A Dose of Spirituality from Tina Tongen, a Phenomenal Touch Massage Therapy Specialist

Tina Tongen1) Tell us a bit more about you and your practice as it is today? i.e. are you a solo practitioner or a business owner? If solo, what kind of an establishment do you work for, how large is it, what is the clientele like, what is the specialty offered? If it is a business that you own, kindly include the same time of relevant information that will give the reader a good idea about your establishment/practice. Please also include where you live and work? 

I have my own practice, which I’m planting seeds to build in Boulder, Colorado. I call my practice Seeds of Transformation Massage Therapy because of the beautiful gifts this work has brought to me and through me. I am a solo practitioner, and I specialize in Phenomenal Touch Massage — a unique modality that offers much nurturing to the client through the principle of embracing both sides of the body at once, dropping in a sensing, and participating in a flowing dance of energy.

It’s very creative, and fun to practice. I love that it keeps me on my toes, not knowing a routine to follow, but to actually use my senses and continually develop my intuition, response, and communication abilities. I also do therapeutic treatment work to address my clients’ needs, deeply, on many levels. My clients are athletes and people interested in health, creativity, and personal growth; they are people who love to share themselves and their ideas with the world. I currently work with an average of 5 people a week in my own practice. I have a goal to fill 15 hours/week with my own private clients. I rent a shared office with other therapists.

Over the last few years I’ve invested much of my energy into developing connection to clients through another company. I still gain most of my revenue through them, even though I get paid about 1/2 of the charge for each massage. This is good if you stay booked with regulars, and it’s much higher than industry average (Although, we are independent contractors and have to pay our own taxes).

This company has started to grow over the last few years to now employ over 40 massage practitioners and maybe 7 front desk staff between several locations. We have walk-in or appointments available. The business started out as chair massage in Whole Foods ten years ago, and has now grown to have two other locations offering chair massage, clothed table massage, mat sessions of Thai Yoga or Shiatsu or a practitioner’s fusion of modalities, and we have private sessions (unclothed sessions in private rooms).

The clientele ranges from tourists, regulars from the local community, students, athletes, psychotherapists, etc. We have an abundance of healing professionals as well as athletes here. The specialty offered at this establishment is based on each massage practitioners’ offerings, as we have many well-trained therapists who have their own blend of modalities to offer. We have a book in the lobby highlighting each of our skills, so the client can choose who suits them. It’s a unique community with well-skilled, independently-minded, creative therapists, which is why I will probably still work with them one or two days a week, even as my own practice grows.

2) Tell us why you chose to go into massage and at what point in your life did you decide to do so? What were you doing at the time? Where did you first hear about the massage career? What factors influenced your decision? What were you looking to get out of this decision? 

I came to Colorado from Florida to visit an ashram for the summer. I meant to stay at Shoshoni for one month, and I ended up staying for seven! I lived there and began to learn Ayurvedic healing and massage, and I also participated in a 200-hr yoga teacher training. This experience deepened my appreciation for the healing fields, and I’ve been a junkie ever since! I was 30 at the time.

I had gotten a divorce at age 27 with the realization that I could not live my life blaming another for my frustration. I started college and worked as a house cleaner as I wondered where this experience of learning about myself would take me. I had my AA General Transfer credits and was geared towards Nutrition, having taken Chemistry and Trig/PreCalc… but it all seemed so “heady” to me, my heart was not in it.

One night, at a gathering with girlfriends, one friend told another that she was going to go stay at this ashram in Colorado. I felt jealousy rise up in me; I thought, “well, SOME people can go do things like that!” and just a few seconds later, I felt the shift into longing… maybe I could do something like that! Thus began my journey into my heart.

3) What were some of your questions and concerns before further pursuing your massage therapy goals? Talk about concerns with school and the profession itself. 

I remember feeling overwhelmed with learning anatomy and the patterns of pain associated with trigger points. I’m always deepening my understanding of the patterns of holding in the body, and how hypertension needs to be addressed in associated areas, not just the area experiencing the pain. For example, adaptively shortened anterior shoulder muscles will overstretch the posterior muscles, and pain is felt there. I think we as massage therapists get better with age, as all of this wisdom comes together.

