Finding the Right Physical Therapist

For musicians, professionally related physical trauma can be one of the worst kinds of trauma because working musicians can repetitively, step-by-step, hour-by-hour continue to damage their bodies.

Musicians’ injuries usually don’t happen overnight, and healing doesn’t happen in one day. It takes time. Injuries related to the music profession can become aggravated because they are generally related to overuse and are difficult to avoid.

It is the job of a good physical therapist to help a musician heal in the shortest amount of time because the next day he or she may be off to London, Moscow, or Tokyo. Whatever the case may be, working musicians must be in excellent physical condition.

I have been working with musicians for more then 30 years. Using a hands-on physical therapy method, I have learned to feel the musician’s pain so that I can help him or her heal as quickly as possible.

I also have learned that being a musician is not just a profession, it’s a lifestyle. In order to play, you have to be in top shape, but you have to be prepared for injuries as well. This means you must know how to find the right kind of physical therapist in whatever city you are playing, just in case treatment becomes necessary for the show to go on. To help I have compiled a list of frequently asked questions:

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How to Avoid Yoga Injuries

newlife-coverThe positive effects of yoga are widely accepted. Modern science can, in fact, quantify these benefits, such as increased flexibility, improved strength, better posture, positive mood, reduced stress levels, and –the widely desired – weight loss.

Recently, however, there has been an increase in the dialogue about the other side of the coin: injuries that may be incurred while practicing yoga. But before you allow yourself to be scared away and miss out on all the benefits, here are some ways to determine your personal level of risk before stepping onto the mat.

Gain perspective

Practicing the asana (posture) aspect of yoga is a physical activity that requires the same level of awareness regarding the body’s capability as when engaging in any other type of athletic endeavor, such as running or soccer. Just as you should not attempt a marathon when first starting to run, pushing the body into the full, or advanced stages of a pose can be detrimental. To be safe, adhere to your body’s natural limits and avoid overstretching, which means moving past the point of first resistance when performing a pose. If you heed your body’s signals, your risk factor for injury is far less than many regular daily activities such as driving a car!

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The Body Whisperer

Legendary body-worker Shmuel Tatz explains why keeping your body in tune can help you avoid long-term injuries

Shmuel Tatz PT

Stay Tuned

Because active people often have problems with their knees, ankles, or lower back, it is essential to get regular therapeutic sessions with a qualified professional. He believes his body-tuning technique is the best tool for helping very physically active people stay injury-free (and I would have to agree), but if you don’t live in the New York area, here are some of his suggestions to help keep you in a perfect rhythm.

  • If you experience pain, stop doing yoga and get daily treatments from a physical therapist until the pain I gone.
  • Make sure the physical therapist has at least 10-15 years of experience. The therapist should spend a minimum of 40 minutes treating you, and a large percentage of that time should include “hands-on” treatment of your body. At every visit, the therapist should be trying different techniques.
  • In addition to working on the affected joint, the therapist should work on other body parts that have been thrown out of alignment because of the injury.

Generally speaking, we yogis are a healthy bunch. We practice our asana regularly, are mindful of what we eat, and often meditate to release any and all negative energies. Sometimes though, we come up against obstacles, the most annoying of which are physical.

But we deal. We steam our strained muscles, haul our sore bodies to massage sessions, and sometimes even enjoy a day at the spa. We start to feel better, so we go back to the mat, and in a few weeks or months, a new obstacle inevitably pops up. As this cycle repeats over and over, many of us face chronic injuries. In the long run, our bodies and our practices suffer.

So it was that I recently found myself sun-saluting my way through this wheel of physical suffering. Then, one afternoon, as I rested on my mat waiting for class to start, I heard the quiet whispering of nearby yogis, speaking about a man with a magic touch.

Magic Man

A few days later, I am in an office located deep in the belly of Carnegie Hall. It feels like I stepped into a time warp. The office is worn, with an air of another era but somehow comforting, and there are strange-looking devices here and there (was that a flux capacitor?). classical music is playing, and there are pictures of dancers, actors, and musicians on the wall—all reveal loving and grateful inscriptions dedicated to the man with the magical hands—Shmuel Tatz.

Shmuel is a thin, distinguished-looking man, with playful eyes and a thick eastern European accent. He orders me to walk across the room, and I hear him muttering as I obey. On my return stroll, I can see him shaking his head and stroking his chin. Shit.

“What you are doing to yourself?” He seems really annoyed with me. My voice is meek as I tell him about the tightness in my thoracic spine, a strained shoulder, and an injured hamstring. “You do too much yoga!” he exclaims, as he leads me to a smaller room, and I lay my submissive self down on a table.

He began to whisper to me to relax and breathe as he went to work on my neck, my psoas, my hips, and my feet. Things were cracking and popping like an Orville Redenbacher Fourth of July, and I was alternatively sweating and feeling relieved. I felt gooey afterward, but I also felt as though my breath was traveling on a freeway around my body. Best of all, I swear I walked out of there taller!

