Qiana Martin, host of the podcast A Touch of Costa Rica, recently had the opportunity to interview Biel about his journey. Here, we’ll take a closer look at this conversation and how Biel’s expertise can help aspiring massage therapists achieve their personal and professional goals.
Biel's Journey: From Theater to Massage Therapy
Biel attended theater school in 1985, where he took a class on movement. During this class, the instructor handed out a sheet of paper with a long list of names of people who had made a significant impact in movement, dance, and similar fields.
Biel didn't recognize any of the names on the list, but one name caught his attention for its humorous appeal: Ida Rolf.
“I just thought her name was funny, so I thought 'I'll write a paper on her,'" says Biel. So he went to the library and found a book written by Rolf. "It was a really small book on meditations, about the structure of the body, and fascia, and stuff I had no idea about," Biel explains. "And I was really taken by it and it was sort of like the first seed that got planted."
Following theater school, Biel was advised by a colleague to seek out massage therapy due to severe neck pain. Biel describes himself as feeling uncertain, since massage therapy as a service was rarely utilized in 1990, but nonetheless sought out a massage therapist.
After only three or four sessions, Biel's pain was alleviated, which left a lasting impression on him. This experience played a substantial role in his future as a massage therapist, even though he didn't realize it at the time.
Writing Trail Guide to the Body
When asked how he felt these experiences inspired the future course of his life, Biel explains that it led him to pursue massage therapy as a career.
"About two or three years after [my massage sessions], I decided to go to massage therapy school," he says. "I flew up to Seattle, stayed, and I ended up practicing massage and then teaching at the school. And it all sort of coalesced from there."
While working as a teacher, Biel had access to the school's bookstore which was, in his words, "the size of a closet." He discovered that none of the books at the store were written for or by massage therapists, but rather with medical professionals and physical therapists in mind.
"I walked out of the bookstore one day and I thought, ‘where are our books? Where are the books for us?’" he explains. This revelation inspired him to write a book—at 3:00 in the morning.
"I pulled out a yellow pad of paper and I wrote down, 'Roadmap human body—book that connects structures together.' And then I fell back asleep," he recounts. "And I got up in the morning and I thought, you know, that's a pretty good idea. And that's where it all started."
1. Writing the Book
Biel began his literary journey by writing his book on 3x5 inch cards, eventually purchasing a computer to piece together his ideas. However, one of his most significant breakthroughs was when he purchased a three-ring binder and a large ream of three-hole-punched paper. He began to draw the book out—thinking of it more as a picture book than a typical novel. This approach allowed Biel to visualize and structure the content in a more intuitive manner.
"I would open a page and I'd say, 'well, here's the title page, and it's going to have this and this on it,'" he explains. "Then I would open up the chapters and I would say, 'well, on this page for the biceps, we should have some text here, and then we should have a picture of this here, and this here.'"
Throughout this process, Biel made sure he was writing for his target audience, rather than himself. "Writing a book is really hard, but [writing isn't] really the hard part," Biel acknowledged. "Writing a book that your audience wants to spend time with, and is really connected to, and greases the wheels of their learning; that's the really challenging and vital part."
2. Finding an Illustrator
After two years of working on the project, Biel recognized that he needed an illustrator to help him refine the content and visuals of his book. Hiring an illustrator was expensive, however, which initially discouraged him.
In an event that Biel describes as "fate," one of his students—Robin Dorn—submitted an assignment filled with intricately drawn images. Biel discovered that Dorn was not only a gifted botanical illustrator, but also showed an interest in drawing the human form. From there, they began discussing a potential collaboration.
When Dorn graduated from school, Biel enlisted her help to illustrate his book. "For about a year, we met every Sunday morning around her kitchen table, and got the book done," explains Biel.
3. Challenges of Publication
After dedicating two years to the project and reaching out to various publishers, Biel decided to self-publish. He found a printer in Seattle—where he was living at the time—and ordered 2,000 copies of the book to be printed.
Following the book's completion, Biel relocated to Boulder, Colorado, and the copies were shipped to him there. Meanwhile, in the months leading to this milestone, he set about using massage magazines and other resources to locate some of the most significant massage schools in the United States and Canada. Biel then contacted each of them to start the process of getting his book into their hands.
"I sent 200 copies out free, with a cover letter saying, 'hey, I have this book. If you want to buy some, let me know,'" he says. "It was kind of risky to send 200 books out for free, but it turned out to be really smart."
Founding Books of Discovery
Biel's initial publication, Trail Guide to the Body, prompted Biel to found Books of Discovery—a publication source for manual therapy textbooks and resources. He went on to write Trail Guide to Movement, which focuses on kinesiology, along with various other books on stretching and strengthening techniques.
In recent years, Biel's company has become a one-stop-shop for anyone looking to learn about bodywork.
While he writes and publishes books himself, Biel recognizes the value in disconnecting from written works after an intensive period of learning. Too much reading at once can lead to cognitive overload, which is best solved by stepping away from books and engaging with other forms of learning or self-care.
"I think it's important that after you graduate, you give yourself the permission to just spend some time getting back into your heart, your hands, and your gut," he advises. "It's really important that ultimately, the work you're doing is healing work. Everything you can do to be present at the side of the table is of paramount importance for you and your patient."
A Journey of Discovery
Biel explains that the reason behind naming his company Books of Discovery is rooted in the idea that his book was a journey of discovery for him, and he hopes to share that with others. "It's one of life's great joys to continue to discover," he explains.
The easiest place to access additional information or reach out to the team at Books of Discovery is their website. The site includes a variety of helpful content and resources. Biel explains that anyone is welcome to contact his team through email, and that any inquiries will be returned in a prompt manner—typically within a day.
"We're always happy to hear from people and their ideas, because even if somebody offers an idea that might not be best for us, we're always happy to spend time with them, and say 'It might not be for us, but here's somebody else you might want to go to,' or 'Here's something you might want to think about with respect to your idea,'" Biel explains.
Want to learn more about Biel's journey?Click hereto listen to the entire Podcast. If you're interested in learning more about becoming a massage therapist, visit our website, CRSMT.com, to find out how we can help you on your massage therapy journey.