Adrienne Asta joins Allissa to talk about what it takes to be a massage instructor and how to get started on that path.
The business of massage education is accelerating at lightning speed. The need for qualified massage educators is greater than ever. Typically, accreditation standards have a requirement for years of practice but the requirements for the skills and abilities for teaching in this profession are vague. Here is where we often see how Subject Matter Expert doesn’t translate to teacher.
Directors of Education are often put in a situation where the time between interviewing and hiring teachers is severely limited. This is a recipe for an unstable foundation for massage students. Just as we crave a strong foundation for our massage students to practice safely and ethically, so should we crave strong foundational teaching skills for those practitioners who wish to try their hand at teaching. Contact Adrianne for more information about acquiring the skills necessary for a successful classroom.
We also talk about The Massage Therapy Foundation!
This episode is sponsored by: PurePro Massage Products.
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Allissa Haines Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Massage Business Blueprint podcast, where we discuss the business side of massage therapy. I am Allissa Haines, here for one of our interview episodes. And I am here with my friend, and, I think, a peer mentor, Adrienne Asta. Hello, Adrienne.
Adrienne Asta Oh, hello. A mentor. Oh, man. Well, the relationship is mutual for sure.
AH I think we do a lot for each other.
AH And I’m super grateful that you would be a guest on this episode. Today — the second half of the show when we get into Adrienne’s topic, we’re going to talk about what you should do and where to start if you think you want to start teaching massage. And I’m really excited because we haven’t had anything for this population yet, for people who think they may want to teach eventually.
So, first, let me tell you a little bit about Adrienne. Adrienne has almost 17 years of massage experience. She is super knowledgeable and a dedicated license massage therapist who is deeply and enthusiastically involved in the massage industry. In fact, that’s how I know Adrienne: from our volunteer work, each with our own AMTA chapters. Adrienne volunteers locally and nationally for various massage non-profits. And I think this is the coolest; I was so excited when I saw this last year: she is a recently a board of trustees member for the Massage Therapy Foundation. And that started last year in 2017. Adrienne specializes in pain management and stress reduction. She’s got a super niche practice. It’s awesome. And she’s worked for a whole bunch of different types of schools: boutique schools, mid-size corporate schools, giant corporate schools, and that’s what I want to tell you about Adrienne. Anything important that I missed there that you want to be sure is said?
AA Nope. I think you got all the important pieces.
AH And we’re going to learn a bunch more about you now too. So let’s start at the beginning. How — more than 17 years ago, how did you get into massage?
AA I’m often asked this question in an interview and I said when Allissa asks me this question, how am I going to tell her? I just always had this need to squeeze. [laughs] I remember always having this hand energy where I was wringing my hands all of the time. I didn’t really quite understand what that was about when you’re 20 something. I picked up playing the guitar thinking that playing a musical instrument would help to scratch that itch. And it worked for a little bit. And I always enjoyed rubbing my friends’ shoulders. You know that story that I always hear anytime somebody would come in and enroll in massage school, which is “My friend said that I am good at this.” I wouldn’t say that was the determining factor. I just come from a very healthy touch family where — I’m blessed to be in that type of environment because I know that people aren’t, and I really think it served me and continues to serve me well in the profession.
AH What was your job when you — what were you doing already in your life?
AA I was on Madison Avenue in New York City working for a big advertising firm. And it was where I wanted to be. I groomed myself to be in advertising on Madison Avenue for that particular agency. And it rocked the first couple of years. And then I got promoted, and I hated it. It just wasn’t meeting any of my life goals. And it was one of those 80-hour weeks where I’m up at 3, 4 o’clock in the morning still at work, still waiting for the art studio to finish their project. And a colleague of mine at the time said we’re not saving any lives here. And that really struck me. So taking this friends telling me that I should go to massage school, having this inclination to do this — to squeeze shoulders, and having good experience with massage myself, I — while I was waiting for the art studio at 3 o’clock in the morning to finish a project that I had to manage, I just went on the internet and I googled “massage schools new jersey.” And Somerset School of Massage, where I went to and then graduated from and then worked for, popped up.
