Podcast: Episode 81: Integrating Massage Therapy and Yoga Therapy with Heather Green and Stacey Kilps


I have had many massage therapists come through my certification and with every single one, there is a desire on some level to either leave the profession altogether or to somehow integrate this movement practice. And today’s guests are no different.

Heather Green and Stacey Kilps are both massage therapists and trainees in the final stretch of their certification with me. They are here to share their experiences with clients who return again and again with the same issue, and to talk about supporting these folks to get off the table.

In this episode, Heather and Stacey share what they have learned over the process of certification and where they have evolved in their practices. Hear what has changed, what things they thought might change but didn’t, and where they’re at in terms of comfort level in their own evolution as massage therapists that also practice yoga.

Subscribe:   Apple Podcasts   |   Spotify  

What You'll Learn from this Episode:

  • How the phrase “meeting someone where they’re at” has evolved since doing this certification.
  • What made Stacey and Heather want to integrate more yoga into their practice.
  • Some step-by-step tips to help massage therapists going through the same experience that they have been through.
  • How to use exercise as a tool of awareness rather than using it as a therapeutic modality.
  • What Stacey and Heather have learned from this certification.

Featured on the Show:

Full Episode Transcript:

Male Announcer: You’re listening to From Pain to Possibility with Susi Hately. You will hear Susi’s best ideas on how to reduce or even eradicate your pain and learn how to listen to your body when it whispers so you don’t have to hear it scream. And now here’s your host, Susi Hately.

Welcome back to From Pain to Possibility. I'm so delighted to have you here today because I have two of my trainees, who at the time of recording are trainees, and I think when we're actually launching this you guys will have graduated. So it's super exciting.

It's like right in the final stretch of certification, and it's Heather Green and Stacey Kilips. And these guys are both massage therapists. And what's so great about these two, and I've had massage therapists come through the certification program before. I've had a lot of massage therapists who have taken the intensive.

And inevitably, with every single one, there is a desire on some level to either leave the profession of massage therapy or to somehow integrate this movement practice. Because as massage therapists you have in your scope the ability to work with exercise. But how do you get your client off the table?

And so often the clients come back with the same issue and it just becomes really hard. At least that's what I find for the massage therapists who have come through me. It's like how do you support these folks to get off the table and into movement? So this is the conversation in part that we're going to have today.

And also what Heather and Stacey have learned over the process, where they have evolved it to. One thing I want to dig into them a little bit is really what has changed. What things they might have thought would have changed but didn't. And just where they're at now in their comfort level in their own evolution as massage therapists who also practice yoga.

So welcome, Heather, and welcome, Stacey. I'm glad you're here.

Heather: Thank you.

Stacey: Thanks.

Susi: So why don't we just start with this, so Heather is based in Canada, and Stacey is based in the US. And across both countries there's different regulations and rules and all of that about how you can practice. What had you move to want to integrate more yoga into your practice? Why don’t we start with you, Stacey? What made you want to integrate more yoga?

Stacey: I think that it wasn't necessarily yoga specifically that I was looking for, but I was looking for sustainable results in symptom relief. So I've always worked in symptom relief and medical massage practices. And there's been a constant seeking for better sustainable, prolonged results.

And that's what I was looking for when I happened to meet you and noticed that what I thought I was looking for was a modality or some extra knowledge. And what I was really looking for ended up being quite different.

Susi: And what was different?

Stacey: It had very little to do with anything to do with knowledge. It had everything to do with meeting my client exactly where they were at and helping them through the nuance of their experience.

Susi: Okay, we're going to talk more about that. But let's check in with you, Heather, what had you move more toward yoga?

Heather: I actually started my training for massage therapy very young. And even before I started massage school I knew that I eventually wanted to work with yoga. Don't know why, gut feeling I guess.

But then as I got practicing it was very clear that the manual work, while it's fantastic, it doesn't last because nothing has really changed about what brought about those symptoms in the first place. And so I knew I wanted to– And yoga just appealed to me because I enjoyed yoga myself, it seemed like a good way in.

The location I was in originally was very small, there wasn't much room for any of that. But I eventually opened my own space and that was when I really started actively pursuing it. So ultimately I really just wanted to feel more confident in what I saw in people when they walked into my clinic. Whether it be their vibe, or their body language, or the literal way they're moving.

