Moving Massage from Acceptability to Accessibility

Acceptability-to-Accessibility ImageFor as long as people have been paying for therapeutic massage services, practitioners have feared being mistaken for prostitutes. That fear was the primary driving force that, in 1983, led the American Massage Therapy Association to re-brand “massage” into “massage therapy” in an attempt to define it as the health care profession. [Related article] I call this quest for professional legitimacy the “acceptability” strategy.

Within a decade this strategy was almost universally embraced by massage schools, educators, associations, regulators and vendors serving the industry. It seemed like an obvious strategy and the perfect solution. In point of fact, it was remarkably successful at validating therapeutic massage in the public mindset.

Unlike 20 years ago, nowadays no one blinks twice when a young woman announces her desire to attend massage school–no snickers, no raised eyebrows. The public generally perceives that there is a clear distinction between adult entertainment massage and therapeutic massage. The battle for acceptability has, for the most part, been won.

But now there is another front that needs our attention. What I call the “accessibility” problem.

While we have steadily increased the numbers of people who want a massage, the number of people who actually can get a regular massage has barely budged from less than 5% of the US adult population [see related article]. The reason is painfully simple. Massage therapy is  too expensive.

Since I am writing to a primarily professional audience, let me do a quick reality check. How many readers pay full price for at least one massage every two months? How many of your friends do? If you are at all like the typical massage practitioner in my continuing education classes, you can’t afford to pay $65 for a regular table massage, and neither can your friends. The primary reason people don’t get a massage is because they can’t afford it.

The only two significantly expanding models for massage services are the pay-by-the-month model pioneered by Massage Envy and chair massage in malls delivered by Chinese immigrants. What they both have in common is that they are lowering the price of massage.

Those of you who have experimented with online coupons also know what I am talking about. Discount massage shoppers rarely turn into full price regular customers. The only people who pay full price for regular table massage are the very wealthy, the very fanatical, and the very desperate people in pain.

While turning “massage” into “massage therapy” made our services more acceptable, it did little to make them more accessible. In fact, there is a case to be made that the effort to make massage into a health care profession has actually limited its growth.

Massage as health care

When you define massage as massage therapy in a health care context you are defining it as a treatment. The problem is that most massage is not performed as a health care treatment. Most massage, according to consumer surveys, is done for health promotion and relaxation. That has resulted in a huge disconnect between what massage practitioners think they are selling and the general public is looking to buy.

Massage schools graduates are encouraged to believe that they are training to become a health care professional–sort of junior physical therapist. [Indeed, I just searched “Physical Therapy Training” in Google and one of the three sponsored ads at the top was for a massage school.] But the reality is that the vast majority of graduates, if they are lucky enough to be working at all, will be doing massage, not massage therapy. While it may increase school enrollment to have them think otherwise, it does nothing for their level of frustration when the inner image of practitioners does not jive with their outer experience.

For massage customers, particularly new ones, defining massage as therapy often leads them to believe they have to have something wrong in order to get a massage. Every day that I work in a chair massage studio new customers invariably feel obligated to have a physical problem before they step through the front door.  “I woke up with a pain in my neck/back/shoulder,” being the most common statement.

Massage as personal care or fitness

If we want to make massage truly accessible, we need to recognize the difference between massage as a health care service and massage as a personal care service.

Defining massage as a health care profession only makes sense for that small, highly trained and experienced segment of practitioners that actually performs massage as treatment and for that small fraction of the public that actually needs and wants to pay for that service. Massage therapy should be defined for what it actually is–medical massage–and we should require far more than the standard 500 hours of training. Something closer to 2,300 or 3,000 hours of the Ontario and British Columbia models would be appropriate.

I admit that I am very conservative on the issue of training but, in my experience, 500 or 600 hours of training to become a massage therapist is totally inadequate, does nothing for creating credibility as a health care profession and sets totally unrealistic expectations for massage school graduates, the vast majority of whom will never make even a part-time living doing massage.

“Massage therapy” should never have been defined as entry-level into the profession. It is not. Plain old circulation/relaxation/prevention-oriented “massage” is entry-level. Let students focus on learning how to touch and be touched [Related article].

Massage has always rested comfortably in the personal care services arena along with spas, hair salons and nail studios. Over the past twenty-five years, massage has also grown up with the wellness and fitness industries. These two economic sandboxes are where the majority of massage practitioners should be playing and it is the kind of massage that massage schools should be selling and teaching.

Radically reinventing an industry

Knowing what we now know, if I was creating the U.S. massage industry from scratch, here is how it would be structured:

  • Entry-level into the field should be a 200-hour course in chair massage.
  • Table massage would be a second, optional level of training. Add on another 300-hours to make the current 500-hour standard and have the focus be on training practitioners to be wellness educators as well as table practitioners.
  • Massage Therapy would be true medical massage and require at least a masters level program.

There are some strong arguments for making chair massage entry-level. For the industry, chair massage provides a strong foundation:

  1. Chair massage is what the general public can afford and, because there is no disrobing or private rooms required, is more likely to try.
  2. Because it is affordable, people will get massaged more regularly.
  3. People who have had a chair massage are more likely to consider having a table massage or massage therapy.
  4. The net result will be far more work, more jobs, more successful students, and more sales for chair and table manufacturers.

For the budding massage practitioner, starting with chair massage will eliminate a lot of needless heartache and financial burden:

  1. Since there is really no way of knowing whether you will like doing massage professionally until you get into massage school, a 200-hour tuition mistake is a lot less painful than a 500-hour mistake.
  2. More students will be able to afford to go to massage school without going deep into debt and actually make a living doing upon graduation.
  3. After they are making a living doing chair massage, chair practitioners can save up money to pay for table massage school without taking out loans.
  4. It is easier for entrepreneurs to open chair massage businesses than table massage establishments resulting in more jobs.

The bottom line

Can my ideal industry model become real? Realistically, I doubt it. The massage schools, associations and regulatory agencies are far too entrenched to consider reforming the profession so radically. The quest for acceptability as a health care profession continues to be seen as the primary goal. Too bad. A lot of people just need to feel better through touch.

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The Leg Problem in Chair Massage

Steve Knobles called today from North Seattle Community Acupuncture clinic. He recently started seating patients in a massage chair because it allowed easy access to their necks, backs and arms for needling and was often more comfortable than lying on a table. However, some of the patients complained of tired shins after sitting in a massage chair for longer than 30 minutes and he wanted to know if there was any way to extend their comfort time.

This is a phenomenon noted soon after the first massage chair came on the market in 1986. While spreading the weight among the seat, leg rest, chest pad and face cradle is great for support, it is not great for fidgeting. And, despite what your 3rd grade teacher may have told you, humans are made to fidget and be in motion, not to “sit still.” Movement creates circulation and, as we all know, circulation is not optional, even when we are asleep. Just check out the nearest napping infant.

Thus, we have always recommended a maximum 30-minute length for a chair massage. Unlike a massage table where people can fidget to their hearts content, in a massage chair using the lower legs as a support prevents movement and having the knees bent can reduce circulation and create discomfort. While it is true that some people can tolerate longer periods in that position, since a significant percentage cannot, the 30-minute rule is the safest compromise.

However, there are a couple of ways to compensate if, for whatever reason, you want to do a longer massage. My suggestion to Steve was simple. Since he was using a Stronglite Ergo Pro massage chair, I told him to remove the leg rests and flatten the seat so that it was parallel to the floor. Voila! No leg rests, no problem. Customers can now squirm to their hearts content.

Removable leg rests are so essential on a massage chair that I am surprised all manufacturers don’t include them. Even if you are only doing short massages, you need them. I would guess that 5% of chair massage customers have knee or leg issues that make leg rests uncomfortable. While putting your legs straddling or in front of the knee rests is the solution used on other chairs, it is less than optimal or professional. [Full disclosure: I helped co-designed the Stronglite chair, of course…]

Another way we got around the 30-minute limit was developed in the TouchPro retail chair massage studio business model. There we offered up to 30-minutes of upper body massage and 10- or 20-minutes of lower leg/foot massage meaning people could receive up to 50-minutes of massage in a chair. However, the catch was that, before the foot massage, the customer had to get up and reverse themselves in the chair, which was adjusted for the massage.

If you want to see how it all works in action, click here to view a video demonstration.

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Toys for Touch

Touch is far more important for childhood development than technology. I was reminded of that while reading an article in Sunday’s San Francisco Chronicle about innovative local toy companies.A number of them explicitly sing the praises and benefits of tactile play.

One successful company featured is Folkmanis Puppets which notes that a “a puppet encourages imaginative, open-ended play, endearing hugs, and snuggly companionship.” Have you ever noticed how much puppets love to touch themselves and each other? I’ve been wondering why I have this compulsion to see the new Muppets movie.