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Tune Your Body

I’ve worked with thousands of musicians from Rosalyn Tureck, Mstislav Rostropovich and Issac Stern, to Leon Fleisher, Richard Goode and Gidon Kremer. Most of the pianists I have seen have had good training in the mechanics of playing the instrument properly: how to sit… the importance of arm weight and relaxation… and having a nicely rounded hand. Even so, there are many pianists for whom the normal pedagogical training simply doesn’t apply, and yet, regardless of their anatomical make up-whether their hands are large or small, whether they play with straight fingers or curved or hold their hands high or low-they still achieve wonderful results. Vladimir Horowitz often played with almost completely straight fingers. Glenn Gould sat very low and almost seemed to play from under the keyboard.

What was their secret? They managed to be at the keyboard in s position where their muscles and ligaments were working for and not against them. It is possible to play for long periods of’ time without experiencing any tiredness or pain. And to achieve that, the body must be as in tune as the piano.

One of the ways that you can help your body to help you is through active physical exercise. Another is through passive exercise, and by that I mean lying on a table and allowing someone like me to move your body. I will talk more about that but first, here are a few tension-relieving exercises that can be done by any pianist when taking a break from practicing, (hopefully after 5000 minutes at the keyboard). Please note that none of these should be clone with out first having an evaluation by a physical therapist to make certain they are right for you.

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Professional Performers: Christa Ludwig, Alexandra Danilova, Isaac Stern

Located in Carnegie Hall, Shmuel Tatz’s studio is in the center of New York’s artistic community. And with good reason. Many of Tatz’s clients are virtuoso performers whose work places unusual stress of their bodies. This is the kind of stress Tatz has honed his Body Tuning methods to relieve.

Isaac Stern is one of the many violinists who has benefitted from Tatz’s help over the years. “Not only is Shmuel an enormously gifted, highly trained experienced physical therapist,” says Stern, “he is also knowledgeable in the unique needs of artists who so often have problems that are caused by professional work.”

Whether it is the musician’s repeated motion of bowing a violin, the singer’s breathing techniques or the dancer’s wear and tear on muscles and joints, all performing artists demand a lot of their bodies.

“My instrument is my body, and I need a healthy body to be able to sing,” says Crista Ludwig, one of the world’s great sopranos who performs internationally. When she is in New York to sing at the Metropolitan Opera, she makes a point to visit Tatz for Body Tuning.

“My back is always the first to go,” she explains. “The breathing I do as a singer involves holding my breath when letting the tone out and slowly breathing with it. If I have a long phrase to sing, holding my breath can make my back very stiff. On top of that, if I am nervous it always goes to my back.

“Shmuel has very special hands,” she adds. “He always goes deeper than massage and really works with the joints. When I am with him I can feel where the problem is. He relieves my tension and as a result my voice always gets better.”

Another thing Tatz has taught her is the importance of exercise. “We singers are always shrinking because we don’t move,” says Ludwig. “We sit in planes or in taxis or we stand on stage, but we don’t do any kind of sport. Shmuel really knows the right exercises for each age and body weight.”

The importance of taking good care of you body as you get older cannot be over-stresses, says Tatz. In the performing arts this is particularly true of dancers for whom endless hours of training ultimately takes its toll. Alexandra Danilova whose career as a ballerina has spanned much of this century and some of the most famous ballet companies worldwide, including the Maryinsky in Russia, the Diaghlev in London, and the School of American Ballet in New York where she taught for many years, works with Tatz for just this reason.

“When you dance you must look after your muscles,” she says. “One cannot neglect a little pain, you must take care of it and learn exercises to do to stay healthy.”

Danilova continues to live by this principal in her retirement and goes to Tatz once a week for Body Tuning. “I still work on my whole body,” she says. “I don’t want to stop or I’ll get stiff.”

“Shmuel really appreciates dancers,” she adds. “He knows the way their bodies work.” Ballet, she explains, has many parallels with Yoga. Exercises such as the pontes de bras and adagio come directly from Yoga. The reason Body Tuning is so effective for dancers, she says, is that it too is based on Yoga and therefore is a natural extension of the exercises dancers do in Ballet.

For Ludwig and Danilova Tatz’s work shows a particular sensitivity to the art. But Body Tuning for both has not just been physical therapy and massage to relieve pain or stress. Working with Tatz, they say, has taught them important new ways to think about movement. This influence has enabled them to work by them selves on using their bodies in a way that is more relaxing and, in the long term, more healthy. “Because I have a bad back it is often painful to move,” says Danilova. “But Shmuel has found a way to help me stand up straight. I have to say to myself ‘I am the queen.’ It feels a little strange every time I say it, but it really helps me to balance. If I don’t say this when I get up in the morning I find my self falling into a droopy position, saying this reminds me to hold myself up.” Ludwig says Tatz has changed her sense that exercise needs to be done quickly. “Every time he shows me exercises he always reminds me to do them slowly. I can always hear him say it, ‘slowly … slowly.’ Now that I have realized the importance of this I am dissatisfied when working with anyone who is not Shmuel.”