I went to an open house, and I really wasn’t all in. I wasn’t all in when I went to visit. Even though I committed to signing up for school, I figured it would be some extra money on the side; it would be kind of this cool thing to do nights and weekends. I didn’t see it evolving into what it has evolved into. I’m so happy that it has. I can’t believe it’s been 17 years. I feel like it was yesterday that I was in class. My memories of going to massage school are so vivid.
AH So tell us what the evolution of your career has been like. You went to massage school, you graduated, then what?
AA Yeah, so it was — at the time that you and I went to massage school, you had to fend for yourself when it came to looking for work. You had to create it or you had to hustle. You had to hustle to get your name out there. So that’s what I did. I sent my resume and introduced myself to as many people as I could. And I landed about 5 part-time gigs, including my own private practice, which is ultimately what I wanted to do. But I also wanted to make money. So I was just working at different little places: a full-service hair salon, a wellness center under a chiropractor, I worked for my gym. The less fruitful ones fell off, and the more fruitful ones I was able to grow my practice there. One of those places was at the fitness — the gym that I worked out at. They had an opening and I had said, “I’ve had a lot of good results, personally, through this gym just my own fitness and wellness levels, and I think I could be an asset to your massage team.” And it was great because as long as the massage room wasn’t occupied by another therapist, I could use it. So I had my shift, but as long as the gym was open, I could use the room. And I just loved every second of — my Friday shift turned into I would take an aerobics class at 6 o’clock in the morning, shower, eat breakfast, and then just start working. I would work all day until 10 o’clock. It was great and it went by so fast every Friday because it was a shoulder thing, an IT band thing, a plantar fasciitis thing, a neck thing, a Swedish massage, and carpal tunnel syndrome. And it really got me excited about all of the spectrum of musculoskeletal disorders that massage can help with. And that’s what I had always been drawn to. [Loud noise] Got some doggies in the background that I’m trying to avoid, sorry.
AH We are a pet-friendly show.
AA [laughs] So I think that was the birth of the niche that I had because there was — it happened with my father. He had some kind of neck compressed — neck thing. It was a long time ago, a pinched-nerve thing. He had this device he got hung from [laughs]. You attach it to the door so it would traction his neck. And I’m like I feel like there’s a better way to accomplish this task here. [laughs] I was really young at the time, but it was just a memory that was — he said I went to the doctor and they said that — I said, “It hurts when I do this,” and the doctor told me, “So don’t do that.” And I just didn’t like that answer. I was like, well, is there something that I can do to help you be able to do the things that you enjoy doing? The evolution of the practice came from helping the marathon runner not have hip pain at mile 21; to help the tennis player be able to grip the racket because they don’t have tennis elbow anymore; the basketball player who doesn’t have low back pain anymore, etc. in that particular environment.
I like to expose myself to a whole bunch of different stuff. I got neuromuscular therapy certified and, for what it’s worth, I’m not a huge fan of title of modalities at all, but that’s what it was called at the time. That’s what my certification says, but it’s essentially trigger point therapy, which has served me well since then. I got that in 2002. I also got advanced prenatal certified around the same time thinking that I was going to have a prenatal practice, but I just — with working at the gym and seeing all the work that I was doing and how much fun I was having, I just wound up going the direction of that musculoskeletal pain/chronic pain direction with my practice.
AH How did you get into doing more with massage education?
AA I fell into it. I thought it was cool that grads came back and helped out in the classroom. And a teaching assistant position opened up right as I graduated, and it was right as I put my notice in over at the ad agency. I was like “Okay great. Here’s a couple of hours a week I can rely on while I’m building my practice.” I had this real knack for explaining things. Tutoring was the responsibility of the teacher’s assistant. I got a little kick out of seeing how the students would understand and enjoy the material from my explanation of it. A lead position opened up, and I had mentioned to some peers of mine that I was interested, and they’re like “You should tell the owner. You should tell the owner.” Okay. I told him, “Hey, I’m interested in filling that lead position that’s going to open up,” and they hired me. Class started in 2 weeks and I stepped in front of the classroom on orientation day and I was like What do I do? [laughs]
I’ve seen it modelled because the modelling that happened for the teacher’s assistant is you were in the class every class. You watched the teacher. You watched the lead instructor, and you’re rehearing the material again and getting yourself more familiar. You’re seeing what works and what doesn’t work. But there was no actual training to be a teacher. I remember the very first lesson that I taught — because orientation you could get away with a couple of activities, hi what’s your name, why are you here, fluffy things. But when it came to the meat of what we need to know, I remember standing up in front and I delivered the first piece of information, and all the students were looking at me — a group of 30 — and they were all looking at me like well, what do I write down? [laughs] I’m like I have no skills in order to be able to deliver this. This is very much unlike tutoring where I just though oh, yeah, I’ll just explain how I did in tutoring in front of the classroom. And it’s not the same thing at all. It’s way different.