And just being able to give them things that felt a little more engaging or relevant to their day to day things versus just some of what I felt was kind of cut and dry assessment and stretches that we were typically taught in school to give people where it's not always very exciting for most people. So they don't tend to want to follow through with them as often.

Susi: And you found that when someone started to do more yoga, that they followed through with it a bit more?

Heather: Yeah, not necessarily even specifically yoga. A lot of the stuff we've been working on, it really is just active ranges of motion and paying attention to quality of movement. But I don't know, there's just something about it that appeals to people more. Whether it's literally the word yoga that just gets them in the door and makes it sound less clinical.

But yeah, it's just getting people to move more and notice, when I do this, that's when that feeling I get comes up. And oh, I'm on to something now. Versus just, oh, it's back and I'll get my massage therapist or whoever to fix it for me.

Susi: When you, Stacey, talk about really meeting someone where they're at, we talk about that a lot in certification. And it's sort of a buzz phrase that's used a lot in a lot of industry within massage, within yoga, within physio, just across the board. So when you're thinking about meeting someone where they're at, how is that phrase evolved for you?

Stacey: It’s evolved a lot. I think that in the way that I worked and taught for years there are right and wrong answers, there are fixes. It’s just very black and white in the biomedical model. And so there was always an agenda, I was in a process of an agenda. And that might be to get their pelvis into neutral or whatever it was I thought was going to help get the symptoms to relieve.

And what I realized over the last year in particular, is those agendas are not serving me or the client. That facilitating the nuance of their own experiences of their symptoms, whether that be on the table in the moment that we're doing what it is that we're doing. Or in a yoga therapy situation where they're moving actively through something and feeling it. Or in their life carrying that same awareness.

That is the big difference for me is that there is no agenda any longer. It's simply, this is where we are at at this moment and how can I facilitate, as the therapist, their awareness to carry into these other areas of their life as well as in the moment?

Susi: How difficult was it to move from agenda to I'll call it awareness, client awareness?

Stacey: Yeah, it took a long time. I guess relatively speaking it feels as if it took a long time for me to recognize all of the different ways that I had an agenda. So there's just that awareness that, okay, I have this protocol that I'm following. But then there was just a lot more to it than that.

And it's still happening, I haven't gotten to– I don't know that it'll ever stop happening. And so that continuum of experience is something that has resonated so strongly for me that there is no beginning and no end, it’s just this continuousness. And it will continue.

But it's taken me from the moment I met you in 2017 till now, it's been a lot. It's been intense, a lot of energy spent on how it is I'm looking at the situation in front of me. And how much is that mirroring my biases and how I look at myself?

Susi: And what's so interesting about that is, and the reason why I wanted to zone in on this with you is because meeting people where they're at is such a buzz term. And there has been a lot that we’ve all learned this year with regard to all the -isms, and the things that matter whether it's ageism, or Black Lives Matter, or racism. I mean, all of those things. That a lot of the work that has come out of that has been to really see where our unconscious biases are.

So it's really with the work of a lifetime, right? Because we all have biases, and you're unearthing them as you go, right? And to make it like one step at a time, or a little bit easier to digest, where do you think the need for external validation came into that conversation of needing to follow an agenda?

Because here's where my question lies, is that when I've watched your evolution, there's a piece around letting go of that and letting go of your clients results. But then as you let go of that, then you actually start to see where all your opinions are and where your biases are. And that's where you can kind of get into what I'll call the deeper work of really seeing the soup we're all swimming in in terms of what we believe to be true.

Stacey: Yeah, I think that's exactly what resonates because some of it has been indoctrinated from the beginning. I mean, if there's right and wrong answers, that's how we've been taught through our entire schooling, not just a massage therapy or the particular modalities that I studied.

And it's a myth. I mean, honestly, that's kind of how I feel at this point, it doesn't exist. It's a paradigm of separation that we are these mechanistic beings that can be reduced. And you can reduce things, and you can get incredible results in doing some of that zoomed in work, which I've been happy to have for the last three decades in my career.

And there's so much more when you zoom back out and you see the whole person and use zoom out further. And you see the relationship between yourself and that person. And then you can keep on zooming out. But there's just that ability, I think it's so necessary in our field, no matter where you're working as a massage therapist.