Both Danilova and Stern agree. Tatz’s highly developed technique and sensitivity to performing artists is unparalleled. “It is not only too rare to find this combination,” says Stern. “He can be an invaluable aid to any performing artist.”

by Alice Nadine

Alternative Treatments Can Benefit Musicians: Body Tuning

The physical problems of musicians, particularly injuries due to misuse of the body, have received considerable attention in recent years. Most of the interest has been focused on resolving injuries that already exist, rather than on preventing these injuries. A recent discussion with Shmuel Tatz – a rather remarkable Manhattan-based physical therapist and physical education specialist – provided some important perspectives on these subjects.

Tatz has worked with hundreds of musicians during his career, including such artists as Isaac Stern, Yehudi Menuhin and Vladimir Ashkenazy. He has also worked with countless ballet dancers, and with people who work in other fields. When asked how the average musician’s case compares to that of a dancer or a person who works outside the arts, Tatz pointed out that “everything we do in life can lead to physical problems. It’s just a question of when in life the problems begin. For a dancer, the problems usually start between the ages of 15 and 20; for a musician, between 20 and 30; for someone who has a desk job, between 30 and 40.”

Why this discrepancy? “Dancers have problems the soonest, because they demand so much from their bodies that they abuse themselves. Mussicians, on the other hand, are often taught early on to ignore their bodies. Frequently, when a teacher or parent discovers that a child is musically gifted, the child will be discouraged from engaging in normal physical activities, such as sports. This is very bad for physical development. It can prevent the child from acquiring the strength, flexibility and endurance that serious instrumental study and performance require. It may also set the stage for problems later on.”

A knowledgeable, attentive teacher should recommend that a student’s parents allow normal amounts of physical activities. In addition, teachers’ understanding and awareness of what may turn out to be physical misdevelopment in their students, coupled with referrals for physical therapy when required, can go a long way towards reducing these problems in childhood and afterwards.

“Unlike a ballet dancer, musicians generally require only normal strength and flexibility, to perform at a peak level,” Tatz said. “What is surprising is how many musicians don’t have even normal mobility. Often, the development is uneven – an arm is too flexible in one direction and stiff in the other, and therefore unstable.” Specific physical training is not the norm among musicians. “In fact, musicians are frequently taught to disregard the body, to be result-oriented – only the musical product matters, no matter what kind of physical deprivation or damage is required to achieve that end. In general, people are taught to see a health practitioner, such as a physician or physical therapist, only when they are already sick or injured. In my opinion, that is waiting too long. People need to seek out physical educators and medical doctors who are willing to help someone who is healthy to stay that way, so that certain avoidable problems can be prevented from ever occurring.”

What about adult musicians who are already suffering from physical problems? Tatz uses a unique approach called “Body Tuning” in his work as a physical therapist. “The body is an instrument that needs to be kept in tune, just like a violin or an automobile. When a musician comes to see me, I try to address not only the specific problem he is having, but also more general aspects of movement and posture.”

Tatz’s Body Tuning draws on a diverse combination of Eastern and Western disciplines. One component of his approach is “manual medicine” – hand-on physical therapy, a discipline to which he ascribes European and Australian origins. Manual medicine served as the focus of his studies in Israel. His earlier studies in Russia dealt with the use of “therapeutic modalities” such as laser therapy, microcurrents, ultrasound and magnetic therapy. “Russia is 15 to 20 years ahead of the West in these high-tech applications,” Tatz explains. “These approaches have caught on in the West only during the last ten years. In Russia, electrical modalities and magnetic therapy were already in use in the 1950s.”

Tatz also incorporates disciplines from the Far East, such as yoga, Tai Chi, energetic healing and acupuncture, as well as Western adaptations such as the Alexander and Feldenkrais techniques.

When working with a patient, Tatz begins by trying to establish a spiritual rapport. “I want a musician to feel that I understand what it means to be a professional musician, that I know how much energy and passion go into making music, and what the physical demands are. If a pianist, for example, knows that I understand his art and way of life, he will trust me to help him to take proper care of his body. This trust is the most critical aspect of my work with the patient.” After a personal connection has been made, Tatz begins by testing the mobility in the patient’s joints, the flexibility and strength of the muscles, and the condition of ligaments and tendons.

The second step is to help loosen tight joints or muscles through hands-on manipulation of parts of the body. Next, Tatz shows the patient exercises that can be done on one’s own to increase flexibility and strength in the areas that need improvement. “I start with the specific problem or injury, but in the back of my head I am always thinking of the patient’s general health. Once the particular problem is fixed, I go on to do a more general tuning, as a mechanic would tune up an automobile after replacing a defective part.

“Afterward, I might make some more general suggestions. These suggestions could deal with general physical health, including diet (in which case I have sometimes referred patients to a dietician)m and physical presentation on stage, which is extremely important for performers, but which teachers often neglect to address. The way in which a performer moves on stage is a crucial factor in establishing a connection with the audience.”

