In the latest in a series of interviews with 2019 FHT Training Congress expert speakers, we speak to Kathryn Ellis about Thai yoga massage, music, and managing to avoid overuse injuries.
Tell us a bit of background about yourself…
I first came across the wonderful art of Thai yoga massage when I saw it demonstrated at the end of a yoga class. It was captivating to watch and even better to receive. Never having thought of myself as a particularly physical person, it completely won me over and I decided to train as a massage therapist. I’ve never looked back and now my whole work and life revolves around working with the connection between the physical and the mind.
I’ve been working full-time in the industry now for 12 years, principally as a massage therapist, but also as a massage trainer (for 10 years) and yoga teacher (for three years).
I originally trained as a musician (studying flute at University and music college) and then veered off into advertising/marketing. I had 10 wonderful years in the fast-paced, exciting world of advertising in London, doing some amazing jobs (I was a strategic media planner for two of the top five advertising agencies, and ended up as ITV’s marketing manager). However, I didn’t feel that that world was particularly conducive to having a family, and so I gave it up to become mum to two wonderful boys.
Give us an insight in to your normal day to day schedule…
I love my job because no two days are alike! I’m not an early riser (I’ve always struggled to wake up before 8am) and now I no longer have to get up early! My natural rhythm is geared more towards the latter part of the day, which suits my work perfectly. I love sitting in bed in the morning with my dog, having a drink and catching up on the news and interesting articles on social media. I always love the fact that I’m answering emails from my bed whilst others are having to negotiate the rush hour traffic.
If I’m not teaching or going to a yoga class, I’ll then walk the dog with my husband (who also works from home) and we discuss ideas for both our businesses and make a plan for the day. I never book people in for a massage before 10.30am so the morning is never too rushed. When I’m teaching it’s slightly different and I usually start 9.30am-10am, but I usually prepare the evening before, so it’s not too rushed on those days either.
What interests you outside of work
My main interest outside of work is music. I’m a semi-professional singer (soprano voice, singing mostly classical music). I usually describe myself as a very serious amateur, which basically means that sometimes I get paid to sing, but often I don’t! I sing at a lot of charity events and mostly solos and in small ensembles (usually with just one to three other singers), accompanied by a pianist or small orchestra. Outside music, I spend most of my time with my family (two teenage sons, dog and husband – in that order!)
What is your Training Congress seminar about?
So often I come across massage therapists who are dealing with a lot of pain (thumbs, hands, back) or have had to give up their work after only a few years. It’s such a shame because by adapting their routine and their approach, they could offer a brilliant massage with a lot less effort on their part. I was very fortunate in that my first massage discipline was Thai yoga massage which is such a clever form of treatment in the way we use our body. Just by changing your position slightly, or by changing the position of your client, you can make the massage not only a lot easier to give, but more effective for the client as well. I really want to share some of these clever techniques/approaches with other therapists.
I teach Thai yoga massage (TYM) which is a floor-based treatment, but I’ve also adapted the routine to use on the couch. Although more people have heard of Thai yoga massage now, I’m always amazed how many people don’t really know what it is. At the seminar, I’d like to share some fundamental moves that we use in TYM and also some of the ways I’ve adapted the same moves into the Table Thai Stretch massage treatment I teach. I’d really like the seminar attendees to take away some ideas that they could incorporate into the existing treatments they offer.
What is it about your topic that appeals to you and why is it useful for therapists?
I recently read that we should challenge ourselves to take our massage practice and transform it into something that can support us to stay healthy and happy. I found the article so interesting as this was exactly what first got me interested in learning TYM and what motivated me to take it up as a career. I’d fallen in love with yoga a few years earlier but always felt that I wasn’t flexible enough and didn’t seem to improve despite going to class 3-4 times a week. However, through learning TYM and regularly practising it by doing lots of treatments, I noticed that my hips were becoming more open and my back was getting stronger; my balance improved, and movements became more fluid. I was spending hours each day practising this form of movement meditation, which gave me space to focus and to realise that I was loving all aspects of my work. I wasn’t just helping my clients; I was helping myself.
Through my teaching, I feel I’m on a bit of a mission to share this approach with other therapists and the training congress is a great way to share it on a bigger scale. How great would it be if everyone could feel this way in their work!
What will attendees of your seminar expect to come away with?
My aim is for attendees to have a better understanding of TYM, the fundamentals of what makes it different to other types of massage, as well as some techniques they could transfer to their couch massage—to appreciate that they don’t need to work quite so hard to give an effective treatment.
Are there any other seminars in the programme which look particularly interesting to you?
Oh yes, there are loads of really interesting seminars in the programme. The problem is I can’t be in three places at once. I’ll also be volunteering TYM in the Chill-Out Zone as well, so won’t have much time to go to them, sadly. However, if I had to choose just one, I would probably go to John Bram Levine’s seminar on ‘Boost your therapy with Brainwave music’. I love any opportunity to bring together my three loves: massage, yoga and music, and I’m sure I’d find his seminar really interesting.
What would be your one piece of advice for therapists wanting to grow and develop their therapy practice?
Learn from a teacher who still regularly works (pain-free) as a massage therapist. Our clients are our best teachers and it’s important that we, as teachers, continue to learn. There are so many aspects to growing and maintaining a therapy practice but learning good manual techniques is the most fundamental of all.
Join us at the 2019 FHT Training Congress from Sunday 19 to Monday 20 May at the Holistic Health Show, NEC Birmingham.
For more details about the talks and to book, visit fht.org.uk/congress