AH So let’s — I want to know how did you end up — because we’ll talk more about teaching and wanting to teach in a minute — but how did you end up working with the MTF, the Massage Therapy Foundation?
AA So the Massage Therapy Foundation is an organization that I had always known that I wanted to be a part of because of how neutral they were and the amount of work they were doing to advance the practice.
AH Let’s take — since we have the chance, let’s take this captive audience, and why don’t you tell us a little about the three pillars of what the MTF does.
AA Sure. Massage Therapy Foundation is an organization that promotes research, education, and community service for the betterment of the profession. I am super privileged to be the chairperson for the community service grant review committee. Ultimately, we need research. Yeah, we need research to share with our clients, to share with our allied health professionals, to share with the public. And we need to engage more people into letting them know that they foundation is here for us. It’s our foundation. I remember Ruth Warner, when she was president, used to say that all the time: This is your foundation. Community service — the community service portion of it really shows really where our dollars are going. Of course, they’re going to research, but they’re also going to helping people who otherwise wouldn’t have access to massage but could really use it. We’re funding some really excellent projects working with veterans and their families who have opioid addiction and trying to reintegrate into civilization after coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan. It really is just a — the amount of benefit that you can get from the foundation is unreal. And all of the resources are available for free to anyone, whether you donate or not.
AH And where do I go to get such resources?
AH And we’ll put that in the podcast notes. I’m a big fan of the foundation as well.
AH So tell us what you — what are you doing now? What’s your massage life like now, Adrienne?
AA I’m doing a bunch of massage right now. I’m working with clients who have chronic pain — and not chronic pain; just some new pain they’d prefer not to have. Pain management and stress reduction are my big focus, like you said in my bio. And I’m also building continuing education company in hopes to fill a void in this area of New Jersey and meet the needs of a very fast-paced lifestyle on this most densely populated state.
AH What kinds of stuff do you plan to be teaching with this new company?
AA The company’s called Cerebral Vortex Education. It is practical training that could be implemented immediately without breaking the bank or cancelling your clients. So short modules or short teachings — 4 hours, 3 hours long — that — they range from science-based to technique. But the thing that I’m focusing a lot of the development on is teacher-training program.
AA So far, we have 4 modules in the teacher-training program, and we’re developing — that’s kind of like the triage boot camp of “if you want to be a teacher or if you’ve been asked to be a teacher, do these things and you’ll survive.” You’ll survive and you’ll have a good class and we’re working on the next layer of that.
AH All right. We’re going to dive deeper into that in a minute, but first, I want to ask you our super cheesy question because I’ve really been digging everybody’s answers to this one. What is your fantasy job situation? Your “if I win the lottery” plan for your career?
AA If I win the lottery, I will have a practice with multiple locations. Not an overwhelming amount, but in cities that I would like to visit and/or live in all across the world. Mostly in the United States because that’s where the people I know are, but I foresee a practice that has about a half a dozen to a dozen locations all over the world.
AH All right. So before we dive into our topic, we are going to take a moment to break for our halftime sponsor.
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AH All right. Let’s jump into the expertise question that I’m so excited to have you answer.
AH Because so many massage therapists, they get out of school, they practice for a little bit, maybe they mentor a little bit, unofficially, maybe they work with some interns here and there, maybe they just go back to school and speak as an alumni at a business class, which is what got me into massage education. If someone is thinking they want to teach massage, where do they start?
AA Well you can always go to cerebralvortexeducation.com and sign up with Erikka Miller or I. Erikka Miller is a friend of mine who helped to develop the teacher training portion of my continuing education business. Certainly, we are not the only ones out there, but I highly recommend seeking a teacher training program that is going to tell you about the skills of delivering information for somebody to understand it and apply it.
