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Telling the Truth With Compassion: Step Four Towards Having a Life You Love

…Continued from 10 Steps to Having a Life You Love


Step 4/10: Telling the Truth with Compassion

By Jeff Rockwell


Jim Ohara2Jim O’Hara has been a major part of the heart and soul of the National Holistic Institute a College of Massage Therapy for many years. A massage therapist for nearly 30 years, Jim carries the title of   “Curriculum and Training Specialist” at NHI. But with a Masters degree in education from Stanford, a master’s grasp of Eastern healing arts, along with years of tending to the spiritual needs of people in India and Nepal, Mr.   O’Hara, I suspect, is actually a Buddha in disguise.

The fourth core belief of NHI and the subject of this week’s blog is “telling the truth with compassion,” a maxim that is framed and displayed in every NHI campus. The author of these inspiring words? Jim O’Hara, of course.

Let’s dig into the wisdom of this saying, breaking it down into its component parts: Tell the truth. With Compassion.

First of all, what do we mean by “truth”? There are a lot of “facts” we take for granted that just aren’t true. This includes many things we believe about ourselves. For centuries, everyone “knew” that the sun and planets revolved around the Earth. Up until the late 19th century, epidemic illnesses such as cholera and the plague were “known” to be caused by a poisonous mist filled with particles from rotting debris. Until the early 20th century, the most common procedure performed by surgeons was bloodletting, because we “knew” that draining blood rid the body of the bad humors responsible for poor health.

Today, of course, we don’t make such silly assumptions. Or do we?



Ever hear that cracking your knuckles will give you arthritis? As a chiropractor, this particularly amuses me:  You will not get arthritis from cracking your knuckles. There is actually no evidence of such an association and, in studies performed, there was no change in occurrence of arthritis between “habitual knuckle crackers” and “non crackers.” In fact, in some studies, it was shown that “knuckle crackers” experienced a lesser occurrence of arthritis.

Or how about this: Cholesterol in eggs is bad for one’s heart. Not true. The perceived association between dietary cholesterol and risk for coronary heart disease stems from dietary recommendations proposed in the 1960s that had little scientific evidence, other than the known association between saturated fat and cholesterol and animal studies where cholesterol was fed in amounts far exceeding normal intakes. Since then, study after study has found that dietary cholesterol (the cholesterol found in food) does not negatively raise your body’s cholesterol. It is the consumption of saturated fat that is the demon here. So eat eggs, not steak.

Some things that we incorrectly believe to be true are fairly trivial. Others are not. For example, consider this, that humans utilize only 10 per cent of their brain.

Admittedly, the human brain is beyond complex. Along with performing millions of mundane acts, it composes concertos, issues manifestos and comes up with elegant solutions to equations. It’s the wellspring of all human feelings, behaviors, and experiences as well as the repository of memory and self-awareness. So it’s no surprise that the brain remains a mystery unto itself.

Adding to that mystery is the contention that humans only employ 10 percent of their brain. If only “regular folk” could tap that other 90 percent, they too could become savants who remember pi to the twenty-thousandth decimal place or perhaps even have telekinetic powers.

Though an interesting, albeit very limiting, idea, the “10 percent myth” is so wrong it is almost laughable, says neurologist Barry Gordon at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore. Although there’s no definitive culprit to pin the blame on for starting this legend, the notion has been linked to the American psychologist and author William James, who argued in The Energies of Men that “we are making use of only a small part of our possible mental and physical resources.”

The myth’s durability, Gordon says, stems from people’s conceptions about their own brains: they see their own shortcomings as evidence of the existence of untapped gray matter. This is a false assumption. What is correct, however, is that at certain moments in anyone’s life, such as when we are simply at rest and thinking, we may be using only 10 percent of our brains. “It turns out, though, that we use virtually every part of our brain and that most of the brain is active almost all the time,” Gordon adds. Let’s put it this way: the brain represents three percent of the body’s weight and uses 20 percent of the body’s energy.

“Evidence would show over a day you use 100 percent of the brain,” says John Henley, a neurologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. Even in sleep, areas such as the frontal cortex, which controls things like higher level thinking and self-awareness, or the somatosensory areas, which help people sense their surroundings, are active, Henley explains.

Another mystery hidden within our skulls is that of all the brain’s cells, only 10 percent are neurons; the other 90 percent are glial cells, which encapsulate and support neurons, but whose function still remains largely unknown. Ultimately, it’s not that we use 10 percent of our brains; merely that we only understand about 10 percent of how the brain functions.

Among the most insidious and pernicious non-truths we dabble in are some of the things we tell ourselves about ourselves. Researchers estimate that we think approximately 50,000 thoughts a day, with 80-90 per cent of them being negative messages about ourselves and others.

Compassion 2

The Buddha taught that our true nature is compassion, and when this true nature is realized, the offspring of compassion emerge: loving-kindness, empathetic joy, and equanimity.

Who are you? Tell me the truth. Never mind all your fears and insecurities or all the things you have or would like to have. I don’t want to know your gender, nationality, age, family situation, ethnic background, and certainly not what you do for a living. My question is this: What is your true nature? Do you know? Do you ever ask yourself?  I’m not asking who you believe yourself to be, but rather what you experience in those moments when you are not caught up in your wants and fears. These are hard, yet essential, questions for those who wish to consciously experience life’s fullness. This was what Socrates was referring to when he wrote, “An unexamined life is not worth living.”

