In preparation for ABMP Movie Night on Tuesday, June 22, 2021, we ask the filmmaker and star of Touched: A Massage Story to join the podcast and tell us about their experience making the documentary. Touched: A Massage Story uncovers the wisdom found in the hands of a world-renowned massage therapist, Jonathan Grassi. This documentary offers insight into the hardships of entering this profession. Inspired by his personal journey of healing from loss and isolation, Grassi masters his gift of touch through the encouragement of mentors and newfound love. Visit abmp.com/ce-socials to sign up to watch!
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0:01:18.1 Darren Buford: Welcome to The ABMP podcast. My name is Darren Buford, I'm Editor-in-Chief of Massage and Bodywork Magazine and Senior Director of Communications for ABMP.
0:01:26.4 KC: And I'm Kristin Coverly, licensed massage therapist and ABMP's Director of Professional Education.
0:01:31.9 DB: Our guest today are Chandler Toffa and Jonathan Grassi, the maker and star of the film, Touched: A Massage Story. Chandler graduated from USC's film program with a BA in Film and Television Production in East Asian Area Studies. With human connection at the focus of his work, his passion lies in bridging cultures and finding humility in the depth of what is bigger than us, one story at a time. He previously worked for Universal Pictures and currently works with Participant's documentary team in Beverly Hills. Jonathan Grassi, world champion Massage Therapist and founder of Bodywork for Liberation is dedicated to promoting somatic body work and advancing the field of massage therapy as a pillar of the healthcare system. Featured in national and local print and broadcast media, Jonathan brings vast training, expertise and passion to his work. Jonathan's approach to somatic body work is gleaned from over 2700 hours of body-centered training. Hello, Chandler, hello Jonathan and hello Kristin.
0:02:34.3 Jonathan Grassi: Darren and Kristin, good to be here. Hi.
0:02:36.8 Chandler Toffa: Hello, good to be here.
0:02:38.9 KC: Hello, we are so excited that you're both joining us today, we have so much to talk to you about, but first, listeners, I wanna make sure I share this really important announcement. We're so excited to let you know that ABMP is partnering with Chandler and Jonathan to host an ABMP movie night on Tuesday, June 22. You can learn more and register at abmp.com/ce-socials. And that collaboration is the impetus for our conversation today, so I can already imagine listeners thinking to themselves, "Massage movie? What does that mean exactly?" So let's start our conversation today by learning more about the film, so Jonathan and Chandler, please share a synopsis of the film with listeners and tell us a little bit more about how it came to be. So what was the spark that started the project.
0:03:25.7 CT: Our film, Touched: A Massage Story, uncovers the wisdom found in hands of a world-renown massage therapist, Jonathan Grassi. Following his unconventional path to healing on the outskirts of Boulder, Colorado, we begin to understand why the art of massage is present in many traditions around the world. This film, the original idea was actually to create a series about massage and around the world at how it reflected different cultural values and aspects of everyday society. And I originally got the idea while traveling, because I'm a big traveler and whenever I travel, I always see different forms of massage therapy pop up as curious to explore why it is that a massage is such a big part of the human experience all around the world. And while researching the America episode for this series, I stumbled upon Jonathan Grassi and the world massage championship, and to me, it was crazy that such a thing even existed. And so I reached out to Jonathan, he was very kind to answer my emails and calls, and I loved his approach to massage, and really wanted to find out what made him the world's third Best Massage Therapist, and part of me was also... After doing a lot of research I found there weren't really any documentaries on massage when it comes to giving a glimpse into the massage community, so I thought it was important to put something out there to give a voice to massage therapists.
0:04:53.8 JG: When Chandler first approached me with this idea, I was blown away that somebody would take the time to wanna learn the stories of massage therapists, that somebody would want to give a voice to, in my experience, an under-represented community, a community that's not well understood. And I could see from the very beginning that he was really dedicated to sharing something special, and there's never been a documentary like this, so it's pretty extraordinary.