Susi: Necessary for client result? Necessary for less burnout? Necessary for what else?

Stacey: All of the above.

Susi: Yeah.

Stacey: Everything.

Susi: Before I head back over to Heather, one question that was kind of percolating in my brain as you were talking is, if someone's listening to they're like, “Oh, yeah, I totally get that.” But actually doing it's really hard, right? Because you're having to, almost as if you're having to extricate yourself from the external validation of either they're telling you that you're doing a great job, or you're seeing the results in them.

And you have to kind of take yourself out of that, and not have ownership over their results. Which a lot of people are going to be like, “What are you talking about?” So what's some pieces of like step by steps that you can offer up to massage therapists who resonate with with the conversation, but are like, “What are they talking about? Of course I'm responsible for their results.”

But when you really play around with zooming in and zooming out, all of a sudden you begin to see that that's not actually the case. And your results become better as a result of that, yeah?

Stacey: Yeah, absolutely. That's a really good question. And the short answer is that I'm still working that out. As far as what were the steps that I've taken to get here, essentially, is what I hear you asking me.

And it isn't easy to get out of your own way. Because that's kind of how I see it. For a long time I was in my own way, feeling fully responsible for all of the results that I got. Whether they were symptom relief or not I took that on.

And in this new way of being and understanding the relationship as being paramount, and that my toolbox is very broad and deep. And that the presence is what gives me the ability to choose the tool so distinctly that I can get the results that I'm getting.

So I'm not getting results because I have more knowledge, or because I have more letters behind my name, or I'm higher on some totem pole in the biomedical model. I'm getting better results because I can feel into what's happening in that moment and choose the right tool. And there's also 10 right tools. So there isn't a right tool, there's a lot of right tools.

And so then in all of those ways it takes the pressure off. It's not about me getting a result, it’s about us getting a result. And when you change that dynamic in your mind, your sessions shift in a way that is very hard to explain in words but is felt very deeply.

Susi: So what it sounds like is the first step was really becoming present.

Stacey: Yes.

Susi: And to really notice how you were going about doing a session and what was driving you in terms of how you made choices.

Stacey: Yeah, lots of assumptions.

Susi: Yeah. And then what you're doing is you're just recognizing what it is that you're doing. You're not making any changes, per se yet. You might be, but it's not about making change. It's really about growing the awareness of what's driving you as you go into the massage.

Like is it protocol based? This is the way it. This is what I have to do around the shoulder blade. This is what I have to do for back pain. This is what I have to do for– Well, of course, this is what you do for knee pain because this is what the paper says you should do for knee pain.

So you start to notice what's driving you. And none of that was right or wrong, by the way. It's just that you notice what's driving you and you notice the quality that you feel when you're in that space. And then you just start to notice things out of noticing that. There's a lot of noticing.

Stacey: A lot. A lot, a lot of noticing. It's not always pleasant because you see things, and you notice things, you become aware of things that you didn't recognize before. And in order to evolve and step into that better version of the therapist that we all want to be as we take continuing education and want to help our clients and care so much, there's just so much nuance to it.

Susi: More so than it was when you first started yoga therapy training?

Stacey: Oh, yes. I mean, I feel like there's nothing but nuance now. And this is something you've said in the past that I continue to hold as something so close to my heart. I'm playing in the gray, that's all I'm doing. That's all any of us are doing. No matter what level of health professional you are, we're all playing in the gray and we're doing the best that we can.

And so if you start from that space, again, all that pressure goes away. And the burnout and the depletion that was there starts to dissolve and the results come because you got out of your own way.

Susi: And then what's the distinction with the clients? How do the clients show up that's different?

Stacey: It's been an interesting transition because a lot of my clients have come to me for my expertise, they want to learn. And so now what I'm teaching them is very different than what I used to teach them. I used to teach them in a very distinct black and white way. Now I teach them in this very nuanced way.

And some of them are not real keen on it, I will not lie. And others are all about it. I have one particular client who, when we get to doing table work, she says that she feels great and she doesn't need to get bodywork done. Because the movements and her awareness have taken her so far that she seems to think that my hands-on skills are obsolete for her. That's just one instance, but I was really taken aback when that happened.

