In a warm office, where photos of smiling people and good quotes pepper the wall, I recently got the opportunity to sit down with Lisa Garofalo and talk about her experience as a teacher for the last two and a half decades, at Oregon School of Massage.
Lisa, who has an advanced theater degree and ran a successful theater for ten years in Portland says, “I never thought I’d love anything as much as I loved theater, until I discovered bodywork.”
Her parents, however, tell her they weren’t surprised when she jumped professions. She’d always been the peacemaker and caretaker as a child and her natural inclination towards nurturing was encouraged within the healing world of massage therapy.
Bodywork initially entered Lisa’s life through a technique called Hakomi, which is a type of mindful, somatic psychotherapy. Lisa describes her personal experience of release through Hakomi and the way it allowed her a heightened awareness of where she held tension, emotionally and physically, in her body. This awareness ignited her own interest to pursue a massage therapy education.
“If I could help people let go of stuff that they’d been carrying for a long time, I realized that would be very fulfilling.”
From the first phone call, Lisa knew that OSM was where she wanted to be and her instincts didn’t lead her astray. Licensed since 1991 and working in an administrative and teaching capacity since shortly thereafter, Lisa loves the interconnectedness of the team and the experience of witnessing each student’s personal transformation.
She teaches the beginning full body massage class to first term students and this gives her ample opportunity to witness profound growth.
The full body relaxation massage class is foundational and it plays to some of Lisa’s inherent strengths.
“One of the things I do best is helping people feel comfortable with all the different pieces. We talk about boundaries and teach professional skills. It’s a thorough introduction.”
Her gaze glows when she talks about the power of watching beginners develop their skills and confidence. They begin with a lot of nervousness and by the end of the session they are navigating their way through a full body massage.
“Teaching,” she smiles, “is part of my transformational growth as well.”
Oregon School of Massage doesn’t shy away from any piece of the puzzle and Lisa appreciates their holistic approach.
“We ask everybody to show up with all of themselves. Not just with their brain to memorize or their hands to massage, but with an awareness of how they feel about touch, about their body and about other people’s bodies.”
It is easy, Lisa reminds me, to walk around the world inhabiting our body the way we are accustomed, without examining the benefits or dysfunctions. It might not be the most conscious or healthy way to do things. Bodywork brings us back into our body and back into our feeling self.
In regards to curriculum OSM ensures students a well-rounded education.
“Of our 640 hour program,” Lisa tells me, “there are about 210 hours in the health sciences and the rest are in bodywork techniques or professionalism. It’s really important to us that folks who come here can go out and be successful. To do so, they need an understanding of all the elements that go into massage therapy.”
Lisa believes that bodywork hasn’t integrated fully into mainstream medicine yet, because we live in a culture that requires factual proof stated over and over, versus a lived experience of wellbeing. Though there is a lot of factual proof that massage heals the body, assists the circulatory systems and aids lymphatic flow, it is through personal experience and referral that bodywork tends to popularize.
Sitting across from Lisa in her office, it is not hard to imagine how a student benefits in her classroom through her combined offering of in depth technical knowledge and holistic perspective – through her ability to effortlessly convey an innate joy for what she does.
“It’s important to me that our students understand that you never just touch soft tissue when you enter someone’s space. You’re working with their spirit, with their emotions and with their thoughts. We teach our students to be aware of that and to check in with their own reactions, so that on every level, they can be present.”
Before I leave Lisa’s warm space, I ask her how she feels when she is teaching and her answer aligns with the inviting, awake quality she embodies.
“I feel totally engaged,” she smiles. “I feel curious about what is needed today and in this moment.”