0:05:24.4 DB: So gentlemen, the film highlights a couple of things, first the struggle to succeed as a massage therapist. Jonathan, tell us about that beginning of your own practice and finding your way.
0:05:36.3 JG: This is something Chandler, we really spent time exploring that I went through the struggle that new grads so often go through, the difficulty in finding work, the hardship of doing the physical work itself and finding your way through that process, the burnout that can come, the givers fatigue that you can experience, and also the challenge to make ends meet, it's a very real part of that journey, and so that was part of what we were able to really tell the story of what it means to stay committed to this profession, to find our way. And for me, the way through that was through advanced training, just over and over and improving my skills, improving my abilities, and eventually studying somatic psychology, which really turned things around.
0:06:27.2 DB: Jonathan, was there ever like a low point when you were starting to practice when you really couldn't... You felt like you couldn't overcome certain hurdles?
0:06:35.3 JG: Yeah, quite a few. [chuckle] There's this quotation, I don't remember who it's by, but the way to becoming a master is to make all the mistakes you can in a very small specific area of study. [chuckle] So I feel like I made all those mistakes and the barrier to sharing myself, I really had to learn that marketing wasn't egoic, that sharing what I was doing was actually out of respect to the gifts that I had to share with the world, and that was a big shift for me in terms of mindset.
0:07:13.3 KC: Yes, and I'm so, as a fellow therapist, I am so happy to hear you say that because so many of us struggle with that, of allowing us to just let people know who we are and what we have to offer and to do that in a confident way. So thank you, thank you for that. Speaking of being vulnerable, you are very open and vulnerable throughout this whole movie, which is beautiful, but I'm wondering, did you pause before saying yes? Or was it, as we call it, a full-body yes, when Chandler first approached you.
0:07:46.0 JG: Well, I was so nervous and excited, both. I really knew that we had a potential to tell and show a side of massage that's never been shown before. And I knew in my heart that what Chandler was creating was gonna elevate the profession of massage therapy in the eyes of all who saw it. The hands are mine, but the story is really the story of all massage therapists, and once I knew that Chandler, his intention and his spirit behind this, I absolutely wanted to be a part of it.
0:08:15.9 DB: There's doing body work, which is a mind frame, and then there's filming, you're being filmed doing body work, which is a whole other animal. Did that take a while to grasp?
0:08:29.4 JG: One thing that's unique about this film is by getting to know Chandler and building a relationship with him and his team, it's like he became part of the massage room, he became part of the massage experience, he was so masterful at making the sense of comfort be available and one of the things that I'm so proud of with this film is I feel like we captured some of the magic that actually happens in a massage experience. And to do that authentically, I don't think it's ever been really captured, it's really... The vulnerable core of massage comes through in this film, and that's part of it's beauty.
0:09:09.6 DB: Let's take a short break to hear a word from our sponsors.
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0:10:29.0 DB: Now, let's get back to the podcast. Chandler, what was the size of the crew working on? Was it you? Were there multiple people?
0:10:38.0 KC: Yeah, I'm imagining all of you crammed into a small massage room. [chuckle]
0:10:41.3 DB: That's what I was wondering too.
0:10:44.1 CT: Yep. That's exactly what it was. [chuckle] So we had a crew of two while shooting, or three. We had two of my friends from USC, one's name is Paul Lee, he's a cinematographer, super talented and then our sound guy was Alex Bologna, and then on the music side, we had a really super talented composer named Katya Richardson, who actually even before shooting the film, she composed a few tracks to help inspire the tone and feel of the whole film.
0:11:19.8 DB: I can say for someone, listeners having seen the film, it is absolutely beautifully filmed. It is unbelievably beautiful and totally honors the massage profession. Would you not agree, Kristin?
0:11:35.5 KC: 100%, yes.
0:11:39.3 CT: Thank you, that was all Paul. Paul made it look beautiful.
0:11:42.8 JG: Oh Chandler is so humble.
