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Jul 27, 2016

NHI Graduate, Tobi Lessem, Wins the 2010 Teacher-of-the Year Scholarship Sponsored by BioFreeze

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National Holistic Institute and Biofreeze proudly announce that Tobi Lessem, an NHI graduate from the Massage Therapy Training Program and the Advanced Neuromuscular Training Program has won the 2010 Teacher-of-the Year Scholarship, sponsored by BioFreeze. Lessem will receive complimentary registration, airfare, and hotel for the 2016 American Massage Therapy Association National Convention in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in October compliments of NHI and generous underwriting from Biofreeze. The 2010 Teacher-of-the Year Scholarship was founded by Melissa Wheeler, an NHI Graduate, Teacher, Massage Therapist and winner of the 2010 Teacher of the Year – awarded by the AMTA.

We interviewed Lessem to get her insight on what shifts she’s seen in the massage therapy industry over the past five years, what inspired the focus of her private practice, and how being involved with the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) has helped her grow as a professional massage therapist.

NHI: Congratulations on winning the 2016 National Convention Scholarship! What are you looking forward to the most about attending the 2016 AMTA National Convention?

Lessem: I’m looking forward to so many things at the 2016 AMTA Convention. Meeting industry leaders, hearing keynote speakers, and of course exploring a new area will be fun! But, most importantly, I look forward to the continuing education I’ll receive by leading experts. One aspect in particular is how massage therapy plays a role in pain management. We have a massive prescription pill epidemic, many lost work days, and reduced quality of life all because of chronic pain. I believe healing touch is the solution and I am very excited to take the convention workshop that delves into data-backed methods.

NHI: We’re excited to hear about the highlights from your experience at the convention.  In your winning essay, you explain the shifts you’ve seen in the massage therapy industry over the past five years. Can you share with us what you think are the biggest shifts you’ve noticed and what might be the cause of these shifts?

Lessem: Fifty-one million Americans discussed massage therapy with their doctors last year and the trend from receiving massage as a luxury into a health and self-care practice has been slowly but steadily increasing. The average income has increased and the environments in which massage is provided have become more encompassing – both of these trends, especially in a time of economic uncertainty, show a public outcry for this type of service. Also, and this is the element most on my radar, is the extensive research being conducted that is showing positive correlation between all sorts of health concerns being reduced or palliated and therapeutic massage. Cancer, autoimmune symptoms, and depression are among a few that massage therapy have been proven to help.

NHI:  You currently have a private practice that is geared toward “bridging entrepreneurship and wellness”. What inspired you to choose that particular focus?

Lessem: “Bridging entrepreneurship and wellness” – the mission that drives me. When I was a kid, I’d sit in my backyard with friends crushing flower petals and mixing in mud hoping to “find a cure for cancer”. We would then put the mixture into small glass jars and attempt to sell it to neighbors door-to-door. I hoped that with the revenue from the ‘medicine’ I’d be able to purchase better ingredients and create more effective treatments. One could say that I’ve always intuitively had a desire to help people and realized that it took enterprise to do so. I am constantly inspired by seeing people utilize their highest potential. I am empowered when I find vessels to harness passion and put it to good use. Money talks and it is up to us what it says. Entrepreneurship is a way to give power to individuals to create the lives they want and to serve others in gratitude. Massage therapists and wellness professionals are We have the gift of healing as our vessel to create sustainable lives for ourselves and to have positive impact on the world.

NHI: How has being involved with professional organizations, such as the AMTA helped you grow as a professional massage therapist?

Lessem: AMTA and ABMP provide such valuable resources that allow me to feel supported and guided in this field. Honestly, I never feel alone when I’m looking for answers or research about massage therapy. I know that I don’t have to scour Google’s database, but can trust the publications of these industry experts. I have had many questions over the years about business, research, pathologies, and community and the professional organizations have made it easy to find answers.

NHI: We are always interested in hearing about how our graduates first got interested in massage therapy. Can you share your story?

Lessem: I was studying business from about 2006-2010 (still am) and knew that I wanted to open a business that helped people. But that’s all I knew. I then left the country to go volunteer abroad and lived in an artist’s community in the middle of the desert. There, we’d have impromptu massage sessions followed by dance and movement. It was then I realized the power of touch coupled with movement. Massage was a way to heal, connect, and rejuvenate. I had many loving people in my life who encouraged me to explore massage therapy as a next step and when I got back into the states, I immediately joined National Holistic Institute because I heard it was the best massage therapy school around. This proved true and I fell in love with bodywork. At the time I was running myself ragged with an over-zealous workout routine and was having repetitive stress and impact injuries. Massage became my refuge and helped me to realize a more substantial and balanced way to support my body. It stopped being about the push, force, grind mentality and instead became about support, nourish, and engage. I didn’t expect to practice massage for more than a year, just wanted to learn it and then implement it into my business. Five years later, I can’t see myself ever not practicing on some level and it is now just a matter of fostering a collaborative team to turn what I love to do into a business that fosters us all doing what we love.

NHI: What advice would you give to someone who is interested in pursuing a career in massage therapy?

Lessem: There are many pieces of advice to give someone considering massage therapy as a career. First, I’d ask ‘why?’ Why massage? I’d tell them to answer honestly and to be open to surprises along the way. They may realize sports massage is what they love even if they originally thought spa life was where it was at. Be mindful of the fact that massage therapy is a huge industry and can be taken in tons of directions, but find the one that feels genuine and authentic and this will be the best way to thrive. Spend your externship and up to a year after graduation exploring every possible realm to learn what you like and don’t like. Meet people, ask questions, and take opportunities. Then, with all your experience and knowledge, sit down with a quiet mind and ask yourself what felt best and what you could do ongoing out of joy and appreciation. Find your niche and specialize in something. Learn and educate yourself in something specific to set yourself apart (the field is growing quickly), but also to elevate the industry and bring people therapeutic touch that is finely tuned. Be the best at what you do and everybody wins.

The NHI/Biofreeze AMTA Convention Scholarship is open to seniors and graduates of all 9 NHI campuses and was the brainchild of NHI veteran teacher Melissa Wheeler. After being named the 2010 AMTA/Jerome Perlinski Teacher of the Year, Melissa envisioned a way others could experience the same sort of inspiration provided to her by attending massage conventions throughout her career. She knew many students and graduates beginning their careers did not have the means to attend and, thus, the idea of a scholarship was born. With a multi-year financial commitment from Biofreeze, NHI and Melissa Wheeler hope this annual scholarship will help Tobi Lessem and other future massage therapists have work they love!

If you’re interested in exploring massage therapy as a career path, fill out the form on the following page and a member of our admissions team will reach out to you with more information. 

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