japan, different perspectives

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Image by The U.S. Army via Flickr

Saw my physical therapist today. As with other alternative health practitioners, I find my sessions with Dieter and Jody mentally therapeutic as well. Perhaps it’s because they, along with chiropractors and massage therapists, are in “my space” as they work to heal my body. I find it easy to express my thoughts and feelings about a whole host of topics, especially about life’s ups and downs. Because these practitioners look to getting at the root of the problem, rather than prescribing drugs for the symptoms, their solutions are more organic. They resolve to get my body back working for me, not against me. I cannot recommend them enough. Carrie, Rachel, Jennifer, Dieter and Jody are my pit stop team. Whenever I need retooling, they’re on hand to service my “parts.”

Dieter and I spoke briefly of the devastation in Japan, as did Jody and I. What was interesting about the latter conversation is what Jody told me about a couple of her Japanese co-workers who have families in Japan. To her surprise, her peers expressed little concern about their relatives. One of them still had parents and siblings there. She seemed to feel they were fine since they were in the southern part of the island. The other staff member whose sister lived just outside Sendai, where the earthquake struck, explained that such natural disasters were commonplace. The implication was that the Japanese learned to live with them.

神奈川沖浪裏 Kanagawa oki nami ura (

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Needless to say, I was as surprised as Jody. I thought of American parents who were frantically seeking word of their young, adult children who lived and worked in Japan. I thought of TV news pictures showing people flocking to catch flights out of the country, hurrying to get away from the nuclear contamination that threatens to spread. As I pondered the disparate views of 2 Japanese women, and 2 American women, I realized the answer lay in the differences in our cultures.

Honor of country and oneself is what drives the Japanese. They honor their gods, but the people control their own destinies. With their hands, their minds, and their steely determination, they forge ahead. They work through and around obstacles. They seem to take no notice of the words “no,” “can’t be done,” “not possible.” Instead they seem to embrace the words “let’s try,” “let’s see,” “if not this, maybe this.”

SHOW ME THE OBI ! -- THE OSHIMA ISLAND GIRLS o...

Image by Okinawa Soba via Flickr

On NBC’s World News with Brian Williams tonight, reporter Ann Curry spoke with several survivors. A middle-aged couple seemed to epitomize exactly what the Japanese are about. In the midst of a country torn apart, they were picking up the pieces, literally. They swept and scrubbed the tile floors, and along with neighbors, they carted snow from the surrounding hillsides, melting it into water. The men were shown proudly carving chopsticks from bamboo they had gathered themselves.

U.S. Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Jo...

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Curry and her camera crew also visited shelters, one where young boys were seen laughing and clowning around for the the TV team. Another boy was drawing pictures, lost in his own world. The elderly were being tended to by others concerned for their fragile health. And local women sent food in the form of rice-balls, for the starving homeless. There was a general air of people helping people, as they patiently awaited their turn for help from their own government, or the outside world.

Oft-times I think we Americans tend to project our own world-view upon those of others. We can’t imagine that others would think differently. We proclaim English as the universal language, and our way of thinking as the most reasonable. Knowing the Japanese culture as I do, having been raised among them, I could guess at the reasoning behind the reaction of the 2 Japanese women who worked in the physical therapist’s office. My immediate reaction was the same as Jody’s. However, it was tempered by my knowledge of a culture that is world’s apart not only physically, but in its value system as well.

Two maiko performing in Gion.

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so perhaps they don’t worry…until they have to worry…hugmamma.

working out the “knots,” makes a difference

Had my second physical therapy appointment today with Pierre at Olympic Therapy. Several weeks ago, I had experienced muscle pain in the area of my neck, upper back and shoulder blades which traveled the length of my left arm, including my fingers. The tingling sensation that went along with it, and the sharp pain in my armpit, had me thinking heart attack. Needless to say I lay awake all night, wondering. By the following morning, I’d decided the chronic ache I’d been experiencing for years, had gone into overdrive. A visit to the chiropractor and the internist later that day confirmed my suspicions.

Following almost immediately upon the heels of my back problem, I caught my husband’s cold. The hacking cough I developed as a result, lasted weeks. My back, and ribs, took a beating. I decided then and there that once I was well enough, I was seeing a physical therapist. I needed deep down relief from the tightened muscles I’d lived with for years.

Many have told me that my neck, shoulder, and upper back muscles felt like a block of brick, including doctors, alternative health practitioners, my husband and my daughter. Doctors prescribed over-the-counter pain medications, as well as muscle relaxants. Chiropractors and massage therapists have given me great relief which lasted, until I returned to the daily grind of lifting, bending, twisting, slouching. But I knew the day would come when I needed physical therapy to undo all the “knots” that had accrued over my lifetime.

