I am fortunate to have known Larry Heisler for several years. I am sure that readers of JMS will enjoy our interview with Larry as much I enjoy every conversation with him. Larry is an incredible practitioner, a very effective teacher, passionate educator, devoted nutritionist and passionate advocate for the massage-therapy cause. All of that is driven by his exceptional personality, which is filled with optimism, humor and a thirst for life.
Here is our interview with
JMS: How did you get into the field of massage therapy?
Larry Heisler: In the early 1970s, I began studying the Macrobiotic Way of Life. My teachers were some of the great Japanese Holistic Masters like Michio Kushi whose macrobiotic diet today treats more cancer, heart disease and HIV patients than any other alternative approach worldwide and Sensei Masahiro Oki whose OKI Yoga dojos have treated thousands with macrobiotic diet, martial and yoga arts and meditation. When studying the Oriental Healing Arts, it is natural to learn about the relationships between lifestyle and nutrition, musculature and meridians and by 1975, I was personally doing macrobiotic barefoot shiatsu. My first 8,000 massage sessions were immersed in what my teachers call the Energetic System.
JMS: We know that you integrate both Western and Oriental massage principles into your teachings and practice. Please describe to our readers the concept behind your ideas.
Larry Heisler: My experience with shiatsu taught me that American bodies are much harder to effect a change. I believe it is because we Americans are able to eat much higher up on the food chain. When people eat predominately an animal-oriented diet, their bodies are much harder from the excess nutrition. Remember it takes 16 pounds of grain to make one pound of beef. That would be enough rice and lentils to feed one person for 16 days and yet we can consume that amount in one large steak. That contributes to an acidic body with much less oxygen and a great deal more inflexibility. Therefore, shiatsu or the energetic massage does not work as well on predominately meat eaters. It is just harder to access the energetic flow. To remedy this, I begin most of my massage therapy sessions with sophisticated deep tissue work like the Osteopath’s utilize before they manipulate. Thus, the combination of styles makes for a much more successful outcome.
JMS: What is your understanding of the concept of spirituality within massage therapy?
Larry Heisler: A long time ago, I read a study about the life expectancies of different athletic lifestyles. The article indicated that flexibility was superior to strength as an indicator of longevity and it concluded that a flexible body was directly correlated with longevity. I don’t remember where I read that exactly but I will say after a lifetime of being a massage therapist and doing perhaps the most massages performed by any one practitioner in my state of New Jersey, it is my direct observation that one of the secrets to a healthy and spiritual life is to have a body that is flexible.
Flexibility ensures us of a body that can carry a strong vibrant charge with an easy flowing expression, as well as a body abundant in oxygen. Think of it like this; how we move, how we flow, gives us an indication of how young we are. As we age, our bodies become dynamically more rigid and shrink in stature. The muscles shorten and the body has a tendency to become harder, tighter, with many colder, poorly circulating parts.
In the Orient, rigidity, hardness and cold indicate stagnation. The belief is, if an area has poor circulation over a long period of time, there is a tendency toward degenerating health particularly for the organs in that area. A cold butt can indicate poor circulation to the pelvic region. If it stays like that for many years, it can be a significant indicator of future reproductive problems. With the prostate problems of men at an all time high and one of every three women in America having a hysterectomy by the age of sixty, perhaps this kind of cold and stagnation should be considered and addressed. Thus, our flexibility is an indicator of our youthfulness, and aging can be defined by one’s hardness. In a sense, rigor mortis, the stiffening that takes place in a cadaver, sets in way before one dies. Let me say that again, “Rigor mortis sets in way before you die.”
Here is another way to look at it. In the 1930s, Dr. Otto Warburg, a medical doctor and research scientist often referred to as the greatest biochemist of the 20th century, won the Nobel Prize for showing that a 35% decrease in bodily oxygen resulted in the body’s cells creating cancer. That is exactly what happens when your bloodstream turns from alkaline (pH 7.35) to acidic (below pH 7.35). The red blood cells shrivel up and cling together to protect themselves from the acidic blood. That is why there is a common belief that it is only an acidic, oxygen-deprived bloodstream that will promote cancer and that cancer does not proliferate in an oxygen rich, alkaline environment.