0:11:46.1 KC: So we transition then from that small, packed, full of crew massage room to the gigantic stage of the World Massage Championships. So tell us about that. A lot of listeners may not even know that exists. So Jonathan, when did that show up on your radar? When did you get interested in that? Was it before the film? How did that whole experience come to be?
0:12:11.8 JG: I started hearing about it in 2017 from a colleague, and when I first heard about it, I was like, "Huh." Really it was a head scratcher a little bit, and I think it is for a lot of massage therapists, it's kind of an unusual concept, but the more I learned about it, the more inspired I got by it, I watched some of the promo videos and just the fact that there are massage therapists who practice so many different styles coming together in one place, I was like, If I wanna live my commitment to be the very best massage therapist, I wanna be around people who have the same level of passion, the same level of commitment, and who are just as dedicated. And I felt like that was gonna be initiation, that was gonna be a way for me to really live that commitment, to offer the very best service that I can, and I never regretted it for one minute, I went in 2018 and competed, and I saw things that I would have never seen just here, and I think the viewers will see three, four techniques that are totally new, totally exciting, totally beautiful and you know, it really served me.
0:13:18.6 KC: How do they structure that? So are there different categories? Because you're right, when you watch the film viewers, it's amazing, there's so much happening in the room at the same time that your eye is drawn from one table to the next, but people are doing very different techniques and modalities. So how does that structure work?
0:13:36.6 JG: Yeah, so the way they have it set up out there at the World Championship is you do two rounds where you're actually giving massage, and then there's two rounds where you're actually receiving massage, and then there's other rounds where you're free and you can walk around and you can really go to the different rooms where they're practicing different styles, and you can see it and you can take notes or get excited or make connections, a lot of it is about building that community and sharing this mutual passion.
0:14:03.6 KC: In what category where you participating in?
0:14:06.2 JG: Yes, I participated in the freestyle category at the championship, it's really the kind of blend, the creative category, it's one of the most exciting ones. [chuckle]
0:14:15.7 KC: Yeah, and tailgating on that, how would you describe your work? How would you describe your body work and what you do with clients?
0:14:22.2 JG: Absolutely, my work comes from two things, phenomenal touch, which is a very three-dimensional flowing modality, it's like water massaging the body. You are the water, you are the wave and it's so seamless. And then the other half of my work is the modality that I've created called Body Work for Liberation, which is really this kind of meta-modality that it's a way of really looking at the depth aspects of massage experience, and that comes from my somatic psychology training, and those are the things I weave together.
0:14:53.9 KC: Yeah, beautiful blend. Chandler, what was that experience like for you at the World Massage Championships? The big deep dive, a quick one, a quick deep dive into massage therapy in all different forms, right?
0:15:06.4 CT: Yeah, it was incredible. I loved how open the community was, especially as a documentary filmmaker, we came in, we met Jeppe who was kinda heading up the World Massage Championship, and they're very open to showing what was going on, and a lot of them had fascinating stories to tell. We shot probably over maybe 15 different interviews with people from 15 different countries, we sadly didn't get to put them all into the short documentary, but they all come from vastly different backgrounds, but what brings them... As Jonathan said, what brings them together at the World Massage Championship is that wanting to hone in their craft, and really being the best at what they do while also sharing what they've learned throughout their life experiences.
0:15:55.3 DB: Jonathan, what do you have to say when people are like, "Massage is not a competition."
0:16:00.5 JG: Yeah, I've heard that one. And I get it, for us, it's such a sacred art form, so of course, there's gonna be this kind of sense of questioning it. I would say, learn more about it, see the heart behind it. If you look beyond the, " Oh, I'm gonna win a medal," aspect of it, you really start to find like, "Oh, wow, this is a way to expand my horizons."
0:16:28.1 DB: Jonathan, let me ask you a question. Prepping for this, did you work with a lot of clients or one client? And then when you went to the World Massage Championships, did you bring that client or are you now massaging a variety of clients who are then "Grading the competition?"
