Ep 295 – Integrative Touch with Shay Beider

An image of children in a hospital setting, hands raised in a joyous moment.

Integrative Touch (InTouch) works to change the way people experience health care by supporting caregivers and families whose children have special health or medical needs. In this episode of The ABMP Podcast, Kristin speaks with the founder of Integrative Touch, Shay Beider, about what led her to start Integrative Touch, how their mission of whole child, whole family, whole community developed, and why understanding child development plays a crucial role in how you approach a session.


Integrative Touch: IntegrativeTouch.org

Gabor Mate’s website: drgabormate.com

Bessel Van der Kolk’s website: besselvanderkolk.com

Stephen Porges’ website: stephenporges.com

Author Images: 
Kristin Coverly, director of professional education at ABMP.
Shay Beider, founder of Integrative Touch.
Author Bio: 

Shay Beider has been a pioneer in the field of Integrative Medicine for 20 years. She is the founder and Executive Director of Integrative Touch, a nonprofit with an international healing program for individuals experiencing high-impact trauma and illness. Beider is a frequent public speaker on wellness topics and hosts the popular Conversations on Healing podcast, with listeners in more than 100 countries. She started Integrative Touch therapy and teaches internationally. She was awarded the Women’s Studies Achievement Award from UCLA and is recognized by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation as a Pioneer for Children’s Wellbeing.


Kristin Coverly, LMT is a massage therapist, educator, and the director of professional education at ABMP. She loves creating continuing education courses, events, and resources to support massage therapists and bodyworkers as they enhance their lives and practices. Contact her at ce@abmp.com.



Anatomy Trains: www.anatomytrains.com 


Elements Massage: http://www.elementsmassage.com/abmp


Precision Neuromuscular Therapy: www.pnmt.org


Anatomy Trains is a global leader in online anatomy education and also provides in-classroom certification programs for structural integration in the US, Canada, Australia, Europe, Japan, and China, as well as fresh-tissue cadaver dissection labs and weekend courses. The work of Anatomy Trains originated with founder Tom Myers, who mapped the human body into 13 myofascial meridians in his original book, currently in its fourth edition and translated into 12 languages. The principles of Anatomy Trains are used by osteopaths, physical therapists, bodyworkers, massage therapists, personal trainers, yoga, Pilates, Gyrotonics, and other body-minded manual therapists and movement professionals. Anatomy Trains inspires these practitioners to work with holistic anatomy in treating system-wide patterns to provide improved client outcomes in terms of structure and function.    

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Therapists who are drawn to Precision Neuromuscular Therapy are problem-solvers who want to learn new approaches, but also understand the “why” behind the “what”.  This desire resonates with our emphasis on the problem-solving process, rather than the teaching of a singular technique or approach. Led by founder Douglas Nelson, each PNMT instructor is a busy clinician with decades of practical experience.

We have taught hundreds of hands-on live seminars for more than twenty years, emphasizing precise palpation and assessment skills. PNMT online courses are another rich source of discovery and deeper understanding. Also available is a video resource library (PNMT Portal) with hundreds of videos of treatment, assessment, pathology, and practice pearls.

Learn more at www.pnmt.org

Full Transcript: 

0:00:00.1 Kristin Coverly: Are you a massage therapist who loves to problem-solve? Do you see clients with challenging musculoskeletal issues, if so, then studying precision neuromuscular therapy will help to sharpen your decision-making skills and achieve better client outcomes. Our emphasis is on the problem solving process rather than the teaching of a singular technique or approach, led by founder Douglas Nelson. Each PNMT instructor is a busy clinician with decades of practical experience, visit pnmt.org to explore our offerings of live seminars, online courses, or the video resource library, at the PNMT portal, that's pnmt.org.