Only in the Bay Area would there be a company called Plushy Feely Corp. that designs and promotes cuddly Kimochi dolls that helps kids learn to understand and express their feelings. The product that caught my eye was Huggtopus, a multi-limbed creature who is “very affectionate and strong and sometimes gets a little carried away by her big friendly personality. Huggs always means well but has to learn about boundaries.”

Learn about boundaries. I love it! Their animated video about hugs is  priceless.

Tactile sensitivity is a learned motor skill essential to neurological development. Touch appropriateness is a learned social skill essential to the formation and maintenance of healthy relationships. Carefully selected toys can help develop both.

Of course, there is no substitute for human touch, so don’t forget to pass plenty of that around this holiday season as well.

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Thomas Alva Edison

The doctor of the future will give no medicine, but will instruct his patient in the care of the human frame, in diet and in the cause and prevention of disease. (1903)

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Make Your Business Persistent with Consistence

Note: This is the third in a series of four articles called “C”-ing Your Way to Success about  the value of Conviction, Clarity, Consistency and Change-ability in business.

In a sense, consistency is the practical result of a commitment to clarity in your business. As you become clear about the complex nature of the services you provide and the market you have targeted, each small component of your business will add to and reflect the overall purpose and function of your business as a whole.

Consistency has something to do with integration. When anyone encounters a small part of your business, they encounter the whole. Each component reflects the larger service vision. Let’s briefly examine some of these elements.

  • Language: How you talk about your business needs to be consistent with the overall intention of your work. I once saw a flier advertising a massage chair that was comfortable and easy for the “patient” to use. Since the rest of the text did not lead me to believe the business was targeting their chair exclusively for use with sick people, the choice of that word was clearly inconsistent.
  • Marketing tools: Your brochures, business cards, letterhead, advertising, and even phone manner should all present the same image and message about the conviction and intention of your work.
  • Professional tools: Do you use the right equipment in the right way for the market and service you have chosen? Do you use paper towels, disposable face cradle covers or linens for you head rest? Each has a place in the appropriate practice.
  • Environment: Does the environment you create for your practice support or detract from your service goal? If customers find parking a hassle to find, they may feel the frustration is not worth the effort. Or perhaps they don’t feel safe walking in your neighborhood and it makes them nervous to think about leaving your office. For the internal environment, make certain that the flowers and air are fresh. Walk into your bodywork environment with beginner’s eyes and see what type of impression it makes. What do they see, hear, or smell? Get a massage on your table to see what the client will be looking at and experiencing for the length of the massage.
  • Personal style: Some people simply, who function well doing chair massage in the workplace are like fish out of water at a convention center. A New Yorker  may have to be toned down his or her personality a bit to be effective in California. What is your personal style? Does it fit well with the overall focus of your business?

Thomas Alva Edison portraitConsistent persistence
According to Thomas Alva Edison, “Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.” That perspiration is what I call persistence and persistence is just another facet of consistency and is an essential element for business success.

Consistency brings an essential level of stability and predictability to your business operations for yourself and your clients. Without consistency clients wouldn’t know when to call for an appointment or how to budget their time and money to make certain your service is a regular part of their lives. They also wouldn’t feel comfortable referring your service to a friend if they thought you were unreliable. Consistency means creating and sticking close to a business plan. How many clients can you expect to have this month? What will your expenses be? What type of referral network do you need to set up?

If you know you need to send out appointment reminders every week or make a presentation to the local nursing group in order to keep clients coming in, then do it. There are no shortcuts to doing what needs to be done. If you pay strict attention to accomplishing the small details of your marketing strategy, you will find yourself worrying less and less about cash-flow crises. If you take care of your bookkeeping every week, you will have little to fear from the IRS or the phone company.

When you operate a business with consistency it is easier to make changes and know whether or not they are effective. If everything is done differently every day, it is impossible to develop true expertise or intuition because you never know which actions cause which results. In a similar sense, consistency puts the qualities of conviction and clarity into a feedback loop. If a particular marketing approach does not seem to be working, perhaps it is because it is inconsistent with your overall vision or is not being communicated clearly to your market. Consistency provides a check and balance system for your business.

A good recourse policy is the best guarantee of consistency. Having a recourse policy, such as a money-back guarantee, says that you believe in the quality of your service and trust that the client will appreciate it. When you trust a client, particularly a new one, it is easier for them to trust you. If you don’t have a recourse policy there is no way for client feedback to alert you to problems with your business.

The impact of consistency on the success of your business is undeniable. Consistency provides the nuts and bolts, day to day operational stability that keeps you going in the direction intended. It is a type of consciousness that brings together the motivation provided by conviction and the communication provided by clarity into an organized plan of action. Without consistency your business is merely a ship without a rudder, tossed about by the waves and going in no particular direction.

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“How often should I get a massage?”

This is one of the most common questions I hear from customers. It’s an important question and the response needs to be considered carefully because the answer will set the character and tone of all future interactions with that customer. I am going to offer a response that I have found creates the healthiest relationships with my customers.

The real question

Any question containing the words “should I” is always directed toward someone the inquisitor thinks is an “expert,” that is to say, someone more qualified then himself or herself to offer an answer. And, while some of my egocentric, “Dear Abby” parts just love it when people ask my advice and treat me as an expert, the truth is, in this case I am not.

I actually feel totally unqualified to tell someone else what his or her needs are in the way of massage or touch.

Perhaps I would feel differently if I were a massage “therapist” treating a particular problem or condition and could guarantee that a fixed number of sessions would result in the problem being resolved. But I am not a therapist. I am a simple massage practitioner providing structured touch to people who are seated in a chair or laying on a table and want to feel better.

From that perspective there is only one, quite definitive way to respond to the question, “How often should I get a massage?” and that is by asking for more information.

“If time and money weren’t considerations,” I query the customer, “how often would you like to feel this way?”

While this reply often engenders momentary confusion, the reply, often accompanied by a little laugh, is most often something along the lines of, “Why, every day, of course.”

Thus, the customer arrives at the best answer to their original, literal question, but we are not quite done yet. We still have to find the answer to the underlying question that they were also asking. “So now we know how often you should get a massage.” I say. “Now factor in time and money and you can figure out how often you can get a massage.”

Don’t miss the moment

Since skilled touch practitioners are primarily educators, let’s not miss this significant “teachable moment.” By not answering their question directly, we teach people some important lessons:

  1. They are the ones in charge of their bodies, not some perceived expert.
  2. For better or for worse, they are in charge of the feelings inside their bodies.
  3. They can change how they feel for the better at any time utilizing a simple tool called “massage.”

Realizing that, to a great extent, how one feels physically and mentally is a choice can be transformative. The pace of change in the external world is so fast that literally no one can keep up with the flow of information and innovation that surrounds us leaving most of us feeling powerless and out of control.

But, what we do have control over is our internal, subjective world. Massage is an effective tool for managing our inner experience in a way that almost always effects our external world for the better. Structured touch reduces stress, induces the relaxation response and allows us access to states of awareness that enhance our coping, caring and problem-solving abilities.

Don’t tell your customers how much massage they need. Let them tell you and you will probably end up with more frequent visits from people who understand the true, personal value of massage.

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The Commercial Viability of Massage Approaches

Laura Allen recently blogged about the reasons why some practitioners have a difficult time getting repeat customers. One section mentioned how some practitioners try to sell energy work or other non-massage techniques to people who think they are buying massage.

That reminded me that one question rarely addressed by massage schools and the profession as a whole is the ranking of the commercial viability of various approaches or techniques in massage.

Here is a list of some obvious hierarchies here that, when addressed realistically can contribute to success.

  • More people would prefer to lay on a table than on the floor when getting a massage.
  • More people are looking for simple relaxation/stress reduction/circulation massage than a treatment for a particular condition.
  • More customers are able to pay $15 for a chair massage than $75 for a table massage. As Massage Envy and the thousands of Chinese immigrants in malls across the country have irrefutably demonstrated, massage consumers are highly price sensitive.
  • Rolfing, Trager, Feldenkrais, and Rosen work (to name a few brand-name styles of bodywork I love) have, typically, far smaller potential audiences than more generic approaches to massage like Swedish or acupressure.
  • There are more potential customers of massage then there are clients. There are more potential clients of massage then there are patients. Choose your language and intention carefully.
  • And, yes, when people pay for a massage, they don’t expect long periods when they are not being touched or the hands touching them are not moving.

To be absolutely clear, I am not ranking one approach to massage as “better” than another. I, personally, love them all. I am simply noting how markets for massages services narrow or broaden depending upon certain characteristics. Schools do not do their students any favors by pretending that all approaches are equal in this regard nor by pretending that the more approaches they teach the more successful their graduates will be.

Any other additions to this list?

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How Massage Became Therapy

The year was 1983 and the oldest national association of massage practitioners was about to change the face of an industry by turning “massage” into “massage therapy.” This is the story of what led up to that moment.