0:16:50.7 JG: So I approached it kinda like an Olympic athlete. I worked on as many people as I could doing practice sessions to really... I've been doing this for 15 years, but even after 15 years, there were things I wanted to even go further with, so I took this up as an opportunity to challenge myself to do even more, to push my boundaries, and so I trained. I trained every day, I do long days and work on multiple people, I worked with a colleague who now works at the clinic that I run, Eric Brown, he is a massage therapist, and so he gave me amazing feedback, he was my coach during the process. And then when you're at the competition, in the initial rounds, you work on the other participants, so the participants that are on the table are other trained massage therapists and the judges talk to them, get feedback from them, the judges don't necessarily score you based on their feedback but they use the educated perspective of the other participants to help determine their scores within the competition.
0:17:50.4 DB: And I just want listeners to know, Jonathan, where was this?
0:17:54.3 JG: This was in Denmark.
0:17:56.5 DB: Oh, that's not too bad.
0:18:00.2 DB: Holy cow.
0:18:00.6 JG: It was beautiful. We took a boat tour around the city and you get to be in beautiful Copenhagen, it was great to do that as well.
0:18:07.1 DB: And also in addition to your freestyle category, there's more traditional categories, right, there's probably traditional Swedish and things like that, right?
0:18:13.8 JG: Absolutely, yeah, the Asian Modalities are there, chair massage is a category, the Swedish like you talked about. Yeah, it keeps evolving actually, so as they're building this competition, they get more and more refined in what they're doing and how they're creating it and really highlighting all these different traditions.
0:18:34.0 DB: Jonathan, what do you hope viewers of the film take away from watching it?
0:18:41.6 JG: I think there's two pieces. One is the visual piece, the way massage is shown on the big screen, the massage underwater, the massage on the mountain tops, massage in a huge auditorium with hundreds of people watching, just the visual thrill of that. It's delightful. And then the other side of what I hope they take away is the emotional side, that they walk away with a sense of pride in what they do, that they feel this connection to a community of healers around the world, that what they share is part of an ancient art form that exists all over the world, so that sense of respect and dignity and falling in love with their passion all over again.
0:19:23.9 KC: Beautiful. And Chandler, same question to you, what do you hope that audiences take away from the film?
0:19:29.0 CT: Yeah, same as Jonathan. I think on top of, like he said, I hope they also take away kinda the authenticity that I saw in Jonathan from the very beginning, and before we even starting shooting, I interviewed a whole bunch of different massage therapists to really hone in on our main protagonist and what I found was, there's a lot out there that's very catchy to the eye, but it's more marketing, it's more like I talked to people who use snakes for massages, all those kind of crazy type of forms, not to say that they're not authentic, but what I loved about Jonathan and his craft is really this authenticity that he brings to the table, and I hope people after seeing the film see that in Jonathan and also I hope it brings that authenticity to their work, if they are a massage therapist, or even if they're not a massage therapist, to really believe in what you do as a human.
0:20:25.9 JG: Thank you, Chandler. Thank you so much.
0:20:28.2 DB: Chandler, was there anything that surprised you? I know you talked about a ton of different modalities that you saw, was there anything interesting with regards to the documentary that surprised you in the making of the film-making process, had you made a documentary Before?
0:20:41.7 CT: Yeah, I think the thing that surprised me most about this film was how big a role it played into my decision to build a career out of documentary film making. This was one of the first projects I worked on after recently graduating, and my whole time at USC is primarily fiction work, so this is kind of my first step in the documentary world, and I really loved how collaborative it was, and especially... 'Cause this film, especially as a documentary, it's kind of a combined work of a lot of people, and it keeps evolving throughout the whole process, and so Jonathan and Kelly and a lot of people on our team, they had their own input and we kind of crafted the narrative as we went, and that was something that I didn't find in the fiction side of things. So I guess I was just surprised by how much I loved the experience, and I think it just made me want to build a career out of a documentary.
0:21:35.9 DB: Do you think it was maybe more fluid than on the fiction side, is that what you were drawn to a little bit?
