portraits he was doing on inventors. During the photo shoot he also recorded a video interview which recently appeared on a new YouTube Channel called PBS Digital Studios.

Even though I was having a bad hair day the 3-minute video is well-edited and covers my essential motivations behind the development of the first massage chair. What isn’t specifically mentioned in the piece is the name of best massage chair on the market, the Stronglite Ergo Pro, which I co-developed.

One note about the video. The chair massage being performed was shot at a salon/spa in Brooklyn and has nothing in common with the chair massage approach we teach through TouchPro. Knee in the back? Ouch!

You can also read a more detailed version of the history of the first chair and view a cute video of the original chair. Enjoy!

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Massage is Sensational

Brain OrgasmA recent article in The Atlantic about a phenomenon called ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response) reminded me of how little we celebrate the purely sensational nature of massage.

ASMR is a subjective sensory experience that typically includes highly pleasurable tingling in the head triggered by external audio or visual stimuli such as whispering, tapping or watching certain videos. Possibly because someone early on began referring to this sensation as a “brain orgasm,” the ASMR meme went viral with articles appearing on Slate, Time, and Huffington Post as well as numerous podcasts and radio programs. YouTube already lists nearly 2 million videos on the subject.

I had two reactions when I first read about ASMR. The first was, “What’s the fuss about? Every time I get a massage, I tingle all over, including in my head and brain.” My second thought was, “How come massage doesn’t have 2 million videos on how good massage feels?”

Professional massage exists on a social acceptability spectrum that can be summarized into four major categories: Sexual, sensual, wellness, and therapy. For the past 30 years the goal of the mainstream massage industry has been to highlight the latter two categories while downplaying the first two in an attempt to create as much distance as possible between massage and any hint of prostitution.

In the process, the fact that, first and foremost, massage feels good has gotten lost. That is unfortunate because, as science is now discovering, feeling good is probably one of the best things that we can do for our ongoing health and well being.

Learning how to stimulate a parasympathetic (relaxation) response, as massage does quickly and so effectively, is crucial to the daily health and renewal of virtually every physiological system in our bodies, not to mention the maintenance of a healthy psycho-social balance.

“Massage is not just pampering,” popular magazine headlines try to convince us. I say, what’s wrong with pampering if it boosts the immune system, lowers blood pressure, reduces stress hormones, increases oxytocin and heightens heart rate variability, a marker of parasympathetic response? A simple, caring massage is also an unconditional validation of my existence that nurtures both internal and external empathy. What’s not to like?

All massage is sensational. It makes us feel more and it makes us feel better. What a gift is the massage that banishes the numbness with which we armor our bodies and our spirits. Let us celebrate the sensational essence of massage and start making those videos.

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