Practice on me! Massage clinics a win-win for the community and students in training

  • Angelika Bay, top left, of South Hadley, massages Deirdre Torres, of Holyoke, as Jen Matos, of Belchertown, massages Sophie Leavitt, of Northampton, during a class at the school. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Jen Matos, top, of Belchertown, massages Sophie Leavitt, of Northampton, during a massage class at The Massage School in Easthampton, Tuesday, June 25, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Alexei Levine, the owner and founder of The Massage School in Easthampton, watches as Cleo DeOliveira, of Agawam, massages Tracy Messina, of South Hadley, during a class, Tuesday, June 25, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Top photo, Ivy Woodrow, of Northampton, massages Rebecca Orloske, of Northampton. STAFF PHOTOS/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Morgan Hardrick, right, of Springfield, massages Emily Stewart, of Easthampton, during a massage class at The Massage School in Easthampton, Tuesday, June 25, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Students are required to complete a 650-hour curriculum before applying to the state to become licensed massage therapists. Saskia Coté, top left, an advanced techniques instructor, helps Ivy Woodrow, of Northampton, as she massages Rebecca Orloske, of Northampton at the school. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Jillian Southwick-Hall, who is an anatomy and physiology instructor at The Massage School in Easthampton, talks to a class. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 7/8/2019 2:01:59 PM

Nearly 100 people a week attend the massage clinics at the Easthampton Massage School, many of which have made the visits a weekly or monthly routine.

“I thought massages were like a luxury cruise or something,” ​​​​​​said Greenfield resident Carla Robbins, who attends the clinics on a weekly basis because, she explains, they help with her back pain. “I walk out of here and I think the world is just a better place.”

The Massage School offers $35 massage clinics for hour-long massages that owners Alexei Levine and Valerie Hood say provide affordable massages to the community while giving students the practice they need. The massage school also has clinics in Boston and St. Paul, Minnesota.

Students are required to complete a 650-hour curriculum before they can apply to the state to become licensed massage therapists. Hood and Levine founded the Massage School in Amherst in 2001, and moved the school to its current location at 1 Northampton Street in 2005.

Robbins said that although relief can come immediately from a massage from one of the school’s students, it’s also had long-term benefits over the past decade attending the clinics.

“I have chronic back pain, and when I got a sciatica problem, I tried every way to treat it in the world through medicine and physical therapy,” she said. “I really believe it started to get better once I started getting the massages every week.”

Other people leaving the clinic on a recent afternoon said they have gone to the clinics for several years and many said it has given them relief from everyday stress and persistent muscle aches.

For the past ten years, Rachel Carrington of Holyoke has gone to the clinics about once or twice a month and she said it’s helped her with back pain and to relax. “They always know somehow where the knots are that I had no idea were there,” she said.

Elizabeth Tudryn of Chicopee goes monthly to the clinics and she said the massages’ long-term benefits have included lowered blood pressure, an increased positive attitude and more mindfulness towards taking care of her body.

On a recent afternoon, students at the Easthampton Massage School were swapping massages, kneading and working the tension in each other’s lowers backs and shoulders with their hands, knuckles and elbows. Students were learning side lying techniques, which are used when a patient cannot lie on their back due to a pregnancy, broken limbs or another injury.

Anywhere between six to 13 people attend each hour-long session, held on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Wednesdays from 1:30 p.m. to 9 p.m., and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.

The school has a class of about 40 to 50 students a year, and Tenzin Chodon of Hadley began taking massage classes since last September. Something she said she noticed since giving massages is how much tension people are carrying in their bodies.

“It’s in our culture, especially in this day and age,” Chodon said. “We think to push through the pain if your back is hurting and you’re at work, you’ve got to keep working and people have pushed their bodies too much and disconnected so much.”

She added, “The most healing aspect of massages is you get contact with someone and it’s just for the sake of caring and relaxing.”

Emilia Zimmermann, of Amherst, has about 18 more massages left before she completes her course at the Massage School. She said she only had one massage before enrolling in the school, but she has found that through massages she is encouraging people’s bodies to activate their parasympathetic nervous system.

She has also seen people who are looking for relief from back pain, recovering from knee surgery and people who have repetitive injuries from their work.

“Low back pain is exacerbated by so many aspects of modern life — driving, sitting at work, sitting at home, lifting without using proper form,” said Levine. “Also, performing things like yoga without proper form can hurt your lower back.”

Many people enjoy massages simply because it can provide relief from stress and relax muscles, and Levine says it essentially is that simple because most people “are running at what is called a touch deficit.”

For Mo Lyons, massage therapy has helped in unexpected ways.

A sailing trip in 2001 off the coast of Cape Cod left her with an eye infection called Pseudomonas that caused her to begin losing vision in her left eye. After eye surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital in 2005, there were complications.

“I received a cornea transplant and my body began rejecting it,” said Lyons, of Greenfield. “I was put on very caustic — and costly — medication.”

And there were side effects. She began losing her hair and she felt a lot of discomfort from her eye until a doctor in Boston she was seeing suggested she try massage therapy to help relieve duress from her eye.

“I immediately saw result,” Lyons said. For over the past decade, Lyons has gone to the Massage School’s clinics and now she visits on a weekly basis.

“I find that my body is back in line, I feel healthy and it’s wonderfully affordable,” Lyons said. “It was a revolution for me to see Boston taking a look at alternative medicine.”

Luis Fieldman can be reached at

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