Susi: Interesting. Now, I'm not sure if it's different in Canada, or at least in British Columbia, Heather, but I know that you and I have had conversations around the logistics of actually integrating this exercise or yoga bit and massage. Because you have some politics, I think, is probably the word or bureaucracy or rules let’s call them.

Heather: By-laws.

Susi: And I'm not sure, Stacey, if you have any of those, but those are a real deal that can actually be an issue. So how have you worked with that to do the work that you want to do and support your clientele the way you want to support them?

Heather: Well, much like Stacey, it really depends on the patient. We call them patients here in Canada. And some people are really intrigued with the movement. And it is within my scope to do therapeutic exercise, home care recommendation.

So when someone's coming in for massage therapy with me and I'm wearing my massage therapist hat, and I'm billing as massage therapy, the movement components really come into play in my assessment and my home care education. So it's kind of, yes, the movement is also providing them with some therapeutic value too, obviously.

But on paper, when I'm charting I'm looking at how they're moving. And that's giving me information I would have typically used other regular assessments for. And then it just so happens that it saves us some time because it's the exact same stuff they can do at home.

So instead of doing an assessment, and then the massage, and then giving them something new at the end, I'm just saying you know what, maybe focus on these one or two movements we did earlier at home, and we'll see where you're at next time you come in.

But I have to keep things very separate. When I joined this program, I wasn't joining it to become a yoga therapist because first and foremost I'm working with people as a massage therapist, and that's the title and the hat that I have to use when I work with people. But it was just an opportunity to just gain some knowledge and practice and skills and confidence, really confidence in how I assessed people in my massage therapy work.

Susi: Interesting. So then the ones that you're actively working with, with movement, have you noticed changes in their tissue when you massage them?

Heather: Yes, huge changes.

Susi: Tell me more about that. I think that's fascinating.

Heather: There's huge changes just in the, I want to say the texture, or the tension, or the way their body responds to my pressure. But also even just when they can go, “Oh, that was where I felt that feeling when we did that movement.” And they start to just get this deeper awareness being able to tie body parts with their activities, make that brain body connection. It becomes clearer for them.

And then what's really cool is when we choose one or two of the movements after the massage as sort of a reassessment they can move even better or with even less pain than when we did it at the beginning. And it just gives them this really kind of cheeky snapshot into the future of eventually when your system is not so hyped up and you kind of are living the results we typically get from a massage, this is how you could move at the best of times. It gives them a juicier feel of what their future can be.

And the people who've really, really gone into the movement with me and really not only done the movements at home, but just maybe they don't do those specific movements, but now that they're aware of their arm flexion and their back getting involved when they're doing the dishes and putting dishes away, they're making that connection in their day to day life. They've had amazing results, like amazing results.

Susi: So rather than using exercise as a therapeutic modality, it's still a therapeutic modality with what I'm about to say. But you're actually rather than saying, “Okay, we're going to increase your range to get stronger,” you're utilizing it as a tool of awareness.

Heather: Absolutely.

Susi: And then as a result they become stronger and have range of motion and more mobility.

Heather: Yeah. My assessments used to be largely just because my room was so tiny, it was largely based on the conversational. And then what we found hands-on. And so I was often just, “Okay, how are you feeling today?” I greet people every day, “How are you? Great. How's your body feeling today?” Like it's two different things.

And it's like, okay, this is what we're doing because this is how you're showing up today. This is what's going on for you today. And sometimes it's different one session to the other, the focus. but in the long run we ultimately get to where they're trying to get to.

But, Stacey was talking about the feeling the responsibility to fix, I kind of had the same but opposite where I felt this pressure or expectation that they expected me to fix them. And I knew that that was not really how it worked. I felt like there was this expectation of me and I'm going, “No, but really we can do this together, this can be an exploration. You can do this for yourself.”

And so a huge part of what I've gotten out of this program with all the self-reflection and presence and everything has been just letting myself let that pressure go and just do what I do. And it's been really interesting.

Susi: Because now the people are showing up the way they're showing up and you just meet them where they're at.

Heather: Yeah, without also feeling that internal pressure that was maybe they expect that of me, but I was also placing that on myself. And it just, I don't know, it takes the edge off and it's easier to be present with them and do what feels right in that session.

