Monday, August 30, 2010

Shhh! Body Tuning in Progress

Observations from the second day of my apprenticeship.

“Most people do too much, or not enough. People who do too much, need to tune their bodies. People who do too little need to tune their bodies.” Words of wisdom from Shmuel Tatz, creator and practitioner of Body Tuning. You take your car in for a tune-up at regular intervals, you have your musical instruments tuned regularly to keep them running optimally, so why wouldn’t you treat your body with the same care?

Do you like your body? Do you love it? When was the last time you told your body that you love it? Even though literally saying “I love you” to your hand may have benefits, I’m talking about a different kind of communication. Most people don’t really have much of a relationship with their bodies. They don’t really give their bodies much notice until there is a pain or discomfort. But this is not good. This is your body’s desperate way to get your attention and alert you that something is wrong. By the time you feel the pain, it has likely been wrong for a while. If you had been taking care of your body, then you wouldn’t have gotten to this place and you wouldn’t be in pain or discomfort. Being in communication with one’s own body will help keep you tuned up.

I have been a fitness professional for 20 years. I work with people who are exercising and want to improve their bodies. And in this process, I’m very often stunned by how little conversation there is going on. At no time is there much inquiry on the part of the client; and if there is, it would usually be an inquiry of me, not of their own body. Most people want to be told what to do and then they may or may not do it. But if they took the time to listen to their own body and then responded to what the body was saying, they wouldn’t need to ask me anything; they’d already know the answers. Or at least they’d know where to find the answers.

A simple thing like gentle, flowing movements of all the joints is something that your body will likely ask for every morning. Are you listening? That creak. That staggered movement. The stiffness. That is the language of your body. This is the language a Body Tuner speaks. By being alert to the sounds and sensation of your body, a Body Tuner hears your body’s request loud and clear.

Today, as I was watching Shmuel work, I was struck by how often people are really wrapped up in their stories. They love to describe everything that was or currently is going on in their bodies and to relate a total history, complete with the opinions and ‘diagnoses’ of other professionals. I often heard Shmuel asking them to stop talking. “I only want to know what’s going on right now,” he says. He asks, “What are you feeling right now.” And that’s what he really wants to know.

The proper answer to this question would be, for example, “My left shoulder is very stiff and it hurts to raise my arm.” In my experience, this would be enough information for Shmuel to begin his work. But this is not the way people like to answer. Today, as part of my training, I observed two clients being interviewed. Both were new clients and obviously not used to the way Shmuel works, because their answers were quite ornate. Both went into a description of the complete history, including the opinions of prior professionals, sleeping habits, what they had experienced in the past, what usually helps, what doesn’t help, what makes it worse, and even what they suspected was going on.

The work of Body Tuning has no use for all of this information. In fact, while a Body Tuner is tuning the body, all of this talking serves as nothing but a distraction. “Please listen to the guitar” Shmuel will say, referring to the peaceful classical music playing in the office. When the client is finally quiet and relaxed, he can better ‘hear’ the body. The body will ask for what it needs, and it will clearly and precisely describe what is wrong. A Body Tuner listens by touching and moving the body. It is an intimate relationship between body and hands.


I can tell that this technique is one that would be very hard to teach, and I admire Shmuel for endeavoring to teach me and I hope that I am open and ready to learn. The work itself is powerful in its simplicity. As I watch, I sometimes think, ‘that’s yoga. If this person had been doing yoga, then they might not be here in this office.” But then there are other times when he uses reflexology, or deep, constant pressure or traction.

Today, as he was working on a famous dancer who was in his 60’s, Shmuel was mobilizing his hip and as he worked, I could hear him repeating “relax, relax, relax, relax” At first, I assumed Shmuel was speaking to the person, but the dancer was lying on the table and seemed utterly relaxed. His right hip, however, was telling a different truth. I finally suspected that Shmuel’s mantra was directed to the body, rather than the mind. “Relax, relax, relax” was what he wanted the muscles of the hip to do.

