India: Building an Educational Bridge

By Debra Koerner

Even with a long tradition of ayurvedic massage in India, the people of this storied land don’t typically think of touch therapy as a viable career path.  
In November 2016, an entourage of North American massage therapy educators traveled to India in hopes of spreading awareness for massage therapy as a profession. This is their story.

Launching A Formal Massage School
A team of Canadian massage and wellness professionals is at the forefront of creating an educational path to make massage therapy an acceptable career choice in India. Andria Hoda, DC; Scott Dartnall, RMT; and Monica Pasinato-Forchielli, RMT, have all worked in the realm of massage and wellness for some time. Dartnall and Pasinato-Forchielli are part of the team that created and facilitates the Canadian and American Massage Conferences. Hoda is a practicing chiropractor and works at Pasinato-Forchielli’s massage clinic—Family Wellness Center—in Ontario, Canada.
Late in 2014, Hoda met Randeep Mann, BDS, owner of India’s Baj One Wellness Healthcare and Ranbaj Hospital, and president of the Punjab Dental Council. Hoda was present at Mann’s continuing education dental program, which focused on comanagement of dental patients with chiropractic support. This program was a great success, and they quickly began discussing the potential to open up a chiropractic clinic at the hospital and at a chiropractic school in Ranbaj.
Hoda continued to travel back and forth to India and established a practice in Mann’s dental clinic. She was effectively integrating chiropractic care with the dental services being offered. This synergy led to conversations around massage therapy, as Hoda and Mann both saw the potential to integrate massage as a viable health-care option with chiropractic services and dental care—a true integrative model for dental patients.
Mann believes the institution of massage can create a new stream of health-care professionals with scientific backgrounds, thus creating employment opportunities while providing a path to wellness for the Indian people. “I think the whole world will be looking for a supply of skilled massage therapists for their respective countries, and we can help address this shortage of skilled practitioners,” Mann says. Both Hoda and Mann feel that once the education and career path is established and validated, massage therapy will become mainstream as a viable career choice, particularly for young people.
As the idea solidified, Hoda began conversations with Dartnall and Pasinato-Forchielli about the potential to create a massage school. The idea for the International Medical Massage Therapy Institute (IMMTI) was born. Education is so highly valued and so diligently pursued in India that Hoda, Dartnall, and Pasinato-Forchielli believe their initiative will embraced. IMMTI’s training module is based on decades of scientific research that will allow graduates to flourish in India and open doors internationally.
To create a formal institution in India, people in leadership positions need to be engaged and lend support to this level of endeavor. In March 2016, the health-care team met with the Honourable Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal in India’s Punjab region and presented the idea for massage education and the creation of a career path. The idea was heartily accepted and the chief minister pushed for the school to happen as soon as possible.
IMMTI occupies a 4,000-square-foot space at Ranbaj Hospital in Mohali, Punjab, India. The first class began on March 2, 2017. The institute has met the requirements to become an NCBTMB-assigned school. Dartnall is the director for the school and Pasinato-Forchielli is associate director.

Connecting Continents
To help spread awareness of the new school, top massage educators from across the United States were invited to visit India in late 2016. Joining the team were Eric Stephenson and myself, co-owners of imassage, Inc.; James Waslaski, owner of Integrated Manual Therapy & Orthopedic Massage; Til Luchau, Certified Advanced Rolfer and director of; and Tina Allen, founder of the Liddle Kidz Foundation.
The team spent almost two weeks traveling through northern India, learning about the country and IMMTI, gaining an awareness for the school’s opening, and facilitating an inaugural massage workshop. These educators had the opportunity to get a behind-the-scenes view of India as they visited primary schools, medical schools, senior homes, and orphanages, as well as met with wellness officials.
Having dedicated almost 15 years of his career to helping therapists stay viable in their careers, Stephenson says, “It was an incredible honor to share knowledge with a country that has so much of its roots in natural health. Ayurveda helped shape my introduction to the healing arts, and if in some small way I am able to provide insight into the importance of self-care, my heart is full.”
Luchau offered his take on the experience: “Professionally, having the opportunity to offer manual therapy and practitioner supervision in a physical therapy practice and helping with day-to-day issues was a very gratifying and rewarding experience. My teaching colleagues, Tina, James, and Eric, and our crew were not only great companions, but inspirational in their talent and dedication.”
When asked what will be the biggest obstacle to integrating professional massage in India, Dartnall says, “Massage is not currently viewed as being a medical component to a health plan, but rather associated with spa and often with sexual overtones. Not unlike the United States and Canada in the early years, there will have to be strong efforts to educate about the medical benefits of massage.”
Knowing this in advance, the team decided to establish the program strategically by offering a 500-hour degree in medical massage. As part of this strategy, they are partnering with hospitals to allow students to do internships, with job positions available upon graduation. They have received endorsement from the Rayat Bahra Dental College and Hospital to extend the medical massage degree to a bachelor of arts in manual therapy.
 “Our goal is to have graduates hired by hospitals so that, as awareness grows, massage is associated with a medical environment first,” Dartnall says. “Our graduates will be more successful in acquiring positions at (senior) homes, orphanages, and other human-care facilities.” Spas will still be viable employers, but the team hopes to influence the perception of consumers away from considering massage just a pampering experience. Students will have the opportunity, for example, to intern at India’s Baba Jaswant Singh Dental College and Hospital.
Understanding the importance of establishing the science of massage, the program ensures graduates have excellent hands-on skills and high ethical standards. To support education for graduates who might eventually come to Canada, the Canadian College of Massage and Hydrotherapy (CCMH) and the West Coast College of Massage Therapy announced a partnership with IMMTI. All graduates of IMMTI who wish to continue their studies in Canada will be referred to either school to complete their studies at one of five campuses.

Meeting Employment Needs
It’s no secret that there is a growing need for massage therapists in North America. Expanding franchise systems, returning
spa-goers, and shrinking student enrollments are creating a demand for massage that is not being met. Franchise owners and spa directors report they are unable to meet the demand for massage services. With other countries beginning to formalize massage, there is an opportunity for foreign-educated and licensed practitioners to fill this void.
“We are very excited to be part of the partnership with CCMH and IMMTI,” says Fraser Clarke, president and CEO of Massage Addict, Canada’s leading provider of registered massage therapy. “This partnership makes sense on so many levels. India has a strong, cultural foundation in massage therapy and the Canadian market—from employers to insurers to the general public—has embraced therapeutic massage as part of the health-care continuum. This partnership will ensure that graduates who are interested in coming to Canada to further their education, and become licensed as health-care professionals, can practice with Massage Addict.”
With the program just beginning, it could be a year or more before qualified candidates begin to make their way to other countries. When asked what he hopes to accomplish with his involvement in this endeavor, Dartnall says, “We hope to create a new health-care profession in India and, in turn, create economic opportunities for its young population through massage therapy as a career. Massage therapists strive to decrease stress, anxiety, and discomfort through touch. The goal of massage therapy is to create an environment that is the antithesis to violence and aggressive behavior in society. Physical touch is the foundational element of human development, healing, and culture.”

Debra Koerner, the “Natural Health Explorer,” is on a mission to inspire our nation’s health transformation. As the host of the award-winning The Journey into Wellbeing television show airing
on PBS, Koerner uncovers the secrets to living a high-energy, vibrant life. Her new show on healthy aging, Senior Moments, can be viewed at Koerner co-owns the massage education and consulting firm imassage, Inc., and authored the massage text Success from the Start (F.A. Davis Company, 2013). She is a popular keynote speaker and has been published in major publications, including Huffington Post, Woman’s Day, and Newsweek.