Skip to main content

Faces of Bodywork: Kei Yumoto


Kei Yumoto holds her baby while posing for a picture in front of a double rainbow that appears over a valley.

Kei Yumoto is the owner of Kei Yumoto Massage and Bodywork in Oakland, California. She’s been practicing since 2009 and was featured in the November/December 2023 issue of Massage & Bodywork magazine in “Faces of Bodywork.”

Below, learn more about Yumoto’s start and practice.

• Business: Kei Yumoto Massage and Bodywork

• Helpful tip from Yumoto: “Have a ‘conversation’ with the body rather than just giving it input.”

• Website:

Massage & Bodywork: Tell us about your background (education, areas of focus/specialties).

Kei Yumoto: I was an English major at Tokyo Rissho Women’s Junior College. I completed a program of 500 hours at Southeastern School of Neuromuscular Massage in Charlotte, North Carolina.

I feel my “real” education began after graduation from massage school, when I realized I was doing scripted massage strokes just like everyone else and needed to take continuing education if I wanted to have any expertise to try to excel. I took a 10-day deep-tissue massage class in San Francisco when I moved [to the US], and it totally opened my eyes to what I didn’t know. But it gave me confidence in what I could learn if I set my sights high. Since then, I’ve taken classes with Art Riggs, Erik Dalton, Til Luchau, and others. By far, the most beneficial training was an extended mentoring with Riggs. I learned not only a lot of techniques but also really improved my touch both by feedback for my work and by receiving work—I really got a sense of effective work. [Riggs] really emphasized having a clear intention of what I wanted to happen in the body with every technique and stroke rather than just doing strokes. He said, “A stroke without intention is an empty gesture.” My advanced training was very therapeutic and technical, and I feel competent in most areas that patients complain about. However, he stressed that it didn’t have to be Western medicine—cold and technical—and that I could combine therapeutic work for clients with a really pleasant-feeling and relaxing full-body massage, which he felt is also very important. I think this combination is what has made my practice so successful and gratifying.

M&B: When did you start practicing? 

KY: I was licensed in Charlotte in 2009, worked at a spa for 10 months, and moved to the Bay Area. While I started my private practice in Oakland, California, in 2014, I worked at a holistic medical group and athletic club. I was incrementally cutting down those days [at the medical group and athletic club] as my private practice grew, and I have worked only in private practice since 2019.

M&B: Can you share the journey that brought you to where you are today? Why massage? It appears you were a client of massage first, through your time as a serious snowboarder? Or did your massage experience start before that?

KY: I grew up in Japan (came to the US when I was 22), where massage therapy is widely considered a key component to leading a healthy life, both physically and emotionally. I was well acquainted with it in part because of maintenance for my advanced snowboarding. After I moved to the US, I was surprised that people’s views toward massage are so different. A lot of people see it as a luxury treatment. While I enjoyed monthly massages since I was 18, I also enjoyed giving a quick massage to my family, and I was aware that human touch is very powerful, so I wanted to spread that to many people. 

M&B: Your website says you worked in a spa setting before deciding to open your own practice. Can you tell us about that decision and the feelings you went through?

KY: I wasn’t confident enough to start my private practice so soon, but that extended mentoring with Art Riggs really helped me explore my adventure to the next level. At first it was frightening, but it totally changed my sense of empowerment.

M&B: What is the best part of being a massage therapist for you?

KY: I know there are advantages to working for someone else, but I’m extremely happy I progressed from that to having a private practice. Most of my work is with regular clients who come from word of mouth, so they don’t feel like strangers even on their first visit. And even though I’m aware of boundaries, I have a genuine affection and connection for almost all of them, and it gives me a feeling of accomplishment and gratification. Of course, with this great profession, I have been able to actualize my lifelong dream of having a child as a single mother by choice.

I also love the freedom to work my schedule, especially with a new baby, and had no idea how rewarding my relations would be with my clients. I feel incredibly lucky how everything fell into place.

M&B: Words of advice for anyone entering the profession or starting their own business for the first time?

KY: Everyone is different in their goals, so I don’t know if it’s advice, but I’ll tell some of the lessons that I’ve learned:

  • Have clear goals on what type of practice you want and be patient to work to achieve it. Don’t be frightened of not achieving every goal.
  • Have a “conversation” with the body rather than just giving it input. Get good at finding painful or sensitive spots or restrictions and give them extra time.
  • Don’t try to make things happen; let things happen.
  • For time management, knowing what to skip or give minimal time to is as much of a skill as finding trouble areas.
  • Don’t be hard on yourself expecting miracles or that everyone will love your work. Instead of focusing on how much you don’t know, think about all that you do know.
  • Continue to grow all the time. Take workshops or get some tutoring, and go to recognized experts to feel their touch.

M&B: Can you tell us something about what feeds you on a personal level, things you do for fun? Do you still snowboard?

KY: I love hiking, and cooking while having a sip of wine! I still occasionally go up to the mountain to snowboard. My new baby has really altered my life in a great way, and my massage practice offers me a great financial aid along with the ability to plan my day according to my needs.