Massage is health care, and some massage therapists are making the connection between the health of our planet and the health of every individual on it.
MASSAGE Magazine spoke with four massage therapists who run green practices: a vegan ex-Marine who collaborates with clients on sustainable habits, an educator who is mindful of how seemingly small actions add up to big results, an environmental activist, and a massage therapist and midwife who is giving birth to a new generation of environmentally conscious massage therapists.
Whether you are just getting into recycling or are ready to advocate for the planet in a bigger way, these therapists’ stories might inspire you be an even more positive force for the health of both your clients and the environment.
The Green Collaborator
Growing up in Queens, New York, Luis Mercado, CMT, saw his parents recycle cans and bottles, but that was about the extent of his exposure to green habits. He did a 13-year stint in the Marine Corps as a young adult, and then became employed as director of operations by Emerald Brands, a company that makes sustainable products such as tree-free bath tissue and disposable cutlery made from plant starch.
It was during his year at Emerald, in 2015, that Mercado went over to “the green side,” as he calls it. He believed so much in what his employer was doing that when he left the company he decided to choose only sustainable and organic products for his own company, Organic Escape Massage Therapy, located in Los Angeles, California.
Mercado’s marketing materials refer to his massage practice as “sustainable and eco-friendly,” but it’s when clients walk through his door that the green education begins. Mercado believes it’s his duty to inform clients of the what and why behind the green practices in effect at his business.
During the intake interview, Mercado and his four therapists tell clients that the practice’s products are vegan and contain organic ingredients. They explain that the practice only uses tree-free paper products, recycles and conserves energy.
“I use the intake as an education tool to say, ‘This is who we are, this is what we believe in,’” Mercado said. “I also incorporate questions like, ‘Do you practice being green? If so, what do you do?’ They are very inquisitive, they want to know how [we are] sustainable, and once we start to educate our clients on this they are fanatical on it. They love it.”
The response from Mercado’s clients is mirrored by a 2017 international survey on consumer interest in sustainable products, which showed that a full third of consumers choose brands based on their environmental and social impact. The survey by Unilever also found that 78 percent of Americans say they feel better when they buy products that are sustainably produced.
Helping clients feel better is what Mercado is all about—and instead of operating in a silo, he believes massage therapists should collaborate with clients in understanding how a practice’s actions impact nature.
“We are health educators in that when a client comes in the door we need to have a wider vision of ‘What can I do to meet the needs of the client?’” he explained. “How can we educate clients by being very conscious of the environment you create for clients and having a better environment? It’s bigger than just touch.”
Try this: Let clients know how you are supporting a healthy planet, whether in your marketing materials, social media posts or during the intake interview. View yourself as collaborating with clients in a larger arena of health for all—humans, animals and the planet.
The Paperless Practitioner
As a child in New York, New York, Kiera Nagle, LMT, saw waste and pollution “everywhere,” but also saw how policies related to cleaning up the environment could have positive outcomes. As an adult, she lived in Nebraska for several years, and became aware of the environmental issues related to farming, fracking and oil pipelines. She lived in a spiritual community with mostly Native American members, where, she said, “there was a deep understanding on a spiritual level of the way that Grandmother Earth sustains us all, and how she is suffering.”
Now she is back in New York City, directing the Asian Holistic Health & Massage Therapy Program at Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, where she is a clinical and faculty supervisor. She is also the clinical supervisor for massage for Katz’s Women’s Hospital at North Shore University Hospital.
The students Nagle interacts with include many millennials, or the generation that is now, roughly, ages 20 to 36. This is also the generation most willing—almost three out of four respondents—to pay more for sustainable products and services, according to a 2015 Nielsen survey.
Nagle said she maintains a spiritual practice that includes prayers for Earth and its air, water and animals, including humans. She out-pictures her care for the environment in her massage and teaching practice in many ways.
“I use pesticide-free and organic jojoba as my lubricant, as I recognize the negative impact that pesticides have on the insects in various biomes, as well as causing the deviation of natural growth patterns of various plant life—not to mention the impact on human health,” she said. “Organic growing practices sustain us all, so I like to support smaller companies that are using these methods.”
She also does business with companies that are conscious of their usage of water and electricity. Her practice is almost entirely paperless now, as she has converted to an online booking and records system, which eliminates the use of paper files as well as paper used for mailings and gift cards.
“A major proportion of the marketing I do, both for my practice and for my continuing ed classes, is also paper-free,” Nagle said. “In teaching, I use an online platform to give students access to digital materials, which they read on their devices, rather than printing, whenever possible, and we encourage other faculty to do the same.”
“All the seemingly small choices bear weight,” Nagle said. “It sounds cliché, but every little bit helps, [and] I want there to be a healthy environment for our children to grow up and thrive in.”
Try this: Keep track of the business-related paper you generate, and take steps to replace paper use with digital and electronic tools such as a digital filing cabinet and the cloud.
The Earth Mama
Kamy Shaw, LMT, spent her first seven years in South America—Brazil, Columbia and Portugal, because her father was a traveling doctor—before her family moved to El Paso, Texas. By the time Shaw was 17 she was working as a midwife, and she decided to be a traveling health care practitioner like her dad. She delivered babies in Brazil, Columbia, Europe, Mexico and the Philippines. When she returned to the U.S., she was struck by how “crazy wasteful” Americans are compared with people in other countries.
Midwifery led Shaw to massage therapy, and in 2000 she founded ABW Living Tree, a nonprofit community center in Las Cruces, New Mexico, that offers treatments including massage, Reiki and sound healing, as well as classes for the community and women’s empowerment groups.
“Everything I do is about helping people heal mind-body-spirit and bring peace to the planet as much as possible,” she said.
Shaw is also is an anatomy and physiology instructor with the Massage Therapy Training Institute, and credits the school’s president, Timothy Gay, with inspiring her to incorporate green practices into her organization. Now, in her professional bio Shaw refers to herself as “a tree hugging, local solutions, composting, organic gardening and recycling, animal rescuer peace activist.”
That self-description might sound radical to some people, but it’s in alignment with what many consumers say they want from a business owner. In fact, nine in 10 consumers now expect companies to operate responsibly to address social and environmental issues, and 84 percent of consumers globally say they seek out responsible products whenever possible, according to a 2015 survey by ebiquity.
Shaw’s relationship with the Massage Therapy Training Institute extends to providing ABW Living Tree as an incubator for the schools’ students and new graduates, which sets them up to understand the benefits of running an environmentally friendly practice once they’re out on their own.
At ABW Living Tree, staff buys supplies in bulk from a local co-op. They use natural and organic body-care products. They recycle, compost, limit plastic-bag use, and the building serves as a site for people to drop off clothes and goods for recycling. When a repair is needed, Shaw seeks out repurposed materials, and she barters with local businesspeople. Clients are given glass cups for water and cloth towels to dry their hands.
“A lot of people think it takes a lot of money to buy products that are consistent with living healthfully and well … but when the students graduate and they begin setting up practices, they’ve been in an environment where they realize it’s not expensive to have a practice that’s mindful,” Shaw said.
“We talk about health, and healing mind, body and spirit,” she added, “and [running a green practice] is in line with that philosophy.”
Try this: Work with a green business consultant or seek out a mentor to help you discover new ways to reduce, reuse and recycle in your massage practice.
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