ANNAPOLIS – Sharon Benoliel has been practicing shiatsu, a Japanese healing art based on traditional Chinese medicine for 17 years, and she’s done well enough to help buy a house and pay for her 4-year-old daughter’s expenses.
Despite 230 hours of shiatsu training at the Ohashi Institute in New York and years of experience, Benoliel had to shut down her business last year after the state Legislature passed a law subjecting energy practitioners to the same rules as massage therapists.
That may change under two bills offering solutions: One would exempt energy practitioners from massage therapist requirements and the other would create separate rules for such practitioners.
Since Maryland’s massage bill passed in 1999, several hundred energy practitioners without massage therapist certification and training have had to stop working or risk a $5,000 fine and closing of their business.
A massage therapy license requires a 500-hour massage therapy training program and an exam.
“The loss of my shiatsu income over this past year has created a considerable financial hardship for my family,” said Benoliel, of Potomac. “Many other Maryland shiatsu practitioners are enduring similar financial hardships.”
The problem with the 1999 law, say energy practitioners, is the Legislature defined massage as “manual techniques” on the body’s soft tissues. It also made having certification as a massage therapist a prerequisite for touching the body for any commercial purpose, unless a person is a licensed cosmetologist.
“The law’s current definition of massage therapy is akin to defining football as an athletic contest in which a ball is moved across a playing field to score points,” said Mary McGovern, an associate polarity practitioner in Cheverly. Polarity is a comprehensive health system that works with the human energy field. “It is accurate. But not exclusive.”
Senate Bill 194, sponsored by Sen. Paul Pinsky, D-Prince George’s, would exempt energy-based therapy from the state’s definition of massage therapy. It also would exclude energy-based practitioners from being certified and registered as massage therapists.
House Bill 1002, sponsored by Delegates Robert Baldwin, R-Anne Arundel, and Barbara Frush, D-Prince George’s, would require the State Board of Chiropractic Examiners adopt regulations for the registration of energy practitioners. It also proposes creating an Energy Practitioner Advisory Committee.
Energy practitioners support both bills, but worry the government may try to regulate their practices.
“It (House Bill 1002) is another way to get us back to working,” said Benoliel.
“It’s a very cumbersome, difficult approach. The other way is a lot simpler.”
There are more than 25 energy modalities, including reflexology, polarity and reiki. Energy-based practices are built on the view that the body is a combination of matter and energy. Practitioners believe the free, balanced flow of energy is vital to good health. Their practices are not designed to manipulate soft tissues but are used to balance the energy in the body so the body can heal itself.
“Massage is not a foundation for doing energy practices, nor are energy practices a foundation for doing massage,” said licensed massage therapist Lorraine Barclay of Bethesda. “Massage therapists who have firsthand experience with energy practices know that training in massage therapy is irrelevant to what energy practitioners do.”
There is precedent for the Maryland lawmakers’ actions. Last year, North Carolina passed a bill exempting “techniques specifically intended to affect the human energy field.” Wisconsin also exempts energy practitioners. Maine, North Carolina, Tennessee and New Mexico exempt reflexology, which uses thumb walking to stimulate reflex points in the body.
An act considered in Illinois last session contained exemptions for shiatsu, polarity, and other energy modalities.
Maryland’s massage board has agreed to support Senate Bill 194 with the following language: “Massage does not include the laying on of hands consisting of pressure or movement on a fully clothed individual to specifically affect the electromagnetic, energy or energetic field of the body.”
The State Board of Chiropractic Examiners is supporting House Bill 1002. “Because we have put certain restrictions in place, we have cut out a whole group of people,” said Frush. “My only belief is that we need to let these people make a living.” -30- CNS-02-28-01