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Ep 367 - Refresh and Reinvent Your Sessions with David Lobenstine

An image of a woman receiving a massage to her left shoulder.

Are you ready to reinvent your work? Are you missing intention in each stroke and session? In this episode of The ABMP Podcast, Kristin and Darren are joined by David Lobenstine to discuss why it’s important to refresh and reinvent your sessions, some of the pitfalls that massage therapists get into, and tips to get out of those bad habits by slowing down and finding meaning with each touch.


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Author Bio

David Lobenstine has been massaging, teaching, writing, and editing for over 15 years. He is an authorized instructor of pre- and perinatal massage therapy workshops and coauthor of the book Pre- and Perinatal Massage Therapy. He also designs and teaches his own continuing education workshops, both across the US and online. For more information about David, visit


Darren Buford is senior director of communications and editor-in-chief for ABMP. He is editor of Massage & Bodywork magazine and has worked for ABMP for 22 years, and been involved in journalism at the association, trade, and consumer levels for 24 years. He has served as board member and president of the Western Publishing Association, as well as board member for Association Media & Publishing. Contact him at

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





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Full Transcript

0:00:00.0 Kristin Coverlay: Are you a massage or bodywork practitioner who's interested in equipment or amenities for your business? TouchAmerica wants to save you money while providing quality equipment backed by personalized customer service from our family owned company in North Carolina. TouchAmerica offers a full lineup of treatment tables to go along with halotherapy, design and supplies, Shirodhara kits, speaker list, sound equipment, relaxation loungers, and more. Receive a 20% by applying your ABMP member discount code found on Visit today. 




0:00:51.0 Darren Buford: I'm Darren Buford. 


0:00:51.7 KC: And I'm Kristin Coverlay. 


0:00:53.3 DB: And welcome to The ABMP Podcast, a podcast where we speak with a massage and body work profession. Our guest today is David Lobenstein. David has been massaging, teaching, writing, and editing for over 15 years. He's an authorized instructor of pre and perinatal massage therapy workshops and co-author of the book Pre and Perinatal Massage Therapy. He also designs and teaches his own continuing education workshops both across the US and online. For more information about David, visit Hello, David and hello, Kristin. 


0:01:23.6 David Lobenstein: Hello. 


0:01:26.1 KC: Hi, David. Welcome back to the ABMP podcast. We're excited to talk with you again today. And today we're gonna talk about a course that you've taught live and that you are working on an online version of titled Give a Great Massage again. So tell us what was the impetus for this course? What made you decide that now is the time that learners needed this content?  


0:01:46.9 DL: I think that I have been working on this course for almost as long as I've been a massage therapist, so nearly, nearly 20 years. One of the great things about starting out my career in various spas and wellness centers is that I would get to talk to a lot of massage therapists in our cramped and crowded break rooms. And then as I started teaching, obviously I got to talk to a lot more massage therapists. And what I found over and over again was that there was this push and pull that so many of us have this kind of internal tension that so many of us massage therapists have of loving this work. And then of also being a little bit sick of it [chuckle] and of feeling really excited to give each client this beautiful, unique, powerful experience. And at the same time, also kind of defaulting back to the same old routine session after session after session. 


0:02:58.2 DL: So I decided that I wanted to try to give therapists a way to break out of that internal tension and give therapists a way that they could, as I put it in the subtitle of the course, both refresh and reinvent their sessions. So that going to work each day could feel exciting rather than annoying. And so that people felt like they had the potential to not be constrained by this idea that there was one massage that they had to give over and over and over again. 'Cause I feel like that's just a recipe for burnout for us and boredom for our clients. 


0:03:42.3 DB: Yeah. We've talked about this on the podcast before a little bit, so it's interesting to bring this back up for our listeners. And I like it because as the super client and not massage therapists on the podcast, I don't have any training, but if I did, I would find comfort in the repetition of the massage. Obviously, I think at the beginning after I'd gotten outta school and I was practicing for a while, but I do fully understand that that would have its limitations after a while. Let's say after a few hundred massages that I'm just on auto repeat, that's probably what I'd be doing and my brain would be doing. David, who is this course for?  


0:04:23.5 DL: I purposely have designed it with everyone in mind, both the newbie therapist who has just graduated, or those of us who have been massaging for decades and decades. Like, one of the wonderful things about our profession is that we are all doing the same thing no matter how long or how briefly we've been practicing. We all have to go into the treatment room, whatever it looks like, and we all have to give a massage to our clients, whoever our clients are. So there is this beautiful unity amongst all of us as massage therapists. And then obviously there's a tremendous variety and range from the newbie to the veteran therapist in terms of the kinds of work that we do, and the kinds of problems that we're getting into as massage therapists. But what I find interesting about this really, really basic idea, right, because this course ultimately is very basic, it's just... It's going back to the nuts and bolts and kind of thinking about how you put together a sequence of strokes. 