The last step in the process is finding out what kinds of physical activity the patient enjoys. According to Tatz, finding a physical activity that someone really enjoys is the best way to ensure that the patient will continue to exercise effectively. Continued exercise is critical, because it is “only when a musician can fully enjoy playing his instrument.” And that is, after all, the kind of enjoyment that musicians seek.

Allegro: Associated Musicians of Greater New York
By Richard L. Simon and Adam C. Fisher

Double Acts

Shmuel Tatz is the favoured physiotherapist of many of Manhattan’s Leading Musicians, among them New York Philharmonic Violinist Hanna Lachert

Physical Therapist Shmuel Tatz and Violinist Hanna Lachert

I WAS INTRODUCED TO HANNA ABOUT 20 YEARS AGO THROUGH her husband, the Manhattan violin maker David Segal; she has been a regular client ever since.

Eighty per cent of her treatment is using hands only and for the other 20 per cent she gets individualized exercises. Just like a violin pupil plays a sonata at their lesson and the teacher after listening to it makes some suggestions, big and small, so only when I am touching or watching the body can I maneuver it and give some suggestions, some ideas. Hanna’s a very good student as, like most musicians, she has the discipline needed to practice. You don’t need to rush to the tuner, you can do self-tuning – if you have problems you need to go to the master, but mostly you can do it on your own.

I wish in our sessions we could talk about the interpretation of music – I can only listen, to hear how in tune the body is. When I’m working on a musician’s body I’m listening with my fingers, my hands; I can feel the vibrations of every muscle, every joint and every organ.

One thing I have learnt from Hanna is not to wait when we have some little problem – the sooner you go to the tuner, the less time it takes to get better. With Hanna, any discomfort in the body – perhaps she feels something a little bit out of tune – and she immediately calls and makes an appointment; it takes a couple of sessions and everything’s OK. She doesn’t wait until the body starts to scream and needs to takes some drug straight away.

I often hear Hanna play. I recently heard her in piano trios by Rachmaninoff, Chopin and her composer brother Piotr. I’m crazy about piano trios, so I enjoyed that very much. Fortunately she’s a very active chamber player and doesn’t only work with the Philharmonic. But not long ago I also heard her play in Verdi’s Requiem. Afterwards we were having some supper together and she was so excited – she said, ‘This time not only you had fun but I had fun.’ It’s a great piece – 90 minutes felt like 15 or 20.

I’ve learnt so much from Hanna and other musicians about their particular physiological challenges and ailments – things that other health professionals haven’t always grasped. For example, I’ve had violinists with shoulder problems who have been to very well-known orthopedists. One of them had a session following a famous tennis player who had got over a shoulder complaint by switching arms – so the orthopedist suggested the same for the violinist! It shows such little understanding of violinists! Hanna knows to phone me before she has an injection or gets some medicine; she knows to trust me.

THE FIRST TIME I SAW SHMUEL WAS AT MY HUSBAND’S SHOP; he was with a violinist friend of his who was one of my husband’s clients. That fellow was raving how fantastic Shmuel is. I was skeptical at first – just another physiotherapist. He insisted on demonstrating right there on the floor what he could do and it was encouraging. So I said alright, I’ll try. And true enough I was very much impressed and have been going to him ever since, whenever I have a problem.

In my case it’s often my shoulder, but recently I had some swollen joints and he was able to help with that – which borders on a miracle! My husband, David, once twisted his ankle so that he was on crutches, painkillers – you name it. The next day we called Shmuel, who said to just come over; we drove there and an hour later David walked back to his work.

My sessions with him don’t involve me playing, but he will show me exercises to improve my condition. On a basic level he told me always to pay attention to the way I sit, the way I drive, what’s happening to my shoulders when I write or am at the computer – basic things about posture that we tend to forget. That’s on top of his manipulations. He also uses some electronic devices – I’m not sure what they are, but I trust him!

“When I met Shmuel he insisted on demonstrating his treatment right there on the floor.”

We usually talk about music, because Shmuel loves it and he goes to many, many concerts. He’s very knowledgeable and strongly opinionated about who he likes and who he doesn’t and why. He comes and hears me with the New York Philharmonic perhaps once or twice a month, and he comes to practically all my chamber music concerts. He doesn’t like too much new music, but at my last concert at BargeMusic I played a piece written for me and my piano trio by my brother, and Shmuel said he liked it. It was only written last year, so very contemporary – I was happy that he could appreciate it.

We’ve long been friends and he sometimes comes to us for dinner or festivals such as Passover. We have a tradition on the first of January of an open house; all our friends come with their instruments and we play chamber music, accompanied by food and wine. He’s been to that several times and he even surprised me once and revealed e can pay the piano.

The Strad
Interviews by Matthew Rye

Shmuel Tatz: The Divine Touch

Shmuel Tatz PT PhDHeadlined as the “Therapist as Shaman” by The New York Times, Shmuel Tatz, P.T., Ph.D., is a physical therapist providing relief for his clients when they have been unable to find it elsewhere. Located on the eighth floor of the prestigious Carnegie Hall in New York City, Tatz is the star of his own show, the Tatz Studio—a healing arts studio—attracting numerous celebrities, classical musicians and prominent business personalities throughout the world.