The association making this pivotal shift was founded in 1943 by a group of 29 graduates of the College of Swedish Massage in Chicago. Originally calling itself the Association of Masseurs and Masseuses, fifteen years later it had changed its name to the American Massage & Therapy Association (AM&TA). Now, in 1983, the group was poised to take the conjunction “and” out of the middle of their name and become what we know today as simply the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA).

The rationale for the name change was simple–to address the two primary forces that had always plagued the growth of massage: public perception and economics.

Managing the image of therapeutic massage has always been a public relations nightmare. There are only two occupations where skilled touch is the primary modality of service delivery. One is legal and (in most places) the other is not.

The confusion in the public mind between “adult entertainment” massage and “therapeutic” massage has been around in one form or another for centuries. Indeed, the mere mention of the word “massage” in 1983 was enough to provoke what was then called “the snicker response,”  as word evoked images of “masseuses” in skimpy outfits plying their trade late into the night in sleazy massage “parlors”.

While the mass media served up this image in large portions, it also offered a second association in movies and television: that of massage as a luxury service for the rich and famous. If one got past the first association, the second inevitably got in the way of people identifying with massage because the service was, quite simply, unaffordable for the vast majority of Americans.

So, in the early 1980’s the thought was, let’s reposition massage in the public mind and kill two birds with one stone. If massage could be turned into a legitimate health care profession, then people would no longer presume that massage practitioners were prostitutes. Likewise, as a health care service, massage could be covered by third party payments, as was already the case in some Canadian provinces.

And so, the name was changed and what was once two, massage and therapy, became one—massage therapy. In the next article, I will analyze the impact of this well-intentioned decision and argue that this minor alteration solidified a strategy that has had only limited success and, in some ways, has actually inhibited the effort to bring skilled touch to the masses.

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Seeing Your Way Clearly to Success

Note: This is the second in a series of four articles called “C”-ing Your Way to Success about  the value of Conviction, Clarity, Consistency and Change-ability in business.

While having conviction about your work is fundamental to a successful value-based business, a second tool, clarity, is required to effectively communicate your conviction to the rest of the world so they can beat an enthusiastic path to your doorstep. Clarity has a number of important characteristics as it applies to business.

Full disclosure
To be “clear” presumes a commitment to be honest to your customers, to tell the whole truth about your business. This is the business standard that I call full disclosure. When entrepreneurs are not honest about their business it is generally because they either don’t know the whole truth about what they are doing, or they are afraid that if people found out the whole truth they wouldn’t buy the service.

If you don’t know the whole truth about your business—often the case when a person is just starting out—a healthy response is to own up to the fact that you are beginner. All too often new bodyworkers are embarrassed by the fact that they have little experience. The question feared most by bodyworkers beginning their careers is, “So, how long have you been doing massage?”

Rather than fudging an answer, I recommend that new practitioners proudly announce their beginner status. Don’t be ashamed of being a beginner. Celebrate it! Your beginner’s energy, when filled with a fresh conviction about the importance of your work, is unique. Your enthusiasm is infectious and is a marketing strength because it is pure and spontaneous. You only get to be a beginner once so try to hang onto the excitement of that moment for as long as possible.

Understanding your business
If you don’t know what you are doing, neither will your customers. A commitment to clarity is a commitment to an ongoing exploration of your business idea. The greater the clarity you bring to your business idea the easier it is to have conviction about your work and for other people to relate to you.

To say “I do massage” is only the most superficial layer of your business identity.

  • What is your personal intention for your work, i.e. what do you want to get out of your business?
  • What is your professional intention, i.e. what do you want your customers to get out of your services?
  • Are you aware of the deeper assumptions that underlie how you define your business, i.e. your personal philosophy, value system and/or world view?
  • How do you define the market you are trying to reach?
  • How do you define your short-term and long-term goals? The quality of your answers to these questions will reflect the level of maturity that you and your business, have reached.

The search for clarity in business is a process and it never ends. The questions, and the answers, are constantly changing. Your job is to be as clear as you can be, right now, about what you know and don’t know about your business so you can be clear with your customers, employees, suppliers, and supporters.

Translating your business idea
Clarity also means being able to translate your business idea in a language that people can understand. Skilled touch can be talked about in an infinite variety of ways. The words you use must be appropriate to the market you select and the way in which you define your service.

Are you communicating to truck drivers, corporate executives, teenagers, suburban shoppers, seniors, people from a Hispanic culture, or travelers? Each group requires words that are personally meaningful and rationales that make sense.

Telling a construction worker that your massage will improve his muscle tone and make him more beautiful may not have much of an impact. Using the same approach in a beauty salon, however, would be perfectly appropriate.

One of the most difficult characteristics of clarity to integrate into your business is the concept of openness. When something is clear, like a pane of glass, it is transparent, you can see through it, and nothing is hidden. Secrecy in our business culture—not to mention our governmental institutions—is almost an automatic reflex.

We think that it is normal to hide budgets, salaries, business plans, marketing strategies, and financial statements. But why? Doing business is, in its most basic sense, about having relationships, be it with customers, employees, suppliers, or observers of our business. Few would argue that openness and trust are hallmarks of healthy relationships and yet business relationships are often cloaked in secrecy and adversarial in nature.

Unfortunately, many businesses do, in fact, have something to hide. They do make inferior products. They do treat their customers and employees with disrespect. They do operate with policies that place short-term profits ahead of long-term concern for the environment, community welfare, and even customer’s lives.

Take, for example, salaries. Many corporations restrict information on individual employee compensation and, in the worst cases, make it a firing offence for an employee even to voluntarily reveal how much they get paid. The only reasons for such a policy that I can think of is that the company is embarrassed either by how little or by how much they are paying certain employees? While this secrecy may serve the highest paid executives, it does little to redress historical pay inequalities for women, minorities, and those further down the socioeconomic ladder.

Secrecy in business, like secrecy in a family, is almost always bad. It leads to mistrust, miscommunication, dishonesty, and an eventual breakdown of relationships. There are circumstances when a business is legally or morally bound to confidentiality, such as the shielding of personnel or customer files, but these circumstances are far fewer than corporations would like us to believe.

Openness when your business is dealing with external relationships should follow the same approach. In a business committed to honesty and integrity there is rarely a need to hide what you are doing from the outside world. Realize that every time you adopt a defensive business position you limit the potential for growth and creativity in a relationship.

Concordant competition
Our culture and institutions tend to promote an overly competitive mentality in business. We develop paranoid thoughts that everyone is out to steal our current customers, potential customers, business ideas, business names, whatever. This is not surprising, because the model that traditional business is based on is the military paradigm. When corporations arose in the late 19th and early 20th century the “captains” of industry were, literally, the captains and other officers from the military. The language of business–killing the competition, cutthroat competitors, beating, winning–is the language of war or its civilian surrogate, competitive team sports.

In the military, secrecy has been developed into a fine art and openness is frowned upon. Combined with the requirement for unquestioned obedience and you have the standard operating procedure for keeping the troops in line. In the corporate environment these two elements are too often seen as the best way to keep factory workers and keyboard jockeys at their most productive.

I am a fan of healthy competition which includes a business ethic I call concordance. Concordance means always operating with civility and respect for everyone, including perceived competitors. It rejects the zero-sum mentality that says you have to “lose” so that I can “win.” Focusing on areas of mutual interest is a strategy that builds cooperation and opportunities for synergy in an industry where one plus one equals three.

Clarity has another implied characteristic. If you continually seek clarity in what you do, you naturally step on the path of mastery, which is the path toward expertise both in your business and your work. That expertise, in turn, is unique because it comes from walking a path that originates from the inside out.

A master craftsperson never fears competition from other artisans because she recognizes unique character of her contribution. The path of mastery is, by definition, a personal path that can never be duplicated. Nobody can do the job exactly the way that you would do it and clarity means you can explain exactly how your work is different. Not necessarily better than another person’s work, but definitely unique.

The educated customer
Finally, redefines the marketing approach in business from that of selling the customer to educating the customer. In traditional business “selling,” of course, is a euphemism for “manipulation” (masterfully dramatized by the hit TV show Mad Men).

For businesses dedicated to honest, open interactions with customers the only appropriate approach is to educate a customer about the value of your product. Of course, this only works if you, first, have something worthwhile or meaningful to offer and, second, if you understand your product or service well enough to be clear about its essential value. When you educate potential customers you increase their ability to discriminate between the meaningful and worthless and they make better choices about what to buy, and what not to buy.

Education is empowerment while ignorance breeds passivity and dependence, which is great for manipulators but bad for those who want to have healthy, mature relationships. Clarity, full-disclosure as a business standard, creates the best kind of customer—one who chooses your services because they believe that you offer a valuable resource in an honest business.


A business that operates with a commitment to clarity has a certain simple, ingenuous quality. Because it is transparent to all observers, what you see is what you get. There is no mystery; there are no hidden agendas. Customers intuitively are drawn to the business because of its obvious trustworthiness. They know that there will be no head-trips or rip-offs to worry about. Clarity in business is like a well-cast bell that resonates with a sincerity and authority that draws all within listening distance to its naked, honest ring.