We’re subject matter experts that are asked “Oh, hey. I have an opening for a class that starts in 2 weeks and you have the 2 years of licensure experience that we need. So here’s a bunch of paper that has the curriculum on it and look at it, and let me know if you have any questions. See you in 2 weeks.” The onboard — and I’ve been that person. I’ve been that manager who hired that person who has 2 weeks to go because you’re just in desperate need of it. So if you anticipate teaching in your future, seek out some kind of program that’s going to give you really hard skills that it wouldn’t matter if you were teaching massage or basket weaving or auto mechanics, this skill would apply across the board.
Teaching is an art form that needs constant critical reflection, which is a practice that we need to get our massage students to model because it’s really an important piece of what we do as far as how it translates into the treatment room. And it’s fun because Erikka is the — Erikka Miller is the education expert. She’s a teacher. She’s a trained English teacher; that’s what she did. I get to be the subject matter expert in these trainings, so it’s easy to translate that skill into bodywork. And Erikka’s very familiar with bodywork as well.
We want to make sure that when you’re seeking something out, it’s not a fluffy — and, Allissa, you know me. You know I’m all about fluffy, make everybody feel good energy. But we also need to have some content to back that up. Yes, of course, I want a positive learning environment. Of course, I want people to be excited to learn the material. Of course, I want all of those things. But I also need to make sure that my teacher hits all of these points in their lesson so that when somebody goes to take the licensure exam, they’re not going to fail. Yeah, and of course, I want them to have a good time. Of course I do. That’s not enough.
AH What most surprised you when you started teaching? What were you most good at that surprised you or what were you absolutely terrible at that sent you home doing your own research because these kinds of resources weren’t available to you?
AA That’s an excellent question. Wow.
AH I totally did not prepare you for it.
AA [laughs] No, I prefer that. I was good at taking time after class to say this worked because of this or this didn’t work because of that, and here’s how I would continue to do the same things that worked or discourage myself from going down that road. So the critical reflection, I was naturally good at, and I’m realizing as I’m doing more research about learning that that’s probably the most important part. So I’m happy that I had that natural affinity. And I was good at listening as well. I had improv comedy training, actually, that helped me in that particular situation because listening in improv comedy is gold. You have to pay attention to what’s coming at you. The hardest thing, I would say, was not being surprised by behaviors no matter what the age range was.
AH Oh my goodness, yes.
AA So it’s one of the things that irks me so bad is everybody’s — now it’s millennials, but at the time it was me when I was 25 going to massage school — kind of this behavioral —
AH I saw it with the 50-somethings in my class.
AA Yeah. I see it everywhere. So I was just taken aback for a second, and I sought out a lot of generational values. Education — oh, here’s what the boomers, here’s what the Xers, and here’s what the Yers value. And it was good to know that, but I still didn’t get any concrete things like here’s what you need to do then. There was no enrichment activities that were associated with that. There were some things: try this, try that. It was a lot of idea sharing, which was great. I spent a lot of time and money just seeking out — just seeing who the good teachers were and modeling after them, but again, no concrete skill. The Alliance for Massage Therapy Education is trying to put together something to certify teachers, and they’re getting there, but it’s somewhat far off.
AH If someone came to you and was like yeah, I think I want to teach massage. I’m going to take your course, or I’ve taken this other course or this-that-or-the-other-thing, what would make you tell someone that they might be a terrible teacher or that perhaps they are not ready?
AA The teachers that I see fail the most use that power differential in a poor way, right? They get up in front and “sage on the stage” is the phrase that gets associated with that person who’s up there boasting “this is what I do, and this is the right thing.” If was to feel that somebody wants to teach because no one else is doing it right, because everything sucks, I’m cautious of that person. Having the heart of a teacher means bringing somebody from not knowing to knowing and giving them a chance to prove that and not being — we tend to be gatekeepers in education. It’s like well, you didn’t pass the test, right? You didn’t pass my rules in the classroom. There’s an authority there and there’s a power differential that is almost more powerful than therapist to client. And I think the person that navigates that power differential with ease and grace and fairness —
AH And humility.
