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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