Cari Johnson Pelava is Co-Director of CenterPoint Massage & Shiatsu Therapy School, and serves as Program Director of the Shiatsu Therapy and Eastern sciences departments. Cari founded the Minnesota Center for Shiatsu Study, which merged with Northern Lights School of Massage Therapy in 2001 to form CenterPoint.
How does a dancer from New York plant the seed of the shiatsu profession in Minnesota? How did an individual’s transformation inspire others to pursue their dreams of helping others? Cari Johnson Pelava’s path from dance to shiatsu therapist and teacher is a fascinating journey of perseverance, healing and inspiration.
Cari’s modern dance career was interrupted by a severe spinal injury that forced her into a year in a back brace and a date with surgeons. A week before the surgery, doctors told her there was only a 50/50 chance of success. She cancelled the operation and began her self-directed healing journey. Determined to understand her condition, she returned to college to study anatomy and physiology. Over the next two years she saw many practitioners – doctors, chiropractors, healers – who offered minimal relief from her chronic pain.
Finally, Cari met Dr. Yoshida, who was trained in chiropractic, acupuncture and shiatsu. With his treatments and active visualization on her part, the pain receded within three weeks. Cari returned to her dance career five months later and discovered her passion to dance had waned. She earned a degree in exercise physiology, and entered the fitness world motivated by a desire to help others heal from injuries.
However, the 1980’s California fitness scene was more about image and beauty than wellness, and Cari became extremely disillusioned. Cari had studied several bodywork modalities, but none of them offered what she intuitively knew she was seeking. One rare rainy day, feeling acutely unfulfilled and uncertain of her direction, Cari stopped at an intersection in Santa Monica and saw a sign for the Shiatsu Massage School of California. Suddenly, everything fell into place! She registered for the next class and was soon immersed in Dr. Kaneko’s Shiatsu Anma training. From the very first class, she knew shiatsu was what she was meant to do. She finally found a hands-on approach that could profoundly impact health and well-being. Shiatsu technique and theory came so naturally to her that she felt guided in her pursuit.
Cari finished Dr. Kaneko’s program and opened her own practice. In 1985 she moved to Minnesota, where she opened a personal fitness business. She found, however, that her clients wanted to try shiatsu instead! In a few years she had converted her fitness business to a full-time shiatsu practice. In 1988, a former dance mentor invited Cari to teach aerobics at a summer rhythmic gymnastics camp. There she met a Japanese coach who was so excited by Cari’s knowledge of shiatsu that she offered to find her a teacher in Japan. This became a reality in 1989, when Cari went to Japan. She met Dr. Torimi, a Japanese doctor of shiatsu and acupuncture, with whom she apprenticed.
During her year in Japan, Cari also studied with Toru Namikoshi, president of Japan’s Shiatsu College and son of the founder of Namikoshi Shiatsu (the official shiatsu of Japan). Cari left Japan with her teachers’ blessing to teach Namikoshi Shiatsu in the United States. Cari resumed her shiatsu practice in Minnesota, and soon had a yearlong wait list. While she studied in Japan, the awareness of Asian healing arts in Minnesota had increased dramatically. Cari began receiving requests from those who wanted to learn shiatsu. She was intrigued by the possibility of creating a school. With Dr. Kaneko’s blessing to teach Shiatsu Anma, Cari began visioning her school in 1991. The Minnesota Center for Shiatsu Study opened in March of 1992 with 12 students, offering a 500-hour shiatsu program with evening classes.
Cari began to organize the Minnesota chapter of the AOBTA in 1991, and in 1994 became an AOBTA Certified Instructor. In 1995, the Minnesota Center for Shiatsu Study joined the AOBTA Council of Schools with an approved curriculum. At this same time, MCSS expanded to include full and part time programs, day and evening classes, and found its current home at the University Technology Center near the University of Minnesota campus.