Practicing his unique system of Body Tuning and physical therapy, Tatz has treated such glitterati as renowned composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, singers Laurie Anderson and Lou Reed; actors F. Murray Abraham, Elizabeth Berkley, Elaine May, Marlo Thomas, and Kathleen Turner; Mets baseball star Mookie Wilson; world-class violinists Sir Yehudi Menuhin and Isaac Stern; prima ballerinas Nina Ananiashvili, Alexandra Danilova and Susan Jaffe; German soprano Christa Ludwig; Bach specialist Rosalyn Tureck, and TV personalities Peter Jennings and Jane Pauley.

Isaac Stern, who had seen Tatz for two decades, described him as a genius. “Not only is Shmuel Tatz an enormously gifted, highly trained and experienced physical therapist, he is also knowledgeable of the unique needs of artists who so often have problems that are caused by professional work over the years.”

More impressive than his illustrious client list is the list of ailments he has been able to treat. His Web page lists almost 100 of them, everything from back and neck problems, sports and occupational injuries, stress- and tension-related problems, age-related stiffness, to neurological and orthopedic disorders. He also participates in the integrated treatment of depression, autoimmune disorders, diabetes, allergies, acne, insomnia, osteoporosis-the list goes on and on. Despite his extremely busy schedule, Tatz never makes himself too important or preoccupied to personally return phone calls and answer all questions with earnest sincerity.


At 58 years young, Tatz possesses an uncanny ability to assess the physical situation of his clients solely by scanning their bodies, and, as if by divine guidance, his hands intuitively know where to begin the healing process. Tatz is hesitant to attribute any of his healing abilities to anything other than hard work, dedication to his craft and years of experience. In today’s glitzy new-age health world, his impeccable integrity, Yiddish sense of humor and earthy hands-on approach is refreshingly real and tangible. Nothing about his treatments are so ethereal that a layman cannot directly experience the impact.

“I tell people, that if you have come to my office to tell your story, you are in the wrong place. If you have already been to 10 places and you have told everybody your story and you are still here, so everything you are telling me I don’t need to know. I need to know what you are not saying. Now, on the table!! With my hands I’ll figure it out.”
It is rare that any client leaves the Tatz Studio without a marked physical improvement. His goal is to reeducate detrimental patterns in the body and teach the client new ways of living and using muscles. Through treatment and education, Tatz restores health and balance and seeks to wean the client away from outside intervention.

Using a cross-modality of different techniques, Tatz combines the best of Western medicine with the more energetically based practices of the East.

“Every patient who comes to me is experiencing pain or discomfort at a different level,” he explains, “and in order to assist each one appropriately, I must have a large repertoire to draw from. One modality is not enough to help every person who walks in the door.”

Some of the modalities he utilizes are: Auriculo therapy, shortwave diathermy, magnetic therapy, sound therapy (ultrasound), light therapy (ML 830® Laser), electrical stimulation and manual therapy, as well as Postural Integration®, tai chi, lyengar yoga, reflex therapy and hydrotherapy.

For clients who come from out of town for Tatz’s special Body Tuning® techniques, he recommends treatment twice a day for one week, once in the morning and then again in the early evening. Eighty-five percent of his clients suffering from acute pain are relieved after five days. He also treats clients who are hospitalized after an operation and need some fine-tuning. “Like a car after an accident, the body has parts replaced and then needs a tune-up. Especially if the patient is lying in a hospital bed for too long, the body becomes uncomfortable. The neck and back become disjointed and need some adjustments.” Tatz suggests body tuning twice a week for these cases.

Tatz’s therapy office resonates with European flavor and is staffed with mostly other Russian practioners. Marina, his receptionist, Russian as well, greets patients with, “Allo, how can I help you?” Tatz laughs about this. “You can take the boy out of Brooklyn, but you can’t take Brooklyn out of the boy.” He may have found success in America, but he is still a Litvak at heart. Fluent in six languages—Lithuanian, Russian, Yiddish, Hebrew, English and German—Tatz is proud to assume his Hebrew name and honored to have the opportunities that American freedom has availed him. “There is no question that America is the goldene medina,” Tatz adds. “Americans are very lucky and don’t even realize it. Their biggest problem was the War of Independence and life has been a honeymoon since then. In Europe, people today are still fighting about existence.”

Fiercely independent, Tatz realizes he needs to be at the top of his field in order to succeed. He is hesitant to make referrals unless he is absolutely certain that the referring physician is top-notch and trustworthy. He always encourages his clients to thoroughly check out doctors who are recommended by other doctors as “friends.” The idea of kickbacks infuriates him, so for the most part he operates as a sole proprietor. “Americans are naive. If you go to see a doctor with a big degree from Oxford or Cambridge and he has a British accent, what does this mean? You need to ask questions.”