So, who are you? Really? What are the “truths” you tell yourself? Only you can answer this question, however I can tell you who and what you are not. For example:

  1. You are not your worst traits.
  2. You are not your history.
  3. You are not your thoughts. (By now, you have probably seen the bumper sticker that reads, “Don’t believe everything you think.”)

If you are not your thoughts, then what is your true nature, how do you find it, and how do you live so that it may flourish? These are the perennial questions for anyone who starts to develop an inner life. In Jesus’ teachings, love is at the center of all being – love that is forgiving, unconditional, and not self-serving.

The poet T. S. Eliot, a devoted Anglican Christian, said it in this manner in his Four Quartets: “Love is most nearly itself when here and now cease to matter.” What Eliot is suggesting is that the true nature of love is not based on life always going our way, but on the sheer openness of one heart to another.



Marianne Williamson described our true nature as well as anyone when she wrote, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”

I desire to be compassionate. But I find myself often harboring feelings of judgment and dislike for certain people, and it is often the very people for whose experiences and pains I ought to have the most compassion. A thought that has changed the way I approach compassion was written by the late mythologist Joseph Campbell. Campbell wrote, “Compassion is that which converts disillusionment into participatory companionship.” In other words, we are meant to participate in community—to be alive and present to life– and to do so may very well entail rising above our complaints about the “cards” life has “dealt” us.

I believe that the deepest form of compassion is the willingness to share your being, the truth of your being of which Marianne Williamson wrote. I love the phrasing Campbell used. Compassion converts disillusionment into something else. In order for disillusionment to be converted, it must first exist! Campbell premises compassion on the acknowledgment that each of us will encounter negativity within ourselves towards other people. When someone fails or betrays us, when they utter an unkind word, or when they fail to meet our expectations, we experience disillusionment.

The people I have the most problems with are the ones that do not meet my expectations. When people are impolite, don’t follow certain social norms, or exhibit characteristics I dislike in myself, my mind reacts with negativity. I love that Campbell says compassion converts this negativity into “participatory companionship” because companionship is not a feeling! Companionship is the choice to participate in someone’s life despite the way you might feel.

This thought is freeing to me. It means that I don’t have to be trapped by my emotions. I can choose, despite my emotions, to participate. I can choose freely to give of my being to people who “make me” feel frustrated.

Campbell also wrote that “what evokes our love…is the imperfection of the human being.” When I practice mindful living and see my own weaknesses clearly, other people’s imperfections cease to become burdens or frustrations, but rather become my common ground with them. Love is evoked when sameness is recognized. Who am I? I am my neighbor.

In order for me to “tell the truth with compassion,” I must know what compassion is.

Compassion is a way of moving through the world with respect for all beings. It is about practicing acceptance, concern and understanding for others, with the realization that whatever we do for someone else helps us grow as spiritual beings. 

So, let’s put this all together and address the core belief of “telling the truth with compassion.”

Truth expressed without compassion can easily be hurtful. Compassion expressed without honesty becomes delusional. Ultimately, to reduce suffering, truth needs to be joined with compassion when relating with ourselves as well as with others.

You likely have heard others claiming to be just ‘telling the truth,’ when in reality they are using the truth as a weapon to hurt us or someone else. Truth is important, but we need to be conscious of why and how we express something that may be hurtful to another.

On the other hand there is the phrase, “But I just didn’t want to hurt his (her) feelings,” which is often used as a reason for lying or omitting some relevant truth. We may not want to hurt someone’s feelings, but too often this is more about avoiding our own discomfort. Worse still, it often diminishes our ability to communicate with one another.

Truth and compassion are important values that at times may pull in different directions. By paying attention, and being conscious of both, we can act in ways that properly balance them for each situation that we face.

At NHI, we practice a communications model inspired by Marshall Rosenberg’s work in Nonviolent Communication (NVC).

Most of us have been educated from birth to compete, judge, demand and diagnose — to think and communicate in terms of what is “right“or “wrong“ with people.

We express our feelings in terms of what another person has “done to us.” We struggle to understand what we want or need in- the- moment and, in our best moments, how to effectively ask for what we want without using unhealthy demands, threats or coercion. Marshall Rosenberg has written, “What others do may be a stimulus of our feelings, but not the cause.”

NVC is based on rather deep and quite spiritual principles:

1. Each person is responsible for his own life.  This means taking full responsibility for one’s feelings, words and actions, rather than projecting and attributing our feelings to others.

2. Do not take responsibility for the feelings of others.  This is another trap that one must avoid.  If someone is upset with you, or with anything, it is an attribute of that person, and it is not about you, necessarily.

3. One cannot force others to feel, think or act the way one wishes.   Trying to do so, through demands, threats and punishment stops communication.  Even if the attempt is successful, the results often backfire, so that the person acts from resentment, not from love and honesty.

4. Judging oneself and others often stops honest communication.  Judging has a quality of finality about it. Also, judging presumes one knows everything about a person or situation, which is generally not the case.  Judgment therefore is usually an enemy of communication, although the qualities of discernment and evaluation, which are different than judgment, are needed always.