Susi: Well, and it's interesting because I certainly have been someone who in the past have gone to massage and a great rubdown, who doesn't love that?

Heather: Yeah, it's lovely.

Susi: It’s awesome. And so there can be a certain expectation because I've also had said rubdowns at like spas, for example, and left the room going, “Wow, that really was awful. That didn't really do anything.” And so there can be some sort of result like that.

So it makes sense that the practitioner, like you guys, and your cohort or your peers can have that experience of I've got to do something for a person. Right?

Heather: Yeah. And also, I've always kind of had a bit of a beef with our title, registered massage therapist. Because it doesn't acknowledge the other things we can do.

So quite often people come in expecting that the massage is the therapy and it's the only thing that we do. And so there's a big public education part that I think there needs to be a bit more work done on. Because yeah, our other abilities and the other parts of our scope aren't really reflected in our title. And our title is a verb, massage. It's an action.

Susi: Right, that's a good point.

Heather: That’s what they want.

Susi: That’s really funny. But at the same time, and I'm using the but word, is the only professionals who work in massage that I know of who integrate movement in some form that's not like your classic rubdown are those who are into like a Rolfing, or a Camai, or a structural integration, or something of that sort. It doesn't sound like there's an awful lot that's out there that contributes to supporting people in integrating more movement practices, or am I wrong in that? Am I missing the boat on that?

Stacey: I don't know that it’s a whole lot different from Canada to the US, honestly, in this. But you let me know, Heather, if I'm wrong. From state to state it's completely different. There's different amounts of hours required. From 250 hours of training all the way up to over 1000 hours of training to get your massage therapy certificate, and then whatever that state has.

So in Wisconsin assisted naming, my license in Wisconsin simply says that I can call myself this, that, and the other thing. It doesn't have anything beyond that.

So I think that in and of itself is incredibly confusing, that you have such a wide range of people, some of us have further degrees, have other certifications, and yeah, the scope of our practice is very broad. Which is one of the reasons I think it's very hard to put it in one bucket as massage therapy.

Heather: Yeah.

Susi: And would you say that your peers, that you know of in the states, Stacey, are they integrating more movement? Or are they really sticking with body work?

Stacey: No, there's a pretty big cross section that are working with movement. Whether that's through additional certifications, like maybe they get a personal training certification, or through a yoga therapy, or through lots of other ways. Or just a particular modality, like you're talking about, structural integration or things like that where there's an active relationship in the session with the client.

And that's definitely the tack that I've been on more so in my body work. But there's a lot of people out there doing great full body massage for stress relief, which I think is extremely valid in and of its own.

Susi: Yeah.

Stacey: But it's very hard to delineate and the consumer has a very hard time figuring out how to navigate that system, that’s what I find.

Susi: You were going to say something, Heather.

Heather: So in Canada not every province is regulated the same. They're working on it, they're working on getting there. But BC and a couple others, when I did it it was like a 3,000 hour program and board exams and all this kind of stuff. And we have reserved titles that are protected for us to use that other people who haven't completed that training and haven't completed the board exams don't get to use.

And there certainly are massage therapists that work in gym settings or things like that where they would do more movement. But they're often, not necessarily always, but often really drawing in people who are into sports, or go to that gym, or who are kind of there for that purpose anyway.

I'm hoping to bring it more to the nurses, and the teachers, and the moms, and the dads. Just kind of anyone else who doesn't go to the gym all the time or whatever other venue where a massage therapist would work and incorporate movement in a more obvious way.

Susi: Well, it sounds like, Heather, where you're doing a really great job is that you're doing the bodywork. And the same for you, Stacey. But you really articulate it, Heather, in the sense that you're using the assessment, you're doing the massage work. You're utilizing the post assessment, and you're actually showing them what their movement gain is and how they're feeling.

And now they're taking that awareness into their day to day life. And they're now tuning into just how their body actually moves. They're getting that somatic education. And so then that's actually part of the thing, that's the thing that's changing their whole experience in her body. And they're getting the taste of what's possible for them in terms of a new normal.

Heather: Yeah.

Susi: That this tissue can actually fundamentally change, right? It's the whole classic– I mean it's why this podcast is called From Pain to Possibility, because now that door is open.