0:21:41.6 CT: It is. Yeah, in the documentary world a lot of times the story is found in post-production, so after we've shot everything, had all the interviews, we kind of try to find the narrative, and I remember sending Jonathan the first cut, which was like two hours long, and it had all these different scenes in it. And so a lot of the work was just cutting down the different scenes and trying to narrowing down what story we were trying to tell.
0:22:04.6 KC: And I have to ask too, your film is in festivals, so are you physically going to the festival in these times of COVID or are they virtual, or how does that work? And is that super exciting? 'Cause it sounds like it is.
0:22:18.2 CT: Yeah. A lot of the festivals this year, because of COVID went virtual, but we were lucky 'cause last week, this past weekend we were accepted into the Illuminate Film Festival in Sedona, Arizona, and we were lucky 'cause it was both virtual but also in person, so I was lucky enough to go in person and see the film in theater, for the first time. I hadn't been in the theater since COVID first came, so it was a very cool experience to have.
0:22:46.5 DB: That's so cool, being able to see it on the big screen. That is awesome.
0:22:50.3 KC: With an audience too, right? That's great.
0:22:52.2 CT: Yeah with an audience. [chuckle]
0:22:54.2 JG: And the accomplishment Chandler, of winning second best in Fest, it was pretty extraordinary.
0:23:01.6 DB: What? Congratulations.
0:23:01.9 KC: Hiding the lead there Chandler, come on.
0:23:04.1 DB: That's amazing. Oh my God. That is awesome. Congrats.
0:23:07.9 CT: Thank you. Yeah, a lot of people like the film, there were a lot of great films there, but we were glad that we found an audience there, and we're hoping that as we release the film more publicly we'll find a bigger audience as well.
0:23:21.0 DB: Wow. Just congrats. That is awesome.
0:23:22.4 CT: Thank you.
0:23:24.0 KC: Jonathan. Let's transition from talking specifically about the film to massage therapy on a little bit of a broader scope, so through everything you've learned through your exploration and training and building your body work style, what do you think the number one thing massage therapists can do that will make a difference in their work?
0:23:43.4 JG: Yes, I think the number one thing is teach your clients how to receive. So the deeper I've gotten into the richness of the art, how I help my clients participate in that dance, really sets a trajectory for where we can go when a client can step into the movement of the unwinding of the intelligence that's unfolding when a client can engage with that, the work becomes so much more satisfying for the massage therapist, so much richer for the client and the spark, the real juiciness can really come out. This is a thing that we don't really talk about in terms of basic training, or even at massage school, when I was in massage school, there was very little conversation given to this, so this is something I really focus on when I do mentor groups or when I work with students is, if you can step into that role as an educator, the potential is unlimited.
0:24:39.3 DB: So Jonathan, I'm a client, how do you get me more involved in the session?
0:24:46.7 DB: Say we meet for the first time and I'm gonna have a session with you, how do you get me more in the flow and more in the fluidity you're talking about?
0:24:52.8 JG: Absolutely. One of the things I do during my intake is I introduce some concepts from somatic psychology, so that right away you can start stepping into your own somatic, I think of it as somatic descent, descending into the cells, and I show models of like, "Here's how you can breathe, and here's a breathing ball that demonstrates how you can do that. And this breathing ball can go throughout all the different places of your body, you can breathe into my hands as we're working, you can stretch your skin and your connective tissue through your breath and facilitate the release of your own body." And so this education starting right from there in the intake it is huge, and there's so many ways we can do that, and there's so many ways that I share that with students in the courses that I teach, just like the metaphors, the visuals, the guidance you can give. Yeah, you can be a world class client as well.
0:25:46.5 KC: I love that. Darren's competitive spark is turned on.
0:25:51.6 DB: I was gonna turn on the competitive client spark. They'll love it.
0:25:55.6 DB: I'm gonna be a better client than them or everybody else.
0:26:00.3 KC: So where is the World Client Championships this year? Belgium or Portugal? [chuckle]
0:26:04.8 JG: In my office. In my office. Nice.
0:26:08.9 DB: Jonathan, what makes you a more effective MT or what makes an MT more effective?
