It All Go
By Kirsten Ferguson
massage isn’t just about pampering— it’s about beginning a
healing process by releasing pent-up tension and toxins
mud facials or mineral baths, massage is often associated
with the all-over body pampering that one can receive at a
spa, a form of self-indulgence favored by wealthy women or
vacationing couples. To view massage as mere indulgence, however,
is selling it far too short. The technique has been used for
healing since the start of recorded history; the first written
reference to massage is in the traditional Chinese medicine
handbook Yellow Emperors Book of Medicine from 2700
Deep-tissue massage in particular has the ability to provide
all sorts of lasting health benefits, from the release of
bodily toxins to the reduction of stress and anxiety. If you’re
still trying to make those New Year’s health resolutions stick,
Dan Wahl, a massage therapist who works out of Clifton Park,
recommends deep-tissue massage as a way to kick them into
gear. “If you want to clean your life up, deep-tissue massage
is a great way to start the whole process of detoxification.
The next day you’ll feel better and able to start an exercise
program,” he says, emphasizing that a person should always
drink a lot of water following a massage, to help flush toxins
out of the body.
That process of detoxification, whether it releases the vestiges
of pollution, a bad diet, too much booze or stress and negative
emotions, can be a powerful, almost overwhelming experience.
I received a form of Taoist abdominal massage called Chi Nei
Tsang from Wahl, who studied the technique under a kahuna
(master of massage) in Hawaii. It was uncomfortable at times,
as one might expect from a massage of the rarely probed abdominal
muscles. “I try to locate adhesions that are in the abdominal
muscles,” Wahl says, explaining the process. “Adhesions are
scar tissue from microtears in the muscle. They interfere
with oxygenated blood getting to the organs. If you work out
adhesions, the nerve roots are going to function better. And
your body will function better because there’s more oxygen
in the system.”
The first time I had Chi Nei Tsang done, it left me not only
with a rash over the liver (a sign of toxin release), but
with a rather powerful emotional feeling of catharsis that
lingered into the following days. Wahl says that it is common
for deep-tissue massage to trigger an emotional response.
(A friend who was in massage school once told me that he experienced
near emotional breakdowns while on the massage table.)
muscles keep emotional charges,” Wahl explains. “That’s why
people will ask you, ‘Where do you hold your stress?’ The
more you experience stress, the more your mind conditions
your body to hold your muscles tense. When you work that out
and release the contracted muscle, you feel relief. It brings
it to your consciousness that you’ve been holding stress in
that muscle. A lot of times people will cry. I’ve had people
almost scream. They’re letting emotion out instead of repressing
Wahl says deep-tissue massage can be especially valuable for
people suffering from chronic headaches, anxiety, constipation
or sciatica, as well as the tension of everyday life. “The
major benefit of deep-tissue massage is stress reduction,”
he says. “I say that because the [negative] effects of stress
are underrated. If you can regulate stress, then you can regulate
[stress hormone] cortisol. If you can get that reduced, your
whole body will function better.”
Wahl, who graduated from the Swedish Institute in New York
City and has done more than 4,000 massages, recommends that
a person interested in receiving a deep-tissue massage should
find a licensed therapist either by referral from a chiropractor
or friend, or by visiting the American Massage Therapy Association
Massage is a technique that has been used to improve bodily
health and treat ailments for thousands of years, but Wahl
indicates that the true measurement of the technique’s value
is in the days and weeks following a massage, when one should
feel noticeably better. “We don’t work with drugs. We work
with the person’s own healing system,” he says. “We all have
one. Don’t let them fool you.”
By Miriam Axel-Lute
pursuit of breathing freely, by any means necessary
1: OK. I’m sick of having a runny nose every three days. The
doctor wasn’t very helpful, and I’m already taking too many
pills, many of which only sometimes work. Argh. My new-agey
college roommate used to have this weird little pot that she
used to pour water through her nose. Sounds remarkably unpleasant,
but maybe I’ve come to that.
Day 2: According to my research, here’s the hype: It’s called
a neti pot. What you do with it is called jalaneti. It comes
from India, and is practiced by yogis to help make sure they
can breathe freely for meditation and yoga. You pour warm
saline in one nostril with your head tilted and it comes out
the other. This cleans out all the dirt, allergens, pollutants
that your normal mucus can’t quite handle. Also, supposedly,
the running water actually makes a little vacuum that cleans
out your sinuses too. Certainly sounds impressive.