5. All people are connected at the level of feelings, basic personality needs, and other levels. Staying grounded, staying in present- time, and empathizing with others brings people together and solves problems.  When, however, one does not remain at these deeper levels of human connection and, instead, argues or discusses at purely intellectual or emotional levels, communication tends to fall apart.

Truth with compassion

When I first “landed” at NHI San Jose in 2010 I was impressed with all of the words of inspiration displayed on the walls of the campus. I particularly resonated with “tell the truth with compassion.” Next to quotes by Rumi, Aristotle, Gandhi, and W. Somerset Maugham, I wanted to know who this Jim O’Hara was. Intrigued to discover that he was “one of us,” I looked forward to one day making his acquaintance. What I have learned since about Jim, and what I have heard from his closest colleagues, is that he walks his talk. “He epitomizes and lives ‘truth with compassion,’ “one said. Another commented on how meeting with him always leaves her feeling that she has learned “something important,” whether about some aspect of work, or herself, or about life. As mentioned at the beginning of this blog, Mr. O’Hara has devoted decades to the hero’s journey and shares his knowledge—in the classroom, in his dreamwork consultations,  astrology and Tarot readings, and in his new e-book In the Land of Shiva–with a complete lack of judgment or criticalness. As one person said, “Being in his presence makes self-development happen.” This has been my experience as well. I have often heard that greatness cannot be taught, but it can be caught. So let me give you some truth: It’s one thing reading inspiring words, and it’s an entirely different experience “reading” an inspiring person. Thanks to Jim O’Hara, I am beginning to not only know what “telling the truth with compassion” looks like, but I am becoming better acquainted with my own true nature and with the nature of compassion itself; two major ingredients of a life worth loving. Namaste, Jim.


P.S. For information on Jim O’Hara’s e-book, check his website You can get more information on his dreamwork at

March 18, 2014   No Comments

Empty Cups, Full Journeys: A Play in Three Acts

…Continued from 10 Steps to Having a Life You Love!


Step 2/10: Empty Cups, Full Journeys: A Play in Three Acts

Act One:

I’m seventeen years old, full of myself, and wiser than my parents. Then a miracle happens. Late one evening, I flip through the 4 television channels available at the time (NBC, ABC, CBS and PBS), and something on Channel 12 (PBS) catches my attention: a show on Zen Buddhism is being advertised and it’s coming on in 15 minutes. I watch it and am treated to interesting interviews with Alan Watts, D.T. Suzuki, Philip Kapleau, and a very young Thich Nhat Hanh. This was my first exposure to Eastern wisdom and, for a few precious moments, the beige bubble of Cold War-era New Jersey bursts. I see in colors and realize I may not know everything after all.

My favorite part of the hour-long show is a 30-second clip that is repeated numerous times throughout the show. A Zen teacher from Japan, whose name I do not catch, is asked, “Roshi, what is Zen?” His response: an outrageous burst of belly laughter. That’s it, over and over and, for years after, I wonder who that mad man was.


Act Two:

Ten years later, inspired by a quote from Thoreau– who equated success with the quality of one’s journey– I embarked on exactly that, a journey, hitchhiking from my parents’ home in New Jersey to Southern California. After spending several years in East Africa, England and India studying yoga and meditation, I had cobbled together enough skills to be able to land my first job as a professional body worker. Settling in the small high-desert town of LucerneValley, I worked six days a week at a dude-ranch-turned-spa, doing bodywork on wealthy clients visiting from Los Angeles. My salary: $35 a month, room and board included. The desert clobbered me with its magnificent sunrises and sunsets. Life was simple and simple was good.

I worked to cultivate a flexible mind – “beginner’s mind–” and plied my trade, while also learning how to repair a broken toilet, wrap a bandage, and make fresh tofu from scratch .

I also made a new friend, a rich dropout from the LA scene, who was a devout student of Zen Buddhism. We began sitting zazen together daily, and when he offered to pay for me to attend a seven day Zen sesshin, a silent sitting meditation retreat, I eagerly accepted.

We made the drive to MountBaldy, outside of Los Angeles, where the Zen teacher would hold his retreat in a virgin redwood forest. We were placed in a dormitory room with eight other men, given our black robes to wear beginning the following day, and drank vodka with the monks who had been living there for years with their teacher Sasaki Roshi. The retreat was to begin with a brief walking meditation at 4 AM.

The next day, which was hardly even “day,” was stupefying in its silence and pitch blackness. Fifty black-robed men and women were journeying one small, ultra-slow step at a time through the dark, when the quietude was pierced by the sound of intense laughter. This wild roar echoed off our skulls and through the invisible mountains. I had found my Zen hero from the PBS show I had watched as a high school junior!

Later that day, after 4 hours of sitting meditation and a lunch of brown rice, sea vegetables and miso soup, I had my first interview with Sasaki Roshi. Today, Roshi is 105 years old and has gained notoriety as the teacher of singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen, but on that day he appeared like a lion at the peak of its powers.

After asking me what work I did, he gave me my koan—or riddle—to solve: “How does the Buddha give massage?” I thought I was clever and performed a little dance as my answer. He threw me out. The next day, the same question. This time I began massaging the air. “Out!” Day three: I chanted “Om.” Wrong religion: “Out!”