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Should hugs be banned?

Admittedly, since my oldest grandchild just entered second grade this year, I have been out of the loop regarding school board policies dealing with public displays of affection (PDA) between students. I guess, after watching Glee for three years, I had thought schools were getting more enlightened about the subject of consensual, non-sexual touch.

That must be why I was taken by surprise when a Florida middle school recently suspended two students for a quick hug. Naive little me. There it was in black and white in the school district’s policy manual: No kissing, hand holding or hugging. I took note of the fact that it didn’t prohibit sex, which presumably was the ultimate goal.

This issue surfaced when the Latina parent of one of the kids objected to the suspension saying it is part of their culture to hug. She looked a bit stunned that hugging would be stigmatized. This was clearly a clash of cultures and guess which culture won? Why the dominant culture with the most pathological relationship to touch, of course.

View the original brief news story below and let me know what you think? Should hugs be banned in middle school? How about elementary school? Kindergarten? When, exactly is a hug at school appropriate?

Students suspended for hugging:

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Is it time for massage to embrace touch?

The hand of GodWhich profession should hold the keys to the storehouse that contains all of  the world’s  knowledge about human touch? Besides bodyworkers, is there any other (legal) occupation with more practical and theoretical knowledge about touch? I don’t think so and yet I have been struck by the fact that the massage profession often seems to relate to touch the same way fish relate to water. We take it for granted.

I believe that the primary function of entry level massage programs is to train the next generation of  touch specialists and, obviously, that means their highest priority should be teaching students how to give and receive touch. And that is not happening.

I know it is not happening because one of the questions I regularly ask bodyworkers in my classes is how many of them graduated from massage school with other students whom they didn’t want touching them? Most often, every hand goes up.

I also know massage schools aren’t prioritizing touch because although we have plenty of  textbooks on anatomy, physiology, pathology, ethics, techniques, body mechanics or business and we also have general textbooks that cover all of those topics, we still have no single textbook that explains everything every bodywork professional needs to know about touch.

Graduates may study the anatomy of the skin and touch receptors, but do they study the emotional, psychological, familial and cultural anatomy out of which touch attitudes, perception and receptivity arises? They may learn how to take a medical history, but how many massage schools teach their students how to take a touch history?

As a profession we are squandering a golden opportunity to advocate for a part of the human experience as essential to the development and maintenance of good health and well being as the air we breath or the food and water we consume. Everyone needs touch and lots of it but because touch in our culture is the orphan sense, most people living in urban environments wake up every day with a serious touch deficit.

The ears have music, the eyes have art, the nose and taste buds have food and perfumes and our sense of touch has–what? How exactly do we feed our sense of touch? Family affection and sex are the two obvious answers, but I would suspect that in most contemporary lives these options are in short supply.

The obvious answer for filling this touch gap is massage. Isn’t it time for the massage profession to embrace touch? Sure, massage therapy trying to be a health care profession is good, but isn’t offering the gift of unconditional touch with simple massage even more fundamental?

At most, only 4.2% of the adult population in the United States gets regular massage. If we want to have any hope of breaking through that ceiling, then massage needs to go back to its roots. Turning “massage” into “massage therapy” has helped the industry shed its shady past but at the same time has sidelined the most important reason people actually get a massage: because it makes them feel better. Not better in a medical sense, but better because they feel more real, alive and whole.

With simple massage the left brain starts talking to their right brain and everything above the neck starts noticing everything below the neck. By the end of a massage people’s core sense of trust and security in a fundamentally unsafe world gets renewed and they are able to face their lives and the world with a calm, balanced optimism.

On a physical level massage enhances circulation so that the body’s own natural healing systems can function optimally. Little problems are far less likely to become big problems with regular massage.

Redefining “massage” as “massage therapy” as the AMTA did in 1983 was mostly a defensive move. The thinking went, if massage is a health care profession, no one will mistake us for prostitutes. But we are, for the most part, past that issue. It is time to get back to our roots and highlight what we are better at than anyone else in the culture.: touching people safely, unconditionally, with clear intentions, significant training and experience.

Question: What do you think is the most important role of massage professionals?

Posted in Education, Politics, Touch | Tagged , , , , | 28 Comments

Successful Businesses Start With Conviction

Conviction is your head following your heartFor an entrepreneur, conviction is where it all starts. An exciting idea enters your brain and gets your juices flowing. You can’t stop thinking about it so you start testing the idea out in conversations with friends. After that reality check you begin making lists of considerations and steps to take to test out until you finally become convinced that you have to make the idea real.

However, not all good ideas come with conviction. To dissect the anatomy of conviction, let’s look at where it comes from, why it is important in business, how you find it and how you hang onto it.

Note: This is the first in a series of four articles called “C”-ing Your Way to Success about  the value of Conviction, Clarity, Consistency and Change-ability in business.

What is conviction and why is it important?

On the most basic level conviction means that you have found your path and are walking it.

The people of acclaimed conviction—Christ, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and even Mother Theresa—all believed that a meaningful life was a life of service. The Boy Scouts instilled me with a similar ethic at an early age when I learned to leave my campground (i.e. the world) a little bit better place than I found it. Whether you are rich or poor, young or old, sick or well, there is always a unique path of service that each of us are meant to walk.

People with true conviction are virtually unstoppable. They know in the very core of their being that what they are doing is what they were meant to be doing. Conviction is what gets us through the inevitable ups and downs of business. With conviction, problems are not barriers, but rather challenges. The idea of doing something else other than the work we believe in is unthinkable.

As a marketing tool there is nothing as powerful as true conviction. Conviction breeds enthusiasm and enthusiasm is like a magnet. One of the marketing truisms from the traditional business world that I agree with is that the person who believes in what they are selling will always be more successful than the one who does not.

On that premise corporations spend hundreds of millions of dollars a year to create training programs for their sales staff. Unfortunately, most of the money is wasted because conviction is not some piece of external knowledge like geography. It is a process that arises from within. You can teach people how to act as though they believe in what they are selling, but you can’t give them that belief.

Often those corporate sales meetings take on the feel of high school pep rallies, using crowd dynamics such as “us vs. them” and “we are winners” to rally the troops and motivate the sales staff to set goals and work hard.

But true conviction can never be imposed from the outside. Motivation that will  be sustained for the long haul emerges naturally out of true conviction. Belief in your work is what motivates you to jump out of bed early in the morning and stay up late at night. Conviction instills meaning into even the most mundane parts of your work, like laundry and bookkeeping. With conviction, the lines between work and play become blurred. People who love their work believe they are the luckiest people on earth. My personal little secret is that I feel like I am always on vacation.

Getting convicted

Walking your path of conviction is not difficult. The tough part is finding your path in the first place. In contemporary culture, recessions not withstanding, if you are educated and middle class the number of roads to be traveled is still virtually unlimited. Unfortunately, our culture does not always provide us with the skills to determine which unique path is meant for us.

We bodywork professionals are lucky on this score for three reasons.

First, we are, by definition, in a service profession and one that clearly makes a contribution to individuals and to society. This provides us with a strong sense of self-worth because of the inherent importance and meaningfulness of massage.

Second, we are fortunate because, for most of us, bodywork is our vocation. The Latin root of the word “vocation” means “a calling.” We got into massage because something deep inside us felt called to this work. Perhaps massage helped us through some difficult period of our life or we saw it help someone else. Perhaps we recognized early in our lives that creativity with our hands was important. For most of us, we did not so much consciously choose this work, as it chose us. That is good because that is the foundation of conviction.

Finally, bodyworkers have the advantage that we trust our bodies. Finding your path is not an exact science. But when we are on our path we have a “gut” instinct of the rightness of our choice that may actually defy rationality. But our body knows. Minor aches and pains disappear, depression and anxiety dissipate and the whole world just seems to work better around us. It is an ongoing challenge to learn to trust the wisdom of your body to tell you if you are on your path or not.

How to know if you’ve got it

Here are a couple of easy tests of true conviction.

Conviction, like love, is unquestioned and unconditional. If you are not sure you’re in love, then you’re not. Both true love and true conviction fit the wearer so naturally that they leave no doubt about their authenticity.

Another test is to ask yourself whether you would do this work even if no one paid you for it. If you won the hundred million dollar lottery today, would you quit your job tomorrow? No? Then you have found your unique path of service and have conviction. Walking your true path is a leap of faith you make because to do anything less would be a failure of courage.

How to keep it

Conviction must be nurtured. On a regular basis it is a good idea to remind yourself why you got into massage and what you get out of it. The answers to both questions will change over time, as you get deeper into your work. Initially I thought I went to massage school to learn how to do massage. Later, I realized that I went to learn how to touch and be touched. Still later, I understood that my path was to make skilled touch accessible through chair massage.

Besides paying the rent, chair massage feeds those parts of me that like to serve, to learn, to teach, to write and to grow. The benefits of walking my path continue to pile up in ways large and small that together add up to the satisfaction of a life worth living.

