When I attended North Carolina State University in the late 1980s, I studied Power Yoga and a southern Shaolin Kung Fu System called Hung Gar. Through these courses, I became intensely interested in learning how the body works and recovers from injuries, and how these programs can allow a person’s body to perform a task considered “unnatural” with ease. They sparked me to investigate more into anatomy, physiology and kinesiology as I attempted to better understand the body and how it functions.

Once I became a certified personal trainer, it raised my awareness of how the body can become more flexible and stronger. For my next professional goal, I decided to pursue becoming certified as a massage therapist as opposed to a physical therapist, because you consult the latter when you are injured or sick, whereas you visit a massage therapist when you are in reasonable health and want to prevent injuries and illness.

Studying Up

Finding an accredited institution teaching massage therapy was more difficult 15 years ago or so than it is today, with a very limited field of candidates. I decided to enroll in the Medical Arts Massage School in Raleigh, N.C. and studied for a year and a half there, taking classes on the weekends while working full time on weekdays.

At the school, I spent four semesters learning the basics for four types of table massage – Swedish, deep tissue, trigger point and sports – as well as chair massage. My fellow students and I first practiced massaging each other, then at the halfway point of our studies, we held clinics where our customers paid less than the standard prices to receive table massages (we were not paid except in experience) and chair massages at events for what were called public service massage. We were trained to have at our disposal the ability to do any of the massages I have listed before we graduated, learning hands-on from people we had never met previously.

One important difference from actual massage therapy was that we did not perform the traditional screening of candidates to see if there is anything in their personal health history that would be a contraindication for a massage. Typically as a massage therapist, you interview clients as part of their bodywork intake procedures and create their SOAP notes, taking into account their medical records. You then review whether they are appropriate candidates for massage. For example, a person involved in an auto accident who thinks a massage will cure his injuries rather than medical assistance would likely be screened out during intake for that belief.

Why Pursue Chair Massage Therapy?

I decided to offer chair massages rather than table ones after my certification due to several advantages when comparing them. Among them were the following:

* Time – Most table massages last an hour, and for many people today, it is difficult to schedule such a large block of time except after work or on the weekends, which limits availability.
* Comfort – Table massages require clients to take off their clothes and go into a darkened room with a person they usually have never met. That setup discourages many modest people from participating.
* Cost – The industry average of $70 per hour for a table massage is expensive for many middle-class customers, particularly in today’s sluggish economy. Also, a table massage therapist has to pay for body oils, several sets of sheets and a laundering service to clean the sheets, among other expenses.

In contrast, chair massages can take just 10 minutes to administer, cost much less (around $10 per treatment), allow clients to keep their clothes on and even receive them in public, and need only a massage chair, hand sanitizer and face towels or face cradle covers to be effective. I have found that some people who refuse table massages have no problem at all with chair massages.

Some “Musts” About Chair Massages

Even with all its benefits, becoming a chair massage therapist is not an endeavor you should treat cavalierly. Beyond formal training in massage from an institution, I recommend that you learn as much as you can about anatomy and body mechanics. You need to know exactly how much pressure to use where and when giving a massage to someone who is sitting. If you employ the same processes you learned from table massage, you will end up wearing yourself out.

On the business side, you can certainly perform chair massages at your home, or even at your own office, but most successful chair therapists bring their practices to businesses to accommodate the needs of stressed employees. Therefore, you must realize that networking is paramount, and it must be the right kind of networking.

Local chapters of Business Networking International and chambers of commerce are excellent resources to find and associate with business owners or decision makers at businesses who can set up massage chair therapy as an optional benefit for their staff. Pitch yourself to them, emphasizing the convenience and low amount of cost and time chair massages involve, and how they can enjoy it during their breaks.

At the same time, be realistic about presenting what your practice provides. Customers should recognize that a chair massage should relax a person, but it will not fix his ailments. Anyone with too high expectations is bound to be a disappointed, unhappy customer.

Some Final Advantages

Once you have established your practice with a few clients, make sure to have them spread the good word about you. They can provide written endorsements or word of mouth to other business owners that will allow you to expand your service.

Perhaps the biggest plus in setting up a chair massage therapy practice is the ease in which you can sell your business at any time. You will already have the client base established, so basically all you have to do is transfer those customers to the person who inherits your business.

Finally, remember this: A massage is meant to be fun and pleasurable for a client. Giving one can and should be relaxing for you as well, if you take the right steps to study and network for the job.

Jeff Wooten, president of The Body Mechanic™, is a Licensed Massage Therapist (LMBT #4626), Certified Fitness Trainer and Certified Specialist in Martial Arts Conditioning. Wooten’s Perfect Fit, Inc. programs and Dynamic Power Training use holistic techniques which are calisthenic in nature, based upon deep breathing from kung fu and yoga. Jeff has extensive martial arts, power yoga and Brazilian jujitsu training and is certified by The International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA). He incorporates the healing effects of massage into his classes, teaching group fitness, martial arts, health and fitness, and meeting with clients in their homes for personal training sessions. An avid athlete since college, Jeff ran track and played intramural sports while at North Carolina State University, where he earned a degree in computer science. For more information on The Body Mechanic, please call (919) 606-2149 or visit the Web site at www.yourbodymechanic.com.