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Before returning to settle down in her native state of Montana, Shantel’s massage education took her on a journey to travel the U.S. and the world, where she gained a wide variety of unique massage training and experience.

Montana Roots

Massage was in Shantel’s DNA. While she was growing up in her hometown of Billings, her mother practiced as a massage therapist and also ran a massage school. Massage was part of normal life, and her mother’s nurturing touch, rubbing her feet after a long day spent enjoying the Montana outdoors, was a regular and welcome occurrence.

She never saw herself following in her mom’s footsteps. It just never crossed her mind. But at college in Missoula, she noticed massage entering more into her life in small and positive ways. Sometimes, she would offer other students and co-workers the affectionately named “5 for 5”, where she would provide a 5-minute shoulder rub for five dollars. It was a light-hearted part of hanging out with her friends, and, because she had learned some simple yet effective techniques from her mom, it became a popular offering.

Massage School

After two years in college, she wasn’t seeing a clear direction for herself and started considering what other paths she might take. One path in particular started to stand out. Despite what she now describes, tongue-in-cheek, as “not wanting to do what my mom did”, she was feeling more and more drawn to pursue massage as a career. So she left Missoula, moved to Asheville, North Carolina, and enrolled in the Asheville School of Massage and Yoga.

It was while she was in massage school that she first encountered what would become one of her main massage specialties. One day in class, an instructor was teaching deep tissue massage and had brought a scale in to demonstrate different levels of pressure. He had each student work on applying pressure to the scale to measure the actual number of pounds they were exerting. Much to Shantel’s surprise, she was able to exert far more pressure than any of the other students. Throughout the rest of her time at the school, she was encouraged by the instructors to build on this gift. She started to see that, when combined with the right techniques, deep massage work had the potential to provide enormous benefit to her clients.

Traveling and Learning

After massage school, she traveled extensively while either working as a massage therapist or attending massage therapy continuing education and training. In Telluride, Colorado, she worked at The Hotel Madeline, a five-star resort where she was booked solid and would deliver over 300 massages in a single winter or summer season. The number one request she kept hearing from clients at the hotel, many of whom were serious athletes such as skiiers and mountain bikers, was deep tissue work.

Because of the relentless client requests for deep tissue work, she decided to expand her knowledge in this area even further by attending a month-long intensive training at the Esalen Institue in Big Sur, California where she learned the technique of Deep Bodywork, a method that integrates the qualities of a flowing Esalen® Massage with the therapeutic effectiveness of deep tissue work. The training helped Shantel understand how to truly go deeper by entering the body’s deeper soft tissue layers and freeing previously dense, hardened areas, which may have become chronically painful due to a lack of fluid exchange and energy flow.

After this training, she returned to her seasonal job in Telluride, and all of a sudden she was no longer hearing requests to go deeper, but instead hearing clients say, “OK, that’s deep enough.” She had experienced both sides of the spectrum, and now worked hard to fine-tune the depth for her clients as well as integrate more stretching and movement to balance out the treatments. The results were self-evident because it was during this time that she started to receive glowing reviews from clients at the resort on a regular basis.

The main limitation of resort work, however, was that she was only seeing very short-term clients, and this didn’t give her an opportunity to follow up with them and provide care on a longer-term basis. Partly because of this, she moved to Austin, Texas, and got a coveted job at one of the top spas in the city, Milk and Honey. Here she was able to work with repeat clients and gain experience in developing treatment plans for longer-term care and taking a strategic approach to help clients reach goals around reducing pain.

Back to Montana

But ultimately, the big city life did not appeal to Shantel. It just didn’t feel right. At heart, she could feel her Montana roots calling her. So, after another round of travel and education (she spent another month at the Esalen Institute studying Shiatsu, and even volunteered at The Healing House in Cusco, Peru where she received her training in Reiki 1 and 2), she decided to return to her home state and moved to Bozeman.

What did she learn from such a wide range of massage experience? “People are people,” she says. “Whether you’re a ranch hand from Ennis who’s getting his first massage ever, or a spa connoisseur who travels all over the world and is getting her fourth massage that week, it all comes down to asking the right questions, listening to what you need and want, and providing a highly personalized treatment.”

Today, her mom is very proud of Shantel’s massage career, as well as amazed by all the places massage has taken her. When Shantel is not giving massage treatments or furthering her massage education, she enjoys hiking, skiing, and walking her one-year-old Australian Shepherd , who is fittingly named “Montana”. And every now and then, she will still do a “5 for 5” back rub when hanging out with some of her close friends.

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