What is muscle-specific deep tissue work of the arms and legs?

by Brian Utting

The phrase ‘deep tissue work’ is used in so many contexts that it’s hard to know what it means anymore. To some practitioners, ‘deep tissue’ simply means deep pressure. To others, it has more fascial, myofascial, or structural connotations. Muscle-specific deep tissue work still works with the fascia, and uses deep pressure when appropriate, but is more focused and precise. Like structural work, it has a strategy, but it gets there by releasing the individual muscles as well as the fascia.

In the case of the legs, we will still contact the fascial wrapping around the legs (as well as the iliotibial tract and the large muscles of the legs), but in addition we will focus on the smaller intrinsic muscles of the feet, the joints of the feet, and important and often-missed muscles like the deep calf flexors and the popliteus.

The deep calf flexors (tibialis posterior, flexor hallucis longus, flexor digitorum longus) are plantarflexors and invertors of the foot, but their most important function may be maintaining the arch and stabilizing the foot on uneven terrain. They are often passed over in a typical deep tissue session, but are critical to maintaining balance not only in the foot, but also between the tibialis anterior, peroneus longus, and the gastrocnemius and soleus. Blunt, deep-pressure strokes and broad fascial strokes generally don’t get to the deep calf flexors, and are sometimes even dangerous. One needs to sift through the more superficial structures and use clean, precise strokes to release these muscles, since they are surrounded by nerves, blood vessels, and lymph beds. Runners especially appreciate this work, since they use these muscles so intensively, but rarely get them released, either from stretching or from bodywork. Based on my experience, the work improves performance and prevents and/or speeds recovery from injuries.

Muscle-specific deep tissue work for the shoulder not only addresses the relationship (both fascial and muscular) between all the muscles that support and suspend the shoulder, but gets to the smaller stress points on the scapula and the surfaces and ruts of the rib cage that are often passed over. It’s liberating and feels great when everything is released and working in harmony.

The arms and hands respond extremely well to muscle-specific deep tissue work; there are many muscles living alongside each other that rarely (if ever) get stretched and separated from each other. In addition, there are 30 bones and numerous joints that benefit from having motion introduced into them once the fascial and muscular structures (both superficial and deep) are unglued. There are also many bony surfaces in the hands and fingers that need to be cleaned up from time to time, just as we periodically go to the dentist to get our teeth cleaned. For massage therapists, this is especially valuable, since our hands and arms are our primary instruments. Practitioners not only learn a number of useful techniques in this section of the class, but also receive some valuable self-care.

To learn more, register for the Muscle-Specific Deep Tissue workshops with Brian Utting on October 11 & 12. CLICK HERE to register for the Legs & Hips workshop. CLICK HERE to register for the Shoulder Girdle, Arms, & Hands workshop. Register for both workshops at a discounted price!

Abdominal Massage

by Hannah Ford

A riddle for you: what do a sub sandwich, a novel, and a massage have in common?

They’re all deeply unsatisfying if you leave out the middle.

Your massage education included the basics of abdominal massage, but have you found yourself skipping that part of your sessions with clients? There are many reasons for this drift away from the belly – maybe some clients are uncomfortable with their own abdomens, or you are often in a time crunch with short session times, or you feel less than confident with draping methods – but no matter the reasons you’ve let it slip away, I’m here to say you need to bring back the belly work!

Breath resides in the belly. Emotions linger here. Organs sustain us from within the abdomen. And the stress of modern life, combined with a culture that values abs of steel over soft, open bellies, can conspire to create an armoring in this area that begs to be nurtured and melted.

I’ve focused my own massage practice on this vital area. My private practice, Belly Love Massage Therapy, is centered on abdominal massage for fertility, pregnancy, postpartum, and women’s health. I’d like to help you regain your confidence in the value of abdominal work for all types of clients, and rekindle your enthusiasm for belly rubs!

In this 6 hour class, we will review the relevant anatomy, present several options for comfortable draping, reflect on social/emotional perspectives of the belly, experience breathing and postural exercises you can use to educate clients and care for yourself, and practice and receive Swedish and Deep Massage techniques to relax and soften the abdomen.

Brush up on your belly love skills – your clients will thank you for it, from the bottom of their bellies!

