The Canyon Ranch Think Tank

Have you every wondered why the National Certification Board of Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB) has such an awkward name? What’s with that business of “Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork?” Couldn’t they have stopped after the word “Massage?”

You can credit a fascinating but mostly forgotten piece of massage history, The Canyon Ranch Think Tank, for making certain that “Bodywork” was included in the name.

Canyon Ranch, located in Tucson, AZ, was one of the first of a new generation of high end spas in the late 1980s  looking to transform the image of “fat farms” into “wellness centers.” Founded by Mel and Enid Zuckerman in 1979, within ten years it was a recognized innovator in the spa industry and was spreading its message of wellness and integrative health through its non-profit arm, the Canyon Ranch Foundation.

It was this foundation that brought together a group of 13 independent bodywork leaders for four days in September of 1989 “to explore issues critical to the emerging bodywork professions. They were to examine some of the unifying characteristics of touch professionals, and the objective of this particular meeting was to study and contribute to the evolution of the core terminology.”

What this came to mean for the participants was a search for “THE WORD,” an umbrella term under which all skilled touch professions could unify. After hours of intense discussion, the word settled on was, you guessed it, “Bodywork.”

Interestingly, at that time, there were only three serious contenders: “bodywork,” “massage,” and “touch therapy.” Significant in its absence was the term “massage therapy” which, arguably, could be said to have actually won the terminology battle, at least within the mainstream massage community.

Indeed, probably the only specific impact the Think Tank actually had was making certain that the NCBTMB, whose development was spearheaded by a number of Canyon Ranch participants, included the term “bodywork” in its name. I have always used “bodywork” as my meta-term for all touch modalities and still thinks it makes the most sense.

If you are interested in reading the full report, including the formal definition of “bodywork,” you can download a PDF here.

If you would like to read more about why “massage therapy” dominates the terminology in our industry today, check out this related article.

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One Response to The Canyon Ranch Think Tank

  1. Russell Borner says:


    Great reminder of how some things happen and then get placed on the shelf of history…..let’s hope that your revisiting the story may generate some focus and energy on keeping it on the table….

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