Taking Massage Education to the Edge

Lorri Gifford

I’ll admit it; I’m a massage snob. I have been giving and receiving bodywork for over twelve years and whenever I experience a session for the first time with a massage therapist, my first thought is “God, please let them be good.” So, when I was asked to write this piece about The North Carolina School of Advanced Bodywork, I did so with a bit of trepidation. Let me just state for the record that the experience I had BLEW ME AWAY! And that, dear reader, is not an easy thing to do.

When I lived in California my yoga teacher used to say:  “There are as many yoga studios as Italian restaurants in Encinitas.” In Encinitas there were five or six Italian restaurants; walking from one end of town to the other takes less than ten minutes. The same can be said in Asheville about massage and Massage Schools. With so many choices in the field of bodywork, it’s important to find the schools that stand out. The North Carolina School of Advanced Bodywork (NCSAB) is a shining example, thanks to owner/founder Kyle Wright. This school focuses on creating quality in the workforce. The proof is in the statistics.
To be a Licensed Massage Therapist (LMT) in the state of North Carolina, a person must pass one of three accredited examinations. One of those exams is called The National Certification Examination for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork. Currently the National average for Massage Therapists passing the National Exam when taking it for the first time is 64%.  The Average in North Carolina is 71%. The average for Kyle Wright’s last 10 graduating classes was 100%—even including his 20+ years of teaching, his success rate is 98%.

NCSAB is located on Charlotte Highway in Fairview. What makes it unique is the fact that the facility itself is in a house. The minute you walk in you feel like you are “home.” The reception area is in the front parlor and there is a treatment room, bathroom, sitting area, and classroom on the main level. The classroom seats up to 12 students and the chairs are comfortable executive type office chairs. (If you have ever had to sit through hours of lecture time, you know how important the chair is to your comfort level). The level below the main level is another classroom with massage tables and curtains that can be pulled around each table to create the feeling of privacy when the students are practicing on one another.

“My success is based on my students’ success.”  Kyle Wright

Kyle has been involved in the field of massage and bodywork for over 27 years. His mom got him into massage when he was a physical therapist. She started going to massage school and three months later he joined her. It was a 60-mile drive each way and they would go to massage school, drive back home, and work full time jobs. At the time, Kyle became more interested in the wellness aspect of bodywork and less in rehabilitation. Between the ages of eighteen and twenty, he worked in three spas and was involved in aerobics. Health and wellness were always important to him. He has had practices from New York to Florida to North Carolina.

Kyle became interested in bridging bodywork into the medical field. In 1989 he started his career in teaching by swiping his credit card for $10,000. He had six students at the time. One of his first practices was in Jacksonville, Florida. Today two of his original businesses are still going strong in Florida. They have been sold and passed on to former students and to this day are called The Wright Centers for Advanced Bodywork. One location has been in business for seventeen years and the other for twenty-five.

His students are known as being the “cream of the crop” and professionals in the medical community seek out his graduates. Physicians and Chiropractors have taken his courses. Kyle has spoken nationally at hospitals and medical conferences. His work is highly respected in the medical community; he has also done some work with Neurologists around the country.

Kyle was once hired by Kaiser and offered an amazing salary. He lasted two weeks and left because he wanted to keep his approach “grass roots.”   He wanted to get back to the basics. The quality of his teaching was more important then the quantity that he was being asked to teach.
“If you love to help people and you love what you do, that’s what’s important.”

McGraw-Hill publishers gave Kyle a $50,000 signing bonus to write his book Structural Balancing: A Clinical Approach. This textbook is used in his Massage Certification courses and is a must-read for any body worker. I have spent time looking through it and it is a valuable reference tool for anyone in the field. Kyle has also taught classes all over the US including Boston, Colorado, Florida, and Atlanta.

The teacher that really influenced Kyle was David Scott Lynn. David taught a class called Psycho-Muscular Release & Bio-Structural Balancing. Inspired by what he learned through this class, Kyle combines this technique, strong technical knowledge, and connection to the client in his teaching approach at NCSAB. It is “deep” tissue work without pain.

Three of the first words a student and client learn when stepping through the doors at NCSAB are: deeper, edge, and less. When a client says “deeper”, this means that the therapist can go deeper into the belly of the muscle or the attachments. When a client says “less”, they are indicating to the therapist that there is a need to give less pressure or depth. The word “edge” indicates perfect pressure. It is the depth right before the pain. There is a lot of focus on teaching the students at NCSAB how to listen closely to the nervous system within the body of their client, and working with that edge.

“You don’t have to go through pain to get out of pain.”

The students and graduates of NCSAB are taught to start by approaching their client’s nervous system. The goal is to reduce the tonus (the rate at which the nerves are firing) of the body. It is all about reducing the nerve firing and balancing the muscle and nervous tension. This starts with understanding their client’s current “edge.” True deep massage happens before added muscular and nervous tension takes place. In true deep tissue massage, less pain leads to more gain.
The type of massage focused on at NCSAB is similar to Rolfing—but without the pain. And rather then a set of ten structured sessions, it is an organic approach based on each person’s individual needs, based on genetics, age and lifestyle.

“My goal is to decompress the body. If you dig in before a person is ready, a few days later, their muscles will be tighter than when they first went in for a massage.”

The Massage Therapy Program at NCSAB is 500 hours. The intention is to teach the students the proper terminology and the latest medical conditions. The students are taught to use their whole body (knees, feet, elbows, etc.) as tools, as well as the ergonomics of proper body mechanics. A good amount of time is focused on learning muscle attachments and isolating tissues. The teaching approach starts with familiarizing students with the bones—because as Kyle so aptly put it “bones don’t lie.”

Classes take place Monday through Thursday and each day of curriculum is set aside for a specific topic from massage theory to history, ethics, anatomy, and so on.

Along with classes, students are required to do forty hours of clinical time. Massages at the clinic are $30 hour and are currently offered on Mondays and Fridays. If you are looking for specialized and focused work at a great price or are interested in pursuing massage as a career and curious about what NCSAB has to offer, I HIGHLY recommend trying the clinic.

At NCSAB they keep their classes to a maximum of twelve students, believing that smaller classes with more individualized instruction is the key.
In 2009, Kyle came to Asheville because the area was known for being wellness-minded—and his teaching staff followed. While interviewing Kyle I couldn’t help but wish that I had known about his school in Florida when I first started out. I will definitely be looking their way the next time I need to take some continuing education for renewing my massage license.

As I was leaving the school I asked Kyle where he goes when he needs bodywork. He smiled and answered: “I go to my own students.” For a man that has been teaching and giving massage for over 27 years, that says it all.


Lorri Gifford has been reading Tarot Cards since 1986. While living in California, she worked at The Chopra Center for Well-being as their Spa Director and a Lead Educator. In 2009 her intuition guided her to move to Asheville. Lorri enjoys writing, giving readings, coaching, and helping others develop and deepen their intuition.  She can be reached at www.readingswithlorri.com or 828.505.4485.


Sandi Tomlin-Sutker
Written by Sandi Tomlin-Sutker