To find your path takes faith; to begin walking your path takes courage. But from then on it’s a piece of cake. When you are on your path doing the work that only you were meant to do, you are in the Tao, as the Buddhists say and you become like the Bible’s lilies of the field, clothed in glory. Life becomes easier, lighter. Decisions become obvious. Resources seem to appear out of nowhere.

Find and feed your conviction and success will follow.

Question: Does your conviction pass the lottery test?

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How Steve Jobs Revolutionized the Massage Industry

Steve Jobs portraitThe first time we nervously walked into Apple Computer’s Macintosh division in 1984 to provide seated massage with our matching grey slacks, white polo shirts and blue blazers, we felt overdressed. At a time when the largest computer company in the world, IBM, was still requiring dark suits, white shirts and ties on all of its workers, while Apple employees were all about jeans and T-shirts. We immediately breathed a sigh of relief and settled in for a year that would change the massage industry forever.

Apple Computer was already a high-flying, high-tech legend helmed by 29 year old Steve Jobs who was revolutionizing the nascent personal computer industry. But equally significant, Jobs was also redefining the relationship between a company and its employees. With the casual dress code and the pirate flag that flew over the Macintosh building, Jobs was heralding and prototyping the shift away from the 20th Century paternalistic, conformist corporate culture that treated employees as replaceable parts working for a paycheck.

Instead, he was inventing a 21st Century ethic based on the belief that fundamentally work should be an outlet for creativity and that the most productive workers are those who are challenged to perform to their highest potential and whose work makes a difference in the world. At Apple, employees were judged not by their resume, education, clothes or experience but by their intelligence, passion, creativity and performance.

Jobs nurtured an employee-centric environment. He rejected the idea of a personnel department and instituted a human resources staff charged with creating a workplace that was inviting, exciting and supportive. Apple employees were expected to work 60 hours a week or more, but Jobs wanted them well taken care of.

One of the departments working long hours was in charge of writing the user manuals for the new hardware and software products and, at that particular moment, they were under deadline. The head of the department, Chris Espinosa, was trying to figure out how to spend his monthly budget allocated for employee amenities. They already had the beer busts on Fridays and the occasional private, first-run movie screening, but he was looking for something special. By chance, a friend handed him a flyer advertising a service that would bring massage right into the employee cubicles. Definitely a crazy idea, but that was exactly the kind innovative service that fit the Apple culture.

When I got the call from Chris, I was ecstatic. Up to that point seated massage was an experiment. We tried every way we could think of to market this new approach to professional massage. I knew we needed a high profile company to put its imprimatur on our work before we would ever be taken seriously. Apple was a perfect match for chair massage and ultimately turned out to be our ticket to success. But not in quite the way I had imagined.

After our first visit to Chris’s department, we were invited back the following week. That’s when the folks in accounting, a few cubicles over, said they would like to get in on some of that massage action. Each week we kept adding more departments and doing more massages.

At the peak of our work with Apple, seven practitioners were offering up to 350 chair massages a week with the company footing the entire bill. I had visions of megabucks dancing in my head. I thought that our little service would turn into a tsunami that would soon sweep across corporate America. I was wrong.

The honeymoon at Apple ended in 1985 when the first downturn hit the personal computer industry and Apple was forced to lay off 800 employees. The company could no longer justify paying for first class airline tickets, fresh orange juice, or massage. We withdrew our services from Apple for two months, until the dust of reorganization settled. When we returned, it was the employees who were now paying for seated massage. Our client base plummeted to about 60 massages a week.

There was going to be no tidal wave, at least not in the corporate world. What actually had occurred was that a company ahead of its time, Apple, found a service, seated massage, that was also ahead of its time. The bulk of the business world ignored us. Massages at work? Who were we kidding?

However, by taking a chance on chair massage Steve Jobs did revolutionize the massage industry. He helped us prove that, given the right conditions, chair massage was a viable service for the workplace. We were also able to leverage our experience at Apple into dozens of national and local stories in the press, television, and radio. It turned out that the media loved chair massage. It was an ideal “Cinderella” story. Out of the ashes of disrepute (read: massage parlors) and into the corporate boardroom came chair massage.

That publicity, in turn, laid the foundation for my revised long-range plan to bring professional touch to the masses. In 1986, I sold my portion of the business to a partner and began the task of creating a chair massage profession by training chair massage professionals. In May of that year, when the first massage chair came to market to coincide with the creation of the first training organization, On-Site Enterprises (now TouchPro) to teach table massage practitioners how to perform and market chair massage.

Then, finally, the tsunami did in fact hit. When I showed off the massage chair to 34 school directors at a meeting of the American Massage Therapy Association that August, the response was immediate and overwhelming. During the next 12-months, I taught 20 chair massage seminars at schools throughout the United States, Canada, Sweden, and Norway.

For the massage profession chair massage was truly an idea whose time had come. Within four years, by 1990, virtually every massage school in the United States was teaching their students about chair massage.

The revolution Steve Jobs inspired was not just a technological one, but a cultural one as well. It extended far beyond computers, phones, and media distribution systems and deep into our perception of work and the work environment. While a chair massage industry was probably inevitable, the innovative laboratory that was Apple Computer provided chair massage with the credibility it needed to move forward at a critical moment.

Today, thousands of companies around the world embrace chair massage as an essential part of the workplace and tens of thousands of practitioners make their living providing affordable chair massage services to hundreds of thousands of customers each year. Thanks, Steve. You changed the world in more ways than you will ever know.

Question: Do you have any stories to share about pre-1986 seated massage?

Posted in Chair Massage, History | 13 Comments

584 People Receive Seated Massage on Thai Beach

Last week Phuket, Thailand, featured two of its most famous tourist attractions–beaches and massage–as the Ministry of Health hosted one of five preliminary events leading up to an official attempt in November to break the Guinness World Record for most simultaneous massages (currently at 232 held by Tourism Victoria Australia).

In a connection that could only be made in Thailand, the number of bodies and pairs of professional hands in Phuket, 584, reflected the numerology of King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s birthday. On December 5th we will be 84.

The event was not only held on popular Kata Beach, but all of the massage practitioners were performing the same massage (a “Kata“) at the same time. If they break the official Guinness record, that should give additional credibility to their effort as well as make it more difficult for other do-your-own-thing massage nations to challange.

Halfway through this video is the official start of the event and some English description.

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Quality Control Through Katas

When I first began developing chair massage sequences in 1982, one of my students was also a student of Haruyoshi Ito, who had introduced a Japanese movement form called Shintaido to the United States and Europe during the mid 1970s.

One day this practitioner came to me to say that he had given his teacher one of our chair massages and Mr. Ito’s response was to say, “That’s a good Kata.”

“A good what?” I asked. “What is a Kata?”

Thus began my introduction to a concept that is fundamental to Japanese society.

While there is no exact translation of the word, the basic concept of Kata has to do with the form or correct way by which something is accomplished. In the West the word is most often encountered in a martial arts context. Students practice Katas, or sequences of defensive and offensive movements, over and over again until they become automatic.

Katas are studied in all of the Japanese arts­—brush painting, theater, flower arranging, the tea ceremony, as well as the martial arts. But the word has a much broader meaning in Japanese culture, which places a great emphasis on the correct way to do anything, from how low to bow in greeting to brushing your teeth.

To begin thinking of teaching and learning massage as a Kata prompted a major shift in my understanding of our work.

For one thing, it was a way of honoring the vast history of Japanese massage that had come before us. The path we travel is well worn; only the scenery has changed over the years.

Practicing a Kata also relieves us of the burden of having to know everything about what we are doing. We now understand that the master of massage is not the practitioner, but the Kata itself. We adopt the point of view that the only way you can truly learn about massage is by doing massage. The Kata gives us the opportunity to practice (in the learning sense of the word) with confidence. We teach a Kata and it is the Kata that teaches us massage.

The Kata is like a very wise elder who has the wisdom of the centuries behind her. The Kata has a long lineage that extends from teacher to teacher and is based on a theoretical foundation and philosophical world view that transcends our individual understanding.

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 a 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. Praying the Catholic rosary, Buddhist meditation, yogic breathing, and Sufi dancing­ all fall into this category.

When you practice a ­­­massage Kata it eventually becomes something like a beautiful dance or a piece of classical music. Highly structured and cho­­­­­­reographed, it is the same each time it is performed and yet, each time, it is also different.

On a practical level, performing massage as a Kata allows for quality control to enter into the massage business equation. When you have a private practice doing table massage, you can basically do whatever you want. Your clients will either like it, or not. However, when you are doing 15-minute chair massages for someone else’s business in a convention hall alongside nine other practitioners, exactly what you are doing becomes crucial to providing a high quality, consistent service.

Finally, the Kata is eminently researchable. One of the reasons broad-based research has been so hard to do in our field is because everyone does something different. It’s nearly impossible to control for the differences in practitioners. The Kata solves a great many of these problems because it provides the consistency needed for good data collection.