0:05:34.2 DL: So what's interesting is that even if you are... Have been practicing for decades and decades, you still have that challenge of, "What part of the body do I work on first? How many minutes do I spend on the back? How many times do I ask the client to change positions?" And then if you're a newbie therapist, you have all of those same concerns, it's just that you're probably a little bit more freaked out about them and nervous about them. And so what I really love in teaching is that there are so many of these skills that we can learn that are useful no matter what part of our career we are in. 


0:06:16.7 DB: Can I ask you David and Kristin a question when you enter the massage space, do you each have like your go-to area you're gonna start a session with or that's dependent upon walking in the room and just the feel or the vibe of that client in that day?  


0:06:32.4 DL: Well, I think the answer is both. So what I like to use in my own practice and what I teach in this course is the benefit of having a template. So, or a roadmap or a menu, however you want to think of it. So what I teach in this course is a sequence where we start by introducing our touch, then we move to the backs of the legs and then the back, and then we turn the client over and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. So this is a sequence that you can follow for pretty much any client. It's a very standard basic sequence. But then the beauty of course is that you get to experiment and you get to make each session as specific as the client wants. And so I find that that's where the really wonderful work happens is if you feel really confident in your template, then you have the courage to step out of that template and improvise. 


0:07:44.8 KC: So there's some clients where I will start with that template, but then I will spend 40 minutes just working on their back or I'll spend 20 minutes working on their feet and I won't do any work on their arms at all. And so you can have this tremendous opportunity to make your... To make your sessions as specific and unique as possible. But that kind of creativity in my experience only happens when you feel really confident in that basic template when you know you can give a good massage no matter who that client is, who's gonna walk in your door, and then you feel the confidence to be able to experiment and diversify the kinds of work that you're doing. 


0:08:35.9 KC: Absolutely. David, that makes a lot of sense. And Darren, you asked about, what's the first thing we do in a session? And while I love to have a lot of flexibility with adapting the session to meet the client's needs that day, that moment, what they need and want me to focus on, I always start with the same opening sequence. And so it's our way for my clients to transition from the outside world to the space. It's comforting for them. And what it does is it gives me a lot of information. So I start with at the feet doing some footwork just as all over sheet and blanket, doing some palpation, some compression. I go up one side of the body compression and stretches on the back. I apply the hot packs, come back down the other side, do a little head work at that point, come back down the other side. 


0:09:22.4 KC: And so I have gotten a chance to apply compression, stretching and palpation so I know what's happening in the body. So I've got that physical piece, I know what they've told me verbally at the beginning of the session. And so I can really create a plan for this session because I've really made contact with almost all areas of the body so I have a sense of what's happening and my clients. I've seen most of my clients for 20 years or more. So they really have a sense of it. It's very much for them, the symbol of, okay, I'm gonna exhale now, I am gonna transition to this space, this place, and allow myself to be in massage mode. 


0:10:00.9 DB: How long might that take?  


0:10:03.8 KC: It takes about four minutes. Not about, it takes four minutes. [chuckle] 


0:10:08.4 DB: I love it. I love it. 


0:10:08.5 DL: Well, and I love what you said there, Kristin, about the exhale because I find I have a slightly different version of that opening sequence and... But what I find one of the keys is, is to cue in to the client's breathing because I find that how our client is breathing can give us a lot of information about them and how they are or are not able or yet willing to be with us in the session. And so attending to that breath and encouraging that slow easy exhale is one of the things that I focus on a lot in my in my teaching since I find that that's such a E moment to making that connection with the client and then to being able to sink in and do successful work. But then the flip side of that is that the breath I find is just as important for us as massage therapists. 


0:11:10.0 DL: And so I find one of the key things that I teach in this course and that I think that we often neglect in our continuing education is paying attention to our own comfort and our own sense of ease as the massage therapist is just as important as however much we attend to what's happening in our client's body. And so I see a lot of my work as a teacher as giving us as massage therapists permission to believe that our body is just as important as our client's body and that we need to attend to our own body even during the session, even while we're giving these each stroke, to know that those strokes will feel even better to the client if they feel good to us. And so it's an interesting dyad, and it's not always easy for us as therapists to do, but one of the things that I really try to implement in a student's work is to be able to pay attention to ourselves as we're paying attention to our clients. And I think that's really where we can create wonderful therapeutic, even a little bit magical massage sessions. 


0:12:32.0 KC: Let's take a short break to hear a word from our sponsors. 


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0:13:19.7 KC: Let's get back to our conversation. 