Day 4: Got a pot, gave it a try. First reactions: I never
thought of myself as having particularly small nostrils, but
um, that tip barely fit. The ack-I-must-fix-it-now sensation
of getting water up my nose only lasted for about 1.5 seconds—basically
until the water started coming out the other nostril. After
that, remarkably comfortable. I picked the most complete of
the “drying routines” I saw described, having been scared
by ominous descriptions of what might happen if “dirty water”
is left behind. Ten deep breaths out the nose while hanging
head down by the knees, then 10 quick breaths out of both
nostrils, each nostril separately, and both again. I sound
like an angry horse, but it works.
Day 10: Switched pots for one with a tapered tip. Much
Day 20: Seems like it improves my runny nose, but still needs
to be paired with the nasal inhaler to keep the drip totally
at bay. I did go to a friends’ house with cats with none of
my usual reaction. A good sign.
Meanwhile, the positive side effects are astounding: I can
breathe through my nose! I mean I always could a little, but
I had no idea how much I couldn’t, if you know what I mean.
I no longer get that nasty dry mouth when sleeping with the
heat on. My head feels clearer all the time. I can breathe
enough to actually match my breaths to yoga poses appropriately.
(And, um, there’s less of an urge to pick your nose.)
Day 21: RB says it gets rid of her itchy eyes (also puts a
vacuum on the tear ducts), which nothing else has ever done.
RS says the weird feeling of being underwater still happens
for him from time to time, but it’s still worth doing.
Day 36: Ran out of special neti salt and switched to regular.
Despite the claims about “no added anti-caking agents” I suspect
that special neti salt is probably like Excedrin Migraine®—same
thing, new name to make it seem fancy.
Day 38: The level to which I am now familiar with the varying
qualities and quantities of my snot and willing to discuss
it with my family is getting a little embarrassing. But I’ll
bet I’m not alone. Lynne Sims, assistant health and beauty
aids manager at the Honest Weight Food Co-op, says neti pots
are an extremely popular item. “Sinus issues are so common
in this area,” she says. Of course she also says the special
salt is very popular. Hmmm.
Day 39: First-ever long weekend visiting the in-laws and their
cats without a single allergic symptom. Sure, I was still
taking the drugs, but the drugs never worked before.
Day 40: Is this even really “alternative?” Dr. Michael DeVito,
an otolaryngologist (that’s doctorese for ear-nose-throat
specialist), is familiar with neti pots, and says he doesn’t
know of any colleagues who have a problem with them. His only
caution is that “as with many alternative remedies, there
has to be a reasonable thought as to what the expectations
are. People that have a bacterial sinusitis can’t expect a
neti pot to make it go away.” But he says it’s great for “nasal
crusting, and other general nasal irritation.”
DeVito also points out that a neti pot is only one delivery
system for “saline irrigation”—you also can buy all sorts
of squirt bottles and even an attachment for your Water Pik,
not to mention something called Ponaris Oil that is less drying
than saline. Good that there’s options, though friends who’ve
tried the bottle squirt method make it sound pretty awkward,
I must say.
Day 50: Everyone around me is sick, and I’m not. I have no
reason to believe it’s the neti pot, except that never before
would I have made it this far unscathed.
Day 56: Well, OK, I did get sick, but only for one day, which
is a lot better than the weeks I’ve seen people going through.
It’s really weird to know you’re sick because of the aches
and the tenderness and the sore throat—but to continue breathing
free and clear. No congestion, no post-nasal drip. It’s disorienting.
Not that I’m complaining, mind you.
Day 60: I think I’ve already saved us the money I spent on
the neti pot in fewer tissue purchases. All in all, pretty
impressive for a little metal pot with a funny looking spout.
in the MiddleLocal doctor straddles the mainstream-integrative
B. A. Nilsson
Stram is a healer who is also a doctor. That’s an odd phenomenon
to note, but it signifies the gulf between conventional medicine
and the less traditional—or at least less familiar—approaches
now being offered, approaches still scorned by skeptics and
denied insurance coverage.
years ago, Dr. Stram opened Delmar’s Center for Integrative
Health and Healing with a number of associates offering treatments
including acupuncture, naturopathy, Chinese herbal medicine,
Reiki and much more. At the same time, he is a board-certified
physician with 13 years of experience in this area. Currently,
he is Director of Emergency Medicine at Albany Memorial Hospital,
a career that predated his interest in integrative medicine.
