Mind. Body. Spirit. The holy trinity of holistic healing. Unlike western medicine, which typically treats specific physical ailments and often relies heavily on pharmaceuticals, holistic therapies work within the theory of connectedness and strive to treat the whole self— the emotional, mental, physical and spiritual. Holistic therapies can be successful both on their own and combined with traditional medical treatment. In fact, many traditional medical centers are adding holistic therapies like acupuncture, massage and meditation. There are quite a few interesting modalities available for those looking relief from pain, stress, depression and chronic illness. We spoke with a handful of local practitioners about their specific therapies and the benefits they offer.
Cost: $115 per session
Founded by Dr. Ida Rolf, Rolfing® is a type of structural integration bodywork that focuses on the system of ligaments, tendons, and connective tissue called fascia, that runs through the entire body. Rolfing® is neither a massage nor is it chiropractic or energy work. Rather, Rolfing® uses light to medium pressure and body movements to gently realign and restore function to the connective tissues that support joints, organs and muscles thereby restoring balance and functionality to the entire system. Contrary to popular belief, Rolfing® should not be a painful experience.
Sharalee Hoelscher, the only Certified Rolfer™ in the Pensacola area, says, “Rolfing® focuses on the system as a whole. So you can think of this system of soft tissue that a Rolfer™ works with as being continuous from head to toe. Just like your skin is continuous on the outside, this system is continuous on the inside. Just like if I am wearing a long sleeve top and I pull on the cuff of the sleeve, you can see the collar will move, the same thing with the soft tissue of the body. If I were to tie my pants down at the ankle then try to hike them up above the waist, they’re not going to go because they are being held from a distant location. Many times a symptom is just a symptom and is not actually the problem. The problem might actually be in a distant location of the body. So, I might be working on someone’s ankle and really be making a change to their neck because the system is continuous. The Rolfer™ does an assessment of the system as a whole and sees where it is not functioning correctly, where is it out of balance. We get the system as a whole functioning correctly. We get it in balance and then everything moves freely without pain as it is designed to.”
During the one hour and 15 minute sessions, clients are dressed in their undergarments and no oils or lotions are used. “People are for the most part lying on a padded table, but sometimes I work with them sitting on a bench or standing and I work with them in their gait—as they move, as they walk, as they reach, as they bend. So, as the person moves, I might anchor the tissue somewhere and then ask them to move something in a particular way to get things functioning again,” she says. The sessions are long because Sharalee uses time rather than force. “This allows the work to be gentle and comfortable for the person. As I contact the tissue with my hand or the side of my arm, I just simply give the tissue some input and I give it time to change—to lengthen or expand,” she says.
Rolfing® is particularly useful for issues with pain including back or neck pain, painful restricted movement, injuries (even old ones), poor posture, chronic muscle tension, headaches, repetitive stress injuries, sciatica, carpal tunnel, posture and much more.
According to Sharalee, one of the best things about Rolfing® is that the results are long-lasting, many times permanent. For this reason, Rolfing® is typically done in 10 sessions. Most people find their problem is resolved very early, yet they complete all the sessions to ensure their body functions at its highest and best potential for years to come. However, if all sessions are not completed, there can still be very good results.
Doctor of Oriental Medicine
Cost: $80 for initial consultation and treatment. $65 to $80 for follow-ups.
Bonnie McLean has a doctorate in Oriental Medicine and has been working in the healing arts for over 50 years. She explains that Chinese Medicine is a form of energy medicine that is about 5,000 years old. It is originally based on Taoist philosophy, which speaks about the human body in terms of energy as well as matter. The ancient Chinese believed that a basis life energy called “qi” or “chi” is present in every living creature, and that it circulates along specific pathways in the body called meridians.
“We all have an energy body that feeds all of the cells and all of the systems of the body. It connects everything. I think of it like rivers of energy. We have some major ones and then we have smaller and smaller ones shooting off. These rivers of energy nourish the soil and help make the inner vegetation of the body grow. I see the energy meridians as being like that. So, say you put a damn on one of the rivers—you have too much energy at one end and not enough at the other. In Chinese medicine, we say that disease forms from blockages of energy. We open up those blockages so that energy can flow freely both ways and you’ll be in homeostasis,” Bonnie explains. “It’s the state of homeostasis where the body can regenerate and heal itself.”