Pierre has allowed me to see that I needn’t live with chronic pain. In my first session last week, he evaluated the extent to which my head could turn from one side to the next. It was obvious that turning to the left met with some resistance the further I tried to move my head. Pierre taught me exercises to do there, and at home, which have loosened the tightness in that area considerably. He also recommended corrections to how I should sit at the computer, sliding forward to the edge of the seat so that the weight of my body rests on my legs. Having done as he suggested, my return visit already showed signs of improvement.

Today as I lay looking up at the ceiling, Pierre used a roller of some sort to work through the knots on the left side of my neck. I felt pressure, but no pain. He concurred when I asked if the knots were scar tissue that had amassed in the area over time. He again confirmed that he was working to release the fascia which encases the muscles. Finally, he warned me that the tiny capillaries were releasing blood, so that my neck would have red bruises for a couple of days.

When I sat upright, my vision was so clear, as if someone had inserted new eyeballs into my sockets. Pierre chuckled when I told him. But more significantly, from the time he worked on my neck until now, there is such a looseness in the area of my neck, the likes of which I’ve not felt in more than a decade. I realize, however, that more needs to be done to ensure that the healing is long-lasting, and not a temporary fix. Especially if I want to remain active, and capable of lifting, bending, twisting, but NOT slouching. I’m going to sit up straight from now on, even if it kills me!

Medical doctors are not the “be all and end all” to good health. Many of them will tell you, a little help from alternative health practitioners goes a long way toward keeping our bodies oiled and primed to enjoy quality of life. And one of my main priorities, apart from my family, is to keep my “chassis” up and running, and good to go!

you might want to do the same…hugmamma.

alternative medicine

My daughter has taught me much about the health benefits of alternative medicine. A serious student of dance since age 11, she is aware of every nuance of her body. She knows when it’s in tip-top shape, and she knows when it’s in need of tweaking. Alternative medicine helps her correct imbalances in her anatomy. Being in alignment ensures that she can do her job with utmost confidence. Practitioners who assist her are physical therapists, chiropractors, massage therapists and accupuncturists. My daughter turns to all of them for help, as needed.

My first encounter with a chiropractor was about 6 or 7 years ago. Living away from my home with my daughter in another state where she was training with a ballet company, I suffered chronic pain in my lower back. Not being able to “live with it” any longer, I searched the yellow pages for a chiropractor, a female one. I wanted sympatico, not brute force. My eyes fell upon an ad in a box. Not only was the doctor female, but she was described as “gentle.” She proved to be that and more.

Dr. Geier adjusted my problem back and in the process, did wonders for my disposition. Throughout the 2 1/2 years of self-imposed exile from my husband and all that was familiar to me, she was a friend with whom I could commiserate about life. With her adjuster, an instrument that makes anatomical corrections through sound waves, Dr. Geier straightened out my back when it was out of alignment, and did the same for other body parts as needed. I came to depend upon her to keep my aging body in working order, and my soul open to the positive energy she imbued. As a bonus Dr. Geier, a practitioner of homeopathic medicine, gave me a better understanding and appreciation for a vegetarian diet (not that I became one) and the use of natural remedies. (My daughter and I use Arnica for muscle aches and pains. It works after being in one’s system for about a week). I will always be beholding to this wise doctor who put me on the right path to caring for myself, body, soul and mind.

Returning home after my daughter’s career was launched, I found an equally competent healer in Dr. Babcox. She is younger than Dr. Geier, but no less capable of adjusting my body parts after my abuse of them in the daily grind of living. She’s convinced me that I can’t expect my body to do what it always does if I don’t give it a “hand-up” once-in-awhile. Quickly throwing luggage onto security conveyor belts and hoisting them up into overhead bins, are sure-fire ways to get me into my chiropractor’s office. I’ve tried to stay away at times, thinking my shoulder and back pain would somehow disappear. But after paying Dr. Babcox a visit I always think “Now why didn’t I do this sooner, I would’ve been rid of my suffering before now.” I may go months without a visit, but I know my chiropractor is always there just in case. And believe me, there will always be ongoing need of her services, until the day I stop living. So it looks like Dr. Babcox is onboard for the long haul.

Several years ago my daughter had strained her groin muscle in a rehearsal. Not attending to it more seriously, the ache lingered for a couple of years. It became an issue when she wanted to be considered for meatier roles during a summer gig. Choreographers tried her in solos, and she tried even harder to make them happen. No matter their consideration or her over-the-top effort, the ache finally got the best of her. She came home to us and spent the remaining summer months recovering.