Learn more at the Abdominal Massage workshop with Hannah Ford on October 19. CLICK HERE to register today!

Homage to the Feet!

FootMassageIt has always been incredible to me how much massage clients enjoy foot massage. Yet most therapists know very little about the detailed anatomy of the foot! And mostly they use general massage techniques! It brings a whole new level of pleasure, service, and benefit to your work as a therapist to really understand and know how to work with the feet!

The feet have six layers – fascia, 4 muscle layers, and ligament.

When we walk on them, these layers all get “impacted” one upon another. Over time these layers of muscle and fascia get stuck together, not sliding over each other as they are supposed to. Then the foot loses its critical capacity to absorb the shock of walking. When the foot loses that capacity, too much of the impact from walking and running, passes up to the lower leg, knee, hip and the many structures above them that depend on their functioning well for total body health.

There are 206 bones in the body – 52 of them are in the feet! It shouldn’t take much more to remind us that our feet do us an incredibly complex and essential service. It’s amazing that these two marvelously engineered structures can support our entire weight without being crushed or giving way. It’s little short of miraculous that they also constantly balance out the infinite varieties of motion going on in the body above them.

Let’s just take a look at the arches of the foot. First, please note that arches are not things; arching is something the muscles and bones of the foot cooperate in doing. As the muscles of the foot contract, they bow the arch, much as tightening a bowstring increases the curve of the bow. The muscles on the underside of the foot are the bowstrings which bend the arch and our body is the arrow which the foot propels up and forward.

The most true-to-life visualization of the foot and its arching is of a 3-poled geodesic dome tent. In the tent, as in the foot, the lift and balance is essentially provided by tension in soft tissues. But the foot is a tent that also can move of its own accord. Moreover, the foot is a tent moving of its own accord which just happens to also be the base of a geodesic Eiffel Tower which is the rest of your body, itself moving and gyrating around on its own.

Now is this not a miracle indeed?!

My workshop – Heel and Sole – coming up on September 28 will give you all the knowledge and skills to make an incredible difference in the life of the foot and the person who depends on them for their every step in life. CLICK HERE to register today!

Grad Chronicle – Natalie Durkin

natalie photo

Natalie Durkin, LMT

I attended Semesters 1 & 2 at TLC during 1999-2000. My immediate passion became working with clients for pain management, sports performance, and rehabilitative/restorative bodywork. In my first years starting out, I continued to work part-time in corporate office environments while completing my licensing requirements and building my practice.

In the Winter of 2002 I was laid off from the corporate job, which although terrifying in the immediate, it was the springboard I used to get serious and make my career as a full-time, sole-proprietor massage therapist come to life. It’s been nearly 15 years since I started, and I’m still at it!

Through the years, I have worked in most aspects of the therapeutic massage industry, ranging from outcalls, to chair massage at ABIA, to contracting for chiropractors and acupuncturists, and even worked with fellow massage therapists to create online support tools for less-experienced LMTs. I have worked with NCAA Basketball MVPs and Olympic Athletes from disciplines ranging from swimming, diving and beach volleyball. Let’s not forget countless weekend warriors and ultra-stressed office workers.

I have been in private practice for the last 10 years, and currently see my clients at my studio located on 11th Street near the Capitol. I also teach and compete in Tai Chi, training students of all levels, and have won Tournament Grand Champion at competitions. I currently enjoy incorporating aspects of Tai Chi postural alignment into my client education suggestions.

My advice for new therapists? Hang in there, stay focused, and provide excellent service. Be accountable in your business practices as well as having healing hands. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, or to let clients go who aren’t a good fit; there is enough work for everyone. Consider joining a networking group, or using a professional coach when starting out. Most of all, never ever lose sight of the help, peace-of-mind (and body!), and well-being that you provide to folks on a daily basis. You are awesome and your clients love you!



by Jim McCormick

CLIENT: MALE, 45, Engineer, healthy



The client didn’t specify exactly what doubt he wanted to get rid of. He was not really open to doing a lot of processing about it verbally. When he asked for that frame I immediately had a lot of doubt. Could I really deliver on that request? Was Zero Balancing really able to help clients in that way? I hadn’t really done it before.