Another concern I had (that I’ve been tested with and learned to address) was clearly communicating boundaries around sexual expression. A good client intake form will have a short explanation of the agreement that it is non-sexual massage and have a space for client signature. If something in the client’s communication seems off, I’ve learned it’s better to take the time to clarify their needs and be prepared to clearly state my own.

I made the mistake of being too kind and just wanting to keep working, even when I was uncomfortable with how the client was talking and acting. I really didn’t enjoy that, but I was just stunned with disbelief the first time it happened. Now I state clearly the expectations and agreements I need to have with a client — touch goes one way, and they are to receive.

I tell them if I’m uncomfortable with something, and I ask them to stop, or I end the massage if it’s still uncomfortable. This is rare, it’s only happened twice in the three years I’ve been practicing. Yet, I appreciate that this work brings me to my edges of comfort at times, so I can grow more confident in how I articulate myself and show up in the world.

4) What is your specialty and what are the top three contributing factors to your success today? 

I practice Phenomenal Touch Massage, which is very nurturing and embracing — it’s three-dimensional massage, moving the client as if in water. I also bring therapeutic treatment work into the sessions to address clients’ needs on many levels. I use Muscles Energy Techniques, Myofascial work, Trigger Point Therapy, Passive Positional Release, etc to help the body release chronic holding patterns.

The top factors for my success today are that I listen to my clients before and during the session to address their needs, I drop in and sense the body and it’s needs and follow my intuition, and I continue to broaden my education so I can offer the best experience and skills to myself and my clients. After the session I offer a treatment plan: when I would suggest coming back in (how many times and how often to address a certain area). This helps them to see what’s needed to resolve pain, and they are more likely to reschedule to accomplish this.

5) What do you like about your specialty? What do you like about what you do in general as a career? Why? 

I specialize in Phenomenal Touch Massage, and I like that it’s creative, sensing what is happening in the moment; it deepens my connection with my intuition, as I follow the energetic momentum of the body and it’s movements.

I love to experience deeper breathing as I center into my own body so I can work from a grounded place as I interact with my clients. It is satisfying, also, to see my client deepen into their body and their breathing. Why? I love that I can contribute to stress and pain relief of the people around me. Being around happy, grateful people, I also feel grateful!

6) What do you not like about what you do? Why? 

Sometimes my shoulders and wrists get tight, and at times I’ve had nerve pain in one arm and wrist. I went to my Orthopedic massage mentor and had him work on me for three 45-min sessions, and it went away, thankfully.

7) If there were three things you could change about your work or the industry as a whole what would they be? Why would you change them? What would you change them to? 

I would like massage to be more valued and utilized in our health system and society in general. I would like to see massage programs subsidized by our government, so that all levels of our people can receive the healing effects of human touch, and the people who offer it can be supported as well. We would be a more healthy, creative, and satisfied society, I believe, if people could receive healing touch regularly — at least once a month.

8) How long do you plan to practice and what do you plan to do after? 

I keep diving into new training opportunities. I’ll practice as long as I can, as the massage I do is pretty active and keeps me strong… it’s like I’m dancing, changing levels, scooping under, stretching back, etc… it’s pretty dynamic.

I continue to refine my technique so that I use the weight of my body to drop in through my bones, so as not to “muscle” through the massage. I love the dance of offering massage in this way.

As I get older, my body may want to offer more stillness. I’ve considered doing more Craniosacral Therapy training. I also have a dream of creating a holistic healing center, with water and plants to rest by in the central lobby, and many healing rooms of different modalities around the perimeter.

9) Do you currently have another job or business whether full time or part time? Tell us a bit more about it and how you are able to juggle that with your massage career? 

I only do massage. Yet, developing my understanding of business, making and updating my website, designing and updating business cards, promo materials, etc… is like another job of it’s own; I’m also my own secretary, graphics and IT person! Recently, I’ve decided to reach out to other professionals in business (both massage and other) and share our information. I enjoy the business part more when I can network!

10) What are some mistakes you made in your career pursuit that you’d like to warn other students about so they can learn from your experience and avoid it? 

When I started out I worked for $20/hr. That’s okay for awhile, to gain experience… but don’t get stuck there! If you love what you do, you can grow your own practice, or even work for a company that pays a bit more. Please value your services and what you have to offer.