Throughout her season of regular employment with her dance company, my daughter continued to suffer the niggling ache in her groin. She muscled through and looked forward to a great summer working the gig she’d been with the previous year. Happily, she did dance the full 12 weeks that summer.  But a few weeks into the job, the strained muscle began rearing its “ugly head.” Frustrated, my daughter spoke about it with me. 

One day while browsing the shelves at Barnes and Noble, I happened upon “The Permanent Pain Cure” by Ming Chew, PT. Perusing the introductory chapter, I had a “lightbulb” moment. This man’s advice “The Breakthrough Way to Heal Your Muscle and Joint Pain for Good” seemed tailor-made for my daughter.  So I bought the book, called her on the phone, told her to buy and take certain supplements prescribed by Ming Chew, as well as soak in epsom baths as he also advised. A few days later my daughter called announcing that she was feeling tons better. The problem muscle felt looser, more relaxed. She could dance more fully, not afraid to put pressure on the area. And so it continued to feel fine. I convinced her and my husband that she needed to see Ming Chew for some hands on therapy, for I was absolutely certain he could eliminate the pain for good.

After I exchanged emails with Ming Chew, my daughter flew to NYC where in a week and a half, she spent 3 sessions in physical therapy with him. Not until a year later did she tell me that the treatment was somewhat painful. I say somewhat, because dancers have a high threshold for pain. I would have probably bolted through the ceiling at the hands of Ming Chew. My daughter likened it to Rolfing, another alternative medical treatment which she’d endured at 14 years of age, when a ballet teacher recommended that it might give her more flexibility. (I didn’t learn of the pain my daughter felt at this man’s hands until many years later. Talk about high thresholds?) But after all is said and done, Ming Chew’s treatment DID resolve my daughter’s persistent groin muscle ache. So she owes him, at least in part, for being promoted from apprentice to full company member the year after being treated. 

On the inside flap of the back cover of the book is a description of Ming Chew “…a physical therapist, former champion bodybuilder, and martial artist whose work also uses concepts of Chinese medicine. The Ming Method, which uses no surgery or drugs, has healed thousands of clients, including many high-profile athletes. Ming Chew’s work has been covered in the New York Times, Men’s Health, and the Daily News. He has a private practice in New York City.” You can visit his website at www.mingmethod.net. I highly recommend him, especially if your life, or job, depends upon it.

Finally I’ve been convinced, largely owing to my daughter, that massage therapy is a necessity, not a luxury. And so I see Jennifer, my massage therapist, regularly, if not every month, then every other. She is not one who gives me a spa massage, although I’m sure she could. At her very able hands I am relieved of sore muscles which, if left unattended, would become a chronic issue, and perhaps a major one. Equally important is that massage therapy helps regulate one’s limbic system (A ring-shaped area in the center of the brain that consists of a number of connected clusters of nerve cells.) It’s one of those tidbits of information that I’ve heard but couldn’t tell you where from. But trust me, remember my header is HUGMAMMA’S ATTENTION TO DETAIL. And I am anal about details.

According to “The American Medical Association Encyclopedia of Medicine,” “The limbic system plays a role in the autonomic nervous system (which automatically regulates body functions), in the emotions, and in the sense of smell. The limbic system is extensive, and the different substructures within it have been named (for example, the hippocampus, the cingulate gyrus, and the amygdala). Much of our knowledge of the limbic system comes from the observation and investigation of the behavior of animals and people known to have damage to or disease in the limbic area of the brain. The most commonly observed effects are abnormalities of emotional response, such as inappropriate crying or laughing, easily provoked rage, unwarranted fear, anxiety and depression, and excessive sexual interest.”

My daughter is fortunate to be with a company that cares about the well-being of its dancers. They are regularly seen by physical therapists, and a chiropractor. And the dancers avail themselves of a great massage therapist who makes his sessions more affordable for them.

While I must find my own team of alternative medicine practitioners, doing so has been a “no-brainer.” I see them more regularly than my medical doctors, and gladly so. I have been free of prescribed drugs for a few years, giving my liver a break from processing all those potentially harmful chemicals. (Now it can just focus on breaking down and getting rid of the stuff that’s in the food I still can’t stop eating, like peanuts, and a dessert now and then.) My chiropractor and massage therapist help “heal” my body, soul and mind. These services are priceless in the grand scheme of things…

my best life going foward…hugmamma.