I debated internally whether to accept this frame as the final goal for the session, and finally decided to go ahead with that as the frame, despite my reservations.

I began the session in the typical ZB way evaluating the body sitting and what I found was unremarkable. I certainly had no clue about how to help his doubts.

However, when I went to his feet to do what we call a half moon vector I was astonished. I began to feel or sense energy pockets or energy patterns within the energy field of his overall body/mind that had a signature of doubt. The overall field had patterns like the silvery light of the moon on the sea at night. Within that field were different areas were darker and less clear. It hit me that these were the areas of doubt. They caused me to read “doubt” like you would if you were talking to a person who had doubt – there was an vibration particular to that emotion. As I went through the Zero balancing protocol working with the whole body I felt many such areas.

Having not had that experience before, I wasn’t sure, but I decided to act as if these denser, different areas were in fact where his doubt was residing in his body and in his energy field. When I put “fulcrums” through these areas, or put traction to pull energy through these areas, the quality of the patterns changed. The difference between these areas and other areas of the body lessened. The whole field felt smoother and more congruent and coherent, and more uniformly lit up..

By the time I finished we hadn’t said a word, but I felt his system was much easier, lighter, and more integrated. He came off the table and felt lighter and clearer and over the next days continued to feel clearer and to experience less doubt.

What was most remarkable about the session was not even so much this particular outcome, but the learning I experienced from doing the session. From that day forward I started to pay more and more attention to the quality of the blockages that I found in people’s body. I learned that I could feel the signature of any emotion or any sensation in their bodies. Each emotion and sensation had a particular energetic signature which was unique and which I could learn to read.

If I found a place of held or blocked energy in someone’s body, I began to feel more deeply and more curiously into the vibration. I paid more careful attention without trying to change it. Just to be with it. I would ask myself, or ask their system, “What is the emotion or sensation being held there.” Trying to feel what the emotion was. Fear had a very different vibratory quality than anger or than grief. Initially I started paying attention to the major emotions, (fear, grief, anger, joy) as they were the strongest and clearest, and therefore the easiest to feel. After some time I realized any sensation that a person might be experiencing could be felt through it’s own unique vibration. If someone had indecision; agitation; indifference; guilt; lack of motivation and many others, all of these sensations showed up in their energetic field and could be identified and then worked with by me as the practitioner.

Sometimes this meant just continuing to do the bodywork – but maybe with a different quality to my touch. If someone had fear, I might continue to work in the same places and do very similar treatments but I might do it with a very different quality of touch. I learned that not only could I “read” an emotion in someone through my hands, I could give an emotion with my hands. I might touch with the same quality anyone would use if you were to pick up a small frightened child you wanted to comfort – you would hold them in such a way that they felt safe and secure. So for an adult client with fear I would do the fulcrums with that quality of touch and found that it created much greater positive change in the client. Clients with major fears calmed down, without ever saying anything to them about their fear.

On the other hand, sometimes this opened up a whole new avenue of healing for the person. I might say to them: “I can feel a sensation in your body – I think it is fear. Are you feeling afraid?” One early person I said that to replied, “Only a mountain of it.” This led a huge outpouring of feeling and tears from her. We had a long conversation we’d never had before about her fears and this led to major changes in her for that session but also over time. The possibility of verbally processing emotions discovered through the body/mind connection via touch opened much deeper avenues of healing and change for people and led me to work in very different ways.

And, this was but one of hundreds of such sessions where the person’s experience is palpable in their body and in their field and working with this vibration takes a person way beyond helping their reported symptom to helping them connect to their core selves and grow personally.

So, the request that I help someone with their doubt, led to major revisions in how I worked and how much more I was able to help clients. This continues to be a major way of working – and allows the same Zero Balancing protocol to be performed in many different ways that mirror both the physical and the emotional experience of the client and actually help them progress faster and deeper in their lives.

Learn more at the Touching the Whole Person – An Advanced Zero Balancing workshop with Jim McCormick on Thursday – Sunday, October 30 – November 2. CLICK HERE to register today!


inhale“Relax” – from the Latin, “to open again”

“Calmness of mind does not mean you should stop your activity. Real calmness should be found in activity itself.” – Shunryu Suzuki-roshi

It’s interesting that when therapists talk about kinds of massage – sometimes “relaxation massage” is a mode that is spoken of condescendingly. “Oh, he only does relaxation massage.”