In touch,

Posted in Bodywork, Business, Chair Massage, Education | 11 Comments

Why I Do Chair Massage – Part Two

When I was a kid, my Mom and I used to lie at opposite ends of the couch with our legs entwined. When I was a kid my Dad used to kiss me goodnight.

Then, somewhere around ten or eleven, I became too big or perhaps too much of a “boy” to get a leg cuddle or a Dad kiss. I don’t really know why. I just noticed that the good feelings, the physical affirmations of security and love were gone.

I also learned from my culture and my Catholic religion other things about kinds of touch and times when touch was inappropriate between myself and others and even with myself. Pre-adolescence was the beginning of the numbing of my body as I began to override the natural instinct to touch with the cortical control that resulted from social inhibitions.

I became increasingly awkward, cautious, self-conscious and stiff throughout my teenage years. By the time I was twenty, I had developed chronic torticollis and woke up with a painful stiff neck every morning. Some mornings it was too painful to even get out of bed.

A few years later, I decided that I had had enough of the pain and began altering my lifestyle. Daily stretching (this was before yoga), a Tai Chi class and, most importantly, ten sessions of Rolfing eliminated the torticollis and changed my life forever.

Rolfing was the first kind of structured touch I had ever experienced. It was an awakening and a remembering of how good it was possible to feel in my body and in the world. I never forgot the lesson and it is no accident that in 1980 I ended up attending massage school, becoming a massage professional and eventually owning my own school.

For me, and for many bodyworkers, touch has been pivotal to our personal development and well-being. But it is essential and no less dramatic for most people. While it is true that recent generations have been raised to be more comfortable with their bodies on an individual level, our cultural relationship to touch is more pathological than ever.

We can’t touch our neighbors’ kids, teachers can’t touch their students, pastors can’t hug their parishioners, and colleagues can’t offer a supportive touch in the workplace. Touch is the physical manifestation of relationship and, when we touch, it signals a deep intimacy, a deep connection and bond of trust between two human beings. Unfortunately, contemporary media tends to emphasize that touch means sex.

Thus, the fear of touch and a discomfort with intimacy, along with an impossibly high price point for table massage, are the biggest barriers our profession has to overcome if more than four percent of the population is going to get massage on a regular basis (see How Sticky is Massage?).

That is the second reason why I do chair massage. Of all forms of bodywork, it is the least threatening and requires the least vulnerability on the part of the customer. We let you keep your clothes on, there are no messy oils involved, you can sit down rather than lie down and it takes a fraction of the time required in table massage.

Chair massage is kindergarten touch. It doesn’t require a high investment of either money or trust and it doesn’t require you to have something wrong with you. It is the gift of touch for its own sake. The many varieties of table massage all require a secondary, college level or post-graduate level understanding of, or comfort level with touch.

A close friend of mine, Rika, tells the story of the ten-year old boy who wanted to get a chair massage from her at the hotel where she worked for many years. After receiving permission from his father, the boy jumped in the chair and proceeded to receive his chair massage like a pro. When he was paying for the massage, the father said, “You don’t remember us, but a year ago we were here and you gave us both a chair massage. Every night since then, my son asks for a back rub as part of his bedtime ritual. It has been one of the best parts of both of our days.”

And I’ll bet that is one kid who will never lose touch with his “sensational” body.

Posted in Chair Massage, Touch | 3 Comments

I Believe in Touch

In 2004, National Public Radio (NPR) began airing readings of brief essays entitled This I Believe written by youth and adults from all walks of life about the core values that guide their daily lives. It was based on a 1950s radio program of the same name, hosted by acclaimed journalist Edward R. Murrow.

I looked forward to hearing each week’s selection, which felt like a breath of fresh air in a glass-is-half-empty world.  During Thanksgiving week of 2005, after hearing a particularly moving piece, I went to the website and searched for any essays about “touch.” There were none.

Here is the essay I submitted on November 24, 2005 . You can also view it at the This I Believe website along with the now dozens of other contributions on the topic of touch. About a year later, I was one of a number of Bay Area residents selected to participate in a conversation about the This I Believe organization on the KQED radio program Forum. A portion of my essay was read and discussed.

I believe in the power of touch.

I have experienced the power of touch to calm an infant, to comfort the dying, and to mend a relationship.

I believe in offering a hand or a hug to say hello or goodbye.

I believe in putting my arm around a good friend while we sit and talk on the sofa.

I believe in saying “Thank you,” when someone accidentally bumps up against me on a crowded sidewalk.

I believe that touch makes me whole.

I believe that the touch of another person connects me to my personal history, to their personal history, and to the history of all humanity.

I have seen touch in times of crisis bring relief to emergency workers, firefighters and police after a natural disaster and heal soldiers and civilians in time of war.

I have seen that a simple handshake between political opponents can spark years of hope between warring peoples and sometimes actually signal the end of years of conflict.

I believe that touch can reconnect the innate wisdom of my body to the rational calculations of my brain.

I have watched touch reawaken sensations in me that I thought were gone forever.

I am aware that as touch heals me, it also heals my relationships, heals the institutions of work, religion and politics that I participate in, and I believe that ultimately it helps to heal the world.

I believe that, if everyone got as much positive touch as they wanted for free, the need for wars, racism, drug abuse, child abuse, spousal abuse, anti-depressants, and the need to blame others for the conditions of our lives would mostly disappear.

I believe that touch reminds me that human beings are supposed to feel good, not bad.

I believe that touch is the orphan sense in our world because of our fear of intimacy.

I believe that touch has the power to turn “you” and “me” into “us.”

I believe that unless we learn how to touch and be touched, we will never learn how to love ourselves and each other.

I believe in touch.

In touch,

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July 21, 1911 – Happy Hundredth Birthday, Marshal McLuhan

Touchpro Marshall Mcluhan The author of The Medium is the Massage, Marshal McLuhan, deserves a space in the massage almanac for the positive PR impact he had on the early days of contemporary massage, not to mention my life. In 1967, the year of this book’s publication, massage was still associated in public’s mind with adult entertainment. To put the word “massage” on the cover of the hippest book of the day without a negative connotation was both shocking and brilliant. I still have my $1.45 copy.

This week, in honor of his Centenary, I have enjoyed dipping into, reading about and reflecting on this book and McLuhan. Here are a few thing you may not know:

  • McLuhan coined the term “the global village” to describe how humans are moving from individualism and fragmentation to a collective identity with a tribal base.
  • He also coined and popularized “surfing” to mean rapid, irregular and multidirectional movement through a diverse body of documents or knowledge even before there was a world wide and web to surf on.
  • The title of the book was a typesetting mistake. It was supposed to have been The Medium is the Message but when he saw the typo, McLuhan insisted on keeping it. There are four possible readings for the last word of the title, all of them accurate: “Message” and “Mess Age,” “Massage” and “Mass Age.”
  • The book was a graphically innovative collage of multiple type faces, upside-down and sideways text, photographs, cartoons, drawings, news print that a generation of stoners would treasure.
  • A major influence on McLuhan’s was Teihard de Chardin, a French philosopher and priest who, besides also having a significant impact on my adolescence, still resonates well today.
  • Wired magazine annointed McLuhan its “Patron Saint” in its masthead for the first ten years of publication. Wired’s first executive editor, Kevin Kelly, continues McLuhan’s exploration of the role of technology and culture in his blog The Technium.

Happy Birthday, Marshall. Thank for letting me know I wasn’t so crazy. I certainly never would have guessed that massage would have become my medium.

In touch,

Posted in Almanac | 1 Comment

Creating a Fitness Lifestyle

TouchPro Fitness MomentWe all believe in the importance of fitness. Heck some of us are selling it. But what is fitness, and how do you achieve it?

My idea of fitness is a broad one. It includes physical, intellectual, social and spiritual components. But my concept of fitness does not mean merely maintaining the status quo. To me, keeping fit means getting better: stronger, smarter, more flexible, more self-aware, more engaged, more fully human.

We aren’t designed to stand still; we are designed to move, to learn and to grow. True fitness means being able to cope effectively with the accelerating pace of change and the increasing complexity of this global village.

I find that my biggest barrier to developing a fitness routine is lack of motivation. I don’t even like the word “routine.” It just sounds so boring and isolated from my the rest of my life. I don’t want a fitness routine, I want a fitness lifestyle.

Even getting to the gym three times a week can become just another chore for many of us that absorbs way too much precious time and money. Kids raised in the country during the 1950’s, as I was, didn’t need any motivation to stay fit. We were on the move from sun up to sun down, running, climbing, crawling, balancing, lifting, and building our way through each day.

In that environment every moment was a fitness moment and the combination of all those moments created a natural, organic fitness lifestyle. I still believe that model of fitness to be the best. All that’s required is the addition of a little awareness and creativity. Most fitness moments add no additional time to your day but add a huge amount to the quality of your life.