0:00:57.9 KC: Hello and welcome to The ABMP podcast. I'm Kristin Coverly. My co-host, Darren Bieford, is enjoying some well-deserved time off, so I am flying solo today with my guest, Shay Beider. Shay has been a pioneer in the field of integrative medicine for 20 years. She is the founder and executive director of Integrative Touch, a non-profit that runs an international healing program for individuals experiencing high impact trauma and illness. Shay is a frequent public speaker on wellness topics, and hosts the popular conversations on healing podcast with listeners in more than 100 countries. She originated Integrative Touch therapy and teaches internationally.

0:01:39.6 KC: Shay was awarded the Woman's Studies Achievement Award from UCLA and is recognized by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation as a pioneer for children's well-being, learn more about Shay and the incredible work she's doing at integrativetouch.org. Welcome. Shay, I'm so excited to have you here today.

0:01:58.6 Shay Beider: Thank you, Kristin, it's great to be with you.

0:02:01.3 KC: We have so many wonderful touching things to talk about. Let's start at the beginning with Integrative Touch. So what inspired you to create your non-profit Integrative Touch?

0:02:13.7 SB: So many, many years ago now, I was thinking I was going to go to medical school and be a pediatric surgeon. I was studying at UCLA, I was going into the hospital and observing surgeries, and I saw one little girl go in for surgery, and as we were in the operating room, I could see she was terrified and she felt alone and just filled with fear and anxiety, and because I was simply observing, I was able to recognize all of that emotional pain that she was feeling, and in that moment, I literally had an epiphany, it was just very clear, No, it does not have to look this way, and so that little girl really inspired the entire organization that I know run called Integrative Touch, and she has no idea how many thousands and thousands of lives she's touched.

0:03:07.1 KC: You mentioned that because you were only observing, you were able to recognize the emotional experience she was having, and I think that's so telling because oftentimes in our roles, we're busy, we're doing our thing, and we sometimes miss the bigger picture.

0:03:23.9 SB: I do, and I actually think the art of healing itself is not missing the bigger picture, I think the essence of appealing is connecting with the bigger picture, which is that human being in all aspects of self, right. So their spiritual self, their physical self, their mental self, their emotional self, their psychological self, their ecological self, their self within the context of their family. Within the context of their community. And so to me, our responsibility as people who are part of a healing team or helping to strategize how people can heal, like part of our duty is to look at all of those different selves and to recognize the bigger picture, not to get stuck in the minutia but to notice, "Oh, this is a person living within a broad context of all of these things, and all of these things are impacting how they feel right here right now".

0:04:19.6 KC: Yes, and I love too, that you not only talk about all of the different things the individual is experiencing, but you also mentioned family and community. Listeners, the mission for Integrative Touch is to change the way people experience health and healing through a unique whole child, whole family, whole community wellness model, tell us how that evolved because you're right, it's not just the child that is experiencing the illness, it's the whole support, the whole community. How did Integrative Touch evolve from working with the child to working with the group?

0:04:57.7 SB: It was really a teaching one step at a time, so I saw that kind of whole child or a whole person-centered care, whole person centered care is really critical because it looks at us from all those different lenses that I was just describing, but then as I actually got into hospitals and other settings, palliative care settings, hospice settings.

0:05:18.0 SB: I started to see when someone is seriously ill, it's not affecting just that person, it's affecting everyone and their caregiving unit, their whole family, and then beyond that, their friends, their co-workers, their loved ones, etcetera, so I really just could see right away, there's a bigger picture and that when you support that bigger picture, you're supporting the person who's going through illness or trauma or difficulty, so right away, because we were working at the time, a lot with kids, I started looking at treating their siblings and then treating their parents, but then we also saw a lot of kids, for example, one of our kids who was going through cancer treatment was going to school and was kind of isolated 'cause other children didn't understand, like why don't you have your hair?

0:06:05.9 SB: And so this child was sitting alone at lunch, so then we started doing trainings where we would teach other young people how to be buddies with kids who had different kinds of health challenges, and in that process, it was what we now are calling our compassion camps, where we teach compassion skills, but basically it's an introduction into the world of illness and different abilities, and okay, so what if a person's body looks different, okay, what if they communicate differently, okay.