But when we look around our world, maybe relaxation is the most important thing. Maybe it is the biggest key to our health, both as individuals and as a society. Around and within us we can see the harsh and sometimes tragic consequences of not relaxing – internal tensions in body and mind, person-to-person violence, social unrest, and war.

Massage therapy is the only health modality whose content is explicitly relaxation. Perhaps this, more than our remedial effect on soft tissue injury, is the key to the growth and the demand for our work.

We live on this miraculous planet. The relaxed contemplation of and reverence for this incredible place should be something cultivated every single day. The appreciation and healthy, calm utilization of the incredible capacities of the human body, mind and spirit should be presented as our most important task.

We cannot move, think or feel in a balanced way without relaxation. This is a wisdom communicated directly to the bodymind through every massage. And if we therapists embody in ourselves the calmness in turn that we evoke in our clients, we become healthier and healthier through our work. That’s wisdom for you!

iStock_000003238803MediumSo let us use Relaxation Day as a way to re-elevate the power of relaxation and its all-encompassing relevance to individuals and ultimately the whole world. It ‘s not just a Day – it’s a way of life, without which we risk the very health of the planet.

In the Bible at the end of each day of creation, it says God contemplated what he had done and saw that it was good. And on the seventh day, it says God blessed that day particularly because on that the day he rested.

Always remember that it is rest that was most honored and most blessed then. And now. Now it is up to us. Massage helps tremendously by amplifying the capacity and the joy in relaxing and contemplating this miraculous world we live in. This is our greatest joy and our evolutionary responsibility as human beings and as practitioners of calmness in activity.

Hooked on Acupressure

by Dr. Gayl Hubatch OMD, LMT instructor

I use acupressure for everything – from my own muscle stiffness after a workout, headache or trouble sleeping to giving hour-long treatments in my professional clinic. When my spouse or daughter has a headache or allergies, they are always asking for my ‘point holding”.  Acupressure relives pain and sinus pressure instantaneously. It’s quite remarkable really.

My daughter’s in her 30’s now and it was her birth that actually led me to Chinese medicine. I had such a profound experience in giving birth and feeling such dynamic life force moving through me that I pursued the question: “What is Chi (Qi)”. It’s been a life long learning as now my practice is 30 years in the making. Time flies.. I must be having fun! Studying Acupressure led me to massage therapy in Eugene, Oregon and then to qigong and Chinese medicine in Santa Fe, NM and then Austin. My acupuncture practice in Lakeway is 20 years old this year!

The purpose of teaching Bodymind acupressure is to share my passion with qi and help others to learn how to access the intricate and powerful web of the meridian system with only their hands and intention. Accurately locating acupressure points is important but more importantly is cultivating intentionality and the use of conscious breath. This upcoming class will give you a real experience of qi and practical techniques to use professionally and personally. You will be hooked!

Learn more about acupressure at the Mindbody Acupressure with Gayl Hubatch on Sunday, October 5. CLICK HERE for more information.

Myofascial Techniques for the Thorax and Diaphragms

by Liz Hoffmaster

Let’s look at the rectus abdominus (RA) muscle and a role it plays in our lives. We are a culture obsessed with core work. In truth, 95% of all abdominal core work is done with severely or mildly bulging abdominals. You have to wonder why one would want to do this? The result is a rectus abdominus that is a half inch thick and the underlying support structures….transverse abdominus (TVA) and our precious rotators, internal and external oblique (IO & EO)…… thin and unable to do what they are supposed to do. This causes many problems, not the least of which is that other muscles can’t do their job!

Number one on the dance card is the diaphragm. RA stops it from full excursion in the torso, primarily in exhalation. Why? Because an overused RA keeps the anterior ribs high, and they can’t fully drop down as you breathe out. This drop naturally allows the diaphragm to fully rise up in the torso. This simple activity promotes parasympathetic activity, and allows the neck and shoulder to relax. How many people do you know who lie on their back and you notice their ribs are stuck up in the air as you work on their neck and shoulders and marvel at how tight they are?

