Bliss Fitness massage therapist Joanna Burgess

Joanna Burgess, massage therapist at Bliss Fitness & Health

I’m standing in a circle of a dozen people, slowly moving our bodies in coordinated, wave-like motions. We’re practicing Qigong, a traditional Chinese form of holistic moving meditation that promotes health and balance. But though this sounds like a Qigong class or workshop, I’m actually in a training for a form of bodywork that I practice called Hendrickson Method®. And when I hear the instructor saying, “This isn’t just a warm-up, this practice is Hendrickson Method,” I feel a sense of affirmation in my choice to dedicate myself to this work.

As a student at Oakland’s McKinnon Body Therapy Center, I studied various massage and bodywork modalities. I enjoyed all of my courses but at the same time found myself experiencing a low level of frustration. I noticed a tendency among both the instructors and the students to categorize and polarize the various modalities and treatment styles: as either primarily therapeutic and clinical (think “sports massage”) or primarily relaxation-based and balancing (think “spa massage” and “energy work”). This troubled me because I felt inherently that the blending of these approaches could lead to the most profound healing. This is precisely why I fell in love with the Hendrickson Method® of bodywork from the moment I first learned of it.

The Hendrickson Method® treats musculoskeletal injuries through a clinical/scientific approach, but synthesized with gentle, fluid Eastern energy practices, resulting in a treatment that is both deeply relaxing and effective. When its creator, Dr. Tom Hendrickson, D.C., mentored with the renowned physical therapist Lauren Berry, he began to question that same paradigm that I experienced in massage school. Eventually Tom figured out that the powerful clinical techniques he was learning could be amplified by slowing the treatment down and combining it with Tai Chi principles. The unique wave mobilization® technique that forms the heart of Hendrickson Method® gently rocks the body at the pace of the resting heartbeat, in a pattern that mimics the flow of ocean waves. The Tai Chi/Qigong-inspired movements that comprise the wave mobilization® strokes allow me to regulate my energy and direct my healing touch in a totally relaxed manner during my sessions. This transmits to my clients both physically and at the level of their nervous system, and leaves us both feeling balanced and refreshed. Since I don’t have to strain myself to help you, every session is like a meditation for me, and I can rest easy knowing I can provide this amazing healing work until I’m 80!

Another key element of Hendrickson Method® is its focus on joint mobilization. Though they promote the healthy flow of blood and lymph–and certainly feel good in the moment!–the long, slow strokes that characterize Swedish massage unfortunately don’t do enough to help alleviate the primary cause of most musculoskeletal pain and imbalance: joint dysfunction. In Hendrickson Method®, we gently and safely mobilize the joints with the rhythmic wave-like strokes I’ve described as well as other specific techniques within our scope of practice. Joint mobilization distracts and calms the nervous system, allowing me to work more deeply without discomfort to my clients, while also rehydrating the joints and promoting greater range of movement and overall increased mobility.

And now for the final piece of the magic of Hendrickson Method®: neuromuscular reeducation. Modern science has shown that musculoskeletal issues aren’t always completely due to mechanical problems in our bodies. Sometimes they’re also in our minds! So instead of just “working on you,” I use a strategy called muscle energy technique to involve you in the process. By engaging you in gentle resistance-based contract/release movements, we “reset” your neurological functioning, allowing your brain to remember what your muscles and joints are capable of. Sometimes the immediate results of this technique really can feel like magic!

After two years/168 hours of advanced study with the Hendrickson Method Institute (HMI), I earned my certification last year as a Hendrickson Method® Practitioner. This year I embarked on HMI’s second-level training program. My Qigong story took place in the Hendrickson Method® training I attended just two weeks ago. Throughout four days of intensive study with other advanced students, I dove deeper into the work, invigorating my practice and developing a greater understanding of how to use this powerful bodywork modality to support my clients in their healing. Unfortunately, with the complicated lives most of us lead today–including of course all the sitting we do in the form of computing and driving–musculoskeletal complaints are a leading cause of pain and discomfort. Fortunately, the Hendrickson Method® method of bodywork was designed for precisely the purpose of helping alleviate conditions such as these:

  • Sports injuries and strains (eg, runners’ shin splints/knee pain, etc)
  • Thoracic-outlet syndrome

  • Pectoralis minor-syndrome

  • Rotator-cuff strain and injuries

  • Bicipital tendinitis

  • Shoulder impingement

  • Frozen-shoulder

  • Carpal-tunnel and cubital-tunnel syndrome

  • Tendinitis and tendinopathy

  • Nerve entrapments

  • Joint degeneration/arthritis

  • Low back pain and hip pain

  • Bulging and herniated discs

  • SI joint pain

  • Sciatica/piriformis syndrome

  • Headaches and migraines

But does all this science mean you should only come for a Hendrickson Method® session if you’re in pain or injured? Of course not! In addition to being deeply relaxing and restorative, this amazing modality also promotes musculoskeletal balancing, to help facilitate your athletic and fitness goals and provide you with greater mobility and ease in your everyday life. Come experience it for yourself!