An Interview with Sean Riehl

When and how did you decide to become a bodyworker?
I decided to go to massage school in 1991. I had gotten the book “Hands of Light” and discovered energy work. I realized I should get some certification to be able to do energy work on people and charge them money. I didn’t really expect to learn much in massage school- I just wanted to practice what I had learned in the book. After the first class, I realized I had a so much to learn. After a few classes I became interested in anatomy and injury work from a very clinical, technical perspective. This was exactly the opposite of why I had entered massage school. I feel that the combination of anatomically accurate massage and the energy work perspective make the most perfect blend to helping clients find healing and recovery from injuries.
What do you find most exciting about bodywork therapy?
I enjoy the fact that each client is unique, and that as a practitioner, I can keep learning throughout my practice.
How did Real Bodywork start making massage educational videos?
Sean and Geri Riehl taught massage in Santa Barbara, California. At the request of their students as a way to remember the information that was being taught, they created a set of DVDs that mirrored the information shown in class. Their first DVD set, Deep Tissue and Neuromuscular Therapy, shows all the techniques taught in a 100 hour NMT class. The next set, Myofascial Release mirrors a 50 hour myofacial class. Although they fell in love with the video making process, they were surprised that each title took 300-400 hours to create. As the business grew organically,  Sean and Geri began to branch out and hire instructors to teach various modalities. The successive 30 DVDs consist of master therapists from all throughout the United States and Canada. Real Bodywork continues to support massage excellence by bringing quality DVDs to the massage community.
What is the most popular trend in the massage industry at the moment?
A move to more clinical and therapeutic-style bodywork. It seems massage has come a long way to become quite mainstream and legitimized in the eyes of the medical community. Therapists are trained better than ever before, and treating clients with more intelligence and skill than ever before.
How do you see Real Bodywork fitting into those trends?
Real Bodywork is helping further therapists’ education by providing training DVDs that focus on assessment and the benefits of specific techniques. Many of our DVDs bring techniques that have traditionally been taught to physical therapists or osteopaths, such as nerve mobilization, positional release and assessment techniques. Our DVDs continue to help therapists learn new modalities at an affordable price.
What challenges do massage therapists face now?
With an increase in training, assessment techniques and understanding of physical anatomy, the quality of energy and presence in a session can decrease. As massage therapy moves closer to the mainstream medical model, therapists will be challenged to hold onto the valuable energy therapy techniques and a spiritual basis – foundation of presence, compassion and calming touch – of massage as healing.
How does Real Bodywork help massage therapists meet those challenges?
Our line of DVDs includes both clinical styles of massage and energy-based styles of massage.
What opportunities are available to massage therapists that weren’t available 25 years ago?
Twenty-five years ago massage therapists had to educate people that they weren’t prostitutes. Now, massage is respected and people understand the benefits without the tie to sexuality. Almost everyone I know has had a massage or knows someone who regularly gets massage. Therapists now are making their way into hospitals and physical therapy offices and gelling referrals from doctors. Massage therapy has also become a mainstay at spas and retreat centers. Massage therapists are respected, and people see massage as a real career.
How does Real Bodywork help massage therapists realize those opportunities?
Real Bodywork helps therapists increase their skills by providing comprehensive training DVDs that are clear and easy to understand. From our DVDs, therapists who already have a good foundation in fundamentals of massage can easily learn new modalities. Knowing a variety of modalities can help the therapist compete when getting a job at a spa or doctor’s office. By learning new types of massage, therapists can help their clients heal more effectively.
How do you see the future of massage therapy?
There is a trend toward more education and more clinical training and anatomical knowledge, which is great. Unfortunately, if it is not coupled with patience, presence and a sense of compassion, we may have a lot of bodywork “technicians” instead of wholistic practitioners. I see some schools forgetting to nurture the presence of the practitioner as a healing modality. I am hopeful that the people that advocate the body-mind connection and teach energy bodywork and the connection between emotions and physical injuries can learn to articulate their healing models in a way that is less air-fairy, and more practical to a main-stream audience.
Massage will be integrated into standard medical treatment. It will be commonplace for hospitals to employ massage therapists. In doctors’ offices, you will be seen by the nurse and doctor, and perhaps be able to get a massage at the same time. The connection between the emotional, spiritual, mental and physical parts of our being will be more recognized and respected. People will get massage more regularly to avoid injury and dysfunction before it manifests.
How will Real Bodywork meet the future needs of the massage industry?
Real Bodywork will continue to create massage DVDs that are comprehensive and full of great techniques that therapists can apply in their practices.
What advise you can give to fresh massage therapists who wish to make a career out of it?
Remember that you are communicating to the body below the level of the persons mind. The body’s language is one of movement, pressure, stretch and resistance. Your bodywork session is a conversation with the body using this language. Really slow, steady and rhythmical styles of bodywork communicate healing the best. i.e.- go really slow during your session. If you are doing fast strokes- you are trying to talk to the body using your mind- you can’t force it. Do the work really slow. Static, sustained pressure and an attitude of patience will allow the body to heal the best. When working on clients with injuries, you should learn to test the area, work and re-test before the session is over. That way you can see if the “conversation” that you are having with the body is working.
Sean Riehl is the founder and president of Real Bodywork, a leading company based in Santa Barbara that produces high quality educational DVDs for manual therapits and healthcare practitioners. Sean graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Religious Studies & Studio Art from University of California at Santa Barbara. Sean believes that it is the information, not the instructor, that is important  and therefore he tries to keep a low profile.