During Dr. Otto’s time, they knew oxygen deprivation lead to cancer but they did not know how to increase the internal oxygen supply in our body. Now we know many ways like a simple deep tissue massage. Remember, how can a lifestyle that promotes cancer, ill health and degenerative disease promote enlightenment? So when one is really healthy, they have an open, flowing and balanced energetic system. You can tell this not only by their flexibility, but also by their soft, warm muscles, their easy, natural standing gait and a smooth, even way of expression. We are like a human acupuncture needle, sensitively receiving and transmitting this bioelectric charge throughout the body at all times. To achieve this flowing body, we have to break up our body’s energetic stagnation (blockages and poor circulation), hardness, pain and imbalance. And it is here that we can see clear indications that our lifestyle choices can make all the difference and by the way so does massage. I believe that massage therapy is one of the fountains of youth and they should call us “Ponce” for Ponce De Leon.
JMS: Within your practice and teachings, you emphasize the importance of the correlation of massage therapy with proper nutrition. In what way may practitioners implement your ideas without over-stepping into the nutritionist’s field of expertise?
Larry Heisler: Nutritionally speaking, this is what I like to share with my clients in some format or other. Sometimes it is through simple handouts, the newsletter I send them every two weeks, a blog, on my website www.newjerseymassage.com or Facebook page, or maybe at one of my nutrition lectures. It is not really something my clients have come in for, and I really do not want to be too annoying, yet I know I must be a pain in the butt at times. Here it is:
A hard body, one that is cold, gray, stiff, inflexible and especially in pain is usually an indicator of an aging, decaying system. If the musculature is hard it usually means an acidic bloodstream that is oxygen deprived. We are not getting any younger and if this is not addressed in due time your body will begin freezing up as those tight stiff muscles set in and become a permanent part of your landscape. So perhaps, it’s time to think about stepping up some of our heath practices. My style of massage can really break up those gray areas and, of course, exercise is a crucial addition. But for my money, nothing works as fast and as effective to transform a person’s life from top to bottom as a nutritional overall. It is not as hard to figure out as one might think.
For instance, take the simple adage, if you put junk in, you get junk out. Wherever you go in the world, epidemiologically speaking, the more animal food people eat the more degenerative disease they suffer. Individuals that eat less animal food, have less disease, people that eat more get more. That is not just an opinion. And the top four that are most deleterious for your health-as in if I wanted you to die of a terrible disease as quickly as possible-I would say eat lots of red meat, dairy products, sugar and simple carbohydrates. The more you eat of these, the more cancer and heart disease you can expect to see. In fact, the more you can expect to see of every disease.
High-fiber foods, such as whole grains and beans, the two of them combined, have supplied more than 50% of the entire daily food consumption for every culture on every continent, for the last 10,000 years of human evolution. Animal food has never accounted for more than 15% of the entire diet consumed by all humans except for cultures in extreme climates or conditions. That is until the end of the 19th century and gradually increasing throughout the 20th century until today where you might say we have reached the pinnacle of degenerative disease complete with whole hospitals dedicated to children with just cancer.
JMS: Do you have a favorite type of bodywork?
Larry Heisler: My favorite style of bodywork is the work that I have immersed myself in. I would call it medical massage but since there are so many aberrant definitions of it by people who are textbook educated, I think I have to define it more clearly. Medical massage addresses the hard, rigid, gray, stagnate, frozen, painful, injured zones in your soft tissue by a therapist that specializes in soft tissue bodywork. That effort may include a variety of deep and connective tissue work with roots into myofascial and trigger point therapies as well as utilizing the Energetic System (meridians and tsubos). I really enjoy the combination of deep tissue and meridian work.
JMS: What professional advice you have for our readers?
Larry Heisler: I have a lot of professional advice for therapists everywhere. For whatever reason you have chosen the path of healing work, in our case, in the massage tradition. You cannot call yourself a healer but I can call you one because anyone that devotes their life to a career of improving life on this planet is special and wonderful. It is a good argument for getting into heaven. Like most ministers, you can expect to be doing a lot of charity work because there is no such thing as a rich massage therapist, that is unless you own a massage envy and happen to be a massage therapist.
There is only one way to establishing yourself as a great massage therapist, learn … and keep learning. Keep yourself really healthy, otherwise you will burn out and that is not pretty. What is more, what you do speeds up healing. If it increases oxygen levels in the body, you speed up healing. So … we speed up healing, you get it? AND WE ARE THE FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH! When you break up hardness, you break up aging; you slow down the aging process literally adding years onto your clients’ lives. YEARS! Just call me Ponce De Leon.
Category: Person of the Month