As long as energy flows freely through these pathways, the balance (homeostasis) of the body is maintained and the body is healthy. When the flow of energy is blocked for any reason, this energetic system is disrupted and pain or illness results. This can occur in the case of injury, disease, use of alcohol or drugs, lack of exercise, poor nutritional status, weakness from birth, or even chronic mental or emotional anguish. By stimulating appropriate acupuncture points along the energy pathways, the blocked energy is released and health can be restored. Along these energy meridians are acupuncture points. These points may be stimulated by a number of methods. The most commonly used method is acupuncture, the insertion of very fine solid sterile needles.
When asked about how the needles work on the body, Bonnie explains, “Chinese Medicine believes the needles work on an energy level. We can actually affect the energy body by working on the physical body. The Chinese see this in terms of yin and yang. In western medicine we call this the positive and negative ions of an atom. Each cell has a certain balance of positive and negative ions in the cell and in the environment around the cell. When a body part is injured or diseased, that balance is affected. I think that the metal needles actually “reboot the computers” of the cells. This gives unhealthy tissue it a chance to re balance to its normal state so it can heal itself.” What Bonnie likes about Chinese Medicine is that it recognizes that all healing is self-healing. A modality like acupuncture can “kick start” and support that healing process. But we are all our own healers.
The western medicine explanation of acupuncture, says Bonnie, is that the needle will trick the body into thinking it is a foreign invader. So you insert the needle and the body goes ‘Oh no, there is something here that I don’t recognize.’ It sends defense mechanisms and red and white blood cells to that area. This brings in oxygen and nutrients to the cells and it flushes out the waste products.”
Research in the Eastern and Western parts of the world has shown that acupuncture stimulates the neurotransmitters in the brain and spinal cord. These are the substances that are responsible for proper transmission of nerve impulses and our sense of well-being. The best known of these are the endorphins, which are endogenous morphine-like substances. Studies have also shown that acupuncture can produce physiological reactions in the body, such as changes in heart rate, blood pressure, brain activity, blood chemistry, endocrine functions, intestinal and gastric activity, and immunologic reactions.
Acupuncture can be used to treat a wide range of conditions. These can include sprains, strains, and other injuries, such as whiplash; neck, shoulder, and low back pain; sciatica; tension, migraine, and sinus headaches; osteoarthritis and bursitis; anxiety and depression; asthma; and gastro-intestinal disorders. In the U.S., acupuncture is best known for treating pain conditions, stress-related disorders, and addictions. The frequency and duration of acupuncture treatments varies according to the type, seriousness of the problem, and if it’s acute or chronic, as well as the general condition of the patient.
The effect of acupuncture tends to be cumulative, says Bonnie. “An average course of treatment would be one to two times a week for four-six weeks for acute problems and probably longer for chronic injuries and ailments. Treatment for detoxification from alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, or medications for severe pain may be daily for three-seven days.”
Thai Yoga Bodywork
Massage Therapist, Yoga Instructor
Cost: $75 per session
Tara Taylor, massage therapist and director at Breathe Yoga and Wellness Center, explains Thai-yoga bodywork as a system of massage and manipulation developed in Thailand, and influenced by the traditional medicine systems of India, China, and Southeast Asia, as well as by yoga. Often referred to as the “martial art of healing,” Thai-yoga bodywork combines rhythmic compression, exotic stretching positions similar to yoga asanas, and breath control to provide both relaxing and therapeutic results.
“As I understand it,” explains Tara, “in Thailand, massage is seen more as preventive health maintenance and is participated in by a larger portion of the population than it is here in the states where it is sometimes seen either as a luxury, or as something to resort to only when there is an issue or injury needing to be addressed. I would love to see our culture shift towards a more proactive mindset around health maintenance, including regular massage to keep the body in good working order.”