Sasaki Roshi


Act Three:

I still don’t know how the Buddha “gives massage.” While I’m happier with my skills today, I feel, in a way, that I know less. At National Holistic Institute, A College of Massage Therapy, we call this having an “empty cup.” While my cup is not exactly empty, it has cracks in it, acquired by the process of living a full journey, and the cracks allow personal hubris and ego to seep out. In the words of Leonard Cohen, ”There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” So, I am not complaining.

I am happiest when I let go of trying to be an expert and embrace, once again, being a beginner. If you are interested in being brand new each morning, what would your life be like? How can you empty your “cup”?

Let’s take a look at eight aspects of what is meant by “beginner’s mind” and see how they can transform our life:

1. Notice taking one step at a time. We tend to think in sequences. For example, when we go grocery shopping, our mind is on what we need to buy and where to shop. We’re likely to skip over all the little experiences on the way: locking the front door, seeing the neighbor standing at the window, rain splattering on the windscreen, the sound of traffic.

Journey Final 2


The same thing happens when we learn something new. We’re always looking towards what we’ll know or be able to do in the future, instead of focusing on the next step right now.

2. Fall down seven times, get up eight. Yesterday a client of mine brought her toddler for a craniosacral session. The little girl, Mallory, is just learning to walk. She would pull herself up, wobble along a few steps and then plop down on her bottom. She had a determined look on her face and got up again, over and over. When did we last learn something with such determination and such little obvious success?

3. Use “Don’t Know” mind. In martial arts, a “don’t know” mind is considered the wisdom of the warrior. We can easily get things wrong by prejudging a situation. When faced with a big opponent or a big challenge, we might assume that we will lose out. And when faced with an opponent who seems smaller or weaker, or a challenge that seems surmountable, we might assume that we will be on top. In both scenarios our judgment might be wrong. “Don’t know” means keeping an open mind and responding according to circumstances, not according to how we assume things will be. A “don’t know” mind leaves room for magic, and if not magic, certainly intuition.

4. Live without “should’s.” We could all write entire books about how we should be, what we should have done and what we should be doing.  The world seems to be full of experts on my life who like to tell me what I should be doing. Engaging life with an “empty cup” means letting go of “should’s.” By the way, I’m not advocating living without our own moral standards. It’s just that I think most of our “should’s” reflect other peoples’ ideas about what our life should look like. Don’t “should” on yourself.

5. Be practical and make use of experience. Beginner’s mind is great, but it’s not so useful when crossing the road. You don’t want to be squashed flat by a car in the process of learning anew that you need to get out of the way! It’s always good to use both our experience and our native wisdom.

6. Let go of being an expert. We are all experts. Experts in our job, in raising children, in crossing the road, in signing our name. It’s difficult to let go of being an expert. Because it means confessing that we really know all that we think or hope we do. What we know belongs to the past, whereas we probably know very little about the next, new moment. If I let go of being an expert, I can listen to others with an open mind. Then I find that every one and every thing is my teacher.

7. Experience the moment fully. Have you ever taken a small kid to the beach for the first time? Everything is amazing for them. They stare at the people walking by. They chase each dog they see. They investigate even the cold waters of MonterreyBay with great joy and concentration. They live each moment.

Most of the time, as adults, we live in a daydream in which we dwell on the past and dream of the future. Meanwhile life runs on without us, without us being present to its gifts. We miss so much when we live in a daze. “Emptying our cup” allows us to take in the whole show. Then even the “ordinary” becomes the extraordinary.

8. Use the spirit of inquiry. Ask for guidance and relinquish preconceived ideas. There’s a Zen story about this; one that we are very fond of at NHI:

A professor once visited a Japanese master to inquire about Zen. The master served tea. When the visitor’s cup was full, the master kept pouring. Tea spilled out of the cup and over the table and onto the floor. The professor exclaimed, “Master! The cup is already full.” The master replies, “That is correct. And please return when your cup is empty.”


 Empty Cup          Our third NHI core belief, “Empty cups, full journeys,” is,
in essence, our third portal into having a life we  love. How                                                   best to embark or continue on our full journey?   In Thich Nhat                                           Hanh’s words, “Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your                                               feet.” And how might we go about emptying our cup? As Ray                                               Bradbury wrote, “Learning to let go should be learned before learning to get.


I’m seventeen years old and I drop and break my tea cup on the long road from my head to my heart. Not to worry. It will rain soon and the flowers will return. If I can’t find fullness within me, where else do I expect to find it?


~Dr. Jeff Rockwell


How will you empty your cup? Comment below! 

March 6, 2014   1 Comment

Yoga, Massage, Focus, Energy, Somatics, Stamina, Immunity, and You

Several days ago it finally happened… With the right light and the right angle, as illusive as it might have been it was clearly there – not a six pack but an eight pack! As every well trained massage therapist knows, the Rectus Abdominis is really a ten pack. We all have it but for most part it remains hidden. So how did I get to see it?

For the past few years I have been practicing Bikram Yoga. Sure it is nice to get a glimpse of your own six pack (or eight pack) but there is so much more to it. The benefits are countless, and are especially important for massage therapists. During class at National Holistic Institute, my students took part in some Bikram Yoga postures to enhance our massage therapy practice and to maintain a holistic approach to our own wellbeing. I’ve outlined just a few of the benefits for therapists here:

Bikram yoga is a 90 minutes open eye meditation. Practicing this kind of meditation you will notice that grounding in and out of your massage session becomes much more effective. You will no longer feel tired and drained of energy but instead you will feel focused and energized after each session.

