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Meditation versus Inflammation: Meditation Wins Again!

Written by William Mathis
NHI Petaluma Mentor and Instructor


One of my enduring passions has been trying to build bridges between the Eastern and Western attitudes towards the body-mind. Sometimes the concepts of the Western scientific worldview contrast sharply with the holistic paradigms that characterize the various Eastern body-mind traditions. But sometimes these two approaches correlate with dramatic intensity.


This cross-cultural current informs my practice of yoga, of martial arts, and of meditation. And of course, teaching massage therapy at the National Holistic Institute gives me ample opportunities to explore the difference, as well as the coordination, between these mutually beneficial ways of understanding the health of the body-mind.

One of the things that I’ve always found amusing about the oral and written traditions that transmit the Eastern ways is a certain rhetorical tendency towards hyperbole. When the sages and gurus need to make a point, they are traditionally given to overstating their case. It’s important to know this when evaluating those traditional sources. A traditional view of the body from the Yogic Tradition of Vedic India involves 72,000 nadis, or energy lines, in the body. They don’t necessarily mean exactly 72,000. It’s more like a code meaning “a heck of a lot of nadis”.

Similarly hyperbolic descriptions accompany teachings of meditation and pranayama (conscious breathing), as evidenced by such adages as “pranayama cures all diseases” and the like. While a hard-nosed western skeptic would certainly balk at that kind of statement, new research is showing the power of these kinds of modalities in a way that gives some credence to the ancient traditions.

In particular, ground breaking studies have recently shown that skillful practice of body-mind modalities have extremely potent affects on gene expressions relating to inflammation. These findings are the result of a new understanding of how genes work: the field of epigenetics is showing how gene expressions relate to environmental conditions, and the results are adding fresh new perspectives to the old “nature versus nurture” debate.

One particularly interesting study was just released by the Center of Investigating Healthy Minds at the Waisman Center of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In this study, a group of experienced practitioners used mindfulness meditation, and a control group spent their time in other peaceful, relaxing activities. The control group got some benefits, but did not show any epigenetic effects. The “mindful” group, however, showed powerful changes in their expression of genes related to inflammation. It seems that, in essence, intently focusing the mind through a combination of meditation and breathing helps to suppress the proteins that trigger inflammatory responses in the body.

In other words, meditation affects your genes!

We’ve long known, at least anecdotally, that meditation and similar body-mind skills can reduce the effects of stress. This recent research actually starts to pin down some of the exact biochemical mechanisms involved. Interestingly enough, research on the benefits of massage have recently confirmed similar epigenetic effects, again related to suppressing the proteins that trigger inflammation.

The study begins to shed light on how body-mind skills might help in the treatment of stress-related conditions like obesity, heart disease, and irritable bowel syndrome. But it is important to remember that inflammation (and stress!) is a crucial part of almost all disease processes, especially chronic conditions.

It may be an exaggeration (or maybe just poetic license!) to make a statement like “pranayama cures all diseases”. Recent scientific research is certainly showing that it’s not a stretch to say that skillful application of holistic modalities like mindfulness meditation can make a meaningful difference in most disease processes.

I think the Old Gurus would be ok with that.


Learn more! 






January 21, 2014   2 Comments

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

The Importance of Grounding Before Each and Every Massage Session

To become grounded is to let go of the stresses of life & to be present in the moment with the client. Taking precautions to operate within the moment & clarify the goals of the session are absolutely crucial when one considers how much massage is affected by intentions. The method to ground oneself can be different for everyone, require different levels of concentration, and will vary day by day.

The thinking behind grounding is to bring positive intentions to the client & increase the level of focus on the therapist’s goals. Without properly grounding, the therapist runs a risk of injury, on a physical level or possibly on an energetic level. The risk of injury is only one motivation to support the healthy habit of grounding. A much more exciting reason to ground is the prospect of increasing the positive outcomes of the body &/or energy work. Practitioners can use a variety of techniques to enter a grounded state to help achieve amazing results.

Methods of grounding can be as simple as entering a meditative state, concentrating on your breathing, or going through a specific series of motions (ie: Tai Chi, Yoga, Qigong…). Some people also get themselves pumped up, as if they are about to enter an athletic event. The goal is the same, to reach a state of clarity that will allow the therapist to bring the client the best experience possible. A term commonly used to describe the feeling of living in the moment, or reaching a grounded state is Zen.

Zen is the ultimate goal, and as most people who try to attain that state of clarity discover, it is rarely achieved in its purest form. As with massage & every other worthy endeavor, grounding before each session becomes more effective with practice.

By implementing this activity into your massage routine you will undoubtedly achieve new success stories from your clients & you might just find a sizable amount of personal growth as well.

May 31, 2012   1 Comment

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

Massage Therapy Students Take a Hike | Staying Fit Outside the NHI Classroom

At NHI, we try, whenever possible, to practice what we preach and live lives with awareness around activities that promote a healthy lifestyle and overall well-being.  With the speed of the lives many of us lead these days, the opportunities to really slow down to “smell the roses” and take notice of “one’s self” seem to be fewer and fewer.

This past summer, the Students and Staff at the NHI SF Campus were encouraged to make time to do this through participating in some fun organized activities on and off campus as part of the NHI Summer of Wellness.  It was a great success and was brought to a close with a 5-mile hike, yoga and meditation in Muir Woods.

