By Je’Don Holloway Talley
For the Birmingham Times
Tom “TJ” Henderson Jr., 41, wanted to help those who were hurting, so he became a massage therapist.
Massage allows the body to take a break from life and heal, he said: “From my point of view, massage gives people a chance to turn off their minds and address what’s going on in their bodies. The body heals itself, but a lot of times it needs assistance. That’s where massage therapy comes in.”
Asked if the black community is aware of the physical, mental, emotional, and maybe even spiritual benefits of massage therapy, Henderson said, “No.”
“I say that because I don’t have a large number of African Americans on my table,” he added. “It’s very disproportionate to every other nationality. … [Many] black people [falsely] see massage as more of a sensual, sexual thing rather than [something] therapeutic. … Once we can separate and differentiate between the two, the community can begin to reap the benefits.”
There’s a misconception about massage therapists being “masseuses,” a term commonly used to describe an unlicensed female massage therapist who works in the “red-light district,” said Henderson, who added the term has been misused for years in the black community.
“I am a massage therapist,” he said, adding that he also practices Esalen Massage and Deep Bodywork, deep-tissue massage techniques.
“An Esalen massage is the best form of deep-body massage that incorporates many techniques and modalities,” he explained. “I’m also a Reiki Master, so I do energy work, as well; that’s a big part of Esalen bodywork. I also do sports massage, which consists of stretching and deep-tissue massage. … [Esalen massage involves] a broad spectrum of techniques.”
Henderson is believed to be the only certified Esalen Deep Bodywork practitioner in Alabama and one of the few in the Southeast.
The father of two is a Brighton native, who lives in Midfield with his wife, Terica, and children, Keshawn Avery, 21, and Tyler Henderson, 6. He attended Holy Family High School and graduated from Birmingham Southern College (BSC), where he earned a bachelor’s degree in business management, which he uses in his work as an independent contractor at the Hoover-based pH Balanced Massage and Fitness Studio.
After completing his undergraduate studies, Henderson initially wanted to continue his education by pursuing a major in physical therapy and minor in massage therapy “not knowing the two were completely different modalities that had nothing to do with each other,” he said.
Once he found out that he could study massage therapy separately, he enrolled at the Birmingham School of Massage and earned a dual degree in neuromuscular therapy and professional massage—skills Henderson is eager to share with the black community.
He believes economics may be a huge factor [in the lack of African Americans who turn to massage therapy], but Henderson said he always tries to make myself available to the community. “I want them to know [about massage]. I want them to have the information, so they can know this is something beneficial that everyone needs,” he said.
For more information or to contact Henderson, email firstname.lastname@example.org