0:13:23.2 KC: Okay. Let's start jumping into some content that you might teach in this course. Let's talk about some of the pitfalls that practitioners might get into and some of the tips you have to help them get out of those bad habits or ruts. 


0:13:34.6 DL: So I think that obviously there are many pitfalls [chuckle] that are possible. There are many ways that our work can go awry, getting caught on what I call the assembly line model of massage. This idea that we default to doing the same sequence of strokes over and over again. We do five Effleurage strokes down the back, and then we do five petrissage strokes along the spine, and then we do some cross fibre friction, and then we move on and we repeat that over and over again on each part of the body. It's I mean, it feels boring just even saying it out loud. [chuckle] And what I think is so hard about this is that oftentimes our clients aren't that good at giving us feedback. They, if we have a really good client, they might say that pressure is not deep enough, that pressure is too deep. Oh, I really liked when you did that, can you do more of X or Y or Z?  


0:14:47.6 DL: But in my experience, no client has ever said, it feels like you're just going through the motions here. [chuckle] or it feels like you're kind of just phoning this in David. So I think we have to be our own guides. We have to assess our selves to see if we really are just going through the motions and getting caught in this rut of doing the same session over and over again. So one of the things that I really encourage in this course and in all the courses that I teach is of slowing down and of creating a sense of intention in each stroke. So in my experience, it doesn't matter if you're doing myofascial release with no oil or almost no oil, or if you're doing really light Swedish massage, it doesn't matter whether you're working on an athlete or on a patient in hospice, you have to have a sense of intention in order for your strokes to matter. 


0:15:53.1 DL: And I think the easiest way for us to feel that intention is more often than not to slow down, do fewer strokes and make each of them matter more. If we give ourselves the chance to sink in to use less oil so we're not just slipping and sliding over the tissue, but we're really letting the client's tissue guide the speed of the strokes, that means that we're not rushing through a sequence. And it means that we're really connecting not just with the client's muscles, but also with the client's nervous system. So we're helping to engage the autonomic portion of their nervous system, and if all goes well with that parasympathetic portion of the nervous system, the rest and digest portion. So if we're really slowing down, we're not trying to force anything on the client, we're really working with them, we're working with their breath, we're working with the client's body in order to get into that position of greater ease, which is where we want our clients to be in a session. And I find that once we do that, there's this beautiful feedback loop that happens where the client's breath starts to calm and slow and deepen where we can feel the benefit that they're getting from the session, and then we feel better about our own work. And then we're more willing to slow down to stay in that slow, delicious pace and to really invest each stroke with meaning. 


0:17:27.9 DB: To go back to the earlier in the podcast, I think intention is the opposite of assembly line. It's fully focused. 


0:17:36.3 KC: Right. And I think there's a difference between working with intention and having an intention. So we could have an intention for the session for what our goals might be, but working with intention to me means something different. 


0:17:50.3 DL: Yeah. I think that's a really nice distinction. And I think you're right, Darren, it is an obvious association of intention with that kind of meditative like state. But I think one of the misconceptions that we so often have about meditation is that there is just this sense of detachment. That it's like, you're sitting alone on a mountaintop or whatever. Not that anyone, any of us actually does that, but I think part of, to me what's so marvelous about this profession that we're in is that we can achieve that meditative state, which is just calm focus, and we can also be active at the same time. So when a session is going well, I'm using my whole body, and yet at the same time, my mind is calm, right? And like Kristin just said, I'm only focused simply the stroke that I'm creating right now, or that the client and I are creating together. And so it's that combination of an active body and a calm mind that I think that that makes things particularly marvelous. 


0:19:01.3 DB: Sometimes when, I wanted to ask one more follow up on the pitfall thing really quickly here. Sometimes when we're having discussions and we catch ourselves going down an angle that we kinda lose ourselves, we'll call it like a rabbit hole. Does that ever happen with touch in a massage session that you kind of, and you're like, "Whoa, what am I doing? Back out, back out, back out." 


0:19:25.1 DL: Absolutely. And I think that that's one of the, that's one of the benefits of having a template. So we're talking about a typical 60 minute massage where as I teach it, I think we benefit ourselves if we do have a rough sense of how much time we're gonna spend on each body part. So if I'm spending eight minutes on the posterior legs, right when the client is face down, and then I'm spending 18 minutes on the back and the arms when the client is face down and right, etcetera, etcetera, I have a general framework for where I wanna be on the body as the hour goes by. But again, going back to that earlier point of the template being this then source of creativity. Once you have the confidence, then you can make things creative is that you can go down those rabbit holes, you can find those little parts of the body that feel like they are kind of the key to unlocking some larger sense of release or change or progress that we think the client wants and needs. 