Shmuel Tatz PT

Born in Lithuania in 1946 to two Jewish Holocaust survivors, a secular father and Zionist mother, Tatz knew from the age of 5 that his destiny was to live in Israel. Lithuania, at that time, was not a friendly place for a Jewish family and Tatz reminisces that he was reminded in the streets a few times a day that he was a Jew. “My father was a partisan and my mother escaped from the ghetto and they met in the woods in 1944. They each had had previous spouses and children when they met, but all known family members had been killed.”

Life behind the Iron Curtain was extremely limited and even the mention of immigration before the early ’70s was a violation resulting in a sentence to Siberia. So when immigration did finally start to open up, Tatz applied and had to wait two years before receiving his visa. With much encouragement from his family, Tatz immigrated to Israel in 1973 to build a new life, with his family planning to follow after him. “My mother was a very strong Zionist—she was Shomer Hatzair—and we always had talks about Israel in my home.” Tatz’s mother was the only one to actually follow him to Eretz Yisroel, as his father passed away in Lithuania and his brother continues to live there till this day.

Tatz spent the majority of his time as a young man in Lithuania learning how to work with his hands as a healer. He remembers conversing with his father that the only thing he could take with him to Israel were his hands, so this is where he should invest his time and money. After training as a dancer, Tatz transferred his interests and studied for four years to become a medical exercise physician. He later moved to Moscow to study medical massage and in the early ’70s, he worked on the bodies of Soviet Olympic athletes.

“The Eastern European techniques at the time I was in college were much more advanced than their counterpart schools in the West.” Tatz continues, “However, there is one thing that cannot be taught in these schools and that is how to touch. Impossible.” Tatz contends that like learning piano, or any other instrument, touch can only be taught one on one. So Tatz found himself a good shaygetz hands-on healer and followed him arouna Russia to learn the trade.

Upon moving to Israel in 1973, Tatz received a full scholarship from the Sochnut to study traditional physical therapy at Wingate Institute in Tel Aviv. Tatz recounts these times as some of the happiest in his life.

“Many of my old teachers in Israel were immigrants from Germany, trainea in the Eastern European traditions of touch therapy, while the young teachers in Israel were from America and brought the hi-tech therapies like ultrasound. So this was the combination of the highest standards of training available.”

He also had the opportunity to study acupuncture, tai chi and yoga as well as Feldenkrais technique with the native originator of the modality, Moshe Feldenkrais. His first job out of Wingate was working with critically injured people in Jerusalem at Hadassah Hospital, and later he moved on to become the physical therapist for the Israeli soccer team, Beitar Yerushalayim.

Tatz smiles. “Every Jewish mother wants her son to become a doctor or a lawyer. I just didn’t have the talent for these professions. So, my cousin recommended that maybe I would enjoy physical therapy, since it involves a lot of ergonomics and movement. And since it’s a little bit like medicine, my mother would be happy, too. So I have been practicing this profession for almost 35 years and I still enjoy it and learn every day.”

Tatz’s superlative talents transverse many worlds. While concurrently working with the Israeli soccer team, Tatz opened up a private practice in Mea Shearimthe ultra-Orthodox section of Jerusalem. “I still remember my address, Shifteh Yisroel, shloshim vashmona,” he smirks.

“My office there was a three-ring circus. At the same time I was a Shabbos goy running with the soccer players on Shabbos, I was treating yeshiva bochers sitting and learning all day. The soccer players would come to my office in their shorts and the bocherim would come with their Gemorrahs. I will never forget this in my life. I had the honor to treat the Gerer Rebbe, the Slonim Rebbe, and many other talmidim chachamim. These people are always leaning over their books, learning and thinking, and this creates tremendous tension in the neck and back.”

Because Tatz spoke fluent Yiddish, all the most prominent rabbis and rebbetzins came for treatment (in Orthodox tradition, a woman cannot touch a man, but a man can touch a woman as her medical practitioner) and his popularity blossomed amongst the am kashei oref-the nation of stiff-necked people. As a result, numerous articles were written in Israeli newspapers about Tatz’s healing services amongst Israel’s most religious.

Tatz was also a tremendous advocate of physical activity in the yeshivas. He introduced baseball, soccer and basketball to many of the boys. “I saw in the color of the boys’ faces that they had zero physical activity, that their musculoskeletal system was in terrible condition, and that this brings other health problems.” Tatz admits that he received his Jewish education working in this ultra-Orthodox community. “On the holidays, the rabbis would give me wine, kosher brachas and invitations to their homes.”

An attractive young classical pianist, Golda Vainberg, also a fellow Litvak studying at the Rubin Academy of Music in Tel Aviv, once came to his office in Jerusalem. She had been suffering from tendinitis and was unable to play. After only one month of treatment, she was back to her piano and shortly afterward they married. Lucky for Tatz, Vainberg referred to him many of Israel’s finest classical musicians, as well as some of her fellow students at Juilliard. Yehudi Menuhin, Midori, pianists Bella Davidovich, Leon Fleisher, Richard Goode, Mstislav Rostropovitch, Isaac Stern and Rosalyn Tureck came by word of mouth, hearing about Tatz and his intuitive sense of the inner life of a classical musician. When Vainberg received a scholarship from Israel to study at Juilliard in New York City, the Tatzes packed their bags and in 1984 headed west.