This practice implements the same body mechanics principles as massage does and gives us opportunity to solely focus on them. As every new massage therapist knows when we learn massage we need to focus on the technique, on body mechanics on quality of touch, on the flow and rhythm of the sequence. Here in the yoga class we have an opportunity to practice body mechanics and improve our posture before we do massage. With each class we train our proprioception and then emerge into the world with new posture and somatically enhanced way of moving. This gives us the advantage of longevity in the field. From that point every massage we do has a positive effect on us as well as the client.

Stamina is what makes a difference in how much revenue you will be able to produce. Bikram Yoga is a great cardio workout and with time will increase your ability to work for extended periods of time.
Balanced Immune system will help you avoid getting a cold or flu and therefore make you a more reliable therapist (I have not have the need to call in sick or cancel an appointment with client since I started practicing yoga (about 5 years ago). More reliable therapist means more reliable and robust clientele base!

The profuse sweating experienced in this form of yoga has a detox effect on the body. Your skin will be glowing, your eyes will be bright; you will feel like a totally new you.

The best part – anybody can do it! It is a good idea to talk to your instructor about any injuries and they will assure the session is safe for you. If you are ready to enhance your life and massage practice don’t wait… Take your first class! The first class is usually the toughest one but it gets easier. Bikram Yoga is one of the best paths to self care for massage therapists and I will continue my practice for many years to come.
Perhaps I will see you there.
~Izabela Rapacz
Mentor and Instructor
NHI San Francisco

July 2, 2012   No Comments

Living In Your Body | Spring Cleaning Isn’t Just For Your House Anymore

Springtime is just around the corner, and with it comes the natural inclination for a fresh, clean start! While this year’s lack-of-a-winter in most of California is an exception, generally spring means an end to the cold, dark part of the year and a rebirth of new life and activity.

This means it’s also a natural time for cleansing… on all different levels. Cleaning the house is a no-brainer, and probably needs little explanation or description. But we also live in our bodies (well, some of us, anyway!), and the body collects the physiological, energetic, and emotional equivalent of cobwebs, dust-balls, and cluttered closets as well!

So how can we give our bodies a good spring cleaning? Here’s a few of my favorite ways:

Up in the mountains of Western North Carolina, the ‘Old Timers’ have an interesting spring ritual. After eating little but pork and potatoes all winter, they would understandably feel a little sluggish come springtime. Some of the first wild plants that push up thru the spring snow are burdock and nettles, which are known in herbal lore for their power to cleanse the blood.

The old-timey mountain folk would make a nutritious and purifying tea from these plants to flush out the toxins their bodies had accumulated over the winter. Burdock, nettles, and other “spring cleaners” grow in California – but it’s probably a good idea to seek some qualified instruction before harvesting or preparing wild plants. Or just pick up an herbal tea from your local health food store’s herb department!

In addition to wild plants, another passion of mine is yoga, and a great cure for the winter blahs is movement. I’m particularly fond of the classic sequence of Hatha Yoga postures known as the Sun Salutation. This flowing sequence of forward folds, back bends, and hip openers is renowned for its stimulatory effects, especially its ability to improve the flow of lymph. Now, if you don’t already know, the lymphatic system is closely connected to our immune system and anything that helps the lymph flow generally helps our immune system function better.  Just in time for when that spring pollen fires up the allergies!

NHI Students practicing Thai Massage

Finally, let me suggest that you GET A MASSAGE! Most styles of massage help lymph and blood flow more efficiently, and some styles (like lymphatic massage!) are intended specifically to help support the body’s natural cleansing, detoxing, and immune functions. Of course, almost all massage feels great, lifts the mood, increases the energy, and can help relieve the stiffness that follows the inactivity of winter.

So, whatever method works for you, let me wish you a happy spring cleaning!


To schedule a massage at one of our California locations:

March 19, 2012   No Comments

12 Great Resolutions You Shouldn’t Make On New Years Day – Why You Broke Last Year’s Self-Help Promise

New Years Resolutions
We all make them….and we all break them.

In United States at least 80% of people make New Year’s resolutions related to health and fitness. Perhaps you belong to that group. Most of us start on January 1st with good intentions, high hopes and enthusiasm. What better way to start a new chapter in life than to sign up for a gym membership, yoga, dance, or Zoomba classes, just to mention few! We also commit to new healthy ways of eating – no more sugar, no more fats, no more alcohol, no more this and no more that.

We imagine feeling wonderful and looking great. We know what will get us there. We’re sure we can do it… But by February, the enthusiasm starts to fade and after a few more months most people forget their promises to themselves and return to their old ways.

So how do we stick to a plan that works?

The kind of resolutions that we tend to stick with are the less drastic ones. Make small changes from your regular routine and take baby steps. Make only one small change a month and by the end of 2012 you will have 12 new healthy habits!

