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Holding Space with Cyndi Ortolano: IPSB’s Newest Co-Owner


Welcome to IPSB’s new Stories Series, where we highlight our brilliant students, staff, and alumni who are all doing great things out in their communities. Because there’s no one type of bodyworker, the Stories Series aims to show the diverse backgrounds, passions, and career paths of IPSB’s accomplished bodywork community.


We’re honored to share the story of Cyndi Ortolano, who along with her wife, Sabrina, purchased IPSB in September 2023. Cyndi has been a cornerstone of the IPSB family for nearly three decades now, as a student, instructor, administrator, and owner. If you’ve interacted with Cyndi, chances are you’ve shared a deep belly laugh at some point. Her humor and passion for this work help to define IPSB’s culture and community. We can’t wait to share Cyndi’s story!



Your name, business name, and a little bit about the work you currently do.

Name(s): Cyndi Ortolano, Bodywork at the Brewery; IPSB - School of Integrative Psycho-Structural Bodywork

Pronouns: She/Her

I’ve been a bodyworker since 1995 and a teacher at IPSB since 1998. In my practice, I focus mainly on deep tissue and trauma work.


What made you decide to specialize in these areas?

My interest came from stumbling into this work. I have a bunch of friends who have a lot of  trauma, both physical and emotional, in their history and have a hard time being vulnerable with people.


Like most bodyworkers my first clients were my friends, so I worked with them a lot starting out and continue to do so. These interactions helped shape my practice and encouraged me to expand my understanding of how our emotions and experiences change our bodies.


Bodywork for someone who has trauma in their history requires consistent consent, clear communication and more than anything, holding space for them to be safe to reconnect with their tissue through touch. It’s being completely present in a non-judgmental way.


What’s your philosophy around trauma work and holding space? What does it mean to you?

When you’re doing [trauma work], you’re not doing something to someone. You’re holding space for them to do their own thing. I’ve had people cry and scream on the table at the gentlest touch during my sessions- it’s how they process and let go of their experiences. They’re coming to terms with their trauma. And in that moment I’m not trying to change, alter, or offer suggestions. If you just let them do their thing, they’ll cry until they’re done crying. That’s what their body needed at that moment, and it’s not my place to take that away from them. If you try to intervene as a bodyworker, even in small ways like handing them a tissue, it may cause them to shut down. So I don’t intervene, I’m just a witness. My only rule is that you can’t hurt yourself and you can’t hurt me. As long as we are physically safe I can hold space for your process. Everything else is on the table.


I don’t believe in releasing trauma through trauma. (That was my saying for many years before IPSB adopted it). This informs all of my approaches to bodywork and teaching. When I’m working with a client, I offer them a sensation scale of 1-10. I make sure they don’t let me go past a 5 or 5.5 because anything past that starts ripping fascia (creating trauma). Why would I want to create trauma if we are trying to clear trauma from the body? I give clients exercises, stretches, and other self-help tools so they can work on this from the inside out. Then when they see me for bodywork, I work from the outside in. When we meet in the middle, that’s where the magic happens.


Tell us about your journey to becoming a bodyworker. When did it begin, and why did you choose bodywork?

I did a number of different things before [becoming a bodyworker]. At one point, I was talking to my cousin who had gone to IPSB San Diego, the now closed, sister school to our location. She mentioned that I might enjoy being a massage therapist because of how fascinated I always was with the human body. I was the kid that always put suntan oil on at the pool. I loved using my hands, playing with musculature, feeling where my bones were; everything felt so cool.


I looked into schools on the east coast (where I’m from), but everything felt conveyor belt-like. There was a sense of connection that was missing. So I went out west and started my training at IPSB.


I’m from a big Italian family who shows love through sarcasm, where we all competed to be the loudest in the room. It was at IPSB that I started learning how to be more self-aware, more present, more conscious, I learned to listen with the intention of hearing rather than responding, IPSB taught me how to be still and hold space. School became like therapy for me.


I met Sabrina at IPSB and I liked her. So naturally, I got sarcastic with her. She got upset. I told her to get a thicker skin. And she said, “maybe you need to learn to be more kind!” This forced me to reassess some of my core programming and who I wanted to be with the people I love. From there I started to realize that the environment I grew up in, and my past as a whole, don’t have to define me and who I become. I could form my own identity beyond that and so many of the tools IPSB gave me helped me thrive.


You’ve seen IPSB through many decades and iterations, what’s that been like? What’s a special memory that stands out to you?

I love to teach, and it never gets old. I could teach the same class forever, and it could always be the same material. But what’s different is the students, and that’s what makes each class special. Deep tissue work is my passion and I learn so much from the students, especially since there’s a lot of freedom and creativity in that type of work. Students get creative and make things up left and right, and sometimes I see something new and I think, “yeah, I’ve never thought of doing it that way! I’m gonna use that.” Since my classes are at the end of the program we get to collaborate and create together, it’s a lot of fun, we’re sharing ourselves, our energy, our history. So in every class, I grow. And that is invaluable. Because I’m not only a teacher, I’m a student, to be the best teacher I have to be constantly learning. That’s why the teaching is so powerful to me.


Since 1995, it’s been a nonstop experience of laughing my ass off. The thing about me is that I will make a fool of myself if it makes the student laugh and helps them understand what I’m teaching. Normally, if people laugh at something, they’ll remember it. And sometimes I talk so fast that I accidently combine words. Over the years, students have nicknamed this language Cyndish. I had one class where students wrote “Cyndish” on one side of the white board, and the English translation on the other. Almost every other word I said made their way onto that board.



What are you most passionate about?

Sabrina.


Other than that I love cooking, baking, volunteering, and getting people involved in new things.


There’s so little that we really know about each other in the time we get to spend together. I love creating and being a part of those community things that will let us see different snippets of somebody else’s life that we don’t know about them.


Pre-pandemic, Sabrina and I would host game nights, movie nights, cookie parties, baking parties. These are all things I want to bring back to the school. I want to host IPSB Unplugged open mic events and poetry readings where students can present their other talents. There are so many musicians at IPSB, and each could come and perform a couple songs. That’s community and supporting each other’s passions.


I’m also passionate about volunteerism, supporting our student and alumni community and the causes that are meaningful to them. This means we’ve brought a group of volunteers to events to raise money for a variety of animal charities, to festivals, to pride events, and numerous other places. In 2023  we worked several events to provide bodywork to Los Angeles fire fighters and partnered with a group that provides resources to families experiencing housing challenges. I believe that healthy, intentional touch is a powerful healing tool that should be available to everyone and am always honored when we get to support our larger communities.


What advice would you give someone pursuing bodywork or considering school at IPSB?

The first thing I’d say is just come check IPSB out. Interact with the teachers and students, and see if any of it resonates with you. IPSB is all about connection, community, and heart. There is so much to it, you will be well trained but if you're just looking to come in and learn techniques without learning about yourself, I’d recommend looking at other schools. Our focus is more about the practitioner than the receiver. We’re about building self-awareness, confidence, and techniques that preserve the health of the practitioner. If the practitioner has excellent body mechanics, boundaries and communication skills and is present and self aware, the person on the table is going to say “that’s the best massage I’ve ever received.” If you’re not looking to grow on a personal level, this school may not be for you. But if you’re at all curious, just come see what we’re about.


If you would like to learn more about Cyndi, you can find her at ipsb.com as well as on IPSB’s Instagram @ipsb_massage.


















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