You have to take care of yourself first, so you can be full and healthy to offer presence and healing energy to your clients. A good way to get clear on your value (and what you can charge) is to keep connected to other professionals who do similar work. Have business meetings, tea, connect with one another, do trades if you like. We are in a profession where we offer a lot of care to people — make sure to take the time for you! Give & receive/support & learn from each other. It’s not so bad, being with other skilled and caring people 🙂

11) What would you advice someone who is looking at massage therapy schools? What do you recommend they look for and how? How do you recommend they determine whether the school is the right one for them?

Look for a well-organized Anatomy & Physiology training, as well as good subtle energy training (programs that have Shiatsu, Integrative Massage, and/or Craniosacral Therapy support this). It’s also important to have good ethics training.

Call the school and talk to them, find out what the school is known for — what are their strengths? Talk to the admissions team about what you are looking for in a school and see if it’s a good fit for you. Of course, visit the campus and talk to actual students, if you can. Just being there, “in the field” of where you will be training, should give you a felt-sense if it’s the right place for you.

12) What do you recommend for someone who wants to go to massage school but cannot afford it? 

I went to an accredited school, so I took out student loans for my 1000-hr Certification and 500-hr Associates of Occupational Studies degree at the Boulder College of Massage Therapy. Mind you, I’m in debt and paying it back. Some schools have the training structured into once-a-month 4-day training. This allows the students to work full-time, and also attend class 4-days a month. There are options — call the school and ask what they would suggest and if they offer scholarships.

13) What are your three biggest points of advice for an aspiring massage therapist today? What should they do/not do? What should they think about and consider? 

Hmmm, I would say that while you’re in school, just soak up the experience as much as you can — it can be a very transformational time. Take your down time seriously — get as much rest as you can to let your body-mind-spirit integrate the new stimuli and information. Know that all the information will come with time.

One day you will just start talking with (this mysterious new) understanding of the connections in the human body, and how to work with them. Know also, that our understanding is always evolving. Offer nurturing, even with deep-tissue work. Know that we’re all human and we’re doing the best we can. Let yourself just be present with what you are sensing as you work. Your clients will feel the effects. They’ll think you’ve been doing this for years!

As for just starting out, if you’re confident in business, go for it with your own practice. But don’t be afraid to work for someone you respect and you can learn from, and who pays you reasonably. Make sure you get regular massage if you are working a lot. It will make a difference in your demeanor, what you have to offer, and your client retention.

14) Any open thoughts / comments – anything else that you’d like to share about yourself, the massage industry, profession, future, etc? If nothing, make one prediction for the future of massage? 

I love that I get paid well to practice self-care and pass this wisdom along as I care for others. I love how working with people in this way is an energetic anchor for me to ground into what I value most in my life.

15) What is your passion outside of massage? What are your hobbies and interests which you pursue when you are not working? Tell us why you enjoy what you enjoy. 

Outside of massage, I dance a lot at a studio in Boulder, called Alchemy of Movement. I just did a teacher training for Soul Sweat, which is a dance fusion of hip-hop, Latin, African, modern and lyrical dance… fitness-oriented. Teachers do their own choreography, so It’s very creative.

I love dance because it frees my soul, it expresses so many parts of me that don’t get touched in everyday life! I can be a drama queen, a spicy Flamenco dancer, a tough hip-hop gansta! Seriously, it’s fun! And the cardio kicks my but every time, I love it!

On a more meditative note, I regularly study with a spiritual school known as The Diamond Approach. We practice Inquiry to see more clearly the reality of our individual human experience. I do this so I can reclaim lost parts of who I am, and so I can know myself in a more direct way.

Tina Tongen has an Associate of Occupational Studies degree (AOS), is nationally certified in therapeutic massage and bodywork NCTMB, is a Certified Phenomenal Touch Massage Practitioner and certified yoga teacher CYT. She can be reached on her website, her Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn page.

Neal Lyons is a founding member and volunteer contributor at the MTSI Institute, an information based portal dedicated to guiding and assisting aspiring massage therapists establish a successful career in massage. Neal is a published author and has collaborated on several mobile applications that serve the massage profession. You can view his published work on Amazon, iTunes, Barnes & Noble, Sony and Kobo. You can connect with him on Facebook, Twitter and on Google+

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