January:   Get a massage!  If you’re going to make changes this year, why not start with an easy one?  Plus, you need to de-stress after the busy holiday season.  And regular massages are an excellent first step on the road to better health.  Studies have shown that massage can relieve stress, reduce tension, ease pain, increase circulation, improve movement, and even promote weight loss!  Keeping your resolution of a massage a month is easy at an affordable student massage clinic like the one at National Holistic Institute.

February:   Take a few extra steps whenever possible. Park at the far end of the parking lot. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Walk around the block at lunch time. As you start to do more you will naturally want to do more. Exercise will no longer be a “have to” and will become a “get to”.

March:   Drink more water. Ideally aim for 8 glasses of water a day. Staying hydrated can lift your mood and give you more energy. All your organs and systems will function better. And as an added bonus, it also makes your skin look better!

April:    Make it a daily practice to think of at least one thing you are grateful for. Gratitude is a shortcut to happiness!

May:  It’s Spring! Take time to notice flowers as you take that walk around the block that you started in February.

June: You are half way there. Take a minute to reflect on the changes you have made so far this year and take inventory of how you are feeling. It really wasn’t hard and the next six changes won’t be either.

This month add five minutes of quiet time to your daily schedule. Take a few deep breaths and just do nothing for five minutes – you might be amazed at how refreshed you feel.

July:   Add a little stretching to your daily routine. Touch your toes, roll your neck, and reach for the sky. Keep it simple; every little bit counts.

August:   Fresh fruits and vegetables abound in the summer. Add a salad to your menu once a day. Fruit salad for breakfast? Yum! A large green salad for lunch? Yum! No cooking over a hot stove? Yes!

September:   Remove refined sugars from your diet. If you have sweet tooth opt for fresh fruit or treats made with stevia, honey or agave syrup in stead of refined white sugar or high fructose corn syrup.  This is easy when you use your August resolution of natural fruit as a sweet when you crave it!

October:   Practice weekly random acts of kindness

November:   Time to clean out a closet and make way for the new. Find at least three items which you no longer use and recycle or donate them.

December:   Switch to whole grain products rather the highly processed ones.


There are many simple things we can do to greatly improve the quality of our lives. Follow the monthly plan above, creating a lasting habit out of each small change, or create your own resolution calendar:

Instead of butter try using avocado, this unique fruit is loaded with minerals and vitamins especially vitamin E. It has healthy fats and protein that will satisfy you for hours and keep your hunger at bay. Eat large salads with your lunch and dinner. Skip the bread basket at the restaurant. Next time you go to grocery store, make sure to check the label ingredients. Choose cereals that are low in sugar.

Practice yoga or Pilates, or join a walking group. Spend less time in front of the TV and more time at the gym. Remember that texting does not count as exercise; you really should be working your larger muscle groups.

Skip your morning coffee house stop and start a vacation fund instead.

Health and fitness are especially important for massage therapists. Our work is physical and can be demanding on the body. Taking good care of ourselves is part of the job. As we become more fit we become stronger and more aware of our body mechanics. We are then able to do more work with less of a possibility of an injury. Sense of well being and balance infuse not only our bodies but also our minds. Suddenly we are enjoying our work much more. With the improvement of mental agility we uphold boundaries with our clients with ease. At the end of the day we feel energized instead of drained. Clients will know the difference…they are presented with a therapist who is grounded, patient and full of poise. We are role models for our clients;  as they see the spark in our eyes and our healthy glow they are encouraged to make positive changes for themselves.

If you have very limited time in your schedule, incorporate physical activities throughout the day. Use the stairs instead of elevators or escalators. When you are watching TV or have a couple of free minutes at work stand with your knees slightly bent, bring your arms out to the side and do arm circles. Doing this few times a day for several minutes will increase blood circulation and build strength. When you start any fitness program start slowly and build to where you want to be. Most people get discouraged because they start with a plan that is too difficult for their fitness level. Gradual progress will give you a sense of accomplishment and ease the body into more strenuous activities. You should feel great after a workout not sore for days; “No pain no gain” is a fallacy!

Most importantly, don’t get discouraged. Stay present in the moment. It does not matter if you forgot about your New Year’s resolutions…today is another day. If you missed a workout or made a wrong food choice, do not dwell on it. Continue with your healthy plan the rest of the day and the damage will be minimal. After all, if you ran a red light you wouldn’t continue to do so for the rest of the day.

Focus on all the little things you can do today. It is best not to wait for big dates like New Year, Monday, first of the month…you have the power to make change right now.

Make everyday of the New Year your personal health and fitness day!


December 16, 2011   1 Comment

National Holistic Institute at the Nike Women’s Marathon in San Francisco

Before sunrise on a crisp San Francisco morning, 109 students representing all six campuses of the National Holistic Institute were busy setting up the massage tent with 80 massage tables at the Finish Line Village at the Nike Women’s Marathon.

This year marked the eighth year for the event that draws over 22,000 runners from around the world to the half and full marathon.  The course is filled with steep climbs and beautiful views of the city and the Bay.  The finishers of the race are rewarded with Tiffany necklaces and post-race massages.  Kaiser Permanente, a major sponsor of the Nike Women’s Marathon, contracted The NHI Sports Team to provide these post-race massages.


By 9:00, the massage tables are littered with runners and student therapists working to relax and stretch strained muscles. When the last runner was escorted off of her massage table at 2:15, the NHI Sports Team had performed collectively over 1700 massages.