When I first started to watch Shmuel work, my big question was “how do you know what to do.” But after only two days, having observed his work on about ten bodies, I think I know how he knows what to do. He asks the body, and the body answers.

And isn’t that how it should be? If he sat me down and told me, “first you pull this, then touch that making sure you always turn this that way first....” I’d glaze over from the dullness. But this work is exciting in that it is alive. It’s fresh. There is no pattern, no system. It’s a communication and allows the body to do its best. We all have the capacity to self-heal, and Body Tuning sets that capacity free.

Today I was given the opportunity to assist manually. I was stabilizing the lower leg of a client while Shmuel was pulling the thigh. At first, I didn’t feel anything happening, but after a minute or so, I started to feel the tissue of the leg shift and change. I would swear I could feel it moving around, adjusting, making itself more aligned. And then I heard (or did I feel?) a few, very tiny popping sounds. Intuitively, I knew that felt good. Moments later, the client said, “that feels good to turn my hip that direction.”

How did he know? The client didn’t tell him. The client never would have known that’s what he needed. But this client was lying quietly and letting his body tell us what it wanted.

If you made a lifetime practice of listening to your own body, you’d be in great shape. But if you, like many people, have some pain in your body that doesn’t seem to be going away, that’s your body saying “This is wrong! Do something different” You owe it to yourself to visit Shmuel for some Body Tuning. He speaks the language of the body fluently and he can translate what your body is asking for and put it into action.

Want the pain gone? Visit Shmuel and get tuned up. And, if possible... Please visit while I'm in the office so I can watch.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Skin Cancer



Earlier this year I noticed what looked like an ingrown hair on the back of my neck. When it didn’t go away after four months, I went to a doctor. She gave it a light squeeze and said it was nothing to worry about. I’d had ingrown hairs before and I know that they go away after a few weeks. Unsatisfied, I asked for a referral to a dermatologist.

The dermatologist looked at it, squeezed it and also said, it's nothing to worry about. He suggested, if I wanted, that he could take a biopsy and send it to the lab. That was what I wanted. So we did.

I got the call back that it was, in fact, squamous cell carcinoma and I needed to see another dermatologist to have it removed. She dug a giant hole in the back of my neck. In order to ensure removing the offending tissue in its entirety, they also remove a ‘margin of healthy tissue.’ In my case, she wanted to remove 4 millimeters all around.

Check out the hole in my neck, here.


I was instructed to keep Aquafor or Vaseline on the wound while it healed and to come back so she could observe the scar. By the way, she was trying to get me to agree to a smaller scar that would require stitches, but it also required that I didn’t exercise for a a week while it healed. Knowing that I wasn’t going to go a week without moving, I opted for the larger, round scar that didn’t require stitches and allowed movement during the healing process.

A month later I came back. She liked the scar and how it was healing.(Although she did try one more time to convince me that she could make it a ‘prettier’ scar if I allowed her to use stitches.)

I pointed out a brown spot that had appeared near my side burn. It looked like a mole, but I didn’t remember it being there before, so I thought it was worth mentioning. She looked at it and said it was an age spot. Again, the look on my face must’ve been one of extreme doubt and concern because she again suggested we take a biopsy and send it to the lab.
Two weeks later, I return to get the news: This spot is what they call ‘pre-cancerous’ meaning the cells are dividing rapidly, but it hasn’t yet gotten to the point they officially call cancer. Although it is inevitable. The lab suggested we either remove or destroy the spot.

I didn’t like the idea of another giant hole in my face, so I asked about the ‘destroy’ option. I guess it was the option she was going to suggest anyway, which is topical chemotherapy.

So now, I’m supposed to apply this chemotherapy drug to my face on three places: the area where we found the spot (side burn) and the tip of my nose and the area above my left eyebrow. Both of the two latter spots are places where I’ve experienced unusual flakiness or crustiness on occasion, but nothing I’d consider cancer. She said “Oh NO, Don’t tell me that!” (Just what you want to hear your doctor say, right?).

