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Natural Awakenings Bucks and Montgomery Counties PA

Flexible Options in Flexibility Therapy

by Elisa Smith

Traditional massage and basic stretching exercises may be what most people think of first when it comes to maintaining or restoring flexibility, but there are a variety of lesser known, yet highly effective, options available to BuxMont residents.

One such option is shiatsu, described as “acupuncture without needles” by Shirley Scranta, diplomate in Asian bodywork therapy and director of The International School of Shiatsu. The 5,000-year-old practice differs from traditional massage in a number of ways. The client remains dressed in loose, comfortable clothing, and no creams, oils or lotions are used. Sessions are typically conducted on a futon on the floor, and practitioners may use their forearms, knees or feet in addition to hands to work on different areas of the body. As in acupuncture, the therapist works along the body’s energy meridians, which is why Scranta considers the practice to be more energy work than body work. “Shiatsu is vigorous, not delicate,” says Scranta, “but it should not be painful.”

The word “shiatsu” translates to both “finger pressure” and “community coming together”, and during a session, energy is gathered to areas called tsubos, which affect the body’s parasympathetic system, lowering heartbeat and respiration. Scranta maintains that a shiatsu session of 45 to 60 minutes can offer rejuvenation equivalent to up to four hours of sleep and provide a sense of overall well-being. “It literally helps the body repair itself,” she says, adding that its integrative nature can unblock stagnant energy, allowing the recipient to move forward not just physically, but mentally and emotionally, as well.

flexibility optionsFacilitating movement is something massage therapist Nita Keesler, of Back in Balance Massage & Wellness, knows well. “Tight muscles can actually pull the spine out of alignment, so massage and assisted stretching can help with spinal integrity. Both integrate perfectly with chiropractic, enabling adjustments to last longer,” Kessler says.

One of her most popular offerings is Thai massage, which is similar to shiatsu, but uses full palm compression instead of finger pressure to work muscles. “Think of a cat walking across your back,” says Keesler, adding that with Thai, the body is massaged and stretched at the same time. To further enhance flexibility, Keesler developed what she calls “therapeutic/assisted stretching,” a 50/50 blend of Thai massage and PNF (proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation), which she says “tricks” the muscles into stretching a little further. Keesler echoes Scranta’s sentiment that the therapy should not be painful. “I really believe in tuning in to my clients’ needs and not going beyond what the body is willing to accept,” she says. “My clients feel safe with me.”

Keesler earned board certification from over 750 hours of training in addition to her more than 20 years of experience. She’ll add another 100 hours of continuing education this year alone, well above the 24 hours required every two years to maintain licensure. In a survey, her clients described Keesler as kind, caring, intuitive and compassionate, the very characteristics she strives toward in her work.

That attitude is what Angela Wagner and partner Jim Funk strive to engender in students at the Academy of Massage Therapy & Bodyworks. With a combined 40 years of experience, they founded the school, approved by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork (NCBTMB), eight years ago to counter what Wagner calls “cookie cutter” training. “We wanted to create better massage therapists through individualized education in a smaller, personal environment geared toward students’ unique strengths,” she explains.

Students’ career longevity is as important to the school as teaching the biomechanics of the craft, and students graduate with the skills needed to work in a variety of environments, including spas, fitness clubs and chiropractic or sports therapy clinics. Unlike most other schools, AMBT includes training in medical massage, which addresses a variety of medical pathologies, including oncology.

The school also provides NCBTMB-approved continuing education for massage therapists, with classes on ethics, in addition to specialties like cupping, reflexology and pregnancy massage. While she enjoyed her private practice, Wagner says teaching seemed like a natural progression of her experience as a practitioner. “I wanted to share my knowledge and gifts in a way that would allow me to reach more people. Training competent, compassionate therapists is a very rewarding way to do that.”

Our bodywork experts look forward to partnering with readers on their journeys to optimal health and wellness. Please use the information below to reach out and learn more.

The International School of Shiatsu is located at 10 S. Clinton St., #300, in Doylestown. For more information, call 800-875-9918 or visit

Back in Balance serves the Langhorne, Bensalem and Cheltenham areas. For more information, call 267-980-1727 or visit

The Academy of Massage Therapy & Bodyworks is located at 141 E. High St., in Pottstown. For more information, call 610-705-4401 or visit

Elisa Smith is a frequent contributor to Natural Awakenings. She can be reached at [email protected].

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