The students were joined by seven instructors from the various campus, Beth McNeill (SJ), Kristine TenBrink (SJ), Curtis Hisao (SJ), Mark Nielson (PE/EM), Lucas Nevarez (SAC), Phil Okazaki (SJ), and Gabriel Posner (SF/EM) and 15 Teaching Assistants who supported the students by coaching bodywork, issuing and managing breaks and injuries.  The San Jose Campus Student Services and Career Life Coordinator, Chris Pavao acted as Master of Ceremonies directing the line and finding open massage tables for the athletes.  The average wait time was a mere 15 minutes.

The NHI Sports Massage Team prepped for this event by holding sports-specific training sessions where students learned about the marathon, athlete training plans, common injuries and massage techniques.  While it was a mild morning in the city, the team was equipped with skills to combat thermal injuries.

The calm before the storm

The student therapists had fun, worked hard and finished the day with a sense of accomplishment.  They each provided at least 15 massages through out the day, more clients than they see in a regular week.  Emily Luckett from On Board, who is the event planner for the Nike Women’s Marathon, “Thanks for all of your hard work, NHI!  Everything seemed to be managed very smoothly.  We appreciate your efforts!”

In response from the post-event report given by NHI Staff lead, Beth McNeill, Curshanda Woods from Kaiser Permanente had this to say, “Thank you, NHI.  Great job, Beth!  Everything looked great.”  The NHI Sports Massage Team ended the day taking a group picture and a group WHOOSH!  Kudos to NHI and to the students participating in the Sports Team.


November 3, 2011   1 Comment

San Francisco’s Summer of Wellness at the National Holistic Institute

Haven’t you heard??  Wellness is in!!!  You read about it, see it practiced by others, talk about it, and you may even dream about it (“Someday I’ll….”). So, how does one get past the “I’m-too-busy” or “I-don’t-have-time” syndrome and actually put “wellness” into action?                                                                                               

At the National Holistic Institute SF Campus, this past summer was designated “The Summer of Wellness,” a fun, interactive campus experience designed to bring about greater personal awareness and ownership of realistic, healthier habits. 

Everyday at NHI, some level of inspiration is brewing, simply through the daily exchanges of a typical day on campus.  Izabela Rapacz (NHI teacher/mentor) has been known to have inspired more than a few at NHI with her passion for making physical activity enjoyable and attainable, so her idea to integrate one thing that we feel we all do so naturally, “inspiring others,” with some healthy fun couldn’t have been more openly received.

July’s focus was Physical Fitness, August’s-Nutrition, and September’s will be Mindfulness.  With three weekly announced “tips of the week” and one specific exercise/physical movement encouraged be performed at the drop of a weekly “code word” (frog, circles, etc.) it’s safe to say that there’s been greater awareness around this topic.  The inspiration kicked in as students were asked to share their personal new practices at the end of the month.

National Holistic Institute Students in SF have shared the following:

  • “I carry around a bag of nutritious snacks prepared for easy snacking (sugar snap peas, carrots, nuts, seaweed, trail mix, etc).  The ‘crunch’ is so gratifying!”
  • “I go to bed 30 minutes to one hour earlier.  Since I’ve been doing this, I feel more deeply rested and can focus better.”
  • “I contract abdominals while in traffic, sitting at a desk, or while waiting in line.  It’s amazing how my body feels stronger when I engage my core.”
  • “When I crave a soda, I just read the Nutrition Facts on the side panel; I quickly choose an alternate.  Easy.
  • “I dance, and dance and dance— especially when no one’s looking!”

The buzz of wellness is certainly alive at the NHI San Francisco Campus.  While simply talking about wellness is “cake” (and we do like cake), using a fun, simple, gradual approach to practicing wellness has proven to be as “easy as pie!”  (Pie is good)!

October 27, 2011   1 Comment

Cures for the Office Athlete | Headache Ousting Self-Massage Techniques with Cynthia Ribeiro

She’s done it again!  Cynthia Ribeiro is giving away all of the secrets of massage therapy!  To read the full article, “DIY Face Massage” in the Chicago Tribune, click the logo:

At first, it may seem counter-intuitive to teach your clients self-massage techniques that they can do without the therapist there to assist them.  You might be scared that they will become satisfied with the techniques that they can practice themselves.   Any great massage therapist understands that their mission is to create the greatest change and sense of wellbeing in their patients and this in turn will keep them coming back. 

Self-Massage techniques can not possibly provide the same benefits as a full massage session, but they are a great way for clients to relieve temporary headaches, stress and pain, and for them to maintain a holistic sense of well-being.  After all, graduates of National Holistic Institute are not only massage therapists, but also health educators! 

If you or someone you know is struggling with headaches, sinus allergies, or stress and tension throughout the body, here are some simple self-massage techniques from AMTA presiden-elect and NHI Advanced Program Instructor, Cynthia Ribiero that will provide fast acting relief until that next massage is booked…

During all of the following techniques, apply light to moderate pressure to avoid aggravating any issue. You should feel a “good” pain; if it hurts too much, back off.

For temporal headaches: Press four fingers against the temporal muscle and move them back and forth, up and down or in a circular motion.