For Tara, the difference between Thai and traditional massage lies more in the technique than in the purpose or outcome, saying, “The purpose of both includes easing tension, working out adhesions, working with scar tissue, increasing circulation of blood and lymph, optimizing range of motion, and increasing overall health in the body, making it a more comfortable place to live. In Thai massage the recipient is clothed and no lubrication is used. Thai massage is done on the mat as opposed to the table. Thai massage generally includes a greater amount of stretching and range of motion than table massage. The recipient, in my experience, while deeply relaxed, usually stays a little more ‘awake and aware’ in Thai massage due to being moved around into all of the different positions, but it can be a very meditative experience.”
The practitioner uses hands, palms, feet, knees, and the receiver’s bodyweight during the treatment that may include a variety of positions including prone, supine, side-lying, and seated. In Thai massage, the main techniques are passive stretching, applied slowly by the practitioner; rhythmic and deep static compression, and rocking or other rhythmic movements.
“There are also obvious stress relieving effects, and, if you are a believer in an energetic body, then it is also said to increase the flow of energy through the meridians or nadis, which contributes to overall health and well-being,” says Tara.
Tara sometimes combines traditional and Thai massage and she even offers private yoga sessions in which the yoga work ends with a Thai Yoga Massage during final relaxation.
Owner, Chill Cryotherapy
Cost: $45 per session
Originally developed in 1968 in Japan as a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis, researchers also discovered it was helpful for multiple sclerosis and fibromyalgia, which are all inflammatory diseases. European Olympic athletes subsequently discovered the benefits and it became very popular in Europe 30 years ago.
Tara Santosuosso opened Chill Cryotherapy when she realized the therapy wasn’t available in Pensacola. An avid tennis player, Tara discovered cryotherapy while living in Texas and she became a true believer after repeated ankle injuries. Within three sessions, her pain was gone and she was back on the courts.
Cryotherapy, Tara explains, is a whole-body exposure to sub-zero temperatures used to promote the body’s natural anti-inflammatory response, release endorphins, reduce pain and promote overall health. Cryotherapy is not a medical procedure. Rather, it is a non-invasive alternative for individuals seeking faster recovery and improved health. The whole-body cryosauna uses a gaseous form of nitrogen to lower skin surface temperature, by 30 to 50 degrees, in a two-to-three minute session. The exposed skin reacts to the extreme temperatures by sending messages to the brain that stimulate natural regulatory functions of the body.
In addition, the skin’s exposure to these sub-zero temperatures triggers the release of anti-inflammatory molecules, endorphins, and toxins, and increases oxygen circulation within the bloodstream. “If you think about,” says Tara, “people have been using ice and ice baths to reduce inflammation forever. This is at max, 15 minutes out of person’s day. You’re not soaking wet and you can go about your business when you’re done. People feel instantly better. I have people in physical therapy, people with surgery, people with arthritis. I have all kinds of clients and they all feel instantly better.”
Clients typically wear undergarments although women may be nude, if desired. Thermal socks, gloves and shoes are provided to protect the extremities from temperatures as low as negative 300 degrees. Clients enter the cryosauna in a robe and disrobe once settled inside. A trained operator guides clients through the cryotherapy session. Only the clients face is visible outside of the chamber. As the session begins, cool dry air will circulate within the chamber for just two-three minutes. During this time your skin surface temperature will drop significantly. When the session is over, the body vasodilates and the enriched blood is released back to the skin surface tissues, muscle tissues, and joint spaces that have been flushed of toxins.
This is certainly not an exhaustive list of holistic therapies—just a peek at a few of the more unique options. Other popular modalities include Reiki, Cranial Sacral Therapy, Infra-Red Heat Therapy, Pranic Healing, Aromatherapy, Tapping and more. If you are suffering from a chronic pain or illness and western medicine has yet to give you the relief you need, try one of these holistic options. Or, better yet, take Tara Taylor’s advice and begin a treatment of preventative self-care to avoid many of these issues to begin with.