Arriving in New York, Tatz had a difficult time reestablishing his practice. He had much experience and knowledge, but no license. One of Tatz’s friends suggested that he establish his practice as an unlicensed (he has since become licensed in New York) “body tuner.” Tatz continues, “Alexander did it, Feldenkrais did it, so I figured, why not me? So let’s make a name that sounds more musical-how ’bout, ‘Body Tuning®’? Now that’s geshmack,” he laughs. Two of Tatz’s patients, Isaac Stern and James D. Wolfensohn, president of the World Bank and then chairman of Carnegie Hall, got him an office there. Twenty years later, Tatz continues to practice his body tuning in this same studio.

“Some people say I have a gift. I only know that I put my life energy into my work and I truly want to help. When somebody puts their hands on you, you can tell if this person wants to help or they are using their hands as if this was just their job.” There is a Jewish saying: “Those who bless, too, shall be blessed.” And after visiting Shmuel Tatz, they feel that they have been blessed with the divine touch.

Lifestyles Magazine
By Leslie Russel

The Best of Both Worlds

Alternative and traditional approaches can be incorporated into a physical therapy career

From inside his clinic in New York City’s Carnegie Hall, Lithuanian native Shmuel Tatz, PT, works his wonders on the likes of renowned composer Andrew Lloyd Weber, ABC news anchor Peter Jennings, violinist Isaac Stern and prima ballerina Susan Jaffe, as well as a full roster of “regular” folk.

They come seeking relief from performance-related injuries: pianist and writers appear with neck and shoulder strains; dancers with hip, knee and back pain. But more than half of Tatz’s clients have more standard ailments, such as arthritis, slipped disks and Parkinson’s disease.

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An Unusual Therapist

In previous articles I have reported on exceptional wellness programs and what contributed to their effectiveness. I’d like to add a most unusual health practitioner to this group.

His name is Shmuel Tatz and his patients consider him to be a remarkably talented and sensitive hands-on therapist. He is first and foremost a licensed physical therapist – but with a range of skills and knowledge that has grown and matured from years of study and experience – topped off with the confidence of a master and a proud dedication to his craft.

Tatz is no ordinary physical therapist, limited to the modalities that consumers have come to expect. His menu of therapies includes magnetic therapy, manual therapy, light therapy, sound therapy, shortwave daithermy and auriculo therapy to name a few of the treatments he employs. Tatz was trained as a physical educator in Lithuania, then migrated to Israel and studied physical therapy. Since 1985 he has been helping his clients in a comfortable and carefully designed studio at Carnegie Hall. So it’s natural that among his statisfied patients are performing artists that include Lou Reed, Kathleen Turner, Peter Jennings, Mstislab Rostropovich, Eli Wallach, Yehudi Menuhin, Isaac Stern.

Before coming to see Tatz for help, the typical patient has already seen 2-3 physicians, 2-3 chiropractors, and an acupuncturist, says Tatz. The question arises then: Why have so many so-called therapists failed to diagnose and remediate their long endured health condition(s)? How has Tatz succeeded in providing the harbor of last resort?

These questions provoked a strong emotional response from Tatz – tingled with a hint of animosity toward the health insurers in particular and at the system that prepares people to become physical therapists. Both, he says prevent the development of maximum competence and severely restrict the employment of modalities and equipment so freely and expertly employed in the Tatz Studio.

Tatz feels that patients cannot be healed by a physical therapist that after four years of special training goes to work in rehab program or some doctors office. In his opinion, what future therapists need goes beyond the issuance of a license to practice.

Like Md.’s, physical therapists should broaden and sharpen their skills while working under the supervision and tutelage of a master physical therapists like Tatz. It takes a ling time, says Tatz, to develop the sensitivity and skills required to learn the art of palpation and other hands on skills that enable a physical therapists to become a capable diagnostician and healer.

Tatz points out the dampening effects if health insurance programs that set the rules for the use of “approved” modalities as well as the incompatible payments to physical therapists. To Tatz they (the health insurance industry) are business, business, and business. According to Tatz, the insurance company tells the physical therapists what he is allowed to do, how many times he can see the patient and how much he will be reimbursed for his services. “He (the therapist) is a human being … he has to pay rent and electric bills. Can you imagine a physical therapist gets $20 for a treatment? Do you know what this office costs me for one hour? How can a physical therapists run the business?”

What Tatz would like his profession to do is to extend the learning time period for physical therapists after licensing. That would require a post graduation apprenticeship for 3-5 years with an experienced physical therapist then employment for six months with other successful physical therapists. Then and only then is the physical therapist ready to go solo. Finally, the physical therapist opens his own practice in a “small room” and works independently, under no obligation to any health insurance company. This would enable him/her to devote one hour for every patient. This, says Tatz, is how he did it when he started 25 years ago.

