Most massage therapists understand the benefits, to their clients and their practices, of becoming certified in more than one hands-on specialty. Earning certification or licensure in an area not directly related to massage—walking two related yet separate professional paths at one time—can also hold numerous professional benefits.
Gwen Lawrence exemplifies this trend. A massage therapist for 20 years, Lawrence decided to move into yoga as well, and today she draws on her experience as a massage therapist in her role as a yoga instructor. Lawrence also stars in the new DVD from Gaiam, Fit Body Yoga with Gwen Lawrence.
At her yoga school, Lawrence runs a sport-specific yoga program, Power Yoga for Sports, which includes private yoga training and class instruction. She has also created a collection of Power Yoga for Sports DVDs, as well as online videos customized to individual sports. Lawrence has appeared on the TODAY Show and ABC News.
In this MASSAGE Magazine interview, Lawrence shares her thoughts on how massage and yoga dovetail as healing arts, and how each of these careers fed the success of the other for her.
Q. How did your massage-and-yoga career come about?
A. I was finishing up college as a major in art and minor in dance, and as graduation grew closer, I felt that something was missing. I serendipitously found out massage was a therapeutic career and not a taboo, shameful practice; it is a very respectable way to earn a career and help people.
This fit in with my interest in art, as I had found out through taking many drawing courses that I had an insatiable yearning to learn about anatomy and physiology. It fell right into the dance interest, too. At the time, my now-husband was an aspiring Major League Baseball player, so I would go to school to pursue a massage therapy career helping professional athletes.
Q. Which is most satisfying to you, massage or yoga?
A. I have never been the type of person who could work for somebody and supplement his or her income, so massage was a great way for me to stay independent and have the most control over what I earned.
I learned a lot about how to run my own business, manage, acquire [and retain] clientele, as well as being able to call my own hours and start a family while still being able to be home with them.
It is truly a difficult choice for me to pick what I loved better. Both massage and yoga came to me at the time in my life when they were most appropriate. I could not have been the solid yoga coach that I am without my deep knowledge of the body—how it works, how it hurts. It gave me a unique gift of confidence when it comes to hands-on adjustments with my yoga students.
I now share all this knowledge through my yoga-school teacher training, Laws of Yoga. So each career fed the success of the other.
Q. What type of yoga do you teach?
A. I do not necessarily align myself with a tradition. I learn from all the greats and pull what makes sense to me and what I feel I can teach best with the greatest results. If I have to term it, I would say a power Vinyasa with an emphasis on form.
Q. What massage techniques did you specialize in?
A. Over the years I did lymph drainage techniques, but mostly deep tissue, as that seemed to be the demand and what gave the best results with my athlete clientele. I have worked with a physical therapist, a chiropractor and on many doctors’ referrals, with many pregnant women and people rehabilitating from injury or surgery.
Q. Do you recommend that a massage therapist learn to be a yoga instructor?
A. I recommend people follow their hearts and dream and be true to their decisions for a career path. However, they are very synergistic careers.
Only 5 percent of yoga instructors make it their full-time career, so if you are looking for a complementary job, massage therapy would be great. I also warn that you must be a people person, able to hear people out and truly listen, willing to study hard and never stop learning new techniques, work long hours and tiring days, and not expect a decent income until you have put five solid years of dedicated practice into either career.
In the yoga world, you are considered as knowledgeable as your years of practice—so if you have been practicing for five years, you are considered a 5-year-old in yoga terms, and we all know how much a 5-year-old really knows.
Massage and yoga are both rewarding yet humbling careers.