0:06:33.9 SB: What if they have autism or cancer or all these things... We can still be friends with them anyway, we can still connect with a kid in a wheelchair and play games and even dance just like we would with anyone else, but it's a learning for many children, and so we ended up designing all of our programs around learning to educate people about relationship development across the spectrum of all abilities in different stages of illness, and when that happened, one of our young people who we trained in our programs went back, saw that child that was sitting alone in the cafeteria at lunch immediately knew, "Oh, they have cancer", because they'd had enough education to understand, and then immediately brought them into their friend group and invited them to sit and have lunch with that group every day, and it's like... It sounds like such a simple thing. And on the surface, it is the most simple thing, it's awareness and then creating a relationship and development of care support network through that relationship.

0:07:36.3 SB: But what's so beautiful as you think about that child who is not only going through cancer, but then on top of it was isolated from their peers, and what could be more miserable than that for a young person, and so how incredibly powerful it is to educate people around these very simple ways that they can make a huge difference in someone else's life...

0:08:00.6 KC: Yes. Powerful is the exact word. It's what I was thinking as you were telling the story, you said, Yeah, it sounds simple, but honestly, the ripple effects of that type of education and as a younger person, learning that emotional intelligence and learning those skills at that age will not only change their life and how they look at other humans and people and make relationships, but every single person they interact with will benefit, so the ripple effects of that are wide and absolutely beautiful. So compassion camp is one of your programs... Tell us about some of the other programs that you offer, and I know you have different modalities that you offer with people based on their circumstance. So tell us a little bit more about that.

0:08:43.1 SB: Yes, so we're kind of doing this interview at a really exciting time 'cause we're getting ready to launch a new Healing Center, and the Healing Center will be opening in Tucson, Arizona, but it has a national and international component to it. It's opening in early 2023, and then we plan to grow it and actually replicate it in other communities if it is as successful as we hope that it will be, and the idea behind the Healing Center is to create a model where anyone who's experienced illness, trauma or serious challenges in their life that needs support and healing has a place to come, and because we're a non-profit, we're doing everything on a sliding scale model, so people who are extremely low income will pay next to nothing for the services and they can actually be sponsored by another person entirely.

0:09:38.6 SB: And they will receive a wide range of Integrative Medical therapies, so we've offered over the years, more than 120 different approaches to Integrative Medicine, obviously including a whole range of types of body work, every different variation, really, you could think of, all different sorts of energy medicine, we also include acupuncture, Traditional Chinese Medicine, ayurvedic medicine, things like journaling, yoga.

0:10:06.3 SB: We'll have classes like Chicagoan and meditation, so there'll be group of classes as well, and then over so many years of doing this work in and out of the hospital, I've actually developed a therapeutic approach that's called Integrative Touch therapy, it's very unique in that it's done in teams so it's all team-based work, so typically we'll have a group of three to five providers who work together with one individual for a more intensive session. I like to think of it almost like indigenous healing traditions of old, where it's a group, like a healing team that's working with an individual kind of... Yes, at that physical level. Yes, at that emotional level, but also at that spiritual level and kind of pulling together all the pieces of who we are so that we can have transformative healing, right, so that we have opportunities to understand when we meet these places in our lives, which are often accompanied by illness or trauma, where we have a chance to really transform and shift and move into a new chapter, this therapeutic approach is designed to really help people to do that.

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0:12:22.0 KC: Let's get back to our conversation. So many exciting things I wanna unpack in that one answer, first of all, congratulations on the center, that's a beautiful progression of the work that you do and making it available in a different way, so I'm very excited to hear that. As well as being excited 'cause one of the things I was gonna ask you about is, Can you...

