Renewed in New York at the AMTA: Reflecting on the 2014 Chapter Convention

Enrich, Aspire, Grow…. that was the theme of this year’s New York Chapter American Massage Therapy Association’s (AMTA) Annual Convention. Upon returning from the event, the eleven massage therapy students who accompanied me and I can attest that this year’s conference delivered all three.

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Two weeks ago I attended the AMTA-NY Chapter’s 23rd Annual Statewide Convention. Of the twenty-three conventions that the state has held, this was the ninth one that I’ve participated in. Every year my students from Finger Lakes Community College’s Therapeutic Massage and Integrated Health Care Program fundraise throughout the academic year so they have an opportunity to attend the conference, which consists of over 25 different massage therapy workshops to choose from. These workshops cover a variety of both hands-on techniques and ethical/ business practices related to the massage therapy profession. This is a great opportunity for the students to receive additional education in the field of massage therapy beyond the information and hands-on techniques that are covered within a massage program. Students work diligently throughout the academic year to raise funds to attend the conference by offering chair massages, selling hand-made wellness crafts, hosting spa nights that include giving one-hour Swedish massages, as well as other fundraising activities.AmberandNatalia

Attending the conference offers the students a chance to reap the rewards of their hard work by being able to leave town with their classmates for the three-day, three night event. While attending, they learn invaluable information about their field of study, as well as network with hundreds of experienced massage therapy professionals. “I especially enjoyed the community aspect of the conference,” shared Tim Holmes, a current sophomore in FLCC’s Massage Program who joined us at this year’s event. “I felt everyone was there to support one another and help each other to succeed.”

The AMTA-NY convention also benefits those who are already Licensed Massage Therapists (LMT’s) in New York by offering up to 24 Continuing Education Units (CEU’s), which are now required for LMT’s to keep their registration current. As a result, I had the great pleasure to connect with several of my former students from FLCC’s massage program who graduated over the past twelve years since I began teaching in the program. On the first day of the conference, I ran into Michael Durso (’11) at one of the vendor’s marketplace tables, and he shared that he is excited about the conference and already greatly enjoying himself. Here he is checking out Patrick Ingrassia’s information about his massage training programs in Costa Rica.


This year’s conference was located at the Double Tree by Hilton Hotel in Tarrytown, NY; a quaint village located about 25 miles north of New York City in Westchester County.

Tarrytown - Photo by Anne PytlakOur group arrived that Thursday evening, and began workshops promptly at 8:00am that Friday morning, which continued throughout the weekend until Sunday afternoon.

Upon entering the convention, I conversed a bit with the AMTA-NY’s Chapter President of the past two years, Cindy Allen, and also with Pat Collins, the Convention Chairperson and Immediate Past-President. I asked them what they feel are the greatest benefits of the conference. “I think the conference is a great opportunity for massage therapists from all over the state to network,” said Cindy. “I also think we can’t discount the value of the CEUs for massage therapists, too. In just three days they can receive up to 24 CEUs.”

Pat chimed in that the conference also provides participants with very high-value educators and ‘super-star’ presenters who are very well known in the field. “As the government relations chair, this is also our member’s opportunity to cast their vote for who they want to represent New York State to the National Convention, and also who they want to represent them on the board,” shared Pat. “It also gives them an opportunity to let the state directors hear their voices and let them know what is important to them.” Pat also added that we shouldn’t forget that the AMTA-NY convention participants like to have fun, too. “The Saturday night banquet is always a great time and we have an excellent DJ. Everyone will be out dancing Saturday night.”


Each day of the conference consisted of seven concurrent four-hour long workshops. Some of the topics covered at this year’s conference consisted of Orthopedic Massage, Craniosacral Therapy, Essential oils for massage therapists, Pediatric Massage, Massage Ethics, and body mechanics, amongst other workshops. Presenters included some acclaimed practitioners in the field, such as James Waslaski, Eric Stephenson, Tina Allen, and Kerry D’Ambrogio. The students attended several various workshops, and they raved enthusiastically about their experiences.Ariel,Amber,Anne -photo by Anne Pytlak

James Waslaski’s workshops were especially popular. “I thought James Waslaski was brilliant and creative” said program sophomore Ali Newman, who also practiced as an LMT in the state of Virginia for over fifteen years. “The way he incorporated all of his knowledge together into creating his own technique is life-altering.”

Ariel Toulson from the program’s freshman class concurred. “I loved my workshop with James Waslaski. I thought he was excellent!” Ariel shared excitedly. “Learning deep tissue and being exposed to a whole new realm of bodywork and healing to prevent surgery is amazing.” Ariel’s enthusiasm emanated from her face. Here she is with program sophomore Chelsea Morseman, waiting for one of James’s workshops to begin:


I ran across a few other familiar faces while visiting this class, too, including a couple of our program graduates – Dawn (’08) and Amanda (’08) who were also awaiting James’s stellar presentation.DawnandAmanda

In fact, James Waslaski’s workshop was so packed that I stumbled over massage table legs and chairs about four times while attempting to take these photos…or perhaps it was due to the class beginning at 8:00am and my realization that I hadn’t had my morning coffee yet…. (I was far more composed an hour later).