AA — and humility, right, is going to be the person who’s successful in the classroom. So telling somebody that they’re not going to be good in the classroom —
AH It’s kind of a silly question the way that I stated it, but I think that what you said without saying is is that a big old giant ego is probably not the best way to approach a desire to teach.
AA And it’s hard because there needs to be some confidence, right? We need to make sure that we’re able to convey information in a way that shows that we know the material for sure. We also need to say I don’t know. Let me look that up.” And I feel like the teachers who are willing to do that and do that in their practice are the ones who are most successful in the classroom. It also teaches the students that they don’t need to know everything. There’s resources out there that you can go to to look at your — to look up this information and get back to your client. And it’s good to say “I don’t know.” That means you’re going to learn something.
AH What else? What else should people consider before they jump in?
AA It’s a lot of work the first year. A lot. And people want to teach because it’s an income stream that doesn’t require the physical demand of massage. And it could be steady, and it could be very fruitful if you are with the right company, you’re doing continuing education, it can be a really fruitful avenue. And you’re going to put in a lot of work in that first year with finessing your lesson plans and your classroom activities and gathering materials and seeking information. It’s almost going to seem not worth it. But if you persevere through that first year, that first round of material that you’re being asked to teach, and just make sure that you are understanding that your students are feeling equally uncomfortable when they learn something new, then just stick through that and you’ll get it. Learning is uncomfortable, and that’s good because on the other side of discomfort is growth. So if we can convey that to our students — you are going to — I know this is uncomfortable; I know this material’s hard; I know you’re not going to remember everything; I know you’re looking at me because I’m fluent and you’re not, but I’ve been doing this for 17 years.
Give them something to strive for. Students surprise me all the time. Even teaching continuing ed to someone who’s only been in it for a year, they make me learn. If you’re willing to learn and you’re willing to change your opinion on something because you have new information, to me, that’s what teach is all about: guiding that person through. A little bit more than what you asked for, but I know I’m going on lots of tangents —
AH This is —
AA — I just love so many —
AH That’s the purpose of our interview episodes is to entertain the tangent.
AH Because it’s going to stimulate a lot of interesting questions and conversation among the people who are listening. Is there anything else you want to toss in? Any other thoughts for people who are thinking they may want to teach massage in one way or another? Anything else before we wrap it up?
AA [laughs] I think we covered it.
AH And that’s fair. That’s fair. Thank you so much, Adrienne Asta. And again, everybody, I’m going to put all sorts of links to Adrienne’s contact information into our podcast notes. And also a link to the Massage Therapy Foundation, which I know we all want you to know more and more about.
AH Yay! And if you have any questions for any future podcasts, you can email them to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. And you can also visit massagebusinessblueprint.com for all sorts of free resources to help you build your massage practice. And also a premium member community if you want to buy in and subscribe to that with a whole bunch of other resources. Adrienne is actually a member.
AA Go. Go, go, go premium. It’s the best 9 bucks you will ever spend in your practice. Go premium now. Do it.
AH It’s pretty good stuff. We have a really great group of premium members who are so all over helping each other and watching each other’s businesses grow in very individual ways. A lot of this podcast and a lot of Massage Business Blueprint is Allissa saying what she thinks. What’s great about the premium community is that ya’ll can ask each other questions in our secret Facebook group, and Allissa doesn’t even pop in because she let’s you answer each other’s stuff in a way that’s very different from how I would answer it. I let everybody else pop in and then I pop in with a link to something we’ve already written on that topic, or I say I agree with this or, I don’t agree with tis. But if you’re tired of hearing my whiny voice, you should join the premium community and hear the enchanting and angelic voices of all of our premium members. So that was a big schtick I didn’t intend to do, but maybe Michael will be proud of me.
Thank you, everyone, for listening. And thank you, Adrienne, for joining us. I know so many of our people and so many of our listeners and so many of our colleagues are so interested in teaching, which I am a big fan of because I want everyone — I want there to be more massage therapists and more people getting massage. So thank you very much for sharing this with us. I think I hope you’ve inspired lots more teachers.
AA Thanks, Allissa. Thanks for having me.
AH All right everybody. We’re wrapping it up. Have a great day.