0:12:43.9 KC: Can practitioners learn Integrative Touch therapy? So I'm thrilled to know that that's coming, question for you, if a practitioner is listening and they're getting very interested in the idea of Integrative Touch therapy in the way that you described it, is there something they can do today if they're recognizing trauma in their own lives, or in a client that's coming to them for a session, is there something, a nugget from Integrative Touch therapy that they can take and use today in their work with their clients?

0:13:14.3 SB: Well, I think the first thing I would suggest, which I would imagine several of the listeners are familiar with, is become more informed with the literature around trauma because there is a lot happening in that field right now, I think some of the leaders to have an eye on are Gabor Mate.

0:13:33.8 SB: He's doing some wonderful work. His new book, The Myth of Normal, is a fantastic read. I would look into obviously, a classic Bessel Van Der Kolk. So Bessel has the book, The Body Keeps the Score, which I know so many people have read, but it's an important staple and classic. I think understanding Stephen Porges work on Polyvagal theory and then Deb Dana's sort of implementation of how we co-regulate and the responsibility that we have as providers, if we have a massage practice or body workers or any type of Healing Arts practitioner, what responsibility we have to regulate our own system to self-regulate before we go into a session or a healing experience with another individual because they will inevitably be in relationship to our system.

0:14:30.2 SB: And if our system is very highly dysregulated, that will not support a healing process for that other individual. So to me, if I were to say a nugget that I would want everyone to grab on to is the capacity to learn how to regulate your own nervous system and to take kind of charge of that in a very empowering proactive way is essential to being a high quality healing arts practitioner.

0:14:58.3 SB: And so we wanna carry that sort of responsibility forward with all of our clients so that when they are co-regulating with us and their nervous system is reading information from our nervous system, it's reading from a system that's highly organized and that makes it so much easier for them to heal.

0:15:18.2 KC: That's really beautiful. And I think that's, again, when we talk about practitioners who are busy in their day-to-day, seeing their clients doing their own life, getting their families organized and up and running, that can be a piece that is glossed over and put aside for lack of time, but I think you're right, when you talk about self-regulating, what are some modalities that you might suggest.

0:15:37.9 SB: There's such a slow... And again, I think reading and learning more about this is very beneficial, but some of the practices that I absolutely do myself and recommend, certainly meditation is a wonderful way to very quickly organize yourself, but then there's a whole range of things that have been developed around how do we bring a nervous system into a place of kind of peace and calm or what's called the ventral vagal state, like our sort of social engagement state, where we can interact easily with others from sort of our best self and...

0:16:14.8 SB: So get into that state. There's a number of things that we know, we know that humming helps, singing helps. Touching your cheeks, like making eye contact with another person within our own system, hugging yourself, doing like a butterfly hug is really helpful. Managing your breathing response, one of the best ways we get to manage our nervous system is by noticing our breath, and essentially for the most part, most of us, most of the time, need to slow down a little bit, so you can do specific breathing exercises like a 4-7-8 pattern or there are so many within the Yogic tradition, Pranayama, but managing and navigating your own respiratory system is a fabulous way to self-regulate and then things like grounding, so physically noticing where's my body in space.

0:17:11.6 SB: And one of the ways this is taught is where are you making contact with the earth or the floor, so whether you're sitting down and that's your bottom, you wanna feel it, you wanna feel your physical self touching the chair, if your feet are on the ground, you wanna literally feel into those feet on the ground, so grounding practices and the orienting exercises are also hugely important, so tracking safety in the physical space in which you are currently, so literally moving your head and your eyes around the room with a specific intention of noticing things that feel good and positive to you.

0:17:51.6 SB: And as you do that, you're communicating to your nervous system, I'm in a safe space with things that feel good, I can be at ease. I am at ease here, so that's a quick summary of a few interesting approaches that you can take for sort of fast self-regulation, but I think the key is to take a pause and remember how important it is to regulate yourself before you try to work with anyone else.