In 2001, MCSS merged with Northern Lights School of Massage Therapy. The two school directors were united in their vision of a curriculum that offers the best of Western and Eastern bodywork education. The success of this vision is revealed by the fact that 60% or more of incoming students register for CenterPoint’s East West Therapeutic Bodywork program. The vision to build a bridge between Eastern and Western bodywork styles has exceeded all expectation.
Currently, Cari directs the administrative staff at CenterPoint and oversees the Shiatsu curriculum and program. Because Cari is one of the few Americans to have studied in Japan, CenterPoint is the only school in the U.S. to train students in two separate forms of shiatsu. Cari’s vision to bring the gifts of shiatsu to as many people as possible, students and clients alike, continues to grow and expand.
Jackson Petersburg co-founded Northern Lights School of Massage Therapy in 1985, and CenterPoint Massage & Shiatsu Therapy School & Clinic in 2001. He currently serves as CenterPoint’s Co-Director and Program Director for the western- based science and massage therapy technique departments. Jackson developed and teaches Advanced Therapeutic Massage Technique, Advanced Musculoskeletal Anatomy and Massage Therapy Summary Session in the core curriculum. He teaches advanced workshops in CenterPoint’s continuing education series.
Jackson’s interest in therapeutic bodywork began at an early age. In the 1950’s and 60’s, he observed his uncle, who is an osteopath and surgeon, performing boney adjustments and soft tissue manipulation on family members on the living room floor of his grandparents’ farmhouse in Wisconsin. Like many people who are called to this profession, Jackson was the only person in the group who was inspired to give as well as receive the work. He realized that structured touch had the potential to be nurturing and therapeutic if applied with intention and sensitivity. This experience lingered in the back of his mind until the 1970’s.
In the meantime, Jackson competed in a number of sports, including cross-country running/skiing and track. He began to develop chronic low back pain, which periodically restricted his training. His search for the root cause and an effective treatment began in earnest. Unfortunately, nothing that he was experiencing in the conventional medical system was making sense. After years of searching for an answer, Jackson went back to his roots and decided to explore therapeutic bodywork for healing and as a new profession.
After researching his options, he moved West to attend the newly formed Boulder School of Massage Therapy. The Boulder School embodied the spirit of the mind/body integration that was capturing the attention of his generation–eclectic, experimental and expansive. While in school, Jackson was a model in the Rolf Institute’s student clinic and was assigned to a very talented Swiss physician who was completing the program. Some of the finest Rolfers in the country were observing and critiquing the work. The experience was profound, disorienting, and ultimately identified the source of his low back pain. Jackson realized that as a result of this powerful work and the fact that the problem area had been accessed and structurally redesigned, that his chronic condition no longer ruled his existence. He reinforced the bodywork by taking Structural Patterning, the Rolfer’s version of body movement reeducation, where he was trained in how to move more efficiently and be fully in his body.
Jackson returned to the Twin Cities in 1980 and began to establish his private practice. He also saw the need to become affiliated with the only nationally recognized professional association that represented massage therapists in the U.S. He co-founded the Minnesota Chapter of the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) in 1983, and served two terms as Chapter President, Legislative Chair, Central District Representative, Chair of the AMTA Approved Continuing Education Committee and AMTA Council of Schools (COS) Executive Committee member.
As a member of the AMTA COS, Jackson participated in the decision making process to create two benchmarks of an emerging healthcare profession: national certification (National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork/NCBTMB) and accreditation (Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation/COMTA).
During the 1980’s, Jackson began to study with or research the work of some of the major names in the profession: Jon Zahourek and Ken Morgareidge (Anatomy in Clay), Janet Travell (Trigger Point Therapy), James Cyriax (Cross-Fiber Frictioning), Ida Rolf (Structural Integration/Rolfing), Ron Kurtz (Hakomi Therapy), Leon Chaitow, and Ben Benjamin. These major influences helped to shape his philosophical, structural, energetic, somatic/emotional, and spatial understanding of himself, his clients and his teaching methodology. Since 1979, Jackson has been in private practice as a massage therapist, specializing in anatomically precise, structural techniques used to treat soft tissue conditions and injuries.