Luis Mercado is a combat veteran with two tours of duty in Iraq and one in Afghanistan under his belt.
Now he is also a massage therapist in West Hollywood, California.
Although Mercado’s massage studio is relatively new, having opened in 2017, his dedication to his craft goes back nearly a decade to when he was a marine stationed in Okinawa, Japan.
His personal connection to massage goes back even further, to when he was diagnosed as having Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
“In 2004 I was diagnosed with PTSD, [which] causes an effect on the body, whether it’s mentally or physically, on a day-to-day basis, where the person who has it is reminded of a past traumatic event,” he explained. “I was diagnosed with PTSD and massage was given to me as a form of therapy, among many other forms of therapy, to help me cope with the condition.
“Out of the many therapies, it was massage that had the greatest impact,” Mercado recalled.
Although massage therapy was successful in rehabilitating him, it wasn’t a case of being cured overnight. It was a gradual process.
As Mercado remembers it, he got off to a slow start.
“When you’re getting massaged, you’re lying on the table face down, with your peripheral vision closed off. You can’t see, and you feel very vulnerable,” he said. “To even get in that position alone took several sessions.”
He said it took him more than a year of sessions to see significant results—but that once he experienced those results, he became intrigued by massage.
His interest in massage led him to take classes while he was stationed in Okinawa.
“Being exposed to the various modalities that are popular in Japan, like shiatsu, helped to broaden my horizons,” he said. “[And] this is when I started to step into this world. I said to myself, if I can give back to my fellow Marines, I would do so. I [massaged my colleagues] at first to help people, and then thought of the career later.”
Mercado first started practicing massage professionally in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
“When I took off the uniform in 2012, I was offered the opportunity to go work overseas,” he said.
“This is when I started doing massage as a mobile service. I didn’t market the business or brand it. It was on a word-of-mouth basis. I lived in Dubai for five years, practicing massage, and came back in 2017 [to open] Organic Escape.”
As a combat veteran who takes the Marines’ semper fidelis (always loyal) motto to heart, Mercado continues to work with military personnel, both veterans and active duty members, and takes a special pride in helping clients with PTSD.
“One of my clients who has severe PTSD has really transformed,” he said. “She can do things now that she couldn’t do before. She’s prone to being more social, and so on. It’s been a real transformation.”
Massage Therapist to the Stars
As one might expect, operating a massage studio in Hollywood means working with clients from the entertainment industry. When asked if he works with any big names, Mercado chuckled.
“I wish I could tell you who our clients are, but we have disclosure agreements that we have to honor,” he said.
Although he won’t reveal any names, Mercado was happy to share some of his success stories.
“I worked with an actor. He had been in an accident—he had severe whiplash and damage to his spinal cord—and he came in with a drastically reduced range of motion in his neck,” Mercado said. “All of his neck muscles, anteriorly and posteriorly, were shot. He couldn’t move his head at all.
“Given his type of career, this was a huge problem. He was a very busy individual. He needed to travel. He needed to work. He was in high demand.
“After several sessions, he could turn his head all around. His increase of range of motion was a very emotional moment for him. It saved his career,” said Mercado. “It was amazing to see him come through that.”
Advice for Male Massage Therapists
The massage industry is a robust slice of humanity, with practitioners who come from all walks of life. While most massage therapists are female (about 85 percent, according to a MASSAGE Magazinesurvey), male massage therapists such as Mercado can thrive as well.
When asked if he had any advice for male massage therapists, Mercado responded enthusiastically.
“Even if just one person reads this [article] and gets some encouragement from it, I would be happy,” he said.
“There’s a philosophy that I use that I would like all male massage therapists to absorb,” he said. “This philosophy is comprised of three things I call the three Cs.”
Mercado said the first C stands for communication.
“This means being able to understand your client’s needs and wants, whether they express them verbally or nonverbally. Sometimes the best communication you can have with your client is by simply listening.”
Mercado added that communication is the most important of the three Cs.
The second C, he said, stands for consistency.
“We have to consistently go out and seek information to make ourselves better,” said Mercado. “And at the same time, we have to maintain the quality of work that we give to our clients.
“There’s also the consistency of your character,” he added. “Are you consistent in how you present yourself? Are you consistent in the character and morals that you present? You have to be able to look in the mirror and know that you’re providing consistent quality.”
Mercado’s third C stands for creativity.
“This is the flipside of consistency,” he explained. “They sound like opposites, but they work together.
Creativity, he said, allows you to think outside the box and break up the monotony. When it comes to your workspace, for example, he advised, be creative in your environment.
“And of course be creative in your work,” Mercado added. “Maintaining a healthy relationship with our clients is the most important thing we can do as male therapists. Be yourself while being professional at all times.”