How does he reconcile what seem to be two vastly different
promise is the same,” he says. Stram is a pleasant, soft-spoken
man more inclined to ask questions than to answer them. “We’re
here to take care of patients. At the center, I’m able to
offer a wide array complementary services, and I believe some
of them even should be offered in conventional medicine.
it is, I’ve tried to bring some of what we do at the center
to my work at Albany Memorial. There we’ve gone from a department
where people were forced to feel that it was a privilege to
be taken care of to a place where we believe it’s a privilege
to take care of people. Our patient satisfaction rate there
was at 50 percent when I started; it’s been 95 percent for
the past year and a half.”
Stram’s professor of emergency medicine at Albany Medical
Center was Joel Bartfield, who is the center’s associate dean
for graduate medical education. “Ron is a talented guy with
a lot of experience,” says Dr. Bartfield. “He brings a multifaceted
approach to his work in the emergency department at Albany
Memorial. Traditional medicine doesn’t always allow the time
you’d like to talk to people, but he does what he can, and
does it with the sensitivity he has developed.”
Talking becomes a vital part of the healing process at the
Center for Integrative Health and Healing, and Stram schedules
a lengthy consultation time for the first visit. “For the
first half-hour of our consultation,” he explains, “I’m the
student. I’m learning from you. My goal is to listen to people
and to break down barriers.”
Stram credits his interest in alternative medicine to “two
somewhat life-changing events. The first one took place when
my father was ill with a spinal-cord tumor. We’d been estranged
when I was a young man. The illness brought us closer, which
made me recognize that disease doesn’t always result in loss.”
That was also a time when Stram was introduced to the works
of Andrew Weil and Deepak Chopra, “healers who are pretty
big names,” as well as writers like Ken Wilbur, who tackles
questions about our physical and spiritual universe.
second event took place when I was working at Albany Medical
Center. It was a beautiful night in May and the place was
humming. Even the halls were filled with stretchers. And we
admitted a 16-year-old girl who had been ejected from a car
and hit her head against a tree. The injury had resulted in
diffused brain swelling, and there’s not a lot you can do
for that. The neurosurgeon came down, looked at the CT scan,
looked at the monitor—I don’t think he even looked at the
girl herself—then went into the waiting room where about 30
family members were gathered. He told them the girl had about
a 5 percent chance of surviving. There was pandemonium as
he walked away.
didn’t know what I was doing. I only knew that this was wrong.
I suggested to the family that, whatever they believed in,
they should pray. They should speak to friends and set up
a prayer vigil, set it up all across the country if they could.
‘When you go to her hospital room,’ I said, ‘bring anything
that reminds you of her. Read to her. Tell her that she has
chores to do, she has work to finish.’ And, for the family
at least, there was a sense of calm. That helped me recognize
that healing goes beyond the patient. It includes family and
I giving them false hope? No. I was giving them power. Percentages
are false. When people are cared for by other people, they
Spurred by this to further investigate integrative medicine,
Stram pursued a fellowship program under Weil’s auspices at
the University of Arizona. In opening the center in Delmar,
he offers a program of services intended to complement what
conventional medicine provides.
puts together a realistic treatment plan,” says Christopher
Reilly, a staff acupuncturist at the Center. “All my patients
say he’s a really good listener who understands what they’re
going through and where they’re at.” Reilly also notes that
it doesn’t hurt to have a physician with Stram’s training
on hand. “A patient of mine had an episode of chest and jaw
pain radiating into the left arm, and I was able to grab Ron
and make sure that everything was OK.”
As far as cooperation with conventional medical community,
progress is slow (and insurance coverage is scarce). “Right
now,” says Stram, “there is still a lot of skepticism, but
there is also good evidence that these modalities can be effective.
Physicians here just aren’t educated in them.”
But he needs no more convincing than the evidence of the young
woman with the head injury. “I kept in touch with her family,”
he says, “and eventually got a postcard with the girl’s picture
on it. She was dressed for her senior prom. She was 100-percent