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Massage Today
July, 2002, Vol. 02, Issue 07

John W. Kelley, MT

By Claudette Laroche, RN, LMT, NCTMB

Author's Note: Professional of Note is a column devoted to recognizing individual practitioners and what they are contributing to the profession. Each article highlights a unique feature of a practitioner's professional practice.

The purpose of this column is take note of people who are not necessarily nationally known, but who are nonetheless making a significant contribution to the field.

In the realm of bodywork and holistic care, what's one of the more unique career combinations you could come across? Try blending massage and the work of Pilates! John Kelley, massage therapist and certified Pilates trainer and educator, does just that. In fact, just as Joseph Pilates and his wife Clara once did, John and his wife, Sheryl, work as a professional team.

image - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark John W. Kelley, MT But first, who is John Kelley? He's an engaging professional, with a witty personality and serious passion for the unique work he does. (When he speaks, his Texas accent is apparent to me, and my accent as a northerner from New Hampshire is noticeable to him!) He's been a massage therapist since 1985, a graduate of the Institute of Natural Healing Sciences in Irving, TX, and a certified Pilates instructor since 1996, after completing 275 hours of education and internship at the Physical Mind Institute in Santa Fe, NM. According to John, "this husband/wife, massage/Pilates combination is fairly unique and offers our clients an opportunity to receive bodywork and work their own bodies and minds." (Sheryl started massage in 1991 and Pilates in 1993.) Sheryl was a key factor in John's choice to study Pilates because, as he mentioned, while giving a testimony to his wife, "I wanted to learn to 'see' the body as my wife did. She could point out each major postural deviation, and she knew exactly what movement was needed to move them into a more ideal postural alignment."

Now a little bit about Joseph Pilates. Born in Germany in 1880, he developed his theories on health and fitness during an imposed internment by the British authorities during WWI. John told me that "after Pilates' death in the 60s, individuals who were trained by him carried on the work. These individuals trained others to teach the work, which eventually spread throughout the world."

The Pilates technique is comprised of six basic principles: concentration; breathing; control; centering; flowing movement; and precision. Exercises are very controlled; therefore the term "thinking exercise" is used commonly to describe the Pilates technique. (Ref: Pilates' Body Conditioning by Selby and Herdman, 1999.)

When I asked John to expound on his views of how he orchestrates his work with clients, he said: "'Seeing' the body is much more than identifying postural deviations; it includes knowing how to move the body in a direction of better alignment. I had experience with postural assessment training in neuromuscular technique, Onsen and other workshops, but we didn't address how to empower the client to move into better alignment themselves. I found the notion of releasing tight muscles as 'the' solution to poor postural alignment to be too easy. If it took years to get to an imbalanced posture, with bones that may have (probably) adapted to the deviated shape, and (with) the possibility of emotional components factored in, how could it be so easy to change the body for the long haul? I believe a lasting correction has to come from the inside-out. Pilates focuses on strengthening the core and stabilizing the pelvis, ribs, shoulders and neck during movement."

image - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark "Knee raiser, extended legs" on the chair - intermediate/advanced exercise* What initially propelled John on this path of healing? "My passion for massage, like many other massage therapists, arises from my recovery from previous injuries with massage therapy. This took me into sports massage because I saw it as an avenue for learning how to deal with injury: understanding what it is, how it happens, how to heal from an injury and, most importantly, how to prevent an injury. This passion has driven my desire to learn the answers to these questions, which eventually led me to Pilates. This experience is also what makes me somewhat unique as a Pilates instructor. Most Pilates instructors come from ballet and 'see' the body quite well, but do not have much knowledge regarding injury or anatomy. I had the anatomy and knowledge regarding injury, but I needed to learn to 'see,' and Pilates has taught me how to do that. Now I try to empower my clients to 'see' themselves and give them choices they didn't have before."

Fully self-employed, John described his practice environment in Richardson, a suburb of North Dallas, Texas: "We have a massage and Pilates practice in our home. We bought our 4,000 square-foot home with our business in mind; it offered a large, open space, lots of windows and wood floors for the Pilates studio, which encompasses three rooms; as well as two massage rooms and an office."

A typical session with John is one hour: $65 for a massage and $60 for Pilates. He incorporates Pilates work along with massage, including techniques in NMT; Swedish; sports; trigger point; deep tissue; MFR; lymphatic; and craniosacral. "We do not have pricing for a combination of massage and Pilates, so we try to differentiate between the two. During a Pilates session, the hands-on work provides the client with what is necessary to complete a session safely and comfortably. I average about 10 Pilates sessions per week, each one lasting about an hour." His Pilates studio includes the following equipment: two reformers, two wall units, three chairs, one ladder barrel and one Cadillac. For those already familiar with this equipment, that's great! But for those who aren't, you'll just have to make an appointment with your local Pilates trainer to learn more!

