Samantha Sunshine Headshot

Mike Gamache/Colorado Mountain Life

Samantha Sunshine, 31, of Vail, Colorado, specializes in inversion therapy, Thai massage techniques and deep tissue massage. She graduated from Kalani Honua on the Big Island of Hawaii; after practicing on the Big Island and Maui for six years, she moved to her hometown, Vail, and established her own private practice, Sunshine Massage Studio, in 2015.

Sunshine offers a unique, one-of-a-kind bodywork at the base of Vail Mountain to the athletes and adventurers who frequent this world-class ski destination. She also teaches AcroYoga workshops and has a passion for teaching couples’ massage.

When and how did you decide massage therapy was the right career for you?

A: I decided I wanted to be a healer after witnessing Benjamin Marantz give an AcroSage treatment—“Acro,” as in simple acrobatics, and “Sage,” as in massage. After attending his full-day workshop, where we learned the basics of the practice, I realized I had never felt so light, healthy and loose in my body as I did that day.

I wanted to keep that good feeling going, so I contacted him and asked to volunteer to be his full-time apprentice and study directly with him at his retreat center, Banyan Tree Sanctuary on the Big Island of Hawaii.

This was the first style of massage that intrigued me because it combines the benefits of meditation, yoga, massage and inversion therapy in one session. I personally experienced profound results in my own body, and I found it incredibly rewarding and addicting to witness the profound healing impact this practice had on other people. I felt like I found, for the first time in my life, something worth spreading.

What led you to learn Thai massage techniques?

A: I came into Thai massage from a very non-conventional and highly intuitive approach. After studying the AcroSage technique for six months and helping Benjamin Marantz write the manual and instructional DVD for the practice, I still wasn’t sure if I could make teaching yoga and giving AcroSage sessions my full-time career.

Thus, to understand my passion better and make sure the career was a right fit for me, I started inventing my own floor massage sequence. I would kick off the massage session by giving an AcroSage session (which lasts about 15 minutes), and then I would lower the [client’s] body down to the ground and start intuitively using my full body to stretch the receiver.

Since I was inventing, I was constantly getting feedback, and I used this feedback to determine if I truly had a gift for helping facilitate healing in other people’s bodies. One day I was practicing my made-up-home-grown massage practice on the beach with a friend and some people walked up to me and asked, “Is that Thai massage you’re practicing?”

From that day on, I started researching Thai massage and was amazed and relieved to discover that what I was doing actually had a name. It may seem miraculous to start practicing without any training, but I think for me it was easy because I had such a strong solo yoga practice. After all, Thai massage originates from India, and so does yoga.

While browsing through the literature on Thai massage, I discovered there were poses I was already practicing and many I was practicing that were not in the book. I decided to continue to invent poses until I felt confident to make a commitment to doing massage as a career, for money, for the rest of my life.

I had already changed careers several times, so I put myself through several years of practicing and inventing before I decided to enroll in massage school and train to get my massage license. By the time I enrolled as a massage student and started taking my first officially accredited Thai massage and deep tissue courses, I knew without a shred of doubt that this was my calling.

How is Thai massage different from other forms of bodywork?

A: From my own experience and listening to feedback from my clients, there’s a world of a difference between Thai massage and bodywork on the massage table. The most obvious differences are Thai massage is practiced on a padded floor mat, the client is clothed and the practitioner uses his or her knees, hands and feet—basically the entire body—to give full-body stretches and massage.

Thai massage is a multi-sensory experience because the giver can do up to four healing techniques at the same time on one body. For example, there’s one stretch that comes to mind where I am stretching the low back and hamstrings while massaging the quadricep and chest muscles at the same time. This may seem absolutely mind-boggling, but when the practitioner has access to use his or her entire body, such scenarios are common.

Also, because so much of Thai massage practice inherently involves full-body stretches, the client participates on a deeper level and is asked to inhale and exhale to coordinate the movement of the stretches. Thai massage is three-dimensional, and offers an extensive variety of massage poses; the client can receive in prone, side-lying, supine and seated. It is not uncommon at all for me to give a three-hour Thai massage because of the variety of angles I can [use to] approach my client’s pain areas.

Lastly, the stretches and compressions are designed to open all the joints and sen (energy) lines of the body. My clients rarely fall asleep during the massage and report feeling taller and more electric in the body after the session. I truly believe Thai massage will be the most popular and preferred massage modality in the near future because it offers so much more, and people are realizing the importance of having a stretch practice for health maintenance and for injury prevention and recovery.

What strategies do you use to market yourself, and find new massage clients?

A: Because I practice a multidimensional and multisensory form of massage, where it literally feels like two therapists working on the client at the same time, I am very confident when advertising my services. To entice new customers, I offer specials and a year-round discount to locals.

I also find it is very important after the massage session, if the client is raving about the experience, to ask them to write a review. I have found new clients are more eager to book with me after reading the reviews.

I have found advertising on Yelp, Google Maps and certain local apps to be helpful. I think it’s important to see myself as a walking billboard for my business, so I wear clothing with my brand, I give out free gifts with my Sunshine Massage Studio brand on it, and I always carry business cards and rack cards at my side.

Being located in Vail, you must see a lot of clients who are skiers. What techniques are most effective for clients in this sport?

A: Like most activities, skiing has the arms in a forward posture and the pole planting has it so the chest muscles are shortened and the upper back muscles are over rounded. To counteract this forward posture and rebalance the body, it is important to massage the body with the arms externally rotated, with the client lying on his or her back.

[This] seems counter-intuitive, because most people love deep tissue in-between the shoulder blades and don’t usually tune into the chest tightness. I find that by lengthening the chest muscles and flattening the shoulder girdle on the ground in a long held compression, it automatically resets the neck, solves the over-stretched back issue and helps reduce the overly internally rotated arms.