Many of the students enjoyed the other presenters’ workshops as well.  Program sophomore (and soon to be graduate) Natalia Padilla was impressed with Eric Stephenson’s sensitivity to having people of different skill levels working together in his classes. “Eric Stephenson was very conscious about the students practicing in class and he was very aware,” shared Natalia. “He gave us a great deal of feedback and individual attention.” Anne Pytlak from our freshman class agreed that Eric was an excellent presenter. “My favorite workshop was the low-back pain workshop with Eric. He was really great at explaining things, and I also had the opportunity to partner with someone in the class who has over fifteen years of experience as an LMT.”

Program freshman Nikki Leigh enjoyed Eric Stephenson’s workshops as well. Here she is waiting to begin his Body Mechanics workshops:


Other presenters were enjoyed and appreciated as well. Amber Stowell from the sophomore class attended all of the aromatherapy workshops with Marc Gian. “It was extremely educational,” shared Amber. “I took all of the aromatherapy classes, and I feel like I learned a lot and can add them into my massage practice. “

Tim Holmes attended the entire series of Craniosacral therapy workshops, and felt the teacher, Tad Wanveer, was “phenomenal.”

In addition to the workshops, another enjoyable aspect of the conference is the Vendor’s Marketplace, which is set up all along the hallway of the convention area near the workshop rooms. During class breaks, attendees have the opportunity to purchase massage products, sample items such as pain relieving gels and aromatherapy, as well as receive mini-massage treatments from vendors who are advertising their continuing education workshops and unique massage techniques. Vendors

I stopped by the Nayada Institute’s booth to receive a massage from the school’s founder, Patrick Ingrassia, with one of his self-created hot stone acu-rollers. I must admit, I enjoyed my mini-session with the acu-roller so much that I decided to purchase one. I wasn’t the only attendee to purchase one, either. Here is Patrick in the process of making a sale with another LMT attendee soon after I bought mine.Patricksellingroller

After receiving my acu-roller mini-session, I walked to the other side of the hall to receive a deeply relaxing facial massage from continuing education provider Yuri Esperson. I decided I should take full advantage of all of the opportunities the convention had to offer, after all….free samplings of massages don’t display in a runway before my eyes every day.



Once again, the final evening of the conference concluded with a buoyant evening of delicious food, generous awards and raffles, and, of course the dance.

Our group always actively participates in all of the events at the banquet. “I almost felt like I was at a wedding reception at the banquet. It was so much fun!” shared Nikki Leigh.

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Lucky program freshman Renee Bartley won a certificate for a free class during ‘Fascia Week’ at the Red Pines Training Center in Albany.  As you can see, she is very excited about her prize.

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My colleague Maria Petricola and I sat at a table with a bunch of LMT’s who graduated from FLCC’s 2008 class. Here I am enjoying the company of Sarah, Amanda, Dawn, and Leasa.

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Oh….Have I mentioned already that massage therapists love to dance and have fun? At last year’s conference, our massage students were the first ones out on the floor. This year, it seemed nearly the entire room got out on the floor at once, and our group was right in the center of it, mixed in with several of FLCC’s massage therapy alumni.GirlsontheDanceFloor - photo by Anne Pytlak

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Leasa (’08) can always be counted on to raise the heat on the dance floor.


So…. Reflecting on this event two weeks ago, this was indeed another successful year at the AMTA-NY chapter convention. FLCC’s current massage program freshmen are already planning fundraising activities to raise funds to attend next year’s event. Renee Bartley, who will be our Massage Club president next year, urges all of her classmates and next year’s Freshmen to get involved so they can attend the conference next year. “Although I loved all of it, my favorite part of the conference is the sense of community within the massage therapy profession,” shared Renee.  “We’re all coming together from different parts of New York State and specialize in different modalities, and we are at different levels in our education. The professionals were very patient and really willing to work with us students and help up. Of course, the dance is also so much fun, too.”


…In exactly two weeks from today, I will be departing for Thailand once again with six students and program graduates. Come back and visit often, as I’ll be introducing my fellow travelers very soon!

Happy Spring!

*A special thank you to Anne Pytlak and Aromatherapy Guild/Ian Barbour for contributing photos to this post.

A Return to Thailand

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After a very long hiatus from my blog, I return again, this time anticipating a visit to paradisiacal Southeast Asia for another trip to Thailand. As with the 2012 visit, I will have six graduates from Finger Lakes Community College’s Therapeutic Massage and Integrated Health Care Program accompanying me on this adventure. We depart in less than two months.