John, 48 years young, keeps quite fit himself doing this Pilates thing! John markets the business mostly by word of mouth. Jane Cole, a client of John's since 1997, summed up his approach: "One of his strongest assets is that he uses his knowledge of anatomy and kinesiology to enhance my Pilates workouts. He can see a restriction or imbalance as I am performing a Pilates move, and knows the inter-relationship to another part of my body that may be causing the problem. If the restriction/imbalance is due to a muscle spasm, for example, he will take the time to properly ease the spasm before continuing the workout. He also is able to convey to me which muscles I need to think about when executing a move, which helps me become more aware of my mind-body connection. He always takes the time to assess what I will be physically able to do on a given day, and varies my workout routine so I get a good workout with minimal frustration. He challenges me, but never past the level of what I can achieve. He makes sure the moves are done with accurate form, and never allows anything that would injure me. He has been invaluable to me as I gain deeper understanding of how my body works, and how I can be more aware and healthier."

Side view of knee raiser, extended legs demonstration. - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark "Knee raiser, extended legs" on the chair (side view) - intermediate/advanced exercise* Given the specialized Pilates equipment that is used in John's studio, Nicke Hetzel offered these observations: "Pilates movements are very precise, and some positions have a higher risk of injury; John's focus is always safety first. I also appreciate the fact that he understands the physical requirements and stresses associated with other sports and activities. Because I run, I want my trainer to understand the needs I have associated with running and know what is happening with the muscles when I have a problem."

John's witty personality also serves him well, according to client Brenda Small: "John is the first Pilates instructor I like well enough to continue working with. He personalizes my workout to fit my needs physically, so it feels like I get more personal attention."

What's John's definition of success and satisfaction? "My success stories are many. I don't really want to dwell on the remarkable because I get more satisfaction from the everyday 'I feel better' or the 'pain is gone' success of my job. I like to hear that my work was good and that they feel better as a result. I try to focus less on 'achieving a result' and more on my responsibility in the process of helping the client. I think we can empower our clients to take responsibility for their own healing if we realize we are only facilitators in the healing process. If we set ourselves up to be the great healer during our successes, we must also be a failure when our efforts fail. I stepped out of massage school believing I was 'God's gift to massage' and now stand just grateful to have opportunities to help people feel better and empower them with knowledge."

John's next goal, what he calls his "ultimate goal," is "... to become a certifying trainer for Stott Pilates and bring it to the massage therapy profession." He's achieved part of this process with the recent (Spring 2002) completion of certification through Stott Pilates in Toronto, Canada. John says "Stott has an excellent program that focuses on anatomical knowledge and understanding of kinesiology within the movement as well as definite principles of postural alignment and function." His training with Stott Pilates included 250 hours of training and a written and a practical exam for certification. (Author's note: John welcomes comments from massage therapists regarding what they would consider valuable material to be offered in future workshops he is planning.)

John gets out of his office and into the community by teaching one Pilates class per week at the Cooper Aerobics Center in North Dallas, and by extending his professional skills to members of the Dallas Cowboys Football Club.

image - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark "Pushthrough" on the Cadillac - essential exercise* John also works to promote the massage profession, contributing his time during the past three years to the NCBTMB as chair of the Continuing Education/Recertification Task Force and as chair of the Recertification Committee. He was nationally certified in therapeutic massage and nodywork in 1992, during the first year of the program. As a member of AMTA since 1985, John was a coordinator of the AMTA-Texas Sports Massage Team and a member of the AMTA National Sports Massage Team. He also provided sports massage with athletes at the 1987 Pan Am Games, the 1988 Winter Olympics, and the 1990 Goodwill Games.

I'm sure you wouldn't believe otherwise, but John and his wife enjoy attending massage and Pilates workshops together. For fun outside of his professional work, John enthused: "Sheryl and I just started ballroom dancing lessons (You are on my dance card at the next convention, John!), and we enjoy movies, bicycling, camping and the mountains. Sheryl's favorite thing to do is read, and my favorite thing to do is racquetball."

This couple puts to practice their philosophy of good nutrition with a dose of daily togetherness as part of the recipe for healthy living. "Since it is very difficult to get good quality food from restaurants, we especially enjoy eating our own cooking, so we cook together almost every night." (Maybe opening your own café is on the horizon!)

John's philosophy regarding his work with clients centers around the concept of empowerment. "Some of the most challenging situations for me as a massage therapist are the clients who don't want to take responsibility for their healing and, thus, try to make everyone else responsible. We are about empowering, not enabling! This is how we try to live our lives, and it is naturally transferred to our clients."

Thank you, John. May you continue on this path in the best of health for many more years!

You may reach John at: 972-699-1668 For further information on the Pilates technique, check out these websites: and

* Please only use equipment after professional instruction with a Pilates trainer.

Click here for previous articles by Claudette Laroche, RN, LMT, NCTMB.


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