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Massage Today
March, 2005, Vol. 05, Issue 03

Turning Tragedy into Triumph: An Interview with Nancy Schmitt, Creator of Mindful Touch Therapy

By Rebecca J. Razo

If you ran into Nancy Schmitt on the street, you might never guess that less than a decade ago, the petite woman standing in front of you was fiercely fighting for her life against breast cancer.

After successfully beating the disease, Nancy, a trained massage therapist and creator of Aviana Body Products and Bodywork, set out on a mission to use her experience to help others.

And though Nancy's peaceful demeanor gives way to a radiant warmth that seems to envelope those around her, it was her strength and resolve that led her to create Mindful Touch Therapy (formerly Mindful Massage), a unique form of bodywork focused on providing touch to those suffering from cancer and other critical illnesses. Massage Today had an opportunity to talk to Nancy about her experiences and Mindful Touch Therapy.

Massage Today (MT): You created Aviana's Mindful Touch Therapy after facing some very personal challenges. Can you tell us about that?

Nancy Schmitt - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark Nancy Schmitt (NS): After remarrying and acquiring four stepchildren that precipitated a premature retirement from managing nearly 800 employees and $5 million in annual volume for a chain of 65 ladies ready-to-wear stores, I elected to return to school to enter the healing arts and become a massage therapist. Shortly after graduation, as I was planning to open a small hands-on business, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I realized at that moment, according to my massage therapy education, that I was considered a contraindication for massage - just when I needed the many benefits of touch the most! That's when I decided to research and develop a touch therapy that was safe and effective for people living with cancer and other critical illness.

MT: In the past, you have referred to your cancer as a "gift from God." How so?

NS: It's hard to imagine calling cancer a gift, especially for those who are newly diagnosed or living through the treatment of cancer at this moment in time; however, without the impetuous [ness] of cancer, I would not have been driven to search the world for touch therapies that would turn no one away from the benefits of a magnificent healing therapy. I would have missed the pleasure of being touched by beautiful people: clients, students and other like-minded individuals who know we are much more than a physical body and quest for quality of life. And I would not have been driven to expand my perception of daily living to better know the truly important small things life has to offer. I often encourage my student body to learn what is really important in life from those individuals whose lives have been threatened.

MT: How is your health today?

NS: Today I celebrate nine years as a bodyworker and nine years as a cancer survivor! Life is good.

MT: Can you describe exactly what comprises Mindful Touch Therapy? What are its core concepts related to healing?

NS: The heart of the Mindful Touch Therapy program is based on the philosophy that the power of touch can have a profound impact on an individual's health and well-being. Our mission is to impart knowledge that increases awareness and usage of therapeutic bodywork techniques that can be applied easily and safely to improve the quality of life for all individuals in every stage of wellness, dis-ease and disease. Mindful Touch Therapy is a unique synergy of energy bodywork, mindful meditation and touch therapy with influence by Native American, Hawaiian and Ayurvedic healing concepts.

MT: What are some of the key benefits of Mindful Touch Therapy, particularly for critically ill or cancer patients?

NS: The value of touch with loving intention is well documented for all individuals, including those who are critically ill or living with cancer. Mindful Touch Therapy goes a step further by incorporating very specific energy, trigger point and mindful concepts that provide a deeply relaxing and restorative feeling that doesn't require some of the physical detoxifying processes that will follow a muscle massage, which can be especially taxing on an individual who is already depleted of energy. There is an ease about the experience and the "after" experience. Many clients have described that there is something about the Mindful Touch process that they can call upon during painful and stressful situations that assists them in getting through the process with less anxiety and discomfort.

MT: What kind of feedback have you received about Mindful Touch Therapy from the medical community?

NS: Aviana's Mindful Touch Therapy has been very warmly received by so many medical institutions. It surprises me. Initially, I imagined this body of work being more easily incorporated into day and destination spas and private practices to begin to provide a sense of comfort and welcome to all individuals, not simply those living with good health. But, I have had some students in my classes enrolled and funded by their community hospitals, breast cancer centers and other integrative institutions. I have also been invited into a few medical communities to discuss and teach core concepts of energy medicine and other related modalities to medical students and nursing students. Mindful Touch Therapy is absolutely perfect as an integrative tool for complementary medicine supporting traditional medicine.

I now have advocates in several states assisting Aviana with attaining certification for nurses and nurse massage therapists to receive CEU's. We see Mindful Touch as the perfect touch therapy for all patients in every stage of wellness, dis-ease and disease, including cancer.

MT: What separates Mindful Touch Therapy from therapeutic or relaxation massage?

NS: Therapeutic and relaxation massage are so highly beneficial, and it's wonderful when a Mindful Touch Therapist is able to provide both, allowing the right modality to be selected at the right time. Mindful Touch Therapy is all about intention. I teach our student body very specific energy and touch techniques, with focused and particular intention on each area of the body. There's a synergy that can't be described but is profoundly experienced when one is touched with both open heart and skilled hands. Another very distinguishing concept is how restorative this technique is for the therapist - physically, mentally and spiritually.

MT: What is the format of a typical Mindful Touch Therapy workshop?

NS: Mindful Touch Therapy is a highly experiential class. We move from lecture and demonstration to hands-on giving and receiving in each phase of the technique. We also incorporate a few fun learning experiences that indirectly relate to the body or work. On the final day, we move through the routine in sequential order. My voice talks and walks you through the experience every step of the way. I provide the intention as you work through the routine so that as you give or receive, you are learning why to touch the way you do. I have found in my years as a teacher that every student learns differently; therefore, I provide a classroom with a variety of teaching methods so that every individual can walk away with confidence in the process.

In a three-day class, we "squeeze" in an unbelievable amount of unique information. It's really a summation of wisdom that has taken me a lifetime to learn. I'm excited to share the best of what's been passed down to me by very special individuals, many of whom prefer to go unnamed. There is a lot of information and experience shared in a short period of time, so you also walk away with instructional materials to take home. Reflection; practice, practice, practice; and expanding oneself in recommended areas of study provides ways to continually enhance your skills. I am currently working on an advanced class for those who have trained and practiced Mindful Touch Therapy for a select period of time. I also hope to offer "refresher" day classes for graduates.

MT: Does one have to be a massage therapist to learn Mindful Touch Therapy?

NS: No; however, the difference in what you [literally] "bring to the table" in class does determine your ability to provide this body of work professionally or casually. For example, in a very few classes, I have had partners of people living with life-threatening illness there to simply get a sense of how to contribute to quality of life for their loved one. Others have come with an understanding that the class teaches more than just a technique, and they want to learn an expanded perspective of life.

MT: Is there anything else you'd like to add?

NS: Over and over again, my student body has told me they received so much more than they expected and dreamed of in a hands-on class. I have tried to better portray the class in small ads in our massage publications and in verbal description, yet I always seem to come up short when expressing the true essence of Mindful Touch Therapy. I suppose it is simply something you must experience if you are driven to want to practice your bodywork in a holistic fashion or feel called to work with an expanded population of people - those who might be "contraindicated" for your other forms of massage and touch therapy.

Lastly, I would love to send a special thank you again, to those who have blessed me with their presence in every Mindful Touch class!

MT: Thank you so much for your time, Nancy.

For more information about Mindful Touch Therapy, visit or contact Nancy at .


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