0:18:19.3 KC: Absolutely, absolutely. Let's bring it back to talking about working with children because that's how Integrative Touch started, and then it grew and grew from there for listeners who haven't worked with a lot of children or who are curious about it, how do we as practitioners work with children... Is there a lot of non-verbal communication? Are they good at expressing their wants and needs and feedback, tell us a little bit more about that process of how those sessions work as opposed to maybe how a session with an adult might work.

0:18:50.3 SB: Yeah, absolutely. And for the listeners, I have for many, many years taught specifically pediatric massage for children, like how do you do it, because it is a whole different sub-branch of the field that has a lot of different pieces, but I would say some of the fundamental differences are...

0:19:08.9 SB: It's entirely developmentally rooted. So for example, we've worked with infants in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, technically, I guess that would fall under the umbrella of the infants and children, kind of canopy. But an infant is very different from a toddler, is very different from a school aged child, is very different from a teenager, so the first piece is understanding the core developmental differences and how you engage and interact quite uniquely depending upon not only that individual, but where they are developmentally.

0:19:43.7 SB: And then you add in the layers that we add in, which is working a lot with kids who have developmental differences or have medical conditions that will change their developmental trajectory, so now I'm not only taking into account the child's age and where they are in life, but how that developmental trajectory may be changed or altered by illness or different kinds of sort of circumstantial reasons that have modified that maybe typical trajectory.

0:20:13.4 SB: And so looking at each individual within that context, and another element that I think in addition to a developmental understanding, it's critical, is children learn, grow and heal through play, so there must be a way that play or kind of a lightness... I call it a lightness of being sometimes, but a light-heartedness at the very least that needs to be brought into the healing process, because I've just learned over many, many, many years of working with kids, if you can go through that door, then essentially their nervous system has greater capacity to move into a ventral vagal state where they have more capacity to heal, we do not heal optimally when we're under tremendous stress when cortisol is flooding our body, when we're in fight or flight, when or we're in what's called dorsal shut down, where we're kind of like giving up and wanna just tuck under the covers.

0:21:12.7 SB: Those actually are very hard places from which to heal, where we heal is where we're starting to feel a sense of safety, support, nervous system regulation, and then that gives us more optimally the conditions for healing and so we want to set children up in a way where they can feel safe, and then right there, you're already 50% of the way along the journey to heal.

0:21:41.0 KC: Shay, you have such a wonderful history starting as a massage therapist, building this beautiful non-profit that incorporates all of these modalities, helping not only the child, but the family, the support system, and the community, what advice do you have to share with practitioners who are listening, who either are working in their own practices, they aspire maybe to do something like you do, starting a non-profit or volunteering in their community, what advice do you have for them on acting out that passion like what's that first step?

0:22:19.3 SB: That's a great question. I think that fundamentally, it's understanding the depth inside of yourself from which that motivation is arising, right. So when we have a motivation internally that's coming from a really deep place of service and wanting to give and wanting to be of support to both ourselves and others in the world, that you know right there, you're in pretty good alignment when that's the source. So you wanna first identify, kind of what's the source of my desire to help, and then when you get clarity on that, I think it really is funny enough, I'll follow your bliss, you go towards what you are drawn to love, because that will inevitably... I feel for me, at least in my life, that has inevitably pulled me in the right direction, because if I have had true passion and care and desire to serve and to transform, if there's that underlying impulse there of like, I want to serve and I wanna transform in this way, no matter how small or how subtle that is, then I would say it's that inner longing that really can be the guide that has consistently been the guide in my life and it's never led me astray.

0:23:40.7 KC: Shay not only has it not led you astray it has actually led you to build a beautiful community for healing for so many people. I wanna thank my guest today, Shay Beider. Learn more about Shay and Integrative Touch at integrativetouch.org. Shay, thank you so much for being with us for this wonderful conversation and for everything that you do.

0:24:06.7 SB: Thank you, Kristin, it's a pleasure.

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