NHI Teacher Feature: Rondi Kirby
We sat down with Rondi Kirby, one of NHI’s massage therapy instructors at the San Francisco Campus to learn about how she became interested in massage therapy, her experience owning a spa in Breckenridge, living in Yosemite and her most memorable moment in her massage career.
Q1: Why did you choose massage therapy?
Rondi: I took an aptitude test in high school, and one of the results was massage therapy. At the time, I didn’t know that much about massage therapy.
Jump ahead six years, and I was working in at the Ahwahnee Dining Room in Yosemite National Park. I had to carry those big heavy trays of dishes over my head, got a big knot in my shoulder, and couldn’t turn my head. A friend kept telling me to go see her massage therapist and, being from New York, I was skeptical! After a lot of convincing and pain I finally went to this women, and ten minutes into the massage—BANG!—there was an audible pop and my knot was gone, never to return again. I left her office, went to a book store, bought a massage book, and started working on my friends. A year later I was in school with a new career I was passionate about; not just doing something to make money, but doing something that was fun and that I was good at.
Q2: What was it like to live and work in Yosemite? How long were you there?
Rondi: I lived in Yosemite for about a year and a half, from spring 1990 to fall 1991. It was amazing, I was able to work, hike, backpack, mountain bike, roller blade, climb, cross-country ski, and meet fun, energetic people.
Q3: At some point, you lived in Colorado and opened a spa? What was that experience like, and how did you go about that? Did you create the spa menu?
Rondi: In 1996, three years after I graduated from massage school, I bought a thirteen-year-old massage business with a business partner, in the resort town of Breckenridge, Colorado. We had three massage rooms located in Beaver Run Resort, the largest resort in the area at the time. But we wanted to expand it into a spa with treatments that resort guests could get during the day. It seemed like a good idea, because Breckenridge is a family resort town and not everyone skis. So we tapped into the non-skiers, and also offered something unique for guests who wanted take a day off from skiing.
We developed a spa menu based on Ayurveda, which is the natural healing science of India. We offered body scrubs, massage facials, hand and foot treatments, and of course Swedish, sports and deep tissue massage.
Developing the menu was a lot of fun and hard work. We created feedback forms for clients so we could tailor treatments to what our guests wanted. It was costly at times; things we thought would benefit our guests didn’t always sell. It was trial-and-error learning, finding out what guests wanted. We had about 5-6 employees and this was my first experience teaching people how to do body treatments. We had to create a set-up for the rooms that worked for everyone, and there were a lot of meetings and discussions with my business partner about how things could and “should” work. Overall, it was a great experience and I’m very proud of that time in my life. I always wanted to run my own business but didn’t go to business school. I found I didn’t really know what I was getting into until I was in it! Like any relationship, I was glad to have a partner that was willing to talk things out in a professional way and was committed to the same things I was, like creating a great place to come to work, and working as a team.
Q4: Do you find that having a retail section in a spa is necessary, and adds value to the business?
Rondi: Unfortunately we did not have the space to retail all of our body products, so we sold a few self-massage tools, eye pillows, and some aromatherapy massage oils. Of course, there is potential to make more money from retail, and it’s important to look at the big picture. In our situation the waiting room was very small, and there was no front desk to sell and process the payments. We were also seasonal, very busy from December to March. The rest of the year we didn’t want product sitting around spoiling.
Q5: As a private practitioner, did/do you introduce and sell retail items to your clients as well, or supplement your private practice in any other ways?
Rondi: Again, I like to sell self-massage tools and find the one that works for the client, and that they will use. I also charge more to use aromatherapy and do out-call massage, like working on a client in their home.
Q6: Why did you choose to teach at NHI?
Rondi: I chose NHI because the curriculum is very comprehensive. I like the all-around exposure to the many modalities and perspectives of bodywork. It’s fun for me to be able to talk about all my varied interests in different modalities. Also, it gives our students a great foundation to take bodywork as far as they want. With massage therapy still being a relatively new and booming industry, there are new, interesting ways of healing the body that are being developed right now. There are also new ways massage is integrating into mainstream medical facilities.
Q7: What is your favorite subject of the NHI curriculum to teach, and why?
Rondi: I love deep tissue massage because I love focusing on teaching students correct body mechanics to create that perfect posture, which makes the work easy. They realize massage is not about being strong, it’s about knowing how to position and move your body in the most effective way.
Q8: What is your favorite modality of massage to give? To receive?
Rondi: To give? I also work at a spa so I like the variety of doing body scrubs and treatments that are unique. Like a seaweed leaf ritual, where we wrap the body in long, moist strips of seaweed, and then do a blanket wrap. This is detoxifying to the body and really relaxing.
To receive? I like to experience everything. I think the best way to learn about this vast field is to experience it, so I make it a point to try everything I come across, from acupuncture to Rolfing. I love the different ways our bodies can heal themselves.
Q9: Tell us about a memorable or profound moment in your massage career, as a practitioner or as an instructor, that stands out in your mind as one of the first moments you realized that you had work you loved.
Rondi: For me, it was at my first job and my first real shift doing massage. I got good feedback and great tips! Massage is an easy and natural form of expression for me. I had a lot of other jobs and careers before massage, some that I did okay at and some not-so-great. Becoming a massage therapist was the first time I felt like I found my calling, what I am meant to do in my life.
Q10: Tell us about your training as a life coach, and how you help people with that knowledge and experience.
Rondi: The type of life coaching I studied is called Co-Active Coaching, with the Coaches’ Training Institute. In a co-active relationship we are all equal, and as coach I ask questions to help you find your own answers. It’s not that I have this formula to success that you follow. We all have our own formula…kind of like teaching a man to fish instead of giving him fish for a day.
As a massage instructor I try and share my experience from this place of equality and openness, asking first what students know and can share about a subject, or what they think is logical in a given situation. We all think of things in different ways, so all perspectives are welcome.
Q11: Any other hobbies/interests/passions/education you are currently pursuing?
Rondi: I have also studied meditation and this plays a big part in massage therapy, by helping students stay grounded during massage. It is also a good review tool, like closing your eyes and visualizing where your muscles are as a learning process.
Q12: What do you like to do in your free time? Where have you traveled/plan to travel?
Rondi: In my free time, I am busy helping raise three kids, ages 10, 13, and 15. I love to garden! I grow fruits, vegetables, and sunflowers.
I have lived in New York, Colorado, and New Mexico, and I’ve traveled all across the United States including up to Alaska, Mexico, the United Kingdom, and the Galapagos Islands.
Q13: What do you imagine for your life and career in the next ten years?
Rondi: As we say in Thai massage same, same but different. I love my career and home life. I’d like to take some more meditation classes, do a Shaman training, and continue to explore the area of spiritualism and healing.
Click here to learn more about Rondi and other massage therapy instructors at NHI’s SF Campus here!
If you’re interested in meeting NHI’s massage therapy instructors in person and touring the SF Campus to see if a career in massage therapy is right for you Book A Tour! You’ll have the chance to meet with students and working massage professionals, and get answers to any questions you may have (including financial aid).