Interest in holistic health and massage therapy grows at TSJC

ALAMOSA — Rather than focusing on illness or specific parts of the body, holistic health (alternative health) considers the whole person and the connection of mind, body, and spirit. The focus is on prevention and life-style changes that promote health.  At Trinidad State the holistic health programs on the Trinidad and Valley campuses are identical and are designed to offer alternative choices to traditional health care. 

“More people are moving toward prevention,” said Julie Kotalik, director of Holistic Health and Massage Therapy in Alamosa. “It’s about the whole body, the holistic approach. I know my body can take care of itself. How can I help it along?” 

With a Bachelor of Science degree in kinesiology, a minor in health/business, and a degree in massage therapy with eight years of experience running her own massage business near Huntsville, Texas, Kotalik is well equipped for her current position. 

The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists massage therapist in the top 20 fastest growing occupations with a projected 26 percent growth rate between 2016 and 2026. According to the American Massage Therapy Association, “from 2011 to 2015, revenue from alternative/complementary healthcare providers, which includes massage therapists, increased 14 percent, and employment increased 19 percent.”

Kay Evans, Holistic Health and Massage Therapy director in Trinidad, said, “Massage has gone from this weird touching thing to a mainstream form of therapy. You don’t have to explain to every single person what massage is. They know.”

Kotalik agreed, “This shift was barely happening when I came to the Valley five years ago. It’s much more prevalent now.”

Some think reflexology is simply a foot massage, but it is much more than that. On both the hands and feet, and even the ears, there are specific points that correspond to organs and areas of the body. By applying pressure to those points (traditionally on the feet), blocked energy can be cleared to the corresponding areas of the body, producing a beneficial effect.

“I’ve been doing reflexology (one alternative health technique) for about a year,” said Mandy Cook, who is training at Trinidad State. “I have noticed that some of my clients, who come in with swollen hands, ankles or feet, will often have a noticeable decrease in swelling by the end of their session as their circulation improves. I’ve also been able to relieve a migraine in just one session.”

Cook will complete a degree in massage therapy this May. She hopes to continue on to complete her AAS (Associate of Arts in Science) as well. 

“I want to help people,” she said. “I feel like massage and holistic health type things are becoming more mainstream and people are getting more educated about it and are more open to it. I have a friend who is a doctor and she wants to gear her practice toward preventive medicine. I think there’s an opportunity for doctors and massage therapists to pair-up.”

With most massage therapists believing that massage therapy should be considered part of the health care field, that day could be quickly approaching.

Stephanie Guillen graduated from Trinidad State with a massage degree 10 years ago and is back to complete her AAS. “I’ve been able to use the skills I’ve learned to help myself and others in the community and in my travels,” said Guillen. “All of the previous classes I took transferred to the new program they have now. I’ve learned so much in this kinesiology class. It’s all about learning to heal. I really like what I’m doing.” 

She continued, “Because we live in such a dry area, sinuses seem to be a big problem. Although I believe repeated reflexology sessions are often needed, I have seen relief in just one session as the client relaxes and the pressure in the sinuses is relieved.” 

Guillen is considering a nursing degree and would like to blend that with alternative health modalities.  She said one dental office in Alamosa has introduced holistic health to the practice. “They have a massage therapist and a reflexologist in the office,” said Guillen. “The atmosphere was so calming that I almost forgot what I was there for.”

“I love getting to do this,” said Kotalik. “I felt like I belonged when I was first offered this position. I feel that even more so now.” 

The seeds for this work were planted early. When she was growing up, Kotalik would visit her grandparents and, with no training, massage their backs and shoulders. One day her grandmother said, “Child, one day when you get old enough to decide what you want to do, you should go in to massage therapy.” While a member of a softball team, Kotalik would massage the other members to relieve their tired muscles. Although her initial training was in medical billing and coding, she soon tired of those long days sitting behind a desk working on a computer. She continued working during the day and went to school at night to become a massage therapist. After establishing her massage business, she once again worked during the day and attended classes at night completing a Bachelor of Science degree in kinesiology with a minor in health/business.

Ultimately, she moved to Colorado where she had often vacationed. Resorting to her medical billing and coding skills, she worked for one year until she learned about the opening for a massage director at Trinidad State and has now been at the college five years.   

Kotalik and her students respond to as many community requests as their schedules allow. It not only gives them an opportunity to serve but introduces people to massage. Recently they gave 71 chair massages during The Soar (Supporting Outcomes and Advocacy for Recovery) Symposium at Adams State University regarding addictions.

Community minded Kotalik knows that drug addiction is prevalent in the Valley and she wanted to make a difference. When Kotalik was approached by some friends at her church about being a foster parent, she considered it. “I need to let things marinate for a while, to set on my heart. I did that,” said Kotalik who then took the training and became a certified foster parent in Alamosa County. Her first foster child, Tait, was only three days old when she got him. Tait had been exposed to meth and opiates and, ultimately, could not be returned to his biological family. He stole Kotalik’s heart and she adopted him.  “I just wanted to love him. I don’t know what tomorrow’s going to hold for his behaviors because of his exposures. But I’m willing to take that challenge and know there are going to be obstacles like there would be with any child,” she said.

Wanting to make an even bigger difference, Kotalik will be pursuing her master’s degree in counseling as she continues to direct the Trinidad State program and raise Tait. “I see the need for change to happen, to treat the entire person,” she said.

“I feel blessed to be here,” she continued. “I enjoy coming to work. I enjoy the students. I tell my students ‘You’re here on a journey and our paths were meant to cross. You’re going to be successful.” 

Of the 12 students on the Valley Campus, nine will graduate in May. Students can earn certificates in Massage Therapy, Reflexology, and Health and Wellness and/or an AAS in Holistic Health. 

For more information about the holistic health programs or to schedule a massage or reflexology session at a reduced rate, call 719-589-7036. 

Caption: Julie Kotalik, director of Holistic Health and Massage Therapy at Trinidad State’s Valley Campus, poses next to a reflexology chart./Courtesy photo by Margaret Sanderson