The idea is that this drug, Imiquimod, will irritate rapidly dividing cells. So it sort of exposes precancerous cells by creating a lovely rash. In the process of uncovering the pre-cancer, it also destroys them. However, any time you destroy cells you have cell death. Which I guess can end up looking like a rug burn, or even open, oozing sores. So, this is something to look forward to.

I thought I'd post one last goofy picture of my smiling mug before the damage begins.


I had to contact all of my modeling and acting agents and tell them to book me out for the next two months unless they get a call for an actor/model with a pizza-face.

I first went to Osco Drugs to have the prescription filled. It's a locally owned and operated pharmacy. I always prefer to patronize the small business over the mega-giants. But they quickly told me that they couldn't fill the prescription because it 'wasn't stamped' and handed it back to me. I said, "I don't know what that means" and they told me "your doctor has to stamp it". I was incredulous. "You mean this is no good?" I wanted clarification, but instead of an answer, all I got was a repeat of the original statement "you have to have your doctor stamp it."

I left and thought I'd try my luck at a different pharmacy. Duane Reade was the next closest one (big surprise). The pharmacist there seemed willing to fill my prescription but his concern was that I didn't have prescription coverage on my health insurance. "Yes, I know. My insurance is very minimal-only to cover major expenses." So the cost for a months-supply (I was told to probably expect up to three months on it) was $850. I asked if there was any way to get it cheaper and he said, "I can sell you 12 instead of 24, for $450." I said, that's not less, that's more. The pharmacist suggested I ask my doctor for a different option.I was stunned. Didn't know what to do. I walked home and got on the Internet looking for answers. I found a place called Planet Drugs Direct. They seem to be some sort of distribution center and they offer drugs at discount prices. I found the drugs I wanted. 24 packs of Imiquimod were only $161. So, I ordered it and am now waiting for it to arrive by mail before I begin the treatment.

There are THREE lessons here....

ONE: Wear your sunblock. Even though I haven’t been tanning in decades, and I’ve literally avoided the sun as much as possible, I am now paying the price for my childhood days in Santa Barbara where I spent my life working on my tan. I never wore sunscreen; wouldn’t even have considered it. In fact, I wore things that were supposed to actually accelerate the tanning process, so who knows what kind of damage that may have contributed.

TWO: Don't trust Duane Reade to have low prices. Shop around.

and finally...
THREE: Just because your doctor says “It’s nothing, don’t worry about it.” Doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s nothing. I’m not saying you should worry, because I’m not a big proponent of doing things that don’t help, but if you suspect something is wrong, then you should pay heed to that suspicion and don’t back down. Fight until you are absolutely convinced that it truly is nothing. If I had listened to my doctor, I’d still be trying to squeeze an ingrown hair on the back of my neck as it was gradually metastasizing.

My mother had a strange spot in her eye that she didn’t think much of. Then when she started feeling ill, the tests finally showed that what was actually a rare form of eye cancer had fully metastastized and was now in her liver. They gave her six months to live. She lived four of them. Had she acted sooner.... when she saw the strange spot in her eye.... Who knows?
R.I.P. Mom. I love you.

My Observations of Body Tuning - Day One

I have recently had a distinct and rare opportunity presented to me: to serve as a protege under Shmuel Tatz. He created and practices “Body Tuning” which is a kind of body work that amazes and delights anyone who is fortunate enough to find themselves underneath his hands. Part art, part science and part intuition, Body Tuning has helped many people overcome pain by literally tuning the body.

After a few interviews, I was finally invited today to shadow him and watch as he worked on a few of his clients. It was a humbling honor to watch him at work. If you’ve ever watched an artist create, you can relate. The artist will stroke and swipe at the canvas in what appears to the layman to be random applications of colors and textures. If you watch long enough, the piece of art begins to take form before your eyes. Watching Shmuel work today was a lot like this.