Here are some are some guidelines and examples for building a fitness lifestyle, moment by moment.

  • Be curious, ask questions, experiment. This attitude is innate in every kid. If it got squelched in you. revive it. For example, I never go on a diet. Instead I do open-ended dietary experiments like seeing what happens if I drink my breakfast every morning in a smoothie. Some of my experiments result in enough positive effects that they turn into habits. If they do, great. If they don’t, try something else. Everyone is different, so your fitness lifestyle will be unique to you.
  • Multi-task. If I find myself standing in line or on a train, I do isometric leg exercises, even if I am also reading a book or listening to a podcast. If I am waiting for the microwave to beep, I do a couple of push-ups or other exercise on the side of a counter.
  • Break a routine. Boredom is a big flag of opportunity signalling you to look at an unconscious routine with fresh eyes and find some aspect that you can turn into a fitness moment, like switching your tooth brushing or hair brushing hand.
  • Sweeten the moment. We all know we should eat more dark leafy greens, but a salad for breakfast seemed too radical. However, adding raw spinach or kale to a morning fruit smoothie tastes great and is far healthier.
  • Spice things up. A part of me responds well to challenges and competitions. I decided I wanted to lose a few pounds so I began keeping a spreadsheet, with a graphic chart of my post-shower weight every morning. Just that extra 30-seconds of record keeping is a fitness moment that helps keep me off the Haagen Dazs coffee ice cream.

I will be adding regular posts to this section of the blog and invite your comments and suggestions for fitness moments. How do you create your fitness lifestyle?

In touch,

Posted in Fitness | 3 Comments

The Curious Disparity of Ambidexterity

After an operation in 1974 put my right shoulder out of commission for a couple of months, I realized how little dexterity I had in my left hand relative to my right. What’s that all about, I thought. Who made that dominant hand rule that we live our lives by anyway? What’s so great about only developing half my body.

That’s when I began my lifelong quest for ambidexterity and I now consider it to be an essential aspect of my fitness lifestyle.

For the last four decades I have experimented with switching hands (and feet) for a wide variety of daily activities. In the bathroom I learned to hold a razor and shave with my left hand as well as my right and recently I started using my left hand to hold the toothbrush. I also noticed that in the shower, I would always stand on my right leg and wash my left leg first. Now I stand on the right first.

In the dining room I am equally comfortable eating European-style (fork in the left hand, knife in the right) and periodically, for a change of pace, I put my water glass or tea cup on the left side of my plate.

Any time I switch to using my non-dominant side I am exercising not only my muscles, but also my brain. I am building new sensory/motor pathways that build upon each other making any subsequent change a bit easier.

While these experiments may slow me down a bit initially, they can turn each moment into an “sensational” adventure. When I use my left hand I no longer  brush my teeth automatically and unconsciously. Because I am learning a new motor skill, I am forced to pay close attention and really feel the bristles as they cover each surface of each tooth.

That level of attention can shift me easily into a timeless place where the two minutes that I used to begrudge to this task become a gift of intimacy with my body. Yeah, I know I’m weird.  But so are dancers, musicians, and athletes, all of whom seem to find “the zone” more easily I qould guess because of their bilateral efforts.

There are literally dozens of opportunities every day to nurture ambidexterity throughout all parts of your body that take no time and little effort. For me this relatively modest effort at ambidexterity has had a big payoff personally and professional.

When I do massage it is clearly an advantage that both sides of my body are nearly equally adept at techniques and both hands are equally sensitive. Likewise, since much of my day is spent working at the computer keyboard, being able to alternate “mouse-ing” hands has been crucial to alleviating and preventing repetitive strain injuries.

On the more mundane level, I am better prepared for those awkward occasions when only a left hand will do, like tight spaces with a screwdriver or a wrench.

Give bilateralism a try!

In touch

Posted in Fitness | 2 Comments

Globalize your website

“What do you call someone who speaks three languages?” Trilingual.
“What do you call someone who speaks two languages?” Bilingual.
“What do you call someone who speaks one language?” American.

OK, OK. It is an old joke that is, fortunately, becoming less true each year, but too many of us think that English is the only language that matters. What is more true is that, no matter where you live in the U.S.,  your target market probably contains many people for whom English is a second language. However, even if you are a monolingual American, there is no reason that you can’t make your website, and thus your business, more welcoming to non-English speaking visitors.

I recently added a translation feature to the TouchPro website in less than an hour after a friend showed me his multilingual website. Depending upon your comfort level with web development and the web platform you are using, so can you.

Our first stop will be Google Translate, the amazing Internet tool for all global citizens. You can cut and paste text to this page and have it translated to and from over fifty languages.

Because I regularly correspond with people in French and Spanish, I drop my English into the translate box on the left side, select the appropriate “From:” and “To:” languages in the drop-downs and, “Poof!”, the translation appears on the right. When they write me back in their native tongue, I cut and paste their email into the translate box, click the reverse arrows and now I can read their reply.

Since it is done by a machine, don’t expect to get a professional grade translation. But I   rarely have any trouble understanding the meaning of the communication. Just keep in mind when you are writing for a cross-cultural audience that some of your more clever turns of phrase (puns, for example) may not translate well or at all.

You can also translate any website by copying its URL and pasting into the “From:” box on Google Translate. This time, when you click the translate button, it will take you directly to the website, but translate any text on the page into the language you selected.

So, how do you make your website multilingual? Look at the bottom of the Google Translate home page and you will see a link to the Google Translate Element. Scroll down the page to the section Add Translate to your website. Use the Wizard to determine your preferences, such as which languages you want available for translation. The final step shows you the HTML code, which you can cut and paste to your website.

The TouchPro site is built on the WordPress platform, which makes it relatively easy to develop pages from pre-designed templates. The right column is a navigation area that automatically appears on most pages (like this one). I created a “Widget” at the top of the right column to contain the HTML code I copied from Google Translate button. Then I saved the page. That’s it. As soon as I click the button to select a language on any of the pages of the TouchPro site, it translates all of the pages.

If you don’t know how to put HTML on your pages, but have a web developer working with you, ask that person to install the code for you. If you are charged  more than fifty dollars (or whatever their hourly rate is), you are paying too much. On the other hand, if you are willing to pay $100, call me… (Just kidding.)

If your website is built on a proprietary platform (such WordPress or Squarespace), check the Help section or Forums for specific advice on how to add HTML code to your site.

Besides quality, the other limitation of this free translation service is that Google can translate only text words, not image words. For example, many logos with a business name in it are actually a picture of the text and can only be changed in a graphics program, not a word processing program. For your logo that is generally not a problem, because you do not want your name translated. However, where this limitation is more commonly an issue is when menu selection tabs are with words are really images. Keep this in mind when building a site or choosing a platform.

Give it a try and extend your reach around the globe today!

In touch,

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“Sound is touch at a distance.”

That wonderfully rich quote comes from Anne Fernald, the head of Stanford Institute’s Center for Infant Studies during an interview on a  RadioLab podcast, one of my favorite  NPR science programs. The program segment was titled Sound as Touch and explores the mechanical, biochemical and electrical nature of our sound receptors along with sound’s psychological impact.

Professor Fernald took her tape recorder around the world and discovered that there are four universal “melodies” that all infants can understand no matter the culture or language. For example, when praising an infant (“Good baby.”) everyone invariably drops the pitch of the second word. Even though the child doesn’t understand the words, she knows she is being praised. Professor Fernald compares this to the universality of the non-verbal essence of touch communication.

Sound waves literally touch the bones in our ear and set them to vibrating. Indeed, these waves wash over our whole body and can touch us very deeply physically and emotionally. Orators and musicians are especially tuned in to this phenomenon. As a bodyworker I know that my massage starts the moment I greet a customer.

You can listen to the full segment Sound as Touch. By the way, the other three universal melodies that infants understand are those that comfort, that call attention, and that stop.

In touch,

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The Story of the First Massage Chair

The first massage chair was a box

My love affair with chair massage began in 1982, four years before the first professional massage chair came on the market. This is the story of what it took to get that first massage chair built.

The problem
The team I had assembled to begin providing seated massage in the workplace and at events were all graduates of the massage school I owned, The Amma Institute. One of the first questions we confronted was how to comfortably seat our customers for the massage.

Regular chairs had backs that limited the massage to the shoulders on up and we had already decided that our acupressure massage needed to include the “bladder channel” points traditional Chinese medicine that are located alongside the spine and run all the way down to the hips.

We tried turning chairs around and having the customer straddle the seat. That worked for some people on some chairs, but didn’t work at all for people in skirts or on chairs with arm supports. Then there was the fact that most office chairs had wheels.

To deal with all these considerations, I realized that we would always have to provide our own chairs for our customers.

Drummer's Stool

One of the first massage “chairs” was a drummer’s stool

Solution #1: Evolution
At that point in time, the best chair turned out to be a stool–no backs, no arm rests and relatively portable. We ruled out any stool with a hard seat (too uncomfortable) and looked for stools that folded and had good padding. Camp stools with canvas seats almost made the cut, but proved to be too uncomfortably low for most customers and practitioners.