This past winter has been a turbulent season of brutally chilling conditions, even for those of us used to a more hyperborean region. My black winter coat ended most days with an ashen layer of smutty salt from my car. Since my last post, I’ve experienced an unexpected family death and witnessed heartbreaking grief, learned of loved ones who have been diagnosed with chronic illnesses, and watched friends endure some up -heaving life changes. I admit, the Chinese year of the Water Snake was not one I was sad to see end. But, at the dawning of this 2014 Chinese Year of the Wood Horse, I look forward to predictions of adventure and fast victories. It is said to be a great year for travel – and the more off-beat and exotic, the better.  Although there may be places more uncommonly visited than Thailand, there are few I’ve been to that are more exotic. So, the Horse Year seems a suitable one for me to pack my bags again and embark on that twenty-eight hour flight to the Eastern hemisphere.

As I reflect on these past few months, I’ve strived to lighten my heavier than usual spirits by drawing on some of the Buddhist teachings I’ve gathered from various books and journals. I enjoy exploring these teachings as a path to learning what I can attain through these sometimes more painful life experiences. Perhaps things don’t really get solved, but rather, need to fall apart to allow room for what we don’t know. We can shut down and feel resentment, or we can breathe through the trembling quality that groundlessness brings, and remember that this isn’t the end of the story. We don’t know what is possible on this adventure. We can call it good or call it bad, but in reality, we really don’t know. We can retreat from the uncertainty and become crippled by it, or we can let in room for the unknown and experience the growth that the wisdom we may gain from our experiences can bring.

Truth be told, I consider myself a terrible Buddhist, and in fact, I don’t tend to label myself in a distinct category in general. I often fervidly hang on to things I love or that bring me comfort, …my favorite dish, a bookmark someone gave me fifteen years ago, the hand-made cards given to me by my second grade classmates when I had my tonsils removed, …my favorite chair. I recall words people have spoken to me, both kind and harsh, both recently and from long ago past. They stamp on my memory as if I could push a button and instantly replay the moment. And, like many of us humans, I wish to count on things in life as a means to fulfill my hunger for security. But, when things don’t always resolve as I expect, or when I’m reminded that things as we know them today don’t last forever in the same form, it is then that some of the most basic Buddhist foundations become my teachers.Buddha quote

The first noble truth in Buddhism teaches that suffering is inevitable in the human experience if we believe that things last forever and don’t change. Perhaps the contradiction in this, in part, is that it is in our human nature to become emotionally attached to things, or else this wouldn’t be such a challenging task to accomplish. Emotions often contradict reason. Yet, we can use this as a tool to step outside of our internal chaos and remember that when it feels like the rug has been pulled out and we have nowhere to land, that life, really, is always in transition. We can make the choice, if we want, to embrace life as a friend, even when it is uncomfortable and we want to run away. Every day we can choose to either open up or to shut down. Opening up will most often invite in possibility. Buddhism holds many teachings that I feel I have the most to learn from in my life to help me, both as a means to become a better person, and also to cope with the transient nature of life more peacefully. So, no matter how unevolved, from a Buddhist standpoint, that I may be in my actions, I still consider Buddhism to be one of my greatest allies in guiding me towards transformation.

This is one of the many reasons I enjoy visiting Thailand so much. Thailand is a predominantly Buddhist culture. Nearly 95% of its people are practicing Buddhist of the Theravada sect, which is the oldest surviving branch of Buddhism.  On nearly every street in Chiang Mai, Thailand’s second oldest city, one will see ornamented yet simple Buddhist temples, called ‘wats.’  Monks stroll along the streets, or ‘sois,’ alongside pedestrians and merchants in their orange robes and sandals. The cultural attitude in Thailand is easy going and docile. One of the most commonly used phrases is ‘mai pen rai,’ which can be translated as meaning ‘no worries,’ ‘no problem,’ or ‘it’s okay.’ A deeper meaning of this phrase, however (as I’ve been told) is to let go, or let it be, and that in this way, everything will always be okay.  This saying represents so much of what being in Thailand means to me. When I’m in Thailand, I immediately feel more relaxed, I take life as it comes, and I fret about the future much less. I feel the peaceful energy of the Thai people around me. I slow down. I remember to breathe in the moment and appreciate life’s smallest of pleasures….flower offerings at temples, a smile from a stranger, or the delightful aroma of coconut and mango tingling my nostrils as I pass a fruit shake stand. I may end my day with a relaxing foot massage, or start my day with a walk to my favorite morning market for coffee and little Thai treats.  Yes…it’s been two years, but my memories of Thailand are never buried too deeply.

One of my favorite things, though, about going on these trips is witnessing others as they take in and transition to the charming and easy pace of the Thai lifestyle. Indeed, it is contagious. Over the course of the next few weeks, I will be posting here more frequently, and introduce our massage program graduates who will be accompanying me on this summer’s trip. Now that I have broken my long lapse from here, I hope you’ll come back and visit often. As I prepare for this journey East, I’ll be here writing, teaching classes, giving Thai massages, practicing yoga, and hanging out with my adorable cats, Rumi and Simone.


Until next time,

La Gorn Kah (goodbye)