Here’s a glimpse into the experiences of those who participated:

Izabela:  “As a child I always loved the great outdoors! Poland is a country of unusual natural beauty. It has majestic mountains, fantastic sea coast, and countless hidden lakes not to mention Bialowieza Forest- the largest remaining part of the immense primeval forest that once covered the European Plain.  There is a connection between Bialowieza and Muir Woods.

Even though those forests look different they bring up similar feelings of peace and awe. Awe of something so beautiful and ancient that once was abundant and then was almost lost. When you are there, you forget about your daily life, you reconnect with your roots and become transformed. It was a true pleasure to share this experience with my NHI community. Thank you to all who came and made it a day to remember forever!”

Kamaljit: “A 7 mile hike through the lovely redwoods, yoga at the half way mark, meditating in a clearing with the sun warming us, feeling blissfully tired at the end and knowing I’d sleep great that night – my idea of heaven. That was the hike through Muir woods, with the good company and the near perfect weather, I couldn’t have hoped for a nicer way to spend my Saturday morning.”

Joan: “We were very lucky because at the start of the day everything was fogged in, but as we ascended into the trees and up the mountain the sky cleared and blue appeared. We enjoyed sharing stories along the way and after the first third of the hike Izabela, the instructor who organized the event, lead us in some group meditation and stretches among the trees. Before we starting our decent back down to the park entrance everyone stopped and pulled out food to satisfy our hungry appetites.

NHI has a great community spirit and organizes wonderful events for the students to participate in outside of the classroom. This was an amazing day and a wonderful experience to meet and talk to fellow students.”

Laura: “The Muir Woods hike was so much fun! It was beautiful and peaceful and it made my body feel great! Thank you for being such a great leader, Izabela! I am so very local, and yet I don’t usually get to do hikes like that; 4 hours and all those stairs. Thanks for all the motivation and inspiration!”

October 27, 2011   1 Comment

Achieving Energy, Health and Presence | Yoga and Self Care for Massage Therapists

Take a deep breath.  Relaxed, open body.  Peaceful, calm mind.  Less tension, more ease.  Energized yet focused.  This is what clients of massage therapy leave with after they get off your table.  This is why we love the work that we do.  Then why should we, the massage therapists, feel less like these descriptions after a long day of giving massage?

How do we provide this for ourselves?  How can we get some of this everyday?  It is important for us to practice proper body mechanics and make sure we receive massage as well, but one answer has been around for over two thousand years.  Yoga!

There are at least as many different types of yoga as there are massage modalities.  And, like with massage modalities, different styles of yoga have similar benefits which directly improve your ability to provide high quality massage therapy for the length of your career.  Self care is of utmost importance if you want to help your clients- both by maintaining your ability to give massage and also in your aptitude to be an example of health in your client’s lives.  Yoga and Body Mechanics

Yoga Inversion

Yoga: Inversion Pose from

Yoga focuses on developing strength and flexibility by moving mindfully through a series of poses, called asanas, which serve to not only keep our body resilient but also to develop a deeper awareness of our movements.  This translates into your massage therapy practice as an increased stamina of maintaining good posture and practicing optimal body mechanics.

Yoga and Joint Health

An occpuational concern for some massage therapists is repetitive stress injuries from overuse of thumbs, hands, wrists, elbows and shoulders.  How can we provide relief of pain for others when we ourselves are afflicted?  Yoga works to counteract the stresses by building balanced strength in the muscles which support these joints and maintaining flexibility of tendons and joint structures.  Yoga may also work to break up adhesion within our tissues and improve joint lubrication.  Yoga moves our blood, giving renewed oxygen and nutrients to these areas, and also warms our fascia which can free the body to develop more functional movement patterns.  In a way, yoga may be like giving yourself a massage. 

Yoga and Presence

All forms of yoga emphasize breath and a meditative quality.  It focuses and calms the mind through slowing our breath, and slowing our thoughts.  This allows us the mental and energetic space to be present during the massage.  Being present helps you deliver quality massage sessions, whereas scattered and poor quality massage sessions can result when our minds are elsewhere; when our energy is scattered.  Not only does the mindfulness from yoga help you to be a more effective massage therapist, it also gives you practice in allowing the stresses of your practice to naturally fall away as you leave your office for the day.  This kind of presence in turn gives you the space that you need to fully recharge.

Yoga Om

Yoga: Om illustration, by Chris Macivor, from the book The Key Muscles of Yoga

July 7, 2011   No 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


Guest blogger Melissa Wheeler writes…

So Laura Miner (now Laura Repetto, recently married to Roger!) and I taught 15 Yoga Teachers-in-Training a 12-hour anatomy course!  This was in conjunction with the company YogaWorks, and NHI‘s 3rd time doing this!

It is so much fun and also very different to teach Yoga Teachers vs. Massage Therapists.  I am hoping that some of the yoga students would like to become massage therapists and vice versa!  They could do both, massage & yoga being so closely related, right?

Here are a couple of pictures, one with all of us after class (including one of our students “Deltoid Dave”).

Striking a Pose!

Striking a Pose!

The other picture is of me, Melissa, with the leg muscles drawn on my own leg!  My 2 favorite leg muscles:  Peroneus Longus and Tibialis Posterior.  Look for a future blog to find out why those are my favorites.  If any of you NHI graduates are looking at this, you may remember me drawing on myself in your Kinesiology classes! 

YogaWorks 3

Melissa's Artwork

For those who had Laura Miner as a teacher, I thought you’d enjoy seeing her as Laura Repetto with her new husband Roger!

Laura Repetto and Roger

Laura Repetto and Roger

September 8, 2008   No Comments