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Pressure-packed business


Jackie Hoerichs' clients are under pressure, but they like it.

Hoerichs, a traveling shiatsu practitioner, goes from boardrooms to basements with her mat and chair, leaning on her clients' pressure points to ease tensions in stress-filled workers and chronic pain sufferers.

Tomorrow, she will take her traveling chair to the Waverly Woods golf course, relaxing golfers between holes at the Howard County Chamber's annual golf tournament. It's one of several very public engagements Hoerichs has been involved in as her business, On-site Shiatsu, has grown to include more business clients.

"I'm starting to see that shift, especially here where there's such a fierce competition for employees," she said.

Hoerichs' on-site practice is part of a national trend among massage professionals, who have moved from the soothing rooms filled with sweet-smelling oils and relaxing music to the cluttered workplace desks piled with paper and littered with cookie crumbs.

Massage has become a more popular pastime and stress reliever in the past few years, according to the American Massage Therapy Association. A recent survey done by the group shows twice as many adult Americans said they had had a massage in the past year as did in 1997, but 20 percent of those surveyed say they don't get regular massages because they don't have time.

Those factors have driven the growing trend of on-site or seated massage, typically done in a business environment, said Ron Precht, communications manager for the group. "Chair massage, especially in corporate settings, is booming and growing faster than anyone could imagine," he said. "Companies have massage therapists in regularly."

Hoerichs has seen the trend play out in Columbia.

In the past year, Hoerichs said, she has seen about a 60 percent increase in revenue, primarily because of a focus on serving more businesses. Last year, she added six corporate clients to her roster, which made up about 40 percent of her revenue, she said.

Now Hoerichs is finding herself a regular part of large business functions - two weeks ago at an American Cancer Society benefit, tomorrow at the golf tournament, later this month at a fair at Howard Community College. Hoerichs said she welcomes the large gatherings, but not only because of the money. The shiatsu practice is mutually beneficial, she said.

"The more people I work with, the better I feel," she said. "It's the only thing I've found that's as beneficial for the person giving it as the person receiving."

Shiatsu is a form of Japanese massage based on acupuncture that is used in Japan as much for health maintenance as pleasure. Translated as "finger pressure," shiatsu is performed with the participant fully clothed either sitting in a chair or lying face down on a padded mat while Hoerichs uses her fingertips to knead pressure points.

Hoerichs said most of her clients, like Cindy Gray, come to her suffering from chronic pain or seeking stress relief. Gray had pain in her neck, shoulders and upper back after an accident, and she was also going through a divorce when she started seeing Hoerichs in September.

"My stress is a chronic problem," said Gray. "To allow me to do the things I want to do, I go to Jackie. I look at it more as health maintenance. It's a good way of healing stress in all forms."

Michelle Cook of Columbia said she suffers from panic attacks but has handled her anxiety much better since going to Hoerichs.

"Things just don't seem to bother me once I walk out" of a session, she said. "I don't get as worked up. I also know from her helping me, what to do - let your jaw relax, feel your stomach relax."

It was stress and pain that led Hoerichs to study shiatsu at the Ohashi Institute in 1993. Hoerichs had been a child-care provider for 14 years before starting her company - first called Shiatsu with Jackie - in 1994. She changed the name to On-Site Shiatsu in 1998.

At the time, she suffered from back pain, which was relieved as she practiced the massage techniques.

"When I started doing shiatsu, which [involves] crawling around, my back unwound," she said. "I'm free from medication. I found I could be part of other people's transition out of pain."

Now she spends about four hours a day on the road massaging, increasing her business with every stop. Some workers with whom she has done a minisession in an office environment have become private clients who want $60 hourlong sessions, and some private clients have brought Hoerichs into their offices. She charges $15 more to visit private clients on site.

"Anywhere where there are business people I try to get to," she said. "That's where I want this to grow is in the business community. I think it's something companies need to look at as far as adding value to their business package. There are some stressed-out people working around here."

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