We finally settled on a stool used by professional drummers. They had thick cushions, height adjustable seats and three sturdy metal legs that conveniently collapsed for portability. While they were expensive, $80-100, they added a very professional look to our enterprise.

Stool massage with no support

Stool massage with no support

Unfortunately, there were two problems with massaging on stools. Since we were providing Japanese acupressure, in order to apply pressure to points on one part of the body, the opposite side had to be braced. Not so much of a problem on the top of the shoulders and arms, but working on backs required some tricky coordination.

Consequently, part of the protocol involved making certain that the feet of the customers were in front of their knees and their hands were on their legs.The other issue was that the further we got into each massage, the more the customer relaxed and started listing forward, or backward, or to one side or the other. Either they had to hold themselves up or the practitioner did. The situation begged for another way.

Balans Chair

One design inspiration for the first massage chair

Solution #2: Revolution
Back in 1979 the first “kneeling” chair was developed in 1979 by Norwegian Peter Opsvik. Called the Balans chair, they hit U.S. shores in the early 1980’s. I loved the concept.

When I started seriously working on the first massage chair, I knew that the kneeling angle would be incorporated into the design.

In 1984, I crossed paths with a young French cabinet maker, Serge Bouyssou. The first time we met I explained the concept of seated massage and told him my specifications. “I want a chair with a Balans-style base that also supports the customer leaning forward into an angled chest and face support with a place to rest the arms. Oh, and by the way,” I said, “it has to be portable.”

Early Prototype of the chair. Notice the slot in the chest rest for the face.

Early Prototype of the chair. Notice the slot in the chest rest for the face.

Serge took this all in for a moment and then said, “Oh. You want a box.” “No, no,” I replied, “I want a chair.” More firmly he insisted, “No. You want a box.” Then he went to the whiteboard and proceeded to draw out how a chair could be built using a box as a base and with detachable supports–which could be stored inside the base–for the rest of the body. “You’re right,” I finally agreed, “I want a box.”

It took three prototypes to get to a version of the chair that a person could actually sit in. At that point I felt confident enough to show it to Jim Everett, the owner of Living Earth Crafts, an early manufacturer of massage tables in Santa Rosa, California. Over the next two years Serge and I worked with Jim to develop a series of pre-production models that kept refining the original idea.

Finally, in May, 1986, the first High Touch Massage Chair emerged from the Living Earth Crafts workshop and the face of an industry was born. Later that year, I showed off the chair for the first time to a group of 38 massage school owners and offered to come to their schools and teach their students how to use it. In the next 16 months I taught chair massage classes in 24 schools throughout the U.S., Canada and Europe. By 1990, all of the largest, and many of the smaller, table manufacturers had their own version of the massage chair and close to 100 massage schools were offering chair massage courses.

Jim Everett and David Palmer tinkering with the chair

Jim Everett and David tinkering with the chair

Living Earth Crafts retired the original chair in the mid-1990’s as more lightweight designs with tilting face cradles emerged. I joined forces with another company, Stronglite, and co-developed the chair I now work with – the Ergo Pro.

Jim Everett has passed away but I am forever grateful that he and Serge had the patience, foresight and courage to embrace an idea for which there was no discernible market and to invest their time and money to make it a reality. There is no doubt that all three of our names belong on the first patent for a portable, knock-down massage chair # 4,746,167, which you can read here . You can also view the original images included with the patent.

If you have any stories about the original chair or the early days of chair massage, please leave them below or send them directly to me.

Posted in Chair Massage, History | 28 Comments

The Best Technique for Chair Massage

Oils and lotions were out. That seemed obvious back in 1982 when I first began exploring the idea of massaging people in a seated position.

Fortunately, because I had been trained in traditional Japanese massage (Amma), that was not a problem. Amma practitioners typically work acupressure points on customers through clothing, towels or a sheet so lubrication is not necessary.

In addition, during Amma table massage there is often a point when the customer was worked on in a seated position. So, for me, making the shift from massaging on a table to massaging on a chair was not a huge conceptual leap.

In contrast, at that time Swedish-style practitioners rarely worked with upright customers and skin-to-skin contact with lubrication was always required. That’s because Swedish massage is primarily composed of kneading and gliding strokes. While the kneading strokes can be done through the clothing the practitioner’s hands get tired very quickly. That’s why they are alternated with the gliding or resting strokes of effleurage.

Since Japanese massage relies on weight transfer, not hand strength, and doesn’t require lubrication, it is well suited for doing five to six hours of chair massage day after day. But are there optional approaches?

It turns out, although there are plenty of other styles, some are more adaptable to a chair than others. Certain ones may be fine for an occasional day or a few hours of chair massage, but not all are suited for ongoing, full-time work.

One of the more unusual, but ultimately ill-conceived attempts was that of an entrepreneur who claimed he had invented a way to transfer Swedish massage to the chair. He had developed thin, white gloves made out of a special aerospace fabric that were supposed to allow the hands to slide over clothing obviating the need for any lubrication. I think that idea lasted for about two years.

More realistically, any technique based on acupressure adapts well to a chair: Chinese, Korean, Polarity. Likewise, bodywork approaches such as Rolfing, Trager, and Feldenkrais work are commonly done through the clothing and sometimes on seated clients.

Oddly enough, over the past three decades there has been an increasing cross fertilization of modalities  so that “Swedish” massage has broadened to include many techniques (cross fiber friction, for example) that make it more amenable to execution on a chair. Even the lotion/oil prohibition is not absolute. There are plenty of chair specialists I have seen include some lubrication on the hands, arms, face and neck.

Ultimately, I have learned, the best technique for chair massage, as with table massage, is the one that works best for the intention of the practitioner and expectation of the customer. Share which approach to chair massage works best for you and why. What do you think are its strengths and limitations? Is your technique appropriate for full-time (five or more hours of chair massage a day, five days a week) or part-time chair massage?

Posted in Chair Massage | 7 Comments

Why I do Chair Massage – Part One

“You can’t call that massage!”

The year was 1984 and the irritated voice on the other end of the phone was the owner of a well known massage school in New York objecting to my description of chair massage. “A massage is something that is done on a table, over the whole body, with oils and lasts for an hour,” she declared emphatically. “That’s a massage!”

Gorillas grooming

Hard-wired touch at the Wilhelma Stuttgart. Photo by Herrmann Vollmer.

She had a point. Although giving shoulder and neck rubs to sitting friends and family is probably a hard-wired instinct (think grooming habits of our primate cousins), up to that point professional massage on seated customers was near non-existent.

I mean, why would you? All things being equal, if you give me the choice between massage on a table and massage on a chair, before you finish reading this sentence I will have shucked my clothes and jumped on your table.

But all things are not equal.

When I became a massage school owner in 1982, I noticed a striking disconnect between professional massage services and the general public, namely that most people did not and would not get a massage. Because I wanted my enthusiastic graduates to be making a living doing work they loved, this fact caused me great concern.

So, I began looking at the problem from a marketing point of view.

While you can make a case that table massage is an “affordable luxury” for vacations, anniversaries, promotions and other special occasions, it is difficult to argue that the average middle-class person can afford table massage on a regular basis.

I believe there are only three groups of people getting regular table massage:

  1. The very wealthy, who can afford it.
  2. The very fanatical, who can’t afford it but believe it is critical to maintaining health and well-being. I fall into this category.
  3. The very desperate, who will pay any amount to relieve their pain and discomfort.

Exactly how frequently are people getting massaged? There are two regular consumers surveys: one done annually by the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) and the other every two years by the Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals (ABMP). If we give a generous definition of “regular” massage to mean 6 or more massages a year (one every other month) then a rather pitiful 2.9% (AMTA) or 4.2% (ABMP)  of U.S. adults average one massage every two months. (See the complete analysis here.)

While this data from 2010 is sobering, I remain as convinced today as I was 30 years ago that most people actually would like to have a massage.

It seems to me that there have always been two primary barriers that have limited the growth of massage: a price point that is too high and a cultural fear of intimacy. From a marketing point of view it was simple. The industry had a packaging problem. Very few people are willing to step into a private room, behind closed doors, lay on a table naked for an hour with a stranger in the room and spend $70 or more for the privilege.

The reality is, there is only one other time in our lives when most people get naked with another person behind closed doors. The unconscious association with bedroom activities is hard to ignore. And, yes, $70 a session is far too expensive for the average person to afford on a regular basis.

The alternative, in 1982, seemed obvious. Let people keep their clothes on, put them in a comfortable seated position out in the open and shorten the massage to lower the price point. That’s how my passion for chair massage was born.

I believe that chair massage is the key to growth not only in the massage services industry but also for educating the general public about the importance of bringing structured touch into their daily lives. And, that is the topic of Part Two. Stay tuned.

In touch,

Posted in Chair Massage | 9 Comments