So one of the most important things you will learn is how to quieten the rectus abdominus. In turn your client’s neck and shoulders will thank you.

Learn more at the Myofascial Techniques for the Thorax and Diaphragms workshop with Liz Hoffmaster. CLICK HERE to register today!


1800329_627711580600029_806897828_nFor years, I was fascinated with System-Centered Therapy and worked hard in a group. One thing I learned was that many of our fears are not based on reality. Rather, we often make negative predictions about what may happen in the future – a meeting might not go well next week, this new client might not like my work; my business may go down later this year because of the economy. Then we feel fears in the present moment, which are just provoked by fantasies about possible futures.

But we can never really predict the future. We don’t exactly know what will happen tomorrow or even later today! Yet, It’s almost a reflex – nature abhors a vacuum, so we fill in the unknown with predictions – even if they freak us out!

As a teacher and bodyworker, I see students and clients reacting this way over and over. Their self-created fears may get lodged in the trapezius muscle above our shoulders; manifest as a frozen, shocked look around the eyes; a fixed jaw; as hypertension in the back muscles, and certainly as restrictions of breath – with a resulting diminution of energy.

These days, some of the excess tension and fear we see in students and clients are a result of what we are currently being told about the economy. For present and future therapists, it is important for us to understand that at least half of this country’s so-called economic problem is a generalized lack of confidence inflamed by the media’s negative predictions.

We need to unplug ourselves and the people we will touch from the prediction-spasm-prediction cycle that disempowers them.

If you are a bodyworker, you can:

  • Deeply know that success is largely up to you. Re-own your confidence. Share that knowledge with your clients through the confident quality of your touch
  • Help undo negative predictions, by giving the person an experience of deep safety, peace and security in the present moment.
  • Relieve the chronic muscle and respiratory tension that keeps people feeling they are smaller and less powerful than they really are.

If you are a future or current student of massage therapy, you can:

  • Feel great about your decision to be involved in a field that gives a rare form of independence through healthy livelihood.
  • Deeply enjoy the peace you experience by receiving a tremendous amount of touch – perhaps the biggest part of learning is getting two or more massages a week during your training.
  • Devote yourself to learning – massage therapy education, at its best, provides the missing piece from so much of our education. The missing piece is self knowledge of one’s body, emotions, mind and spirit as well as the values-based business planning that enables you literally and figuratively to take your life into your own hands.

For re-assurance we need not to look to the government or to the media; we need to re-access the power within. It’s not up to them.

It’s up to every one of us.


11.01.MassageI was at a panel discussion last week about public relations with media representatives who cover healthcare. One covered healthcare topics on radio, another on T.V. and another in the newpaper. One topic discussed was their reluctance to cover “holisitic health,” because, they said, it often couldn’t be shown to be evidence-based. I had many reactions.

First, what a tragedy it is that “holistic” has often been become more associated with quackery than with a legitimate and important approaches to healthcare. Mostly, I think, certain “new-age” professionals are to blame for this. Holistic means taking the perspective of the whole person, understanding the individualized approach to take for a person to become fully well, not just, for instance, to being treated for a disease. When I first became involved seriously in “alternative health”, it primarily emphasized diet, exercise, relaxation, and political activism to support healthier lifestyles and a more health-promoting world. Now if you look at most new-agey magazines, they are filled with articles and ads for becoming a life-coach in one weekend (only $595!); various brands of energy healing through crystals, herbs, dubious vitamin formulas, affirmations, astrology, on and on. In other worlds, “holistic” has become, to some extent, a refuge for unproven, wishful thinking, and various other remedies, ranging from innocuous to out-and-out quackery. What a shame!

The true perspective of holism is to view the person, and the world they live in, as a whole. So-called “health-care” (read what some people call “allopathy”) is often not health-care, it is disease-care. Now, to be clear, more power to good disease-care. Many of us, including myself, would not be alive if it weren’t for the incredible diagnostic skills and treatments practiced by modern allopathic medicine.

But holistic healthcare (I still prefer the earlier spelling “wholisitic”) at its best helps the person get from being sick to being normal and also, at its best, helps the person get from being just normal, that is, disease-free, to being optimally well. It is this latter realm that is so important and unique to genuine wholism. That is what health-care at its best is – the individual and social commitment to being truly well – not just un-sick.