0:20:40.0 DL: So we can go down those rabbit holes, spend a little bit more time in a specific area, and then know that we have the confidence within that template to speed things up a little bit on another part. So the anterior legs, once I turn that client over, might only get six minutes of attention instead of nine minutes of attention. But then I know that I can have that little bit of time in going down that rabbit hole on the client's right scapula. And so I can give myself those times to really explore more because I know that I'll be able to catch up and make up for the time in those other places. 


0:21:26.7 KC: Okay. I've got a question for our podcast super client, Darren Buford. [chuckle] So we've been talking a lot about how practitioners can have the awareness of, "Are we working with intention? Are we getting into ruts? Are we doing the same thing over and over? And how we can be aware of that and change it. I'm curious, as the client, have you ever had an awareness of, "Wow, this feels like it's cookie cutter, or that person might be thinking of their grocery list while they're working with me during this session?" Have you ever had an awareness like that?  


0:21:58.2 DL: Yeah. Actually I'll address it twofold. We'll go negative first and then positive second. The negative was, I have a... I'm pretty sure we talked about this before on a podcast, but if not listeners... You should be listening to all the podcasts, but even if you don't, I'll tell this story again. So I was doing some pretty specific work with a certain massage therapist for a while addressing some problem areas of the body I was having. And there was a moment during the session where I could hear the podcast that she was listening to through her Apple Little Earbuds as the massage was going on, because there was music, there's a music overlay going on, just like in most massage rooms, right? There's a speaker with some music, but I could hear the podcast she was listening to, which was like a news podcast or something as she was massaging. So yeah, that person was definitely on autopilot and it was kind of insulting. And I also don't go to that person anymore. [laughter] 


0:22:57.3 KC: Wow. 


0:23:00.6 DL: Yeah. That's about as bad as it gets right there. As far as I, oh, one more, I'll throw on that, another one that was challenging. I've had massage therapy, massage therapy and spas and clinics and franchises and definitely in people's homes too. And there's, I love that as well. It creates its own space challenging. When I was in the basement, that's where the massage space wore and, and children were running overhead, and you can hear the boom boom, [chuckle] boom, boom, boom. And so that was going on for 60 minutes, so I also don't go there anymore. But the positive one, you guys nailed it, man, the breath connection right at the beginning, it's the opening sequence and the breath connection. Oh my God. It's like it transports you and you both know you're ready and you're both working together on the massage. That is amazing. That is transformational. I love that. 


0:23:55.3 KC: Okay. David, we're bringing our podcast to a close. What final thoughts do you have for our listeners on this topic?  


0:24:01.8 DL: I think, like we've talked about, one of the brutal things about our profession is that we do the same thing over and over again. It's one of the reasons why so many of us get injured. It's one of the reasons why so many of us burn out. But I think in that repetition is also this perpetual possibility. So no matter how crappy we feel about the session that we just gave. We can make our apologies either verbal or not verbal to that client, and then we can just know that the next session is the chance to recreate what we're doing. It's sad to talk to massage therapists because so many of us have the same story, of this sense of kind of, of feeling like we're caught or we're overwhelmed, or we're stuck by our profession. 


0:24:58.8 DL: And we feel like we're... We love this work. And yet it's also, it also is really grueling and is really taking a toll. But I think that in the midst of that is, is the possibility for rebirth. So I advocate obviously taking new courses and learning new things and, expanding the kinds of modalities that you use and deepening your work however you want to go about continuing your career. But I actually think that the biggest and most profound changes are often the smallest. And so what I advocate for therapists, especially folks who are feeling stuck or burnt out or in pain, is for your next session to just focus on one part of the body and just to try to do a few things differently. Whether that's paying more attention to your own body, your own breath, whether that's paying attention to your client's breath, whether that's using less oil and slowing down your strokes, whatever it is, just choose one body part and do it. 


0:26:07.2 DL: And even if the rest of the session is completely cookie cutter, you have in those few minutes on that one body part, you have expanded your sense of what's possible in a massage. And hopefully you feel a little bit better about yourself. And then in the next session after that, pick a different body part and a different thing that you want to focus on. And slowly, hour by hour shift by shift, day by day, we have the perpetual possibility to recreate the work that we're doing to reinvent our sessions and to feel happier in our own bodies and knowing that we're making our clients feel happier in theirs. 


0:26:49.5 DB: This was a lovely podcast. I want to thank our guest today, David Lobenstein. For more information about David, visit 


0:26:58.1 DB: Thanks David. And thanks Kristen. 


0:27:00.2 DL: Thank you so much, you guys. It's a pleasure as always. 


0:27:03.3 KC: Oh, David, thank you for another inspiring conversation. 


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