0:26:14.0 JG: I held this one question in my mind, what makes one session absolutely magical while another session can be good, but maybe not as... Maybe a little flat. What is it... Maybe I'm a little obsessive, [chuckle] I'm just so focused on that. And I took notes over a decade of practice, and those notes became a modality and that became my approach, Bodywork for Liberation, and what I've created is how to get at the core of that magical experience, and what I teach is, is something that can apply to any technique that massage therapists do, it's really a meta-modality that looks at not how you use your hands, but how you respond to the intelligence of the body mind on the table before you, and it's really what takes massage from a massage experience to a healing experience, and it's how I feed my soul doing that work.
0:27:19.8 KC: And so many therapists can relate to that statement, it's how we feed our soul. That's beautiful. Jonathan, when we think about the profession as a whole and its future, what are your hopes for the profession going forward?
0:27:34.5 JG: I hope that massage continues to become an absolutely essential part of healthcare. My dream is that we as a culture move towards wellness care, that our focus is not on treating illness, but our focus is on wellness, and that at the center of that model is massage therapy, I think it's the rightful place. I think it was always one of the pillars of medicine from even the times of the Hippocrates, and I hope that it becomes that pillar again in our modern day.
0:28:03.4 DB: I think there's a really good chance that this film can help facilitate that too, gentlemen. Chandler and Jonathan, it's beautiful. It honors the profession, I think other practitioners will be delighted to see it and empathise with the experience of what it's like to be a practitioner, and I think it does service to the public as well, showing the possibilities of massage, showing what massage is and what it is not. Again, just a beautiful experience, and listeners, I'm so excited for you to watch the film.
0:28:34.5 KC: Darren I agree, it's a beautiful movie, and I cannot wait for a massage therapist to see it, so please join us, we are so excited to collaborate with Chandler and Jonathan and bring you a fun and special one of a kind ABMP movie night. So Tuesday, June 22nd, Chandler and Jonathan are gonna join us. We're gonna have a fun online event, we're gonna premiere the movie, we'll show where you can watch, you can interact with Chandler and Jonathan over chat while the movie plays, and then afterwards, we'll have a live Q&A, so it's gonna be a blast. It's free for members and non-members, so really hope you can join us. Learn more and register at abmp.com/ce-socials, and then Chandler, I think we've got some exciting news about how people can see the film long-term after July 1st, is that right?
0:29:24.6 CT: That is right. So our festival run is coming to an end now, so we've decided with our production team to make the film available on demand, off on Jonathan's website starting July 1st, and that'll be on bodyworkforliberation.com.
0:29:39.5 DB: I wanna thank our guests today, Chandler Toffa and Jonathan Grassi. To find out more information about Chandler, visit chandlertoffa.com. To find out more information about Jonathan, visit bodyworkforliberation.com. Listeners, like what you're hearing on the ABMP podcast, leave us a review on Apple podcast, Spotify, Google Podcasts or wherever you listen. You'll help us reach more people in the massage and body work community. Thanks, Chandler, thanks Jonathan and thanks Kristin.
0:30:07.0 JG: Thanks so much for having us. It's really an honor.
0:30:09.1 CT: Thank you both. Looking forward to the virtual premiere.
0:30:11.9 KC: Thank you both so much for not only joining us for this podcast, but for creating such a beautiful film that showcases massage and body work in the best possible light. We appreciate you.
0:30:25.3 KC: Members are loving ABMP Five-Minute Muscles and the ABMP Pocket Pathology, two quick reference web apps included with ABMP membership. ABMP Five-Minute Muscles delivers muscle-specific palpation and technique videos plus origins, insertions and actions for the 83 muscles most commonly addressed by bodyworkers. ABMP Pocket Pathology created in conjunction with Ruth Werner, puts key information for nearly 200 common pathologies at your fingertips and provides the knowledge you need to help you make informed treatment decisions. Start learning today. ABMP members log in at abmp.com and look for the links in the featured benefits section of your member home page. Not a member? Learn about these exciting member benefits at abmp.com/more.