Part of becoming truly well, then is not particularly the consumption of alternative or modern pharmaceutical remedies, but an approach to life that is truly fulfilling. This may include competent delivery of services such as health education, counseling, art therapy, exercise coaching for optimally benefit, mindfulness, meditation, acupuncture, various forms of massage therapy, and more. Some of these approaches are evidence-based. It is legitimate to call for evidence when available or appropriate.

Other forms and aspects of healthcare are in some ways as much art as science. A great psychotherapist for instance is someone who is extremely creative in finding ways to illuminate their clients. A great massage therapist will be someone whose touch sensitivities reflect a genuine understanding not only of anatomy but of the individual person and the way touch may resolve individualized tensions of life as manifest in the muscles, joints and nervous system. A wonderful nurse is someone who in her caring and respectful treatment of her patients heals as much through quality of care as through the medical remedy itself. A great health educator will have the ability to connect remarkably with his/her students.

Now it is entirely sensible to insist that science be evidence-based. But in so far as we are dealing with art as well as the science of healthy living and in so far as healthcare is a practiced art and science, calling for all healthcare to be evidence-based is like asking that all art be evidence-based. That is not a reasonable or even sensible criterion. Art is not evidence-based. Humans are not intelligent only via the left-side of the cerebrum. Beethoven’s 9th is a transformational experience. Great works, whether in healthcare or art, are not necessarily reproducible. They don’t yield to research. You don’t need a control group to know that there is an art to living well. And along the path of optimized wellness are revelations and experiences whose timing and content were inherently unpredictable, probably non-reproducible, but life-changing nonetheless.

So let us beware of an overly narrow vision of life and health. The most effective approach to healthcare will take the whole person into account. It will ideally come up with individualized solutions that support the addressing of the cause of the disease, its symptoms, and specific recommendations for not just overcoming disease, but for leading a truly healthy life mentally, emotionally and physically.

At the same time, for holistic professionals, such as myself, it is high time to make distinctions between health approaches that are grounded in research; other traditional approaches which may not be; and other approaches which have been shown by science to be based in falsity, or forms that seem to exploit people’s desire for alternatives by offering solutions that border on or are certainly quackery. People can choose to believe in things that are false or unproven. But the holistic field needs to recognize again the real value of wholeness and not let its credibility be destroyed by what are less effective or blatantly ineffective substitutes for pharmaceuticals.

People, myself included, often like the simplicity of taking a pill. Sometimes it is the very best solution to a heath problem. However, so often the pill doesn’t address the lifestyle that gave rise to complaint. Ultimately healthcare needs to look at life choices that can give rise to the adverse conditions. Ultimately, we need to look at the overall health of our society and support preventative solutions. Many of these are embodied by holistic healthcare at its best. Because holistic doesn’t really refer just to my health or yours. Holistic by definition looks at the whole. Ultimately we all create our environment together. That affects every one of us. A few years ago, a scholar, Samuel S. Epstein, published a book “The Politics of Cancer” in which he showed in so many cases the cure is already known! It is to clean up the carcinogens being using world-wide. “Researchers have estimated that as many as 2 in 3 cases of cancer (67%) are linked to some type of environmental factor” (National Cancer Institute). Now this book, researchers, and their vital conclusions are largely buried with people hoping for after-the-fact responses with pills, chemicals and surgery.

But let us be clear. Holism is simply the correct approach to health.

The cure for so much illness in our world is an appropriate combination of disease-care and health-care applied to both the individuals and to our world. This is the vast importance of holism. We should prevent the social tragedy of holism being on the one hand discounted by the overly narrow-minded as well as co-opted by certain people who promote false solutions to people’s problems.

Holism presents us with an explicit model for a healthy world. This is the vision of a peaceful world in which people are equipped by the educational and healthcare systems to lead optimized lives. Healthy iives are lived with the whole in mind, so we do not see health as an individual property, but as the work of each one of us for our own sake and for the sake of the world we live in. The work of creating this world is viewed as almost utopian, given the many obstacles humanity puts in our own way. But health means whole and if there is anything worth working hard to achieve it is the health of this whole earth and everyone in it.