For frontal and sinus headaches: Put three fingers of each hand above the eyebrow line and press left to right, to the hairline, without gliding.

For tension headaches, tired eyes and sinuses: Press your thumbs up against the underside of the brow bone in the eye socket.

For stress and tension throughout the body (if you have time for only one exercise, this is the one to do): Using your three middle fingers arranged in a triangle, apply pressure just above the bridge of your nose, known as the “third eye.”

For sinus headaches and allergies: With your index and middle fingers, press along, above and below your cheekbones.

For more on Cynthia’s endless log of massage therapy knowlege, check out our post about her work formulating the Massage Therapy Book of Knowlege (MTBOK) here.


October 6, 2011   No Comments

Smell Your Way Through the Day | Natural Health Benefits of Aromatherapy

Aromatherapy is defined as a form of alternative medicine using various essential oils to alter a person’s mind, health, and cognitive mood. But, how exactly does it work? 

Sit back in your chair and picture a few fond childhood memories. Maybe it’s baking some treats with a sibling or playing in the grass with old friends or running through a cornstalk maze during a crisp fall day. Imagine the details of each sense – particularly – your sense of smell.

Fast forward to today. What do you feel when you smell something like those baked treats, or the grass, or that familiar fall day smell that you know so well each year? Comfort. Happiness. Nostalgia. Peace. Your mood is altered. The presence of stress is cancelled out by this smell-induced reaction.

Our sense of smell is called the Olfactory sense. Our Olfactory sense is intertwined by something called the Limbic System which supports smell, long-term memories, behavior, and emotions. There are special neurons that are meant to pick up different scents and translate them to the brain which in turn reacts with different parts of our body to create the proper response.

In Aromatherapy we work with essential oils. They are derived from various organic and natural materials and on a cellular level they are incredibly complex. Lavender is the most common essential oil in our modern day. When inhaled, it can create a response of relaxation, calmness, and reduced stress. These are just some of the benefits of Lavender.

Lavendar Aromatherapy

Starting today, I would recommend carrying around a small bottle of Lavender oil. Whenever you are stuck in line, stuck in traffic, feeling down at work, or feeling stressed with the kids, just pull it out and smell your way through the day.  With your lavender in hand, relax and breathe deeply (see our “Breathe” blog post to learn how this alone can help with stress reduction). Take a note on how you feel after a day…a week…a month. 

Ultimately, we all know we need to take care of ourselves. This is a simple and quick way that we can do this. It is one step closer to a calmer, more peaceful “You”. If aromatherapy is your first step towards a healthier, happier “You” then I consider this article a complete success.

September 29, 2011   No Comments

The NHI Guy Video Series | How To Massage With Proper Body Mechanics


John “The NHI Guy” Caguin will be starring in a new video series, showcasing massage therapy techniques, massage school facts and tips, and other NHI related videos.  To make sure you receieve updates when new videos are released, subscribe to the NHI Youtube Channel and subscribe to the NHI Blog.

For the first video, we thought it would be appropriate to show you something that will help no matter what type of massage you are giving.  Proper body mechanics can keep you from becoming fatigued or injured as a massage therapist and also increase the effectiveness of the massage so that your client is 100% satisfied.

Even if you aren’t an expert in massage therapy, these tips will give you more confidence and strength while providing massage.

Without further ado, let me introduce The NHI Guy!


September 16, 2011   2 Comments

Dance at a Massage School | Practicing Physical Activity Shows How Everything is Connected

NHI Teachers practice what they teach during their annual Staff Day in Tilden Park. Every year, NHI staff gather together to reflect on the past year and discuss how we can improve the student experience. This year we were inspired by our guest speaker and had presentations given by each campus on Connectivity.

The San Francisco Campus ended the day by giving a Dance Lesson. Dance, at a Massage School? Hmm…?

One of the many lessons we try to impart on students is the importance of helping clients live healthier lives through massage but also through self care! Dance provides us with the opportunity of incorporating a fun physical activity in our busy days. It also lifts the spirits and balances the energy in our bodies – not to mention letting us tap into our inner child!

Traditionally, before class we might do some Tai chi, Chi Gong or Yoga to prepare us physically for bodywork and mentally for learning.  So we thought, why not dance?  Dancing provides not only an entertaining way of getting physical activity in our lives, it also helps us with flexibility, stamina and gracefulness.


We chose Bhangra, a dance originitating from the Panjabi region of India – it was first danced by men as a celebration of the harvest.  Its movements mirrored the activities performed in the fields for a particular crop.  We were inspired by the music and the grace needed to dance to it.  We found ways of connecting traditional steps to moves done during massage like the all so famous Effleurage and Body Mechanic Principles like working from Neutral and using your Whole Body.

June 27, 2011   No Comments

NHI Petaluma Campus Offers Free Self Care Community Education Workshops for Massage Therapists

Health and well being are some of our most valuable resources. Without them it is difficult to enjoy life, to be productive and to flourish as individuals and communities. Yet often self care takes the back burner as we prioritize everything else in our busy lives.

National Holistic Institute, Petaluma Campus is offering a free monthly Community Education night. Our goal is to contribute positively to this wonderful community we work in, and to offer a respite from this busy hectic world we live in. Come and join us to learn about: [Read more →]

April 6, 2011   No Comments