So then, as we're bringing the episode to a close, when you're thinking about other massage therapists who some of them will have already started to kind of play around with these ideas. They're definitely wanting to go that direction. They might have some complaints about just doing the body work, and I really do want to support them.

And Heather's doing a really interesting way of doing it. Stacey, you have your interesting way of doing it. So why don't we start with you, Stacey. What are one or two things that would provide a massage therapist with a quick win for discovering other ways of integrating the two?

Stacey: I think one of the best things I've done over the course of this integration is re-thought how my time is used and priced. In massage therapy we often relegate ourselves to 60 minutes, 90 minutes. And then you're watching the clock.

And so one of the main things that has helped me, if you're working on your own, so this may not apply across the board because if you're working for somebody else you don't have the latitude to shift these things yourself. Is to open up the session in time wise to allow for the chatting, to allow for the bodywork, to allow for the movement. At this point I'm spending about two hours with my client if I'm doing all of that each time.

And so if that's possible, to allow yourself the time and you don't feel like you're ticking down the clock and you have to get to something, because that's something that got in my way a lot. The thinking process during the session and being able to notice the things that we've been talking about on the podcast really opens up for you because you don't have the time clock pressure.

Susi: And what about someone who doesn't have that flexibility?

Stacey: If you don't have that flexibility and you're in a time constraint, which much of the industry is, the biggest impact is to ask yourself, is this true, whatever it is you're thinking about the direction you're taking the client, because of something I'm perceiving right now, right here? Something I've assessed right now, right here? Or because an instructor told me that or because it was a protocol I was told to follow?

Are you following your own inner authority? Or are you following something that someone else told you to follow? So that was where I started to start to tease out. And there were a lot of things I had to tease out in that process.

Susi: Cool, that's actually a really good one for someone to noodle on. Because there's a lot to noodle on, there's a lot of threads that somebody could go down to explore that. That's great.

How about you, Heather, what comes to mind?

Heather: I guess for me really, in the beginning it just came down to talking with my clientele about what I was doing and talking about my own experiences too. And just being very honest and simple about massage, and what massage can do, which is great and powerful. And where it falls short.

And when I started doing movement with people, I don't do it with them to the point that I can't see what they're doing. But I get on the floor with them or I go and do a shallow wall sit with them and it's more collaborative that way than just I'm standing here in front of you and asking you to do X, Y, and Z and it feels all rather mechanical.

And I will be very open with, “Oh, yeah, look, I've got this going on today, myself.” Or this is something I've been working on and just make it really human and relatable and normal and fun. Tone and body language is huge, not coming across too clinical sometimes. Just make it fun and human.

Susi: Interesting. So then it becomes less of this mechanistic sack that has fluid and tissue and such. But it becomes something that we actually embody and inhabit.

Heather: Yeah.

Susi: Really cool, love it. Love it, love it, love it. Okay, so now if there are massage therapists who want to touch base with you, where is the best way to reach them? And we'll put this in the show notes. But a website, or social, or which one is best for you, Stacey?

Stacey: My website is ianatomy.org. My business is called Integrated Anatomy, that's the best way to contact me.

Susi: Great, perfect. We'll put that into the show notes. And then Heather, how about you?

Heather: My website is getbodywell.com. And there's like just a general contact form on there that comes to my inbox and not my associates inboxes.

Susi: Great, perfect. This was so great. I think we could have kept talking and kept talking and kept talking. And there will be opportunity, we're going to be running a massage therapy panel inside of Healing and Revealing.

So if you are a massage therapist and want to dig into this more of like how can you really, like for real, like you're already doing great work with your clients or your patients and you just want to up your game and not burnout and know that you don't have to burn out. Like really just excel at what it is that you're already good at. Then you would really enjoy Healing and Revealing and digging into this more with Stacey and Heather.

All right, so looking forward to seeing you in there. Thank you Stacey and Heather.

Stacey: Thank you so much.

Heather: Thank you.

Susi: You bet and we will see you guys in the next episode. Take care.

Enjoy the Show?

Healing and Revealing Human Potential

If you're ready to dig deeper, join me for this on-going program and explore your full potential.
If you want to enrol or have questions and wish to speak to Kiya directly, reach out to us by filling out the form below.