Since Tatz has received a great deal of commendable publicity (articles, TV, radio), I expected that members of his profession and organizations representing physical therapists would have invited him to speak at their conferences and conventions. Given that Tatz incorporates other modalities such as chiropractic and massage, I asked him if he has received entreaties from schools that train chiropractors and massages therapists. “Nobody invites me. Why should be invited? I don’t have nay connections with organizations. I’m not interested in politics. I’m interested in helping people.” People, he said, call him for treatments; schools and professionals, none.

In addition to poorly prepared physical therapists there are patients who go from therapist to therapist and don’t get better. Why? Tatz tells the story of a patient who suffered from health condition for 15 years without relief during which she had gone to five chiropractors, four acupuncturists and a massage therapist. Numerous treatments: but no one bothered to educate her on how to sit and get out of a chair. This, Tatz says, is like physician giving pills. This lack of patient education is one reason why Tatz is now working on his doctorate in physical education.

Tatz expects his patients to actively participate in the healing process. This, he says, is essential to maintaining good health and increasing the quality of life. Tatz teaches his patients how to move their bodies in a variety of life situation and expects them to do the exercises at home to support the therapies he is providing. He also doesn’t hesitate, when appropriate, to recommend a yoga program or another specialist to meet the patient’s need’s.

While I understand what motivates Tatz to adopt the “Lone Ranger” approach to his practice, it is a choice he has made – and for him it may be the best choice. Despite his arguments about he need for post school training and apprenticeships for physical therapists, and the unfairness of health insurance policies, other organizational arrangements are evolving as conventional and integrative medicine narrow their differences. We have learned about the advantages offered by programs with a multidisciplinary staff, working together and sharing their knowledge and experience. Ultimately, this should benefit the patient who, depite the talent of a single individual therapist, will require the combined wisdom of a team approach. What comes to mind are two programs I observed and wrote about in previous issues of “To Your Health”: Olive Leaf Wholeness Center and The Center for Health and Healing. While health insurance does cover some of the costs at these centers, it does not appear to appreciably diminish the overall quality of care.

As reflected by the many patients, who gladly put their faith in this highly gifted professional, surely there is room fro Shmuel Tatz’s in the world of health care. But given that Tatz represents the upper level of exemplary therapists, and given that the system that produces physical therapists is not about to change any time soon, the creation of a healing environment where therapists can exchange information with knowledgeable members of their team, is worth critical study. This said, some of the sensible changes in the education and placement of therapists that Tatz proposes deserve a serious study and debate. Also, his condemnation of restrictions imposed by private and public health insurers needs better publicity and active consumer advocate pressure on government to change a very flawed system that robs patients of greater treatment potential and therapists of a decent return fro their services.

From April L.

I was injured from an accident in 1996, I tried many therapists but pain persisted, in addition to the pain I could not move reach or lift anything. The constant pain was disconcerting to say the least.

Someone who heard of his wonderful ability to focus on problems led me to Shmuel Tatz.

After one visit I felt some relief. I saw Shmuel 2 times a week for 4 weeks. His amazing fingers found problems I was not aware of – such as stomach difficulties and other parts of my body that I never realized were related to the distress my body was suffering.

I now have total mobility, can lift, stretch and am feeling great. In addition to this my sinuses have cleared from the magnetic therapy Shmuel uses.


From P.S.

I had a broken foot that was treated by an Orthopedist who by the way could not believe the progress I made with Shmuel so quickly.

I saw Dr. Tatz 2 times a week for 2 months. I think the aspect of the healing that was most beneficial was the way he manipulates the area and his ability to concentrate on the painful and disturbed areas of the body.

I am totally fine now and recommend Shmuel to everyone who needs help.

After the publication of the article title “An Unusual Therapist”, we received many letters. Therapists Shmuel Tatz responds to some of your questions:

Do you do massage?

In physical therapy massage is called soft tissue mobilization. It is a big part of my practice. About 25-35% of most treatments is massage.

Do you do adjustments?

In physical therapy adjustments are called manipulations. They are the same as adjustments with a major difference. Adjustments can sometimes be traumatic for the joints. By applying mobilization, which is small intra-joint movement, there is usually good improvement, which avoids the need for adjustments.

Is yoga a part of your practice?

Everything I do when I am teaching people how to move is based on yoga tradition.

Do you sell magnets?

I use high tech electronic magnets. The machine costs many thousands of dollars and is only for professional use.

My pediatrist has advised a bunion operation. Can you help me with this?
I can help both before and after an operation. Ideally i would trat you before and avoid the operation altogether.

Do you treat Parkinson or MS?

The first day after a diagnosis of Parkinson, MS or any other neurological condition, a physical therapists should be contacted for an intensive course of treatment.

Do you treat migraines?

I have success 85-90% of the time.

I live far away and have acute sciatic pain. Does it make sense to travel three hours to Manhattan?

It is possible to do physical therapy twice a day. You ca stay in the city and work intensively for a couple of weeks and expect 90-100% improvement.

How do I find a therapist in my neighborhood?

Try to see an independent practitioner not primary affiliated with a hospital or insurance company, and who is working in solo practice. After the first treatment, listen to your body, think about what the therapist did and if there is a physical improvement continue.


To Your Health!
by Milt Chaikin