While addressing the upper-body issues, at the same time, my feet release front hip flexor tension. The motion of bringing the knees into the chest, a common posture in skiing, is done utilizing the deep abdominal muscles, especially the psoas, and this muscle attaches to the very top of the femur bone.

This is a potent area to release … all of the quadricep muscle tendons originate here. Thus, by utilizing 50 percent of my body weight pouring into the front hip flexor area in a stable way that comforts the nervous system of the body, I help alleviate tension caused by having the legs in a forward flexed position for long periods of a time.

Lastly, the altitude greatly affects all visitors to Vail. By massaging a client’s entire body in a supine position, I can effectively open up the breathing muscles and deepen the inhalation by adding aromatic essential oils, such as pure peppermint via the olfactory system and bloodstream.

With deeper breaths, [there is a] greater amount of oxygen intake. At 8,150 feet in Vail, it is absolutely important to be able to get the oxygen supply that the body truly needs to prevent or reduce altitude sickness.

What is the most rewarding aspect of being a massage therapist?

A: I love being a breath of fresh air in someone’s life. I love totally exceeding and blowing away people’s expectations of massage. I believe in giving massage that produces a therapeutic change in the body, and I aim to have my clients feeling drastically different for days after the session.

During the intake, I like to understand what is ailing my client, and address the problem areas head-on with nurturing, slow and deep compressions. One of the most rewarding aspects is the [client’s] reaction during and after the massage.

I love being able to provide positive words of encouragement, alleviate pain and have my clients walk away feeling hopeful and inspired. It thrills me that I can sell energy instead of physical goods harvested from the planet. It brings me great contentment to know I am helping people while not putting a huge strain on Earth’s resources.

How do you define individual massage session success?

A: I have extremely high expectations of myself and my massage techniques. It may sound ridiculous, but I hope every massage client will say at the end of the massage, “That was the most unique and best massage of my life.”

I judge my success by making sure my client is euphoric, his or her spine is lengthened—in many cases, they are centimeters or inches taller—and the overall flexibility and range of motion is increased. While most people are sad when the massage ends, they are mostly overcome with the joy of feeling an open and flexible body.

What do you do for self-care and in your free time, to stay healthy and energized?
A: I have a variety of self-care tools and practices depending on my mood. Probably my top favorite is inverting my body and decompressing my spine. I teach therapeutic AcroYoga workshops, and I practice AcroYoga during my free time with my boyfriend. If I don’t have a partner to practice and stretch with, I practice aerial yoga in my padded yoga swing, called the omni-gym. If I need some fresh air and earth energy to revive and inspire my soul, I like to be outside mountain biking, hiking or skiing.

To keep my mind calm and centered on what is important, I am a huge proponent of affirmations and Emotional Freedom Technique. To unwind tension, I like to roll on self-massage tools … and I find soaking in Epsom salts helps alleviate fatigue.

Recently I started getting regular acupuncture sessions that bring great relief to tight areas of my body. To prevent colds, flu and sinus infections, I take a potent blend of essential oils … to boost the immune system.

What advice would you give someone wanting to pursue a career in massage that you wish someone had given you?

A: I believe having the permission to touch someone’s body is a great honor and responsibility. Before seriously pursuing a career in massage, I think it’s important to take quality self-inquiry solitude time to really tune in and find out if you truly have a deep desire to help other people.

As a massage therapist, you are expected to help all types of bodies from a place of no judgment. If your main motivation is tied to monetary rewards, you won’t enjoy a long and joy-filled career in the massage world. This career demands your absolute attention to detail, and requires you to compassionately listen to the pains and struggles in everyday life.

Once you find your drive and mission, I believe it is important to practice giving massage for a period of time, without monetary expectation, to give yourself the freedom to discover your innate gifts. Once in massage school, there’s already a pressure to perform and please. I’d advise you to kick off your massage career by massaging friends and family for free. Find your gifts, then own your gifts.

Take care of yourself and affirm you are worthy of living a happy and healthy life. Listen to those in pain, and don’t be in a rush to fix them. Get regular massage so you don’t lose sight of how important massage is in the world.

In five years, where do you see yourself and your career?

A: I have big dreams and visions for the future of my business, Sunshine Massage Studio. I currently offer couples’ massage instruction on my menu, and many of my clients have requested I provide more tools. Thus, I want to develop an online education course for transformation Thai massage, AcroSage and beyond.

I aim to find the right employees to train under me so that I can expand the Sunshine Massage Studio in a couple of years and increase the positive impact of innovative massage. Since my modalities are so unique, I eventually want to open a massage school.

This year, I have planned two massage retreats where licensed massage therapists, yogis or connoisseurs of massage can come learn massage in a beach retreat setting and get more bodywork than they’ve ever dreamed of.

Anything else you’d like to add:

A: If you are intrigued to receive a massage from me, I will be offering transformational Thai massage and AcroSage sessions in Baja, Mexico, May 13-20, 2017, at the Yoga Radiance Retreat. If you are a massage therapist and you’re interested in learning the AcroSage technique, I will be teaching a level-one AcroSage certification retreat on the Big Island of Hawaii June 9-17, 2017. And, for every other day of the year, you can come visit me in Vail, Colorado.

A: If you are intrigued to receive a massage from me, I will be offering transformational Thai massage and AcroSage sessions in Baja, Mexico, May 13-20, 2017, at the Yoga Radiance Retreat. If you are a massage therapist and you’re interested in learning the AcroSage technique, I will be teaching a level-one AcroSage certification retreat on the Big Island of Hawaii June 9-17, 2017. And, for every other day of the year, you can come visit me in Vail, Colorado.

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