His first client walked in and before getting on the table, he tells Shmuel, “I’m feeling less pain and stiffness” to which Shmuel jokingly comments “I’m surprised!” I get the feeling that he hears people telling him similar things all the time. In fact, when I tried to describe my experience of being a Body Tuning client, he cut me short, saying “I know what it is that I do.”

Shmuel asked the client to lie face down and after spending a few moments manually moving his legs around, began to do what looked like a classic Swedish massage movement, stroking the calf, distal to proximal and just past the knee. After a few of those strokes, he laid his right forearm across the clients lower back and with his left hand, in what seemed like a very specifically determined place, applied his thumb into the calf. It looked as if he might be stretching the hamstring, I thought to myself. I also noticed how it didn’t look like he was using much of his own energy. At this point he was only leaning his body weight into the client. He kept this up for a few minutes, and at the same time, he was mobilizing the client’s body through rocking actions.

After a while he moved on, and then, with his fingertips, he seemed to be exploring the details of the origin of the gastrocnemius, and around the popliteal area.

What he did next came as a surprise to me. Whereas the treatment seemed to follow a logical path until this point, he suddenly went to the ankle and applied specific pressure with his thumb to an area lateral to the achilles tendon. It looked as though he was searching for something. Every once in a while, the patient would jump as if the pressure was causing a sharp, sudden pain, but it didn’t phase Shmuel, who stayed on task. He appeared to find the place he wanted to be, and maintained a constant pressure there on the ankle for what seemed like a few minutes; and the client would jump occasionally.

Shmuel then applied an ultra-sound machine to the posterior, lateral, distal aspect of the client’s thigh. It looked to me like he was targeting the hamstring at the musculotendonous junction. He kept the ultra-sound on that spot for two minutes. (Actually he had me hold the machine on the spot while he went off to do some work on another client in another room.)

When Shmuel returned, he had the client flip over onto his back. He began teaching the client how to stretch the area on his own. He taught him to simultaneously extend the knee joint and internally rotate the thigh. I could see in the client’s face that this was not easy; it was causing pain. But it is necessary, taught Shmuel. I also noticed, for the first time, that there was a big, fresh scar on the patients left leg just medial to the patella. Obviously he had had some kind of knee surgery. Shmuel told the patient that he needed to do this stretching exercise all the time throughout the day to encourage the healing.

Shmuel then got out another machine. This one was creating electrical impulses. He placed the electrified pad on the client’s thigh just proximal to the patella and left him with the controls. He instructed to client to adjust the intensity as necessary. He was told he should feel the stimulation, but not so much that it was uncomfortable. Again, Shmuel went to another room to tend to another client while this one had his electrical stimulation.

I asked Shmuel, “do you use electrical stimulation on everyone?” and in his typically humorous way, he answered, “only in those clients who need to drink water.” Which was obviously his way of saying, “yes”

I’m sure that as I observe more and learn more, I will be able to pick up finer details of what Shmuel is doing, but at this point it’s really an exciting mystery. I’m honored to watch him work and eager to continue learning.

When Shmuel returned to this client after the electrical stimulation, he pulled on the legs. It seemed like he could either be adjusting or just observing, but it was simply a brief and gentle swinging back and forth. The client mentioned that when he did the pulling, he felt a lot of relief.

The treatment was over, and Shmuel sent him on his way with his exercises.

I know this is only my first day observing this master at work. I’m impressed with what he does, but as I’ve said, it is still quite mysterious to me. I can’t really tell at this point if his main focus in on the bones, or the muscles or the connective tissue. He seems to split his time between them all. He also uses a lot of reflexology points in the ears. He says his work is intuitive, so I imagine it will be an interesting adventure for him to teach and for me to learn this wonderful thing called “Body Tuning.” I’m ready for the ride.

If you have pain in your body and are ready to feel the relief of Body Tuning, contact me and I'll get you in touch with Shmuel, or you